By: Matt Foot
In a world where all kit is getting lighter and lighter and lighter, is it such a bad thing to consider an advanced piece of kit that isn't quite at the cutting edge of development? This is a review for the Blue Ice Aero Ice Screw. It's important to note this is different to the newer Aero Lite screw from Blue Ice.
The Aero isn't Blue Ice’s newest screw but it still boasts the title of lightest steel ice screw on the market and also has some defining features which make it stand proud from the crowd. The spotlight for ice screw development has very much moved in the direction of the steel tipped aluminium shaft ultra light screws, with the main hardware manufacturers, including Blue Ice, all having a set of these on the market and whilst these super duper light, flashy aluminium screws are surely great, let's take a moment to consider that you probably don't need that. Maybe a full steel screw could suit you better and maybe, just maybe a robust but still extremely light weight steel screw might be perfect for those looking to climb abroad and at the same time abuse their kit in harsh Scottish conditions.
So, what is the run down of the Aero screw?
First off, as I’ve already said, it's light! For context, most other 13cm screws weigh in around the 130 - 140g range. The 13cm Aero is only 90g which is a pretty impressive saving. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that being that light puts it in direct competition with the ultra light, part aluminium screws on the market. A 13cm Petzl laser speed light is 91g and the Black Diamond Ultra light is 74g.
So, how come they are so light? Simply put, the Aero has thinner tube wall thickness. It's the thin wall design that allows for a lot of the weight saving. When you look down the barrel of a Blue Ice Aero and for example a Petzl Laser Speed and the difference in wall thickness is noticeable. On top of this they have a wider diameter than other screws on the market. At first this isn't really that noticeable but I certainly found I get used to placing the Blue Ice screws and then pulling another brand off the harness feels quite strange.
The bigger diameter is an interesting one and Blue Ice offers a couple of different benefits to this approach. Firstly it means a Blue Ice Aero screw can be placed in a previous screw hole and it will be just as good as placing it in fresh ice. The larger diameter means it will reem out the old hole cutting a new thread in the ice removing the concern of a loose or sloppy placement. Although most of the time in good ice it's not really necessary to reuse old screw holes it can come in handy on very popular routes where that key area has already been peppered with screw placements or on some Scottish routes where areas of quality ice are less readily available. The second thing to consider with a larger diameter is the contact area of the screw in the ice. Larger diameter means more surface area and more thread cutting into the ice leading to a stronger anchor. Now that's surely never a bad thing. The last simple perk is that a larger diameter hole is easier to thread a rope or cord through on belays or abseils and although that is a really small advantage it does mean abalakovs are slightly easier to thread. Small wins!
Moving up to the hanger. It's compact, light and sleek. It really is a simple, no fuss arrangement. The nice thing about the hanger is that the whole thing is colour coded, most brands simply have the colour coding on the handle but the fact that the whole hanger is anodised in the appropriate colour makes lifting the right size off the harness easier than ever. The colour then follows through on to the snap out handle. The handle snaps in and out really easily and has a decent gripy texture for use with big gloves.
My only initial concern with these screws was that the snap out handle is a simple folded wire. I wonder if through a lot of use that might be a possible point of failure when you compare them to the solid snap handles of other brands. That being said I like to think i've given them a pretty good run out this season in European and Scottish ice and it's never been a worry when I've been on lead.
Switching ends and looking at the sharp end we see the last defining feature of the Aero screw, the three tooth tip design. Most older screws have four teeth at the sharp end and Blue Ice say that their three tooth tip design enabled better initial bite and a quicker screwing action. From having them out on test alongside some other four tooth screws I would agree that the three tooth design seems to help quite a lot right at the beginning of the process. The coarser tooth profile bites quickly into the ice making it easier to get those all important initial turns on the screw before you can flip the handle out, effectively making them easier to place on steep ice than screws I've used in the past. I see this as a combination of the wider diameter, thinner wall thickness and then a more aggressive cutting action from the three tooth design rather than simply the fact that it's three tooth but at the end of the day if it's not kept sharp it won't be efficient. Which leads nicely onto the screw caps.
All screws come with what has to be the best screw caps on the market. Rather than just being a plug or a cup of moulded plastic Blue Ice have developed a screw cap that is easy to remove, even with gloves on (if you happen to forget before setting off) and they also have a loop hole so you can rack them on a spare carabiner. Hopefully meaning you're less likely to lose them all at the bottom of your bag. It's a small thing but I like it, keep them protected - keep them sharp.
As a whole package the Aero screw is a joy to use. Blue Ice has managed to strip as much weight as possible without compromising on the long term durability of the product. It's a sleek piece of kit where the design team have focused on what small changes they can make to maximise the efficiency of a tried and tested product that we rely so heavily on during our icy pursuits.
They rack nicely, they bite well and they screw rapidly. Surely that's everything you want from an ice screw.
So, if you're looking for a top end set of ice screws and modern aluminium/ steel tipped ultra lights dont tickle your fancy, you're not light on your gear or you're known to carry on turning the screw when a sneaky shallow rock turns up (fist of all stop doing that) then the Blue Ice Aero has to be the best contender for striking that balance between weight saving and durability. In my opinion if ice screw development was to stop here we wouldn't be left wanting!