I’m on mission this winter to shave yet more weight off my winter backpacking and mountaineering gear list. But pushing your non-consumables and unworn items below 25 lbs, becomes increasingly difficult without sacrificing some degree of safety and/or functionality.
That’s the issue with going ultralight. It’s not a just matter of gear replacement – there’s a lot of judgment involved in understanding the limits of your gear, what level of durability or functionality is required by your locale, and how you can improvise around a shortcoming, if necessary.
The Tuxedo Club
When I was in high school, I belonged to The Tuxedo Club. I went to a prep school where you had to wear a coat and tie to class….and we made fun of the rule by wearing tuxedos instead. It was my Dad’s old tuxedo, but it fit.
To this day, I often feel overdressed when I go hiking in the White Mountains in winter by showing up with an ice axe. Very few people I hike with carry one on a regular basis, but when I need it, boy, am I glad I have it!
However, I probably carry a lot more axe than I need. I own a Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe that weighs 17.1 oz. It’s a hefty steel axe with a big adze for chopping steps, which I mostly use it for opening beer bottles. Although I carry it all the time, I only use the Raven infrequently as a cane on steep slopes and I only self-arrest at most a few times each year. The parts of the Whites where I hike are just not that technical: I’ve never had to chop steps and don’t expect to ever need to, since I often wear crampons.
CAMP Corsa Ultralight Ice Axe
The World’s Lightest Ice Axe
So when I read about the CAMP Corsa Ice Axe, I was intrigued. It is reputed to be the lightest ice axe manufactured, or certainly one of the lightest in the 70 cm length I prefer. In fact, a 70 cm Corsa weighs just 10 oz, a 7.1 oz savings over my Black Diamond Raven. That’s nearly half a pound! The question was whether it would be enough of an axe for the White Mountains.
Black Diamond Raven (top), CAMP Corsa Ice Axe (bottom)
Side by Side Comparison: Raven vs Corsa
The Corsa weighs less the Raven because it’s made out of aluminum and not steel and because it has a smaller pick and adze. Yet, despite the difference in weight and tooling size, both axes have a B-rating, for Basic axes, meaning that they can be used for hill walking and that their shafts are strong enough to be used as belay anchors. B rating standards are defined by the UIAA (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) to regulate the safety of all types of climbing equipment, including ice axes.
CAMP Corsa (left) and Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe (right)
Pick Length and Adze Size
As you can see here, the Corsa has a noticeably shorter pick and smaller adze than the Raven. In my own testing, the Corsa pick length is still plenty sufficient for self-arrest. The adze is obviously smaller, which would be important if I needed to cut steps using it, but since I don’t, it’s not something I’m concerned about.
Less obvious, is the difference in grip comfort that results from having a shorter pick and adze. Initially, I found it quite difficult to get comfortable carrying the Corsa while wearing thick mountaineering gloves. The Raven, in contrast, is easy to carry in a self-arrest position with the adze facing forward. However, with use, the initial awkwardness I felt with the Corsa has faded and I’m now quite comfortable with the grip while wearing gloves in different thicknesses, from thin to fully lined.
Black Diamond Raven (left) and CAMP Corsa ice Axe (right)
Spike and Shaft Comparison
The Corsa doesn’t have a traditional spike at the end of it’s shaft like the Raven, Instead, the aluminum shaft is open in the bottom, though plugged with a piece of foam to keep snow and ice from accumulating inside. Despite the difference, it is as easy to penetrate snow and get purchase on ice with the Corsa and the angled point feels much more assertive than the Raven’s.
The picture above also shows a series of notches at the end of the Corsa shaft that make it easier than the Raven to get a grip on the shaft during a self arrest. The duct tapes wrapped around my Raven helps a bit with this, but is mainly intended for its insulation value.
After successfully climbing Mt Washington last weekend with the Corsa Ice Axe, my mind is mind up about its worthiness for the more gnarly peaks in the White Mountains, and I plan on using it exclusively. While the weight savings in switching from the BD Raven to the Corsa is attractive, the fact is that this is an appropriately aggressive axe for my locale, particularly since it will remain lashed to my backpack most of the time, and held in reserve in case I need it.
Written 2011. Updated 2017.
Disclosure: CAMP provided the author with a Corsa Ice Axe for this review.
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