Three Tips for Sizing an Ice Axe Three Tips for Sizing an Ice Axe

An ice axe is a tool used by mountaineers while climbing snow and ice covered hills or mountains. A climber will use his ice axe for a multitude of reasons, including support during breaks, help pulling oneself up steep inclines and a process known as self arrest. Self arrest is the process of stopping an uncontrolled slide down a mountain face or glacier slope. Ice axes come in a very wide variety of sizes. These different sizes are for people of varying heights. Generally speaking, the taller you are, the longer an ice axe you’re going to want. Below you will find information regarding the most recommended methods of sizing an ice axe, and some heights and ice axe sizes that correspond to each other using these methods.

Hand to Ankle Method

In this method of ice axe sizing, you will stand up straight and allow the ice axe to hang from your hand. With the flat of the handle resting against your palm, the head of the ice axe should reach the middle of your ankle. This method can be adjusted a few inches longer or shorter to compensate for personal taste.

Fingertip to Floor Method

This method is very similar to the hand to ankle method, except the ice axe is allowed to reach the floor and should reach your fingertips. This will actually yield a slightly shorter ice axe handle than the hand to ankle method. Again, exact length can be adjusted for personal tastes.

Stair Climbing Method

A staircase is about the same angle as most beginning slopes that you may climb and need an ice axe on. A great way of finding the best size ice axe for you is to stand on a step and lift your hand to waist height or just under it. The distance from your hand to the step above you is the ideal length for an ice axe.

Ice Axe Sizing Problems

An ice axe should be comfortable and evenly balanced when held in your hand. The heft should be comfortable when held and moved through the normal usage motion repeatedly. If the axe is too long, it will be too heavy and thus harder to wield over time. Also, if your ice axe is too long, then a longer range of motion is required for affective use. This excessive range of motion can cause you to become unbalanced while on the ice slope, which can cause you to slip and fall. Extra motion will also tire you out faster over an extended period of time. Conversely, if you choose an ice axe that is too short, and you end up needing it to self arrest, you may not be able to generate enough momentum and energy to fully seat the ice axe in the ice surface and arrest your fall. An ice axe handle that is too short will also require you to lean too far forward while climbing, which uses more energy, causes an imbalance in your stance, and can also hinder your bringing the ice axe into play quickly.

Selecting the right ice axe for your height and comfort is very important. Selecting an ice axe that is either too long or too short can endanger you during a technical climb at the worst and cause you to tire more easily by the use of increased effort. 

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