A modern hillwalking/mountaineering hybrid axe, the Raven Pro is capable enough to handle even the most demanding winter hillwalking days, as well as classic graded winter scrambles and ridges.
- Comfortable in the hand
- Good self-arresting performance
- Despite its capabilities, not T-rated
Black Diamond Raven Pro: first impressions
The latest version of the Black Diamond Raven Pro axe, released in winter 2020, looks pretty different to its previous guise. Most notably, it now has a slightly bent shaft and a lighter overall weight – all designed to make for a more capable and ergonomic ice axe that occupies a spot in the Black Diamond line-up just below the T-rated Swift and just above the standard Raven, which is geared towards winter hillwalking and glacier hiking.
In this regard, it competes squarely with the DMM Spire Tech when it comes to best all-round hillwalking and mountaineering ice axes. Both are still hillwalking axes rather than “proper” mountaineering axes, but in terms of overall capability they’re right at the upper end of that category.
The textured aluminum shaft has an unusual cross-section that is trapezoidal rather than the standard oval or lozenge shape. According to Black Diamond, this enables better grip and more aggressive climbing – it’s certainly nice to hold, though we can’t say we climbed noticeably harder with it.
One point worth noting is that the Raven Pro comes in an extraordinarily wide range of lengths, from 50cm / 19½in right up to 75cm / 29½in. This makes it a versatile beast, though the overall design seems better suited to shorter lengths, enabling you to really take advantage of its curved shaft on steeper terrain.
At 373g / 13oz in the shortest 50cm length, the weight is middling – certainly no heavyweight, but fractionally heavier than the DMM Spire, Spire Tech or Petzl Glacier. It is well-balanced though, with just enough heft to help when swinging it, yet not too much to tire you out if you’re forced to carry it all day – either in your hand or strapped to a pack. All in all, it strikes a happy middle ground.
• RRP: $120 (US) / £95 (UK)
• Weight (50cm version): 373g / 13oz
• Materials: Investment-cast stainless steel head, anodized aluminum shaft
• Available lengths: 50cm / 19½in, 55cm / 21½in, 60cm / 23½in, 65cm / 25½in, 70cm / 27½in, 75cm / 29½in
Black Diamond Raven Pro: on the hills
Just like the Spire Tech, the Raven Pro’s slightly bent shaft adds a little valuable extra clearance that guards against busted knuckles and makes placing (and retrieving) the pick a bit easier. The Raven Pro also has a similar machined grip to the Spire Tech at the bottom of the shaft. These grooves aren’t the deepest or most tactile but still offer a non-slip surface that works well, even with cold hands and bulky winter gloves.
The head is made from a single piece of investment-cast stainless-steel for added corrosion resistance. The pick is very sharp and bites cleanly, with a slightly downturned angle that strikes a good balance between secure penetration in hard ice and reliable self-arresting performance on snowy slopes. The adze is small but effective, again finished with a sharp edge that is good for cutting steps or chopping out ledges, bollards and snow anchors (see how to use an ice axe for more information on their uses in the field).
The head seems to have been carefully sculpted to ensure it is easy and comfortable to grip in the hand. It certainly isn’t bulky – in fact, if you have large hands, it might even feel a bit dainty. But there’s a nice recess for your thumb that makes this a great axe to use in self-arrest (adze forward) position. It also has a large hole to clip a carabiner into.
Overall, it’s an impressive all-rounder that does everything well. In fact, it makes a superb “hillwalking plus” axe – it isn’t T-rated, but has plenty of technical features for added performance on moderately steep ground. In that sense, it trades punches with similarly capable competitors like DMM’s Spire Tech, and on the hill it performs just as well. For us, it just loses out to the DMM offering on a few fronts: it’s not quite as light, it’s slightly more expensive, and it doesn’t feel quite as robust. On the other hand, it has a more refined feel and is slightly more comfortable to hold by the head than the Spire Tech, with a bit more heft too.
An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.
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