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Ice tools and crampons, wrist loops: recommendations

Q.Tuan Luong © 1996

In general:

Note the date of this article. I haven't tried the tools not mentioned in this page.

Ice climbing tools

Based on my experience of playing around with various tools, and from what I have heard from friends, here is what I would recommend.

CM's Pulsars

Charlet Moser's Pulsar, introduced in 1984, was a significant improvement over the first widely distributed real ice tool, the Simond Chacal that many old-time climbers still remember with nostalgia. A few years later, CM introduced the first bent shaft, and then an interchangeable shaft system which make it possible to use three different shafts (short straight, short curved, long). The latter system appears to be as reliable and solid as a normal tool. They also had for a few years a lighter version of the Pulsar with a straight hollowed shaft which has an excellent balance.

CM's Pulsars are well-proven tools, and have been used on some of the hardest climbs ever. I think they are technically inferior to any of the other tools listed, but so far have served me well, especially since I am sentimentally attached to them. However, unlike some of the newer tools, you can be sure that they work. Get the new pick, if you have older models. it has a few teeth at the base to make hooking less scary. I have used Pulsars in the mountains as well as on waterfall ice. They are probably more versatile than the Quasar (the ergonomic shaft does not plunge well in the snow) and than the Carbon Fiber tools, which are quite fragile.

The design of the head suffers from two problems, which require some attention. First, you have to tighten the screws real hard with an Allen wrench, which is easy to loose. Tip: use an ice screw to get more leverage. Years ago, when I didn't do that, I freqently had screws come loose during a climb. If you do tighten the screws real hard, then they tend to rust and become impossible to remove. I had to see a machinist to have them drilled out after two years. It helps to undo them from time to time and put lubricant. Second, the head is in zicral, which is a soft metal, so if you have to pound on it (if you use your tool to belay as a snow picket), you could damage it (which might compound the previous problem).

CM's Quasars

I found that the Quasars have a very similar feel to the Pulsars. They are solid, but quite heavy and require a good swing, and might be better on thick ice than thin terrain. If you like to bash ice, these are the tools for you ! The bent is on the top rather in the bottom of the shaft, which gives you a better clearance over bulges, which is very useful. Note that this innovation was copied by Simmond, CM's old-time french rival (and arguably the creator of the first modern tool, the chacal !) and by Grivel. However, your wrist does not hang in a position as natural as with the Pulsars and other traditional bent-shaft tools.

The design of the head is similar to the Pulsar's, and in my opinion it is not very good for the reasons mentioned above. Admittedly you are more likely to dammage a Pulsar than with a Quasar, since the ergonomic shaft might prevent you from using a Quasar for mountaineering anyway. I am not sure how useful this latter feature is.

I found that the Quasar is a tool which works very well. As a pure ice tool, it is highly regarded. Personally I though that it was an incremental improvement over Pulsars. However Robert Cordery-Cotter thought that they let him climb a grade harder than Pulsars (but he switched later to the Black Prophets).

BD's Black Prophets

I was impressed by the feeling. The tools are significantly lighter, yet they are solid. They don't require as much swinging. The component system seems better too. These tools are more versatile than the CM. They seem easier to use in mixed climbing and in alpine climbing. The only disadvantages are the lack of a hole in the shaft (the attachment point for the wrist loop is too high), and a significanly reduced clearance compared ot the Quasar.

Camp-Lowe Hyper-couloir

This tool has not received glowing reviews from US magazines, and it is sold for cheap by a few discounters (like Black Dome) in the US. This makes it a real bargain, because it is actually very good, at least comparable to a CM Pulsar in my opinion. At one point I was tempted to sell my Pulsars to upgrade to this tool. The shaft is a bit more vibration-prone, however the pick has a really better penetration (it shatters the ice less) and the modular head is better designed and not as fragile.


I have camp/lowe ice invaders. They are relatively good all around crampons, and they can be bought for cheap in the US through discounters. What I like is that you can use them as rigid or semi-rigid, you can change the front-points to optimize them for your climbing (typically i prefer vertical points on vertical ice and horizontal points on ice closer to horizontal :-)), and they are quite easy to adjust without tools if you don't rigidify them. The horizontal points have a ridge underneath which i find good to prevent your feet from slipping out. However, the vertical points stick out too much (which creates calve fatigue) and are not sharp enough. The crampon has some vibration, even in the rigid mode. For all these reasons I think there are better crampons around for waterfall ice.

Like most of the cookie-cutter style (ie vertically oriented structure of the frame), they ball a lot. It is *necessary* to use an anti-ball plate (a piece of rubber with hooks). Generally speaking, if you are going to spend more than a few hours on snow, I think that regardless of the type of crampons you are using, you should get an anti-ball plate. A few European manufacturers (such as CM and Grivel) make them to fit their crampons, and New-Alp used to make them in a variety of sizes. Unfortunately this stuff is difficult to find in America. Here is Chris Harmston's description on how to make one: " What you can do is take an empty 2 liter Coke bottle. Cut out the bottle to fit the inside profile of the bottom of the crampons. Attach these with thin wire. You will have to experiment several times to get the hang of it and also test it out on snow. You can also try to get old rubber inner tubes. Cut them out a little bigger than the crampon and then bolt them to the bottoms. Rubber is not as good as polyethylene bottles though. "

On waterfall ice, the fifteen-year old footfangs are great. Unfortunately they are too heavy for my taste to use in the mountains.

Monopoint crampons seem to be the hottest thing these days, especially with the trend towards mixed climbing. They seem to make sense, but I haven't had enough experience with them to tell. CM had such a model ten years ago (Nova) which was not too sucessful.

Wrists Loops

This is a crucial component of ice-climbing gear, although people pay more attention to tools, crampons, etc...

An old-time strategy, as described by Kevin Normoyle has been to make the wrist loops just loose enough to get hands in and out, and allow to slide the hand all the way down to the bottom of the shaft if one needs a long reach, or weird angled placement..then when one needs it tight, he twists his hand and the leash around once or twice to tighten up around the wrist. This makes it quick for getting your hand in or out, and avoids having to use your teeth. However, this method does not really allow to hang for a rest well enough on very steep stuff, and this is why "modern" wrist loops might have an advantage.

In my experience, all the velcro based wrist loop seem to suck. Godefroi Perroux told me that he got into trouble with his sponsor Simond because he was photographed once with the (very visible) Charlet-Moser wrist loops on his (Simond) tools. The Simond wrist loops have velcro, like many of others.

The old CM wrist loop tends to open, but it is rather easy to fix this using your mouth. The older one is more convenient to bite, since the slider is larger. CM introduced a new wrist loop this winter, which has a plastic clip which allows you to lock/unlock it. The design is good. It really locks your hand and allow you to rest. You need your teeth to open and close it, and it is a bit more awkward than the old ones but not bad. So far I use it on my left tool and like it a lot, but next year I might use it also on my right tool.

The Black Diamond loop use a plastic slider on a rough textured webbing. A tab allows moving the slider with ones teeth. It is a very simple piece of gear (you even need to tie a knot to attach it to your tool). Another useful leash comes from Wild Country. It has the dreaded velcro, but a relatively small piece of it, so it's not too much of a pain. According to Dennis Roscetti these two work well.

The new Simond wrist loop ("track-up") has some velcro on it, and if it is used without modification, it really sucks too. However, it is a very clever device where the velcro is just used for adjustment, and not to lock the wrist loop. An easy (and, to my opinion, necessary) modification is to make a definitive adjustment, and then put rivets instead of relying on the velcro. One more tip: you need gloves/mits with a very long gautlet when using this wrist loop. Otherwise it tends to jump behind the gautlet, and this will really suck: very difficult to close the wrist loop again without using the other hand. Note also that since the "track-up" wrist loop is self-locking/self-opening, it can come open rather easily, and you could drop your tool if not careful. For this reason, I would recommend this wrist loop only if you are trying to climb "free" (which implies that you are accepting the concept) and only on the hand you use to place screws. With all these limitations in mind, I must say that I am relatively satisfied with the track-up wrist loop. My main problem is that the bulkier the glove, the more difficult it is to remove one's hand. It is quite awkward in particular with the Marmot Alpinist glove.

An alternative method is suggested by John Imbrie " I worked with wristloops that could be removed from the tool, rather than removing one's hand from the loop. This enabled me to keep it nice and snug at the wrist while not having to worry about getting out of it. "

Reader's comments

I have used CM Pulsars for many years, but ultimately found them heavy and a bit like bludgeons. The Quasars seemed too heavy, although the top bent angle was attractive. Unfortunately I could not find anyone to let me try them out. I eventually settle on the bent-shaft Grivel Rambos with the 3 mm Evolution pick. I really think the thinner pick makes a difference in sticking power for steep ice: less bashing, Obviously the Pulsars would be a better choice for mixed climbing or alpine where breaking a pick is more likely or more disastrous. I love the light feel and they are small diameter shafts (9mm) which make a big difference for small hands. (The Pulsars are also 9mm, but most of the others are 10mm. By the way I use the Rambo cramons which I really like also from Grivel.
Contributed by Ken Brown (kenneth.brown@vtmednet.org) on November 12, 1997.
Since the weight of Quasars seems to be an issue, it may be worth mentioning that the head weight can be removed, resulting in a tool that is lighter than some other tools in its class.
Contributed by Ken Cline (ken.cline@cs.cmu.edu) on November 19, 1997.
I have been using Black Prophets for two years now. The weight is not that much lighter than the legendary Pulsar, but the head design is (in my opinion) much superior. The single large bolt is easily tightened and loosened, but I have yet to have a bolt loosen up in use after seven years of climbing with Prophets and their predecessor X-15s. The head is also steel, and seems to be quite sturdy. The full rubber coating on the shaft makes holstering and unholstering difficult, and I agree that a mid-shaft leash attachment point would be a nice improvement. I used a Carbon Fiber Black Prophet last winter. I don''t know if the all-carbon shaft is sturdy enough for extended alpine climbing, but for waterfall ice it''s wonderful. Much lighter, and very well balanced. A note on the Camp Hypercouloir... This head design has (in my opinion) a fatal flaw. The attachments are held in place by substantial bolts, but the pick is damped by a tiny grub screw. This screw is prone to loosening, and if it falls out the tool buzzes badly when striking hard ice.
Contributed by Dennis Roscetti (roscetti@execpc.com) on December 12, 1997.
Instead of using wire and plastic bottles to create an anti-balling plate, try using duct tape. Its simple and reliable.
Contributed by Roger Ports (rports@honors.unr.edu) on January 30, 1998.
Been using carbon BP''s for 2 years now and they are the best swinging tool there is and they work in the mtns. I dont like CM tools. Ever try changing a pick? Used them for half a season until my bud sold his to get BP''s. What do you mean no mid shaft leash hole? Try using a twist leash which works the best. And besides when BD unleashes its new COBRA tool all else will be useless. I used these with the new aermet picks on funky ice and mixed nasties and this combination has no equal, period! I have yet to find a crampon I like. They all have weak and strong points(no pun). A light weight Footfang shaped like a Switchblade(outline of foot) with Grade 8 monos would be the setup.
Contributed by JEB (HighIceAK) on March 11, 1998.
I have straight shaft CM Pulsars, I bought them whilst living in Scotland and doing mainly scottish mixed stuff. The Blades are very goog for tourqing, they don''t bend like simond blades when stuck in a crack and hauled on, but the hammer is not a good design for tourqing- it''s too small. I now live in finland and climb just pure ice, and want bent shafts! Clearence over bulges and going on to easier bits isn''t as good as with my mate Quasars, but the pulsars are lighter. The cheap Camp "Spring" wrist loop works very well (are they available in the US?) and is one of the few Camp products I would recommend. I have BD Switchblades for ice climbing as my old Grivel 2F ''s were worn down from Scotland. The switchblades were an improvemnt... then I got mono points and it changed my climbing life! they are (as we say in the UK) the dogs bollocks- ie. rather good. I am yet to find ice that I would prefer dual points on. I hear they are being used on Scottish mixed as well with great results, but I haven''t tried myself. Camp Hypercouloirs are renowned in Scotland for their blades coming undone halfway up routes, and Camp Ice invaders snap at the front points. Unlike Tuan I have never had the bolts of my Pulsars come loose in 4 years of use.
Contributed by Toby Archer (Epenttila@Touko.helsinki.fi) on March 25, 1998.
Just bought a pair of Grivel "Machine" ice tools from Climb High in Vermont. Spectacular feel and ease of placement; the wrist loops are amazingly comfortable and are detachable... they remove easily from your wrist/hand in any case if you do not want to unclip them. They are a great tool in my view--check ''em out. Used them near the end of the season in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. They look odd but don''t feel gimmicky at all.
Contributed by Steve Starsja (steve.starsja@zymark.com) on April 15, 1998.
I used now for over four or five years the QM Pulsar on pure icefalls. This winter then I bought new Grivel tools, the 'Machines'. Then I climb insteadly one grade better, because, there you can unclip your wrist and hold them down to shake, so that your not getting so weak, without taking out the tool. Its also very good for screwing. The balance is excellent and the shape is very good for the 'mushrooms' (I like them now!!). There is only one problem: The pick is so thin that it can break after bashing on rock under the ice (It happend now two times this winter). But there is also a thicker mixed pick. Try them and you'll buy them like me. Have fun!
Contributed by (ustoecke@g26.ethz.ch) on March 4, 1999.
DMM Predators These are excellent axes, I've used a wide variety of tols on routes to grade 6 and these were by far the best. placements were usually made with the first attempt- which was nice.

Wrist Loops A very experienced British Guide- Terry Taylor- a regular in la Grave France and Canmore Canada- who at 50 made one of the ealy ascents of Sea of Vapours tought me a simple but effective technique. Don't buy wrist loops- make them yourself with tape - but tie the loop so that it can only fit around your wrist if the glove is alredy in the loop- this way it is most unlikely that ypur wrist will come out. This is important in 1992 I watched as a young French climber was hit on the head by falling ice whilst he was leading Symphony - an alpe D'Huez classic- his wrists came out of his wrist loops and he took a 100' fall- lukily he wasn't hurt too badly.

ed silva Liverpool UK

Contributed by (edsilva@snipeandpurple.freeserve.co.uk) on January 23, 2000.
The idea about the detachable wrist loops is ok, but climbers be mindful of the fact that these have a tendency to come unattached at inappropriate times (i.e. when you are swingin your tool) losing your tool on a climb is much worse than a little difficulty getting out of the leash
Contributed by Michael Collingwood (Nope@nope.com) on February 13, 2001.
I've been climbing for quite some time now. And I have some ice tools that i would highly reccomend. For axes, i would like to recommend the Charolet Moser Quarks. They are very nice axes, and have a good stick.They have pinkey guards for those who like to bash them. For crampons I would recommend Gravel Rambo Comps with the momo point. They are very nice to climb with.
Contributed by Tom Southern (Teyvo@hotmail.com) on April 12, 2001.

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