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Black Diamond Raven with Grip

rated 5.0 of 5 stars
photo: Black Diamond Raven with Grip mountaineering axe/piolet
Version reviewed: 55cm

If you have ever wondered if you need an ice axe, the answer is yes and this is probably the one you need.


  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • Cool grip
  • Feels good in hand
  • Durable
  • Solid swing


  • People still use wrist straps?

When your mountaineering requires a little pick swinging, but not enough to justify a hybrid tool like the Black Diamond Venom (I lost mine, then bought another later) the Raven is a very good choice. 

The Raven is my fourth ice axe. I have climbed Mt. Adams, St. Helens, and I just returned from using my Raven on my second summit of Mt Rainier. I've also used axes on several smaller summit scrambles. My needs are mostly along the lines of balance, self-arrest, and lower angle snow climbing (up to 45 degrees). 

Conditions Tested

I used the Raven on Mt. Rainier on the Disappointment Cleaver route, which is the most moderate route on the mountain and includes some small bergschrund crossings where I used the axe overhand style and a decent amount of highly abrasive rock scrambling. 

I used this axe on Mt. Saint Helens in a spring climb as well.

I also practiced self arrest with the Raven and found it to work as expected. 

I purchased the 55cm version because if 55cm doesn't reach the snow you aren't on steep enough terrain to need an ice axe in the first place.  Shorter axes also arrest very well. They are lighter and faster to move around. 

Rainier Summit


After clanging around on rock the raven shows surprisingly little damage.  The stainless steel head has shown to be durable and resists dulling as SS steel is known for. 

Mount Saint Helens, about to summit


1lb. 2oz. is not out of the middle range for axes but is slightly heavier than some offerings from BD. You end up carrying these a lot so weight is a consideration but so is swinging and biting power which is sacrificed with lighter axes. 

Easily stashed in a gear loop or spare 'biner, on Mt Rainier, Mt Adams in the background


The rubber grip, though not strictly necessary, is a nice feature when you swing the axe overhand which isn't very often for most climbers. Some speculate that the grip impedes plunging which it does not. Unlike other axes which have wider necks, the narrow neck by the head feels very nice in the hand and it is a pleasure to carry all day,


The included sliding wrist leash joined the rest of the ones that come on my axes in a bin, unused. A sliding wrist leach SOUNDS like a great idea until you have to switch hands during climbing, then it's just a damn nuisance.

I use an umbilical attached to the head. I used to say that you don't really have to worry about losing your axe because no one ever drops theirs. Then I watched one slide into a crevasse this weekend after a guided client dropped his during a fall. 


Ice axes are found at every price range and I think that the $80-100 range is fine for something that will last as long as you live. 

Who needs this axe

The Raven is not your next ice climbing axe, but works well for glacier travel and moderate angle snow climbs where self arrest is a possibility. It's light enough to bring along "just in case" and fills a lot of needs.

Update 04/2016: At the top of Mt Hood again with the Raven and the Venom Hammer.  Two tool fun!

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $95

Raven with some really nice upgrades. The luxury model!


  • Lightweight
  • Good self-arrest
  • Extras
  • Excellent head design


  • A bit heavier than some (50 gms extra?)
  • ...but that can be a good thing


First there was the BD Raven, then the lighter Raven Pro, and the Raven Ultra. And now the Raven with some modern upgrades. While this isn't as hard core as the Raven Pro, this axe is a nice notch up in other areas. 

It comes with a slider leash and a comfortable dual-density handle, both helpful on a winter traverse. In my opinion, using an axe without a leash is kind of like driving a car without a seatbelt, since if you fall and lose the axe in the process, you're pretty much done. And when you're carrying the axe by the shaft, the softer handgrip stops your hand from freezing and provides a more secure grip.

I like the pick's curve and teeth, and when I tried out a few self-arrests, I found them to have excellent grip. Showed off a bit at an ice face by sinking the tip and hanging off it, just like an ice-climbing axe. I like the heavier adze for chopping steps or digging a hole. The hand grip is set flush with the shaft so it doesn't interfere with plunging, and you can get a solid grip when the footing's tricky. The head is also notched with a comfortable finger grips to make it easy to hang onto, and it has a moderate positive angle.

The shaft is aircraft-grade aluminum, and the head is investment-cast stainless steel, just like the other BD axes. Base weight is about 450 gms, and the additional weight of the leash would be nominal, so it's right in the mid-range of modern ice axes.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $95

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Price MSRP: $95.95
Current Retail: $124.95-$125.00
Historic Range: $58.47-$125.00
Reviewers Paid: $95.00
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