Black Diamond retools their lightweight technical tools with ice climbing capabilities in the new Venom LT axes. And for those looking to streamline the gear, BD offers up a slick new shovel, the Transfer LT. Here’s our first look at this promising collection.
The last 4-5 years have seen a boom in lightweight, technically capable ice tools built for ski mountaineering and lightweight alpinism. Petzl opened the floodgates for this category with the Gully Ice Axe. With a fixed, recurved pick, a hammer or adze option, and an included pommel, these tools were a massive leap forward in the technical capabilities of a super light ski mountaineering ice axe. After a few years as the only real contender in this spot, the likes of Blue Ice with the Akila, Grivel with the Ghost, and now Black Diamond with the Venom LT provide several options with different strengths and weaknesses to consider.
Design Differences and Considerations
There are a few key considerations when deciding which of the ultralight ice tools to purchase. Having a few options on the market benefits the consumer here as we get the luxury of choosing exactly where our priorities lie and generally being able to find an excellent fit for our needs.
A few features to consider:
Spike: The Petzl Gully and Grivel Ghost tools have a diagonal cut-off aluminum shaft – excellent for stowing inside your pack, less excellent for plunging on firm snow. The BD Venom LT and Blue Ice Akila tools have steel spikes that will work better in firm snow but could damage the inside of a pack or rip a jacket.
Replaceable pick: The BD tools are the first in this category to offer a replaceable pick – a strong consideration if you plan to spend any significant amount of time ice/mixed climbing with these tools. It’s nice to sharpen the picks without worry and not need to replace the whole tool if you bend a pick. About five years into Gully ownership, this hasn’t been an issue for my occasional jaunts into ice/mixed terrain.
Hammer: My Gully hammer is beat – testing and placing pitons with the Gully requires a light touch, and I have heard of numerous breakages over the years. The Grivel hammer seems similarly wimpy, but the bolt-on BD and larger/better reinforced Blue Ice hammers are confidence-inspiring. Another useful addition of the BD tools – the hammer is added atop the adze with a bolt-on connection.
Venom LT Design Primer
The Venom LT has a similar bent aluminum shaft to every other lightweight tool discussed above. At first glance, the whole package looks similar to the Gully or Akila, but the details change from here. Starting at the spike, it is a plastic cone with a sharp steel tip. I may sand or file this a bit to reduce the likelihood of a torn pack or jacket. (Important for those stowing aces internally.) The head of the tool is unique as well – beyond being modular, BD forges it from aluminum. This material choice will be interesting to keep an eye on from a durability perspective, as each direct competitor uses a one-piece steel head: time will tell.
The Venom LT comes in a “classic” layout – straighter pick, no pommel, adze layout, and a “tech” setup with a recurved pick, sliding pommel, and hammer. (Recurve picks are better for steeper ice, and straighter picks are more advantageous for snow.) I have one of each axe for the review, but I plan to swap for the tech pick and add a pommel to my classic tool before venturing into technical terrain. I’m excited to bash some pitons with the hammer – it seems well-built and adds a nice heft to the swing weight.
Black Diamond LT Line/Shovel-Axe Integration
BD began releasing the green anodized “LT” line last year. Along with the tools, there is a shovel, the Transfer LT – which in addition to being lightweight and well built at first glance, is compatible with the Venom LT tools as a “Shaxe” type setup. The line also includes clothing, a tiny transceiver, and an excellent-looking snow saw that closely resembles my trusty Primo saw.
The Venom LT is certainly the most modular of the tools in this category, with pick options (yet to be released, but at least a “tech” and “classic”), the à la carte hammer, and pommels. I still need to, but I plan to play with Petzl’s pick weights as an aftermarket addition to improve the ice climbing performance. (Adding more mass to a pick helps the pick penetrate ice better.)
Regarding the ice tool-shovel handle compatibility, I imagine I will carry the normal shovel handle 90% of the time. The other 10% amounts to big days with low avalanche hazards and later season tours when I sometimes debate bringing avalanche gear along at all. The added functionality of an extendable, ergonomic shovel handle is worth it to me most any time there is a high likelihood of using the shovel.
Transfer LT Shovel Design Primer
A few quick notes on the Transfer LT shovel design: BD claims it is the lightest UIAA-certified shovel, a solid standard to look for in lightweight shovels as it ensures minimum ergonomic and construction requirements. The blade fits right in between two popular lightweight shovels size-wise. At 550 cm^2, it’s a bit bigger than the Mammut Alugator Light (508 cm^2), but slightly smaller than the BCA Dozer 1T-UL (621 cm^2). It’s a bit lighter than these options, too, at 408g (claimed) relative to 439g for the BCA and 475g for the Mammut.
Beyond the specs, the Transfer LT has a low profile and robust looking riveted shaft connection that seems like it will hold up better than some of the welded attachment sleeves I’ve seen fail. A small detail I appreciate is the lack of a “catch” when the handle is in the closed position. Often this means the shaft extends as I pull it out of the sleeve in my pack – a great alternative to the frequently frozen-in-collapsed position flaw of some previous shovels. I’m excited to use this shovel as a daily driver this winter.
I have access to and have used the Petzl and Blue Ice competitors and plan to compare them thoroughly. Once I’ve put these tools and shovel through the wringer, I’ll report with an in-depth review. In the meantime, if there are pressing questions or comparisons desired, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, and I can try to answer as best I can.
Venom LT Tech Piolet: $179.95
Venom LT Classic Piolet: $129.95
Transfer LT Shovel: $99.95
Gavin is a mountain guide and gear fanatic based in Jackson, WY. His endless pursuit of gear perfection led to starting a pack company, Apocalypse Equipment in 2019. He has a degree in Nordic skiing and mechanical engineering from the University of New Hampshire and worked as a ski shop tech prior to getting his dream job as a WildSnow contributor.
can you test whether a petzl gully/other lightweight axes also fit into the BD transfer LT shovel head?
Good question! Obviously, none of the other tools have the “button” to lock into the shovel, but if the shaft were the correct shape, it wouldn’t be too hard to drill a hole and steal a button from an old shovel.. stay tuned
Update: no dice: the gully is close, shape wise – but the plastic catch on the spike gets hung up.. maybe if you shaved that down it could be close but probably still wobbly. Camp nanotech and blue ice are too wide for the connection
Petzl Sum’tec is a bit heavier than this class of tool but are in a league of their own for modularity, climbing ability, and weight. If you actually plan to use your tools and not just carry them, the Sum’tec are hard to beat. I wouldn’t want to climb WI3 with a Petzl Gully or equivalent.
I think context is everything here- you won’t catch me climbing a long WI3 in hyalite canyon with my gully’s (or venom lt’s).. but for a small ice step in a mostly snow climb, I have found this class of tool sufficient while saving close to 300g for a set over a sumtec.
The great thing about the Gully is that it is a great light second tool to accompany a SumTec for alpine (not WI..) climbing AND to accompany a Corsa Nanotech for steep snowboarding :)))
I’m a very big fan of the DMM Spire Tech for an axe with an adze. Excellent quality construction (everything from DMM is), great low weight, more solid feel than the Petzl Gully, and much cheaper. Pair it with an Akila hammer from Blue Ice and you have a fantastic pair of light axes to get you through pretty much anything that you don’t need a T/type II set of axes for…
Can you flail down a steep ice slope and tell us which one arrests you slide more efficently? I have failed to stop a slide twice with my gully, once it defelced off the ice and the second time it just tore through the snow crust with no appreciable breaking.
I think that self arrest capability is an interesting metric to explore with these tools. In my experience, a recurve pick like on the gully, venom lt tech, etc is jerky or inconsistent for self arrest. The venom lt classic has the more classic rounded shape that would theoretically be more consistent, but it is quite short- limiting purchase.
Then there is the bigger question… are we going for self arrest capability or trying to provide sufficient security such that a self arrest is hopefully never required. I think many of these modern hybrid tools are designed with the latter theory in mind
How is the shovel shaft to balde attachment? Is the shaft asymmetric? On many shovels, you can insert the shaft ‘upside down’, where it won’t lock because the button is on the wrong side.
Is the button single sided? If so, is the other end of the spring clip attached? I once had the button on my Mammut come out of position(in practice) , meaning it wouldn’t lock in place until I got pliers and repositioned it.
The shaft is asymmetric, no chance of putting it upside down. Unfortunately, the button/spring clip seems to be free floating and I am able to get it misaligned/stuck. Have you found a shovel without this issue? I’ve lost a spring button on a bca shovel and while I haven’t gotten it stuck on my mammut, it iced up frequently on days that I used the shovel many times.
No, all the shovels we have (few Mammut, 2 Ortovox) have the loose button I think.
I have BD’s 1990’s axe compatible spade. It’s aluminum and has the wedge point associated with a spade. Digging snow caves on Denali our team found it superior to larger flat blades shovels in hard crust. Plastic shovels break.
I enjoyed having a combination snow anchor and shovel while saving the weight of a handle. Only caveat is the propensity to brain yourself as you are digging out a cave with a sharp point at the end of your shovel handle!
What is the weight of the handle of the shovel. It would be of interest to know the weight savings by going with the blade+axe combo
Anyone being able to get their hands on these axes? Skimo.co lists them as available in April…