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Reviews > Snow Gear > Axes and Shovels > Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe > Owner Review by joe schaffer

Black Diamond Raven Pro

by Joe Schaffer

July 15, 2013

TESTER INFORMATION: Author and BD Raven Pro on Mt. Shasta
NAME: Joe Schaffer
EMAIL: never2muchstuff(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
AGE: 65
HEIGHT: 5'9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79.4 kg)
HOME:  Hayward, California USA

    I frequent California's central Sierras, camping every month; up to 95 nights a year; about half the time solo. I work part time at an outdoor store. As a comfort camper I lug tent, mattress, chair, etc. Summer trips last typically a week to 10 days; 40 lbs (18 kg), about half food related; about 5 miles (8 km) per hiking day. I winter camp most often at 6,000' to 7,000' (1,800 to 2,000 m); 2 to 3 nights; 55 lbs (25 kg); 1 to 4 miles (1.6 to 6.4 km) on snowshoes.

The Product:
        Manufacturer: Black Diamond
        Web site:
        Product: Raven Pro Ice Axe
        Purchased: 2008

My measures:
        Weight: 14.75 oz (418 g)
        Length: 28" (70 cm)

Factory specs (from website):
        Weight: 13 oz (362 g) 
        Length: 20" (50 cm)
        MSRP: $99.95 US
BD Raven ProProduct Description:   

    The Raven Pro features a stainless steel head and spike with an aluminum shaft offered in 2" (5 cm)-increment lengths from 20" (50 cm) to 30" (75 cm). The forged head has one hole (current model has two) immediately above the shaft large enough to accommodate leash, rope or carabiner. The spike and heel also have one hole. The head's heel and serrated pick carry sharpened edges.

Field conditions:

    I've grubbed my way up 14,169' (4,319 m) Mt. Shasta (California, USA; Avalanche Gulch route) three times with this axe; over rock, hard snow and ice. The most recent trip in June, 2013, offered treacherous amounts of rime ice from 12,000' (3,600 m) providing significantly more challenge than I'd had in mind when I started the trip. On the pitch shown in the photo below, the ice was brittle enough my crampons wouldn't hold well and for one long moment I found the Raven Pro my only resistance to gravity.


    I am by no measure a climber.  My observations may be relevant for casual hikers who eschew technical work but don't shy from a bit of snowy declivity. My impressions relate to the less-technical end of this product category; perhaps most appropriate for this CEN-B certified axe.
BD Raven Pro
    My first summit trip I opted for the lightest axe in the world and discovered to my chagrin that no matter how much force I endeavored to muster, the head lacked any inertia to carry the pick safely into ice. Next on a Mt. Whitney (California, USA) trip I switched to a much heavier model. Though I didn't have solid ice this time, I couldn't seem to tease out the right touch for hard snow. I buried the heavy axe too deeply nearly every swat and spent too much energy extracting it. I find the mid-weight Raven Pro a perfect balance. Exhausted as I usually am by the time I get to altitudes where the nasty slick more often resides, the Raven Pro will drive into solid ice. And yet where the snow has merely settled into a firm freeze, I can sink the Raven Pro with a dainty plunk into the crunch without inadvertently burying the head to the handle. The somewhat straighter pick also requires less extraction effort.

    The spike is sharp enough I can plunge the shaft easily into hard snow. At 13,000' (4,000 m) it becomes fairly clear to my foggy mind that easier repetitions of sinking the shaft become torture in a less immediate time frame.

    I've encountered several stretches of rock where an axe makes a passable cane; and I prefer a longer shaft for this reason. I find the Raven Pro's trim neck and arch fit my hand very nicely; and the spike bites well on rock.

    In the range of simple axes, this one's a bit more pricey than my maybe-I-should-just-rent frame of mind likes to contemplate. I don't go that often. But when I add up what it does cost to approach a mountain hike and how much I need every advantage to increase my chances of making the summit, the extra bit of price spike seems more than prudent.

    Should I ever require extraction, I think it most important to have clean underwear and a cool ice axe. The bright and shiny stainless steel of the Raven Pro meets my specification here. It looks to me like it's made for business without being at all pretentious.

Raven Pro quick shots:

    a) Light
    b) Efficient
    c) Not cheap

Read more reviews of Black Diamond gear
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Reviews > Snow Gear > Axes and Shovels > Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe > Owner Review by joe schaffer

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