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Which Ice Screw? | Buying Guide

by Jake Surman

Sat here on a crisp, cold and sunny November day in the Lake District, the thought of ice climbing seems closer than ever. The winter season is more or less upon us and so I thought it might be useful to run through the various ice screws that we at Rock+Run have on offer. Probably the first thing to note is that all of the screws here can be placed quickly with one hand – this capability has transformed the way steep ice can be protected. It’s probably safe to say that the new breed of ice screw with winders or handles on has made the old style obsolete for anybody buying now, such is the difference in performance. Surprisingly, the manufacturers have come up with rather differing designs to make placements as fast as possible for us. An important consideration that is sometimes overlooked when buying ice screws is how well they rack on your harness. Ice screws are best racked on plastic ‘clipper’ type carabiners for easy access. It is far preferable to have your screws hanging neatly, pointing behind you than to be sticking out all over the place – especially if you're unfortunate enough to take to the air. No matter how good a screw is when you buy it will be made far less effective if the teeth are blunt.

Below you will find our range, and giving you a bit of an insight into what each ice screw has to offer.

Black Diamond Express

The Express is a classic design that looks very simple and yet works brilliantly. It features a tapered tube where the teeth cut a hole just larger than the tube itself, for less friction during placements. The hangar also offers a secondary clip-in point for belays, and is also made of stainless steel so it won't rust. If you know of the old black hangar, then you may have heard of these heating up. This is now not an issue, although I’m not sure if anybody has ever experienced this in Scotland! The knob is big to make it unlikely to be dropped when wearing big gloves. Overall this screw is still one of the best, racks very well and makes a great base for any winter rack.

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Black Diamond Turbo

The Turbo is a simple, lightweight and efficient ice screw with a classic design. they feature Black Diamond's precision tooth geometry with a hanger that functions as a handle for placements and a low-profile design to streamline your rack. They are a time tested piece, with a single carabiner hole for simplicity. They are a very durable ice screw with a long re-sharp-ability period! The hanger also allows carabiners to lay parallel to the ice. The screws are a great starter piece of kit, and robust enough to last years and years whilst you build up your rack. 

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Black Diamond Ultralight

The Ultralights are exactly what the name suggests, ultralight! They are designed for ski mountaineering, glacial travel and high-end alpinism. Weighing in at 45% lighter than the Express Screws, they are quick to bite and easy to crank in. They combine a steel tip with an aluminium body, and a forged aluminium hanger that features two clip-in points. The foldable speed-drive knob is colour-coded for quick length identification and offers uninterrupted 360-degree motion. The new Aluminium hangers are lighter than previous models and rack fantastically when put on an ice clipper. The innovative wire-gate Express handle shaves more weight and also clicks open and closed.The advantage of the the original Express ice screws is that although they are heavier, they are more durable. These Ultralights may save pounds, but the material is less durable than the steel version and the threads may dent easier. This is why the Ultralights designed for ski mountaineers, glacial travellers and high-end alpinists where weight needs to be at a minimum.

ice screws harness

Blue Ice Aero Lite

The Blue Ice Aero Lite ice screws are the lightest on the market and designed for technical mountaineering. They feature a unique 3-tooth steel bit which makes it easier to start screwing them into the ice. The body and the hanger are made of aluminium to minimise weight and the foldable crank is made of stainless steel. I really like the diameter of the screws as well, they are larger than others on the market, which makes it possible to safely use existing anchor holes. The colour coding of each screw also makes it that bit quicker to identify the different lengths. These are the ideal screws for technical routes where performance and lightness are key points. We feel these are similar to the BD Ultralights, but somehow even lighter, and with the wider diameter, a huge plus. I think they also work better on wet ice (whereas some other aluminium screws falter), a big plus for the UK! I also like the option of having a 10cm lightweight aluminium version, the Ultralights and Petzl Lasers only offer 13cm at the shortest length. 

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Grivel 360

This is a cleverly designed piece of kit with one main advantage over the competition; because all of the leverage required for placement is gained from the folding wire handle the hanger is very compact. This means that unlike the other screws here the 360 can be placed in dishes and pockets with very little cleaning. The 360 is also very easy to place and thanks to the long handle it will crank down into hard ice with relative ease. When obstructions of rock or ice prevent a normal fixed hanger's rotation, the 360's handle may be lifted away from the surface and turned freely. Another advantage of the folding handle is that once it is folded in the 360 is fairly compact and for my money racks better than the fixed crank Helix. The 360 is more likely to go in where nothing else will, so it’s definitely worth having them on your rack!

grivel grivel

Grivel Helix

This is a very simple design with a fixed crank opposite the hanger. The tube is the same as for the 360 and so the initial bite is similarly excellent. As a result of its simplicity the Helix is very easy to use, and also very quick. The downside of this simple design is that the Helix is slightly bulkier to rack than most, and does not squeeze into awkward spots like the 360. However, for ease of use the Helix is a great choice, easy to crank and complements other ice screws on your rack really well. 

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Petzl Laser Speed

This high-performance ice screw is perfect for difficult placements where ease of use is paramount. The light, hot forged steel tubing of the Laser Speed maintains durability whilst keeping weight down. The integrated folding crank gives an optimised handle which offers some of the best and most powerful leverage available, making it easier and faster to screw in. The design of the three teeth is optimised to facilitate improved and quick bite into the ice and the patented tooth edge design makes sharpening easier. The screws are also colour-coded which helps you identify the screw length. Finally, another great feature of the Laser Speed is the ample crank clearing which allows you to sink the screws in placements that don’t work as well with screws that offer less crank clearance. 

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Petzl Laser Speed Light

Very similar to the Laser Speed, but lighter! This is a high-performance ice screw with an integrated crank. It varies from its predecessor by way of three teeth rather than the usual four, which them much easier to place in the ice, exactly like the heavier Laser Speed. Because of its weight, the Light is perfect for winter mountaineering. The aluminium tubing, tipped with steel teeth reduces the weight considerably, while the integrated folding crank gives an optimised lever/handle, making it easier and faster to screw in. Again, like the Black Diamond Ultralights, they are not as durable as the heavier Laser Speeds, so it is wise to carry a few of each. Aluminium may be light, but they can also be harder to screw into the ice when conditions are wet and less than ideal, so be prepared with a variety of different types and lengths. For the Laser Speed Light, I really like the bright orange tube, it makes it easy to see, especially if you drop one in the snow!

laser speed lightspeed light rackedconrad anker ice screwracked

Ice Screw Sharpening Service

We offer an Ice Screw Sharpening Service! We provide an ice screw sharpening service using our Grivel Diamond Pro Sharpener. The diamond laced file quickly restores most screws, giving you a few more seasons before replacement is necessary. Whilst our device is designed for Grivel screws it will sharpen most brands (DMM, Petzl, Black Diamond, Camp, Simond, etc.) of modern steel, 4-point screws with a diameter between 19 and 22mm. Please be aware we cannot sharpen 3-point screws or those made of aluminium or titanium.

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