Mountaineering & Expeditions

Black Diamond Venom Ice Axe Review

There are few greater feelings than climbing up a snowy Alpine ridge on a crystal clear day. The crunch of snow beneath your crampons, the plunge of the ice axe through the drift, and clanging of aluminium to rock. It is ridges that inspire the most, with vertiginous drops either side, a sense of danger, adventure, achievement.

Yet, whether it’s an Alpine ridge or a stroll along the Cairngorm plateau, if there’s snow on the ground and there’s a hill to climb, an ice axe, along with your crampons, is indispensable. There are many types of ice axe, from aggressively twisted ice climbing axes, to straight winter walking axes. With Black Diamond’s Venom we’ve got a hybrid.

It is described by Black Diamond as “the ultimate hybrid axe for technical couloirs and rugged alpine terrain”. And we found this to be a great and versatile tool. There are two main reasons we love it so much: Firstly, it is light at 528g, but also incredibly tough. This is important because an ice axe is there for protection, to save your life, so you don’t want it to fail.

“There are many types of ice axe, from aggressively twisted ice climbing axes, to straight winter walking axes. With Black Diamond’s Venom we’ve got a hybrid.”

It should be said at this point that using an ice axe is a skill, and it’s worth knowing how to use one properly before you splash out. The axe is used for extra stability when walking in steep ground – similar to a walking pole in summer – but also for an ice axe arrest – stopping on steep ground when you are sliding down. Handling and practice are needed to get this right and we’d recommend a course like the ones offered at Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre.

There are three main components to the ice axe itself: the shaft, the pick and the adze. There’s also usually a spike on the end of the shaft to help plunge easily. The pick is what you’ll be punching into the ice on very steep ground, and for that ice axe arrest. The shaft for walking and the adze is also needed for cutting steps, digging a snow anchor or even a snow cave.

When choosing an ice axe, it’s important to get the length right – you’ll be having this in your uphill hand when going up steep climbs as your third point of contact and you don’t want it too long making you unstable. The second factor is the curve of the head. The Venom has quite an acute curve – hence the hybrid description – but when plunging it into snow it feels positive

One of the things we love about this axe is the modular design, meaning you can replace the pick when it wears out. Other features include a comfortable moulded grip and a ‘Lockdown’ leash.

The Outdoor 100 team found the Venom to be the perfect ice axe on snowy and technical winter ascents in Scotland. It may be overkill for a beginners axe, but it’s certainly future-proofed when you want to advance.

Black Diamond Venom Ice Axe Stats:

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