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Ice Axe Insulation Hack for the CAMP Corsa

How to insulate an ice axe

The CAMP Corsa Ice Axe (8.8 oz) is one of the lightest weight walking ice axes available today, which explains its popularity with thru-hikers, ultralight backpackers, and ski mountaineers. It’s a straight-shafted walking axe designed to stop uncontrolled slides down snow and ice covered slopes, as opposed to a curved and shorter ice-climbing axe which is used to climb frozen waterfalls and high angle ice.

When you think you might need an ice axe, you carry it in what’s called the “ready position”, with the butt of your hand wrapped around the pick and your fingers wrapped around the rear part, called the adze, with the point of the pick pointed away from your body. If you do fall, there’s no time to think, so prepositioning the axe in your hand properly is the only way you’ll be able to deploy it in time to prevent serious injury.

Tape up the parts you don’t want to cover with insulation
Tape up the parts you don’t want to cover with insulation

I’ve always found it challenging to grip the CAMP Corsa in the ready position because a high dexterity glove is required to wrap around its small pick and shaft. But most high dexterity gloves lack the insulation required to grasp a freezing cold piece of aluminum and carry it for hours at a time. .

The Inspiration - New Grivel Helix Insulated Grip
The Inspiration – New Grivel Helix Insulated Grip

Then I saw a picture on facebook posted by Chris Townsend of a new walking axe called the Grivel Helix which comes with a pick head cover (not available yet in the US). I immediately started researching spray-on rubber-like insulation and decided to try to duplicate something like it for my Corsa.

This hack is pretty simple but surprisingly effective. First, buy some Plastic Dip ($6) This is a spray-on rubber-like insulation with all kinds of nasty solvents in it, so do your spraying and drying outside or in a very well ventilated place. Plasti-Dip is also easy to peel off by hand if you make a mistake or don’t like the outcome.

Next tape up the parts of the axe you don’t want to cover with painters masking tape.

Then spray 7-10 coats of Plasti-Dip on the exposed metal that you want to insulate. Let dry at least 30 minutes between coats. When finished, let the axe dry for a couple of days.

Remove the masking tape to reveal the insulated axe.
Remove the masking tape to reveal the insulated axe.

Before you remove the tape, cut the boundary between the tape and the uncoated bare metal portion with a razor blaze. Plastic-Dip forms a continuous skin over the exposed metal and the tape, so it’s important to slice through the boundary so it doesn’t peel off when you take off the tape.

Carefully peel the tape off. Ta dah! You now have an insulated ice axe head that you can bare hand in warm weather or hold with a high dexterity, lightly insulated glove.

The insulated ice axe head can be barehanded in warmer weather or gripped with a lightly insulated glove
The insulated ice axe head can be barehanded in warmer weather or gripped with a lightly insulated glove.

Disclosure: The author purchased Plasti-Dip.

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  1. Clever! The cold metal is one of the main reasons I don’t carry an ice axe.

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts of the curved vs straight-laced and what people should have. For instance if you occasionally climb a small bit of ice on a hike can you get away with just straight? Or if you only want to have one set of axes what to get?

    • Walking (straight shaft) axes are for walkers who are also probably wearing crampons. You can’t climb high angle or vertical ice with them without considerable difficulty. They’re just not designed for it. They’re too long and they don’t have a good grip at the base for climbing ice.

      • I’ve switched over to the Petzl Sum’Tec – it’s got a few technical ice climbing features applied to an axe for glacier travel. The shaft is slightly curved so when using it to climb a steep hill both the pick and the tip are in contact without greater dexterity. Also, the adjustable palm lock makes it easier to grab and hook things to pull your self up. Bonus – not as long as glacier axe sonor doesn’t stick out too high above your head and catch all those snow-covered branches.

      • That’s the type of axe used by Hillary and Tenzing on their final push to the summit of Chomlungma.

  2. This article has satisfied my insomnia and my thirst for knowledge.

    Thank you,
    from the occupied territory of California.

  3. Great tip. On the list of “things to do”. Might also apply to trekking poles below the handle.

    • Probably overkill for trekking poles. Silicon or other grip tape intended for tool handles would work on the tubular shape of poles. The beauty of Phillip’s “hack” is that the spray method works on the irregular shape of the ice axe pick.

  4. Rubberized undercoating from the auto parts store is better.

  5. An old post, I know. :-) I have always just used either a scrap of closed-cell packing foam or alternatively a few inches of the black tubular pipe insulation sold in the big box stores. A little duct-tape to hold it on and you’re good to go for a while. Cheap, very light, warm to hold on to for hours, and easy to replace when it wears out.

  6. thanks for the nice tip Philip. I am going to try this before my big climb in Alaska .

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