An ice axe is a versatile mountaineering tool that practically every mountaineer will carry. An ice axe consists of five components:
- head - usually made of steel and includes the pick and adze. One grips the head using either a self arrest or self belay grip. There is a hole in the centre of the head called a carabiner hole but it is mostly used for attaching a wrist leash.
- pick - a hooked or curved end of the head that draws to a point set with teeth. The hooked design allows the axe to dig in faster when trying to self-arrest.
- adze - the flat, widest section of the head used for chopping steps in hard snow and ice.
- shaft - usually made of metal (e.g. aluminum or titanium) or some composite such as fiberglass, Kevlar or carbon filament. Originally, axes had wooden shafts (usually hickory) but the lighter weight and durability of today's axes have relegated such wooden axes to the museums.
- spike - a sharp spike at the bottom is used to plunge the ice axe into snow for stability, balance and safety. Sometimes used on rocky trails for balance but one must take care not to dull the spike.
Ice axes range anywhere from 40 to 90 cm in length. Axes from 40-60 cm are better suited to ice climbing
while the longer axes are for general mountaineering tasks.
The ice axe is not only used as an aid to climbing but also as a self rescue tool to stop an uncontrolled glissade.
Many backpacks designed with mountaineering tasks in mind will include ice axe loops for securing the axe to the pack when it is not needed.