The Black Diamond Raven Ultra is a superlight ski-touring and alpine axe. The Raven Ultra takes the design of the popular Raven walking axes and then strips off every ounce of weight to give a tool which weighs in at just 348g.
The shaft is constructed from a single piece of aluminium tubing plugged and reinforced at the bottom end to improve performance when plunging in softer snow. The head is a one piece stainless steel casting which allows for a low profile connection to the shaft letting your fingers sit more comfortably when holding the head than on many axes. This makes a big difference to the feel of the axe in your hand, especially when spending hour after hour plunging in softer snow. The investment casting and heat treatment applied to the head of this axe ensure that for a tool this light the Raven Ultra is surprisingly durable.
The Raven Ultra is in many ways a fusion of the best features of the amazingly light but poorly performing aluminium ski touring axes which are great unless you actually want to use them and the more substantial and durable walking axes - it is perfect for glacier travel, ski touring and light alpinism or as a back-up axe for high altitude via-ferrata and early season alpine rock climbing.
"I have used the Raven Ultra mainly for ski touring and ski mountaineering and it's lightweight simplicity, makes it perfect for this. It has a stainless steel head and pick which actually work on proper ice, unlike some of the lightweight aluminium axes I have used. The shaft of the axe is aluminium, has no rubberised grip or handle and can feel a bit slippery when you actually need to pull on it on steeper ground but you could add some self amalgamating plumbers tape for extra stickiness if you found this to be an issue. On terrain that was AD+ or harder, I'd usually carry a proper ice tool anyway."
"The Raven Ultra has a stainless steel spike integrated into the bottom of the aluminium shaft and whilst this is definitely more effective than some other lightweight models I've seen without this feature, offering greater durability and security when plunging it into snow and ice, it is definitely not as effective as a proper spike. However the Raven Ultra is all about compromise. It is a fantastic lightweight axe with a stainless steel pick that actually works in ice, and an adze that is very effective in chopping steps. The hole in the head can be used to attach a leash (old skool) and the adze and straight shaft allow the construction of a variety of snow anchors."
"As I said earlier the lightweight simplicity of the Raven Ultra make it perfect for skiing where weight is usually an issue. However I've also used mine on plenty of classic alpine routes up to AD and found it to work really well. I mentioned earlier that the shaft can feel slippy to hold, but holding the head feels pretty comfortable and secure and whilst it's not the most comfortable I've used, it's also not far off."
"Due to the light weight and compact size (I tested the 50 cm version but 55cm and 60cm are also available) I have found the Raven Ultra invaluable when approaching alpine rock climbs such as on the South Face of the Aiguille Du Midi or when crossing short sections of glacier. It fits inside my 25 litre pack and doesn't feel bulky or heavy to carry."
"Whilst the Raven Ultra has some failings you have to remember the context of the review and the purpose that the ice axe is designed for. It is a lightweight, minimalist axe designed for easy climbs, ski mountaineering and short sections of approach and descent where using an axe may not form the main part of the day. But when you do need it the Raven Ultra works, and works well!"
Climbing Gear Reviews are an independent reviewer of climbing, skiing and mountaineering equipment. Fronted by Kevin Avery, a trainee IFMGA mountain guide and former Gear Editor at UKClimbing.com, alongside Yorkshire based MIA Dave Sarkar, they provide completely honest and 100% impartial reviews. Click here to see their page.
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A good quality, lightweight alpine ice axe.
Used for self arrests, emergency anchor point, and for general glacier travel.
Plus points: Reasonable price, robust and simple design, capable.
Negative points: Easy to scuff coating (purely cosmetic problem though) and a shaft point that fills and ices up easily.
This is a great little light weight axe. Used it on the Haute Route and it was perfect for moderately strenuous climbs. In practice slides it stopped me without a problem.
I'm new to ski touring and decided that I needed a lightweight but robust ice axe, just in case, for Scottish Conditions. After a lot of research I settled on the Raven Ultra, ordering the 50cm version so that it will fit comfortably in my backpack, and it looks great in the flesh. From the web-page I was a little unsure about the sturdiness of wedge shaped bottom of the shaft, but on arrival it looks plenty sturdy enough for use when touring with a metal insert to reinforce it. Whilst it doesn't have a "grip" section on the shaft the anodised finish feels fine in the dry, only use in the hills will show how it fairs in the wet. It feels comfortable in the hand and nicely balanced despite its lightweight nature. Overall, it looks ideal for what I need, well made and I look forward to getting out on the hills and using it (hopefully not to often!) in practice.
I bought this after reading a very positive review on PTC's website but ended up being rather disappointed.
It's certainly a lovely looking axe and is very solidly built despite its light weight. It is excellent at chopping ice, either when step cutting or levelling ground for a bivi spot. It also has a nice swing when being used to assist climbing. Surprisingly, I found that the smooth shaft presented absolutely no problem as far as grip was concerned.
So why was I disappointed? For one, the head (despite being a gorgeous looking design) was not as comfortable in my hand as I was expecting. Perhaps this is because I have quite large hands? Whatever the reason, it was rather awkward to hold whilst plodding up steep snow slopes. This wouldn't have mattered so much if the axe had actually functioned better on those steep plods but I found that the spike design, whilst beautiful and weight-saving, just did not bite securely enough into hard neve or ice to inspire confidence.
Overall: if you're mostly going to be in softer snow and the head fits your hand this would be a lovely lightweight axe. If you are going to be on hard neve or ice get something with a proper spike.
This is a really neat axe. It is as light as the specs say, but manages to feel reassuringly heftier in use and penetrates and cuts like an ice axe should. I think this is due to getting the balance of the steel head on the lightweight shaft right (I have a 60cm one). The polished head is compact and I initially thought the pick was short, but the tip is 132mm out from the shaft. The teeth keep a 4mm thickness virtually to the tip. For comparison this pick is as long as and thicker than my Mountain Technology Walking axe. The adze is small at 45mm wide with a cut out to save weight, but I've had smaller and it still cuts (it has good corners to bite in harder snow or ice, unlike, say, a Camp Nanotech). The head is comfortable to grip - 12mm wide at the widest point above the shaft, and subtly rounded and shaped in all the right places. After 12 hours (or 3 days) you really appreciate these details. When I was looking around I noticed that Black Diamond have quite a range of detailed changes to the head designs on these axes - secondary stuff like differently shaped adze cutouts (diamond or triangle), double or single holes in the head casting at the top of the shaft, "milled out" pick cross section or smoothly profiled ... I asked BD for a list of options but heard nothing back. This particular axe has the options I wanted (triangle, two holes, smooth profile) In use the shaft penetrates well into late season neve -the steel insert is really quite sharp (and I'm not entirely sure how I'll protect it for carriage - though the 12mm hole means something will clip or tie on for next time). The shaft is 'cut' the right way round for maximum bite in piolet canne with the pick away from the slope. The shaft is slim, perhaps a little slimmer than usual, and it is featureless as far as grip is concerned. I might look out for a bit of grip tape for it, though. Once I had added a simple sling there was no problem with holding on. I'd just like a little more indexing to prevent turning in my hand when things are really icy. This is a fully functional ice axe that seems built to last and very well thought out. It's beautifully made and will just take its place and do the job without any fuss. If you fall for a particular head shape, just check that it's the one currently available. Downside? Only the slim featureless grip -but that's also a plus for a lot of folk and easily remedied. I think it's better to have the option to do what you want than live with an overly bulky grip -and you can read all this as a plus if you have dainty digits. BD prices sting a bit too, but I forgot about that on the first day out (I just pretended to myself I'd filled the tank with diesel one more time).
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Single elasticated axe tether for mountaineering axes with Rotor carabiner.