Filed under:Alpine Summer, Climbing & Mountaineering, Gear reviews, Ice Axes, Petzl SUM'TEC review
Will Harris tests out the latest version of Petzl's versatile technical mountaineering axes
Step into any good climbing store and you will find a dizzying array of ice axes, from classic, straight-shafted walking models through to radically curved, multi-handled products designed for dry-tooling across horizontal roofs. With such a wide variety of products on offer it can be hard to choose a single pair, particularly if you plan to use them for lots of different activities.
When making this choice the temptation that climbers often give into is that of buying the sexiest, most exciting looking technical tool on the market, without thinking about what they are realistically most likely to use it for. A steeply-curved, double-handled tool like the Petzl Nomic or the DMM Switch will work really well on steep ice and mixed ground, making such routes feel much easier, and indeed these tools have helped to drive up standards in winter climbing. The truth that some climbers seem to find hard to admit, however, is that tools like this just don’t perform that well in a mountaineering setting. Where the ability to plunge the shaft into soft snow is more useful than being able to swap hands whilst torqued in a vertical crack, a less radically curved tool is of much more use.
For technical mountaineering, where steep pitches are combined with steep snow and ice, a more versatile tool is needed, and with their new version of the SUM’TEC, Petzl have managed to produce something quite special, something that works well in lots of different environments – one tool to rule them all. The older version of the SUM’TEC has been around for a while now, and has attracted a firm following of climbers who have found that it works well for the type of technical mountaineering where versatility is key. This reviewer has used the previous version everywhere from Scottish grade I gullies to 3,000m-high Alaskan testpieces. With the new version Petzl have maintained that versatility, whilst increasing its abilities on steeper, more technical ground.
One feature that makes the SUM’TEC particularly versatile is the Trigrest, or movable handle, that can be moved up and down the shaft. This allows them to be used leashless on technical ground, but also allows the bottom of the shaft to be cleared of obstructions, with the handle moved up to the tool’s head. This is great when moving around on steep snow, and particularly when building snow belays, where the ability to plunge the shaft deep into snow can be blocked by the fixed bottom handles found on other leashless tools. The new-style Trigrest gives a larger, more secure hold than that found on the previous version, but a minor gripe of ours is that we found the new version harder to unlock to move up and down the shaft when wearing thick gloves. The new version can also become clogged up with snow and ice, particularly when used in damp, turfy Scottish conditions, although never to the point that we were unable to move it.
One downside to the Trigrest design, both on the old and new version, is shared with other similar axes from other manufacturers which feature sliding handles; as the sliding handle sits close to the shaft of the tool, it is not compatible with applying self-amalgamating rubberised tape to the shaft, something which makes holding different positions on the shaft more comfortable and secure when daggering on steep snow slopes. While certainly not a deal-breaker, adding additional grip to the whole shaft would improve the performance of the tools in this specific usage.
The new SUM’TEC shares a very similar geometry to the previous version, with a slightly curved shaft that allows a small amount of clearance when swinging into snow and ice, without sacrificing performance on less steep ground. The curve is significantly less pronounced than on Petzl’s more technically focussed Quark, meaning that the Quark works better on steep waterfall ice and Scottish tech 5 and above mixed ground.
Unlike the older version of the SUM’TEC, which had its own drop-forged modular pick, the new SUM’TEC shares a head design and shaft shape and diameter with the more technical Quark, Nomic and Ergo axes, meaning that accessories and new picks can be used from across the range. The new style of pick, in common with these other tools, is significantly better than that found on the older version for technical climbing, providing more piercing power of hard ice. Weight-wise, Petzl have shaved off a few grams, with the new version weighing in at 470g complete with removable hammer and adze, more than 100g lighter than
We would strongly recommend these tools for anyone who is looking to use one pair of tools for a wide variety of activities, from classic winter mountaineering through to big, technical alpine routes. They climb well on moderately technical ground, but will also get you to the base of your route and back down from the summit effectively.
One tool to rule them all, the new and improved SUM’TEC is still one of the most versatile ice axes on the market.