What Size Ice Axe Do I Need?

If you’re looking to buy an ice axe, you might be wondering “what size ice axe do I need?” Here’s a quick guide to help you choose the right size ice axe for your next adventure.

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How to Measure Your Ice Axe

Before you can purchase the correct size ice axe for your needs, you’ll need to measure the length of your ice axe. To do this, you’ll need to take into account the following: the size of your hands, the length of your arms, and your overall height. Once you have these measurements, you can use a size chart to select the right size ice axe for you.


The length of your ice axe should be relative to your height. A good general guideline is to choose an ice axe that is around your chin height, give or take a few inches.

If you are on the taller side, you may want to go a bit longer, and if you are on the shorter side, you may want to go a bit shorter. Remember, you can always adjust the length of your ice axe by using the pick extension feature (if available) or by rapping the head of the ice axe on a hard surface.

Shaft Diameter

There are two main types of shaft diameters for ice axes, classic and performance. Classic is the most common and what you will find on most general mountaineering ice axes. These have a fatter diameter which is great for grip strength and feeling more comfortable when holding onto the axe for long periods of time. Performance shafts are becoming more popular as they are thinner and lighter, making them easier to carry. However, this can make them more difficult to grip for some people.

To measure your shaft diameter, you will need to first find the circumference of the shaft at its widest point. To do this, wrap a string or tape measure around the widest part of the shaft and then measure the string/tape. Once you have the circumference, divide that number by 3.14 to get the diameter in inches. Alternatively, you can find ice axes with metric measurements which will be in millimeters (mm).

Types of Ice Axes

There are generally three types of ice axes: the mountaineering axe, the technical axe, and the alpine axe. The mountaineering axe is the most versatile, and can be used for a variety of tasks, while the technical and alpine axes are designed for more specific purposes. In this article, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the different types of ice axes and their benefits.

Standard Ice Axes

Standard ice axes are by far the most popular type. They come in a range of lengths, from 60 cm (24 in) to 90 cm (36 in).

If you are mountaineering in the Alps or Pyrenees, then a 60-70 cm axe will suit most routes. If you are planning on climbing any technical routes, or snow and ice climbs, then go for a longer one. With glaciers becoming increasingly unstable, it is also worth considering a longer axe for self-arrest safety.

Pickaxe style ice axes have become more popular in recent years with the rise in mixed climbing and technical winter ascents. These have a different head shape to standard ice axes, with the pick angled at around 45 degrees from the shaft. This gives greater purchase when hooking into narrow cracks and slots.

Technical Ice Axes

Technical ice axes are designed for steeper, more difficult terrain where precision is key. The head is usually narrower and the pick is curved, making it easier to stick in small holds. The shaft is also usually shorter than a general purpose ice axe, making it easier to maneuver in tight spaces.

How to Use an Ice Axe

An ice axe is a multi-purpose tool that is used when mountaineering, climbing, and hiking on snow and ice. It can be used for self-arrest, ascent, and descent. It is also used as a belay device and to cut steps. The size of the ice axe you need depends on the activity you will be using it for.

Gripping the Ice Axe

To grip the axe properly, place your thumb on the top of the shaft and your fingers underneath. You should be holding the axe near the head, with the pick pointing downwards. For more control, you can place your other hand further down the shaft.

Placing Your Ice Axe

One of the most important aspects of using an ice axe is placing it correctly. If you don’t place it properly, you could end up losing your grip and falling.

There are two main ways to place your ice axe:
-The pick should be pointing downwards and should be placed close to your body for stability. This is the most common way to place your ice axe and is best suited for use on more gentle slopes.
-The pick should be pointing upwards and should be placed further away from your body. This is best suited for use on steep slopes where you need more reach.

Using Your Ice Axe

Most mountaineers will carry two ice axes, one on each side. The most common ice axe grip is the pick and adze, which offers a versatile tool for both self-arrest and climbing.

When descending a slope, grip the axe with the pick pointing downhill, close to your body. Use your weight to drive the pick into the snow, using short stabbing motions to slow your descent. If you find yourself sliding uncontrollably, dig in with both picks to arrest your fall.

For self-belay while climbing, grip the axe with the adze pointing uphill, away from your body. Use your weight to drive the adze into the snow and pull down on the shaft for additional purchase. You can also use the ice axe shaft as a walking stick by planting it in front of you as you ascend a slope.

An ice axe can also be used to build emergency shelters, clear snow from tent sites, or break through ice for water collection in a survival situation.