Multiple tools versus an all-arounder


Original Post
Aaron Guillotte · · Boston · Joined May 2016 · Points: 15

Hey All,

Fairly new to Mountain Project, and brand new to ice climbing this year. I'm based in the Boston area, but will hopefully be moving north this year (my wife and I aren't big fans of summer heat). So hello to all!

I know there are infinite threads on ice tools. I've read most :) I know that personal feel/comfort rises above most other factors given today's engineering standards. I've tried a bunch of tools over the course of two full weekends of climbing.

Trying to keep the OP somewhat short, so here's my question/thought: I plan to get into some alpine, but because of an injury it won't happen this year. I can, however, climb ice. Would it make more sense to have my first tool purchase be something like a Nomic (even if I'm not a strong steep-ice climber "yet") because it felt very comfortable in my hand, and then next year pick up something like a Sum'tec or X-Alp, as an additional arrow in the quiver?

I have reasons for thinking this is advantageous over simply going with a Cobra, X-All Mountain, Quark, etc. Curious for your thoughts.

Luc-514 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 8,953

Get two pairs of tools, start with what you'll use most first. I'm not sure if it's worth going towards a pure alpine tool instead of an all-around tool though.

Alpine:
Petzl SUM'TEC
Grivel North Machine?
Cassin X-Alp
Cassin X-Light

All-Around/Alpine:
Petzl Quarks
Cassin X-All Mountain
DMM Apex
Grivel Light Machine?
Black Diamond Viper

Technical:
Petzl Nomics
Cassin X-Dream
DMM Switch
Black Diamond Fuel
Black Diamond Cobra
Grivel Tech Machine

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 251
Luc-514 wrote:Get two pairs of tools, start with what you'll use most first. I'm not sure if it's worth going towards a pure alpine tool instead of an all-around tool though. Alpine: Petzl SUM'TEC Grivel North Machine? All-Around/Alpine: Petzl Quarks Cassin X-All Mountain DMM Apex Grivel Light Machine? Technical: Petzl Nomics Cassin X-Dream DMM Switch Black Diamond Fuel Black Diamond Cobra Grivel Tech Machine
I own both the Cassin X All Mountains and the BD Cobras. I found that the X All Mountain performs better on pure ice than the Cobras. The Cobra handles can be stripped down and have easier overall geometry for middle and low dagger making it a more comfortable all around tool.

Obviously this is all just my experience which could be vastly different from other peoples'.
Scott McMahon · · Boulder, CO · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 1,425
Luc-514 wrote:Get two pairs of tools, start with what you'll use most first. I'm not sure if it's worth going towards a pure alpine tool instead of an all-around tool though. Alpine: Petzl SUM'TEC Grivel North Machine? All-Around/Alpine: Petzl Quarks Cassin X-All Mountain DMM Apex Grivel Light Machine? Technical: Petzl Nomics Cassin X-Dream DMM Switch Black Diamond Fuel Black Diamond Cobra Grivel Tech Machine
Don't see the BD Vipers on your list. I've had 2 pairs (original and second version) and have never been able to out climb them. Alpine, ice whatever. One of the best all around tools IMO especially at that price point. Looks like v.3 has more clearance and a nice adjustable pommel.

Lol my biggest question is whether or not to go to v3!

https://climbinggearreviewsuk.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/black-diamond-vipers-review/
Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 478

Get two sets. I have x-all mountains and thought that I would use them for water ice and alpine. The x alls were great for easier water ice. Then I tried partners nomics and x dreams on mushroomed and chandelier WI5 routes. Short story, I'll be purchasing a second set of tools.

The handles on both the nomic and x dream are simply easier to hang off compared to my x alls. I could relax my grip substantially. I never pumped out with the dreams or nomics when I did get a pump on the same route with the x alls.Going onto the upper grip on the x alls is rather unstable, you're pulling out on the pick more; the offset handles put your hand under the pick more and keep the pressure down.

On your alpine tool choice, the x-alp is a bit heavy and you'll need to file the teeth off the pick near the handle (or destroy gloves). The x-light is 4 ounces lighter and is much more comfortable in cane grip.

Luc-514 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 8,953
Scott McMahon wrote: Don't see the BD Vipers on your list. I've had 2 pairs (original and second version) and have never been able to out climb them. Alpine, ice whatever. One of the best all around tools IMO especially at that price point. Looks like v.3 has more clearance and a nice adjustable pommel.
Ya, I was debating if I should put it in, it's obviously not an intro tool it used to be a long time ago.
Aaron Guillotte · · Boston · Joined May 2016 · Points: 15
Luc-514 wrote:Get two pairs of tools, start with what you'll use most first. I'm not sure if it's worth going towards a pure alpine tool instead of an all-around tool though.
When you say you're not sure if it's worth going towards a pure alpine tool instead of an all-around tool, do you mean that a pure alpine tool like a Sumtec or X-Alp is so limited in its climbing capacity (obviously understanding that most routes were put up with arcane versions of what we now climb with) that you would forgo that subset of tools completely?
Aaron Guillotte · · Boston · Joined May 2016 · Points: 15
Nick Drake wrote:Short story, I'll be purchasing a second set of tools. The handles on both the nomic and x dream are simply easier to hang off compared to my x alls. I could relax my grip substantially. I never pumped out with the dreams or nomics when I did get a pump on the same route with the x alls. Going onto the upper grip on the x alls is rather unstable, you're pulling out on the pick more; the offset handles put your hand under the pick more and keep the pressure down. On your alpine tool choice, the x-alp is a bit heavy and you'll need to file the teeth off the pick near the handle (or destroy gloves). The x-light is 4 ounces lighter and is much more comfortable in cane grip.
Thanks, Nick. This is the sort of perspective I was hoping to gain from the collective wisdom of MP! Appreciate the insight on the x-light, too. I'm a small guy, so ounces matter.

Thank you to everyone else who has contributed so far as well - all good advice.

I just see so many threads debating a single tool, and many folks looking to stretch out a tool to as many environments as possible, and wondered (even if I have to pinch my pennies) if it didn't make more sense to have two tools each geared towards more specific use. Obviously, cost is also an important factor, so I get why there's so much emphasis on all-around tools.

To elaborate a bit more, I have a back injury, which makes long alpine adventures a bit painful, if not unbearable. So I have plenty of time to way choices on which alpine tool will be best (and I appreciate your thoughts on an alpine tool, Nick). So my first tool will definitely be geared towards steeper ice. I spent a full day with the X-Dreams and liked them. My hands are fairly small, and when I picked up a Nomic it just felt like it was built for my hand in the smallest setting.
Aaron Hwang · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2014 · Points: 905

Aaron, I was like you and decided I needed two sets of tools, one for pure ice / alpine and one for technical ice / mixed. Ended up with 3 sets of tools, the Grivel Quantum Techs, Petzl Nomics and BD Fuels. In the end, I'm always reaching for my Fuels because they're cheap(er), the picks are cheap(er) and I'm really comfortable with them.

Let's meet up sometime and you can try out all the tools if you're still looking to buy, because I'm looking to sell.

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 478
Aaron G wrote: When you say you're not sure if it's worth going towards a pure alpine tool instead of an all-around tool, do you mean that a pure alpine tool like a Sumtec or X-Alp is so limited in its climbing capacity (obviously understanding that most routes were put up with arcane versions of what we now climb with) that you would forgo that subset of tools completely?
Petzl sum'tec is really just a slightly more capable ice axe, not a technical ice tool. I've used one on climbs in the PNW that require some sustained 60-70 degree and short vertical bumps out of seracs. I would never want to do any extended steep climbing gripping a bare aluminum shaft like that. I also broke the plastic trigger on it with one day out.
The x-light is a step up in that category (you can add the handle from the x-all if you want a full pinky rest).
Jack C. · · Calgary, AB · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 325

Just get x-alls. They're cheap, picks are cheap, and they work. Plus I find better sticks with them initially than any other tool including the one I choose to climb on (apex) which makes climbing seem a lot more solid and less terrifying which is awesome. Everything will work just fine. Go with you're gut and you'll be satisfied.

Aaron Guillotte · · Boston · Joined May 2016 · Points: 15
Nick Drake wrote: Petzl sum'tec is really just a slightly more capable ice axe, not a technical ice tool. I've used one on climbs in the PNW that require some sustained 60-70 degree and short vertical bumps out of seracs. I would never want to do any extended steep climbing gripping a bare aluminum shaft like that. I also broke the plastic trigger on it with one day out. The x-light is a step up in that category (you can add the handle from the x-all if you want a full pinky rest).
Yup, I get that, and sorry if I wasn't clear on that point (and do appreciate the clarification anyway). The idea for sumtec, x-alp, x-light would be strictly alpine. The nomic (or similar) would be for strictly ice.
Aaron Guillotte · · Boston · Joined May 2016 · Points: 15
Jack C. wrote:Just get x-alls. They're cheap, picks are cheap, and they work. Plus I find better sticks with them initially than any other tool including the one I choose to climb on (apex) which makes climbing seem a lot more solid and less terrifying which is awesome. Everything will work just fine. Go with you're gut and you'll be satisfied.
Thanks, Jack. So what I'm more curious about is not so much your brand/model preference (I did play with the x-all mountains, really nice tool), but more so, why would choose an all-around tool versus two more specific tools. I'm just interested in understanding the mindset behind the choice.
Luc-514 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 8,953

Probably because an all-around tool will feel safer than a pure alpine tool (like the SUM'TEC) if the going gets pretty technical.

Though I have a friend that follows WI5s with X-Alps and another one who finally retired his Terrordactyls for a pair of first gen Quarks (and is still leading WI5s).

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 478
Aaron G wrote: Yup, I get that, and sorry if I wasn't clear on that point (and do appreciate the clarification anyway). The idea for sumtec, x-alp, x-light would be strictly alpine. The nomic (or similar) would be for strictly ice.
Ah I don't think I was quite clear on my distinction. I put the x-all and x-light a slight bit higher than the sum'tec when it gets technical. Even with the smaller pinky rest handle on them it's easier to hold than the sum'tec and won't break if you smack a bulge (like the trigger rest on the sum'tec). Plus you have the option to add the x-all handle with a much larger pinky rest at the expense of plunging (which is over rated).
Aaron Guillotte · · Boston · Joined May 2016 · Points: 15

Luc - thanks again. I can definitely understand that point of view.

Nick - thanks for the clarification there. That advice will be useful for Christmas presents this December!

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 251

Regarding the X Lights, they are some sweet alpine tools. Out of all my tools, I get the most use out of them here in the PNW. If you are mostly climbing AI2-3 routes, they are the almost perfect one trick pony. They look sexy AF too.

Karl Henize · · June Lake, CA · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 570

I agree with the others that say it is worthwhile to develop a quiver of tools. If weight/space/money constraints are an issue, one set of all-around tools will probably get you up everything that you want to climb.

I used 1 Matrix Light w/ slider and Quantum Tech for everything, until I got serious about wanting to lead M7 / WI5. I then bought a set of Nomics. Now I use the nomics for M6+ / WI5 climbs and the Matrix Light / Quantum Tech combo for everything else.

If you will not be doing any alpine climbing in the near future, you might want to wait on buying alpine tools. Many of the major manufacturers will be revising their existing alpine tools or releasing new ones. Of particular interest, for me, is the upcoming Petzl Gully.

https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/New/GULLY#.WKPcidJ96Uk

rocknice2 · · Montreal, Quebec · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 3,018
Aaron G wrote: Thanks, Jack. So what I'm more curious about is not so much your brand/model preference (I did play with the x-all mountains, really nice tool), but more so, why would choose an all-around tool versus two more specific tools. I'm just interested in understanding the mindset behind the choice.
It depends on what you want to climb and how efficiently you want to climb it.

I'd say go with an all around, you're just starting out. A good all rounder will get you up anything and is perfect in the wi2-wi4+ range. There is no reason you can't climb wi5+ with them [other have] but a more technical tool will facilitate it a bit more.
Go with something like a Quark, Cobra or Quantum etc...

The "Alpine" stuff you can do in the northeast is usually done with 2 all-rounders or 1 AR plus a classic piolet. Most of the time you will be taking 2 ice axes. The alpine terrain is mostly a snow slog to a technical pitch/es. That includes anything in The Whites, Smuggs or the Dacks.
Scott McMahon · · Boulder, CO · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 1,425
Karl Henize wrote: Of particular interest, for me, is the upcoming Petzl Gully. petzl.com/US/en/Sport/New/G...
Nice tool. Kinda looks like a hybrid between the Aztarex and a Camp axe.
Aaron Guillotte · · Boston · Joined May 2016 · Points: 15

Thanks again for all the comments. I especially appreciate some of the insight on alpine tools. I may have come into this with a bit of confirmation bias anyway, but I do like the idea of developing a quiver of tools (over time). Good thoughts on both sides of the argument.

Looking forward to contributing more on MP and maybe even see a few of you on the ice (or rock) in the northeast!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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