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CAMP Corsa Ultralight Ice Axe

CAMP Corsa Ice Axe in the Alpine Garden, Mt Washington (NH)
CAMP Corsa Ice Axe in the Alpine Garden, Mt Washington (NH)

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

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.

CAMP Corsa Ice Axe

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 Ice Axe

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.

CAMP Corsa Ice Axe

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.

Final Assessment

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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  1. I'll be interested to hear if that bare aluminum spike end wears in rough use.

    A better alternative to duct tape for wrapping your axe is the thin foam sold as bike handlebar tape. Insulates better (but doesn't have the dirtbag climber-cred of duct tape, admittedly.)

  2. I look forward to seeing how the axe holds up to the Whites in the long run. These mountains of ours are tough on gear! I personally use Grivel axes and crampons. When it comes to these tools I don't mind carrying a bit more weight as the benefit of more robust gear far outweighs the few ounces of savings in my opinion.

    As for wrapping the head of you axe to insulate against cold there is a MUCH better way to do it.

    Go to your local hardware store and ask for a roll of "silicone tape". This type of tape is self-fusing. You just stretch it taught as you apply the tape around the head of the axe and let it sit overnight. This application will easily last you the entire winter climbing season. Use a razor blade from an utility knife to remove the tape when you're done.

  3. good tips about taping, thanks. I remember looking into this when I taped my raven and couldn't find anything decent, so resorted to the duct tape, but both of your options sound much better.

  4. Laura uses two Camp ice tools and I use one Black Diamond Raven and one Camp ice tool in the other hand. I find Camp's Ice tools to be perfect for the Whites when you want to get technical but not full blown top-rope ice climbing.

    We do creative ice climbing. Whether you're climbing Everest or Franconia… there's always a really easy way to do it and a really hard way. I like to think of it as the "Bouldering" version of ice climbing.

    For example, let's say Laura and I are climbing "Falling Waters" trail and we see a way to go up and around a 10 foot boulder laden with ice, instead we might just put away the trekking poles and break out the axes. I also carry a rope just in case things get dangerous.

    I find the angling on Camps axes to be perfect for this style of climbing. A $400 Black Diamond ice tool is overkill on the Alpine ice and its just going to get dull when it splits the ice and smacks the Boulder anyways.

    In fact, my favorite thing to do is use the mountaineering axe for ice climbing and not ice tools. As long as you're not at a deadly height, the struggle of hacking and shimming up a mountaineering ax can be a lot of fun and more challenging than ice tools.

    I looked at the Camp Corsa online and it seems good to me. In fact, I think you let me hold it on the 101 class. It's hard to compete with the diamond though, because its such an industry standard.

    As far as not needing a Mountaineer ax, I slide down the entire Washington cone on my ice ax. The fastest way down any mountain is to pack away the poles, break out the ax, and slide when you can…. using the ax to control your direction and speed.

  5. Regarding durability, I have been using the Corsa all winter so far and the wear on the spike has been negligible. I've seen a lot of other manufacturers using this open spike design, so it's not that unusual.

  6. Out of curiosity, which CAMP ice tools do you and Laura use. I've been looking at the ones they have with the replaceable grips. I think there's a good argument to be made for using lighter weight tools if you have to carry them a long distance or do a high pitch. How do they feel on the swing and stick, compared to a heavier BD or Petzl tool.

  7. the nano steel corsa has a 50g weight penalty but seems more durable …

  8. True, but just the pick tip is steel. The rest of the body and spike are T6 Aluminum.

  9. Laura and I use the Camp Divax. There's no way they compare to Petzl or BD at all… but again… they are 1/4 of the price. The Camp swing just fine although their shape is more multi-purpose than just ice climbing. Laura uses hers as her primary mountaineer ax.

    Just like the Hillsound Trail Crampon worked great this weekend. Def not as hardcore as a pair of Nepal Evo's with Grivels attached. I find the experience to be much better when you don't over-kill.

    As for Scarpa, I will never wear those again lol

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