Petzl Sum’Tec Axe Ice Tool Review

Post by blogger | May 29, 2013      

This past winter I tested a pair of Petzl Sum’Tec axes. This is a unique solution that splits the difference between a mountaineering axe and a technical ice tool.

The head of the adze version of the Sum'tec axe.

I’ve had a traditional piolet for years and used it for most of my ski mountaineering. Often, if the snow is hard enough for a more substantial tool, the skiing isn’t going to be ideal. However, a few times over the years I’ve used more technical tools for a ski mountaineering climbs. Having a heavier, powerful pick is sometimes confidence inspiring.

There are two standard CEN classes of ice axes: B, the lighter weight mountaineering axes, and T, heavier, stronger ice tools. Sum’Tec is somewhat unique in that it has a B rated pick, and a T rated shaft. The combination creates a lightweight, fairly technical tool. Sum’Tec comes in both a adze and a hammer version, and several different lengths. I got one each in the 52 cm length.

Of course, lots of ice tools have powerful picks similar to the Sum’Tec, but the real benefit is the smooth shaft similar to a standard mountaineering axe. Most technical tools aren’t ideal for ski mountaineering since the burly handle means you can’t effectively plunge the shaft in softer snow conditions. Most of my climbs are on soft snow, so the ability to self-belay via plunging is extremely important to me. Although the Sum’Tec has a smooth, simple shaft, it features the Trigrest finger rest, which can be slid down to be a hand rest, or slid up and out of the way. The Trigrest has proven to be a neat feature, enabling use of the axe without a leash.

The Trigrest can slide up and down the shaft after releasing it with the small orange lever.

I’ve been using the Sum’Tec for a few months now on several ski mountaineering trips including my spring break trip to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. I’ve used it in a variety of snow conditions from pow to frozen corn.

So far the tools have performed excellently. They are nice and secure, and the Trigrest is an easy to use, simple solution. It can be slid to the top of the axe for self-belay, and easily moved to the bottom for steeper terrain or harder snow. I have experienced some slippage of the Trigrest grip. It seems to need to be adjusted precisely to work correctly. Luckily the spike of the axe prevents it from coming completely off; it can only slide to the bottom of the shaft. On many trips I still opt for a lighter axe or just a whippet, since the Sum’Tecs are fairly heavy, at 485 grams (495 for the adze).

The Sum’Tec nicely fills the need for a technical ski mountaineering axe. It’s technical enough to get through most anything a ski trip might involve, but also suitable for standard snow climbing. The combo of a heavy, sharp pick, and traditional, smooth lower is key.

Sum-Tec ice axe available here.


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33 Responses to “Petzl Sum’Tec Axe Ice Tool Review”

  1. Robin May 29th, 2013 10:05 am

    Sorry but isn’t the rating the other way around ? B for the pick and T for the shaft ? Look at the first picture.

  2. Erik May 29th, 2013 10:07 am

    I agree… I’ve been using my sumtec setup for this past year and have liked it in all conditions I’ve found (snow, low angle ice etc). The only small issue I’ve encountered is that you can’t pull the trig rest all the way up to the top, as the diameter of the shaft gets every so slightly larger at the top of the tool… once you adjust the trig rest so that it won’t slip on the main shaft, it is then too tight to close down once its dragged all the way up underneath the pick. Granted I’ve been able to pull it up enough so self belay works, but ideally I’d like to pull it all the way up…

  3. Lou Dawson May 29th, 2013 10:14 am

    Robin, editor Lou Sr. here, I think you’re correct, I’ll fix. 20 push ups Louie…

    Thanks, Lou

  4. Louie Dawson May 29th, 2013 10:21 am

    oops, yep thanks for pointing that out.

    yeah I’ve found it pretty tricky to get the trig rest adjusted correctly. I’ve been able to get mine so that it works along the full length, but it definitely gets tighter at the top.

  5. Erik Erikson May 29th, 2013 10:53 am

    Dont wanna be responsible for another 20 push ups the younger Dawson has to perform, but nevertheless have to say: In Ice axe rating T (“technical”) is for the stronger axes, B (“basic”) for the lighter ones.
    That means the Sum Tec has a lighter pick, but a stronger shaft (so the other way round as Louie said). The stronger shaft is for better reliability when you have to save someone out of a crevasse and bury your axe as the only point on which you rig all your rescue system

  6. Jon Rhoderick May 29th, 2013 11:06 am

    How is self arresting with the technical pick? If it performs OK at that I see it as being an ideal ice axe.

  7. Matthew May 29th, 2013 11:10 am

    Sorry, but the if a shaft or pick passes the T test then it is stronger than a similar item that has passed the B test.

    T shafts are often seen as ones with which it is safe to belay from and T picks as ones which are more suited to mixed climbing involving actions such as torquing. B picks are more suited to pure ice.

  8. Erik Erikson May 29th, 2013 11:13 am

    Yes, Matthew, as I said above. T is tested up to 400 kg, B up to 200 as far as I remember. But at least in Europe an axe is only a T rated axe if both the shaft and the pick are T rated. If one is only B, manufacturers have to rate the hole axe as “B”

  9. Erik Erikson May 29th, 2013 11:29 am

    Jon, as for self arresting: I always felt that the shape of the pick is not important, as long as it is not too extrem. But I experienced that a curved shaft helps when it comes to self arresting and increases the stopping power compared to a straight one. But that´s just me.

  10. Lou Dawson May 29th, 2013 12:04 pm

    Sorry about he B/T confusion guys, I’ll continue to edit. More push ups!

  11. Lou Dawson May 29th, 2013 12:09 pm

    One thing I know quite a bit is self arrest with ax, having taught it for years and been in dozens of on-snow practice sessions involving steep snow with a J-line catch set up. The curved picks can be problematic as they are hard to control, once you jab it in they tend to hook and pull out of your hands, a straighter pick is much better overall for self arrest, but of course not as good for climbing. So compromise is important I guess — but I think the key is to do some practice sessions. If you’ve not really practiced self arrest more than once you’re not good enough at it. There, I said it. (grin).

    Oh, and during a practice session you can whip out your Whippets as well to see just how poorly they perform compared to an ice axe. Though they do have an effect, and have saved lives.

  12. Lou Dawson May 29th, 2013 12:13 pm

    I’ve got to run to an appointment, Louie? We need to clarify the B/T issues.

    Good on you guys for bringing this up, I’ve already learned a few things about the CE stuff. Important.


  13. Toby May 29th, 2013 1:19 pm

    Like Matthew said above, the real and pure ice climbing tools are typically equipped with B pick, when mixed terrain tools have to have T picks. I think for a mountaineer purpose the T shaft is only that really matters. Having a T rated shaft in this weight class is not that common at all. For an example: BD Venom has only B rated shaft, and Petzl Aztar and Aztarex had only B shafts, etc.

    Petzl Cascade pick is a general purpose (B) pick for the Petzl Quark and BlackDiamond picks like: laser, Fusion, are all B rated. What I try to say is, that the B-pick (pure ice pick) suits very well for Sum’tec, I cannot image anyone doing hard mixed staff with this type of tool in anyway. But the T shaft is required (good to have) for mountaineering.

  14. SteveR May 29th, 2013 2:32 pm

    Explanation of the tests that ice axe shafts / picks have to pass in order to receive either a B or a T rating…

  15. Mac May 29th, 2013 3:04 pm

    Defintions from the UIAA:

    Two recognized types of tools exist, although there are multiple uses for both:

    1. Type B – a basic ice tool for use when crossing glaciers and for standard snow climbs, and

    2. Type T – a technical ice tool used when climbing steep ice.

    A technical ice tool is required to have a stronger shaft, head and pick than a standard ice tool, and in addition there is a fatigue performance test on the pick of a technical ice tool.

    So in essence, for techincal climbing (ie were a tool is likely to be be ‘torqued’) regardless of the medium (ie either ice or mixed), a T rated pick in addition to a T rated shaft, is the standard.

  16. Pete May 29th, 2013 4:07 pm

    I have a DMM Vapour, which sounds very similar, though with a conventional curved pick. Light, smooth shaft and T rated. They seem to have stopped making it now – it’s essentially a sawn off DMM Cirque.

  17. Louie Dawson May 29th, 2013 4:07 pm

    Sorry for the confusion. I just got out of class. It should be correct now, the axe has a B pick and a T shaft. From my understanding, most high-end ice tools have T ratings on both, while some lighter and lower end tools have a B rated pick (e.g. BD Reactor). I’m not much of a ice climber, but what little I have done has been on fully T rated tools, for what that’s worth.

    I honestly haven’t tried self-arresting with the Sum’tec. I think the pick wouldn’t be an issue, as it isn’t any smaller than the pick on many light mountaineering axes. The curved shaft would cause more issues. For me, self arresting is a last ditch technique, that I’ve only had to do a few times “for real”. Much more valuable is not falling in the first place, and self-belay is essential for that.

  18. Lou Dawson May 29th, 2013 6:11 pm

    Nice bunch of info you guys! And thanks Louie for editing. Lou

  19. Erik Erikson May 29th, 2013 11:38 pm

    Louie, I think your last post might be still confusing for some folks who are looking for a pure good mountaineering axe: It is correct, that only ” some lighter and lower end tools have a B rated pick” if you are talking about ice climbing tools.

    But Mountaineering axes almost always have a only B rated pick and B rated shaft, even most of the high end ones (for example Petzl summit or BD Venom).

    It has been said here in mountaineering it would be good to have a T rated shaft. That is correct only in theory. In the real world almost everyone who is “only” mountaineering (glacier travel, snow climbing and easy ice climbing, self belaying) carries a only B rated axe. And that is strong enough! The hardest thing you can put on a shaft in mountaineering is when you use the shaft as an anchor (self belaying, belaying, and crevasse rescue). I have never ever heard of one case in which the shaft would actually have been broken by that kind of use (and at least in Europe for regular mountaineering you see most times B rated axes). All accidents in that fields I know came from a popping out of the axe (the anchor) of the snow, never from breaking them.

    So, if one is looking for a good mountaineering and ski touring axe, B rating is enough! That is important, because most axes suited for that do have only B rating, and most T rated tools are not designed for pure mountaineering and a real overkill (Sum Tec being an exception of course)
    When it comes to harder ice and especially mixed climbing: T in any case.
    The only well suited (and very expensive) fully T rated Mountaineering axe is the Grivel air Tech evolution. Besides the T rating a very good one if you wanna afford it, but I rely on a B rated Petzl Summit (not Sum Tec) without any problems.

  20. Erik Erikson May 29th, 2013 11:52 pm

    Lou, I´d really like to have your opinion on my following question, as you seem to be very experienced when it comes to self arrest:
    I wrote above, that I feel a curved SHAFT (not pick) is better for self arresting than a straight one. Just what I experienced, do not know why. What do you think aboot that? In a quick search concering that matter I found not too much on the net, for example here they prove what I feel (and besides also say that a B rated axe is way good enough for mountaineering).
    And as I also said, I feel the shape of the PICK not so important (as long as it is not curved too extrem)… but for sure you will have tested that much more than I have.

  21. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2013 6:22 am

    Well, I can say from a bunch of real testing that pick shape is only very important on real ice, and self arrest on real ice only works in ideal circumstances (lower angle, ice that’s not too hard, crampons held up with bent knees so they don’t catch, etc.) On snow, pick shape is not very important because snow type varies so much. In some types of snow a longer or thicker pick works better, or even an adze when it’s really soupy. Other times, even smaller picks drag too well and tend to rip the axe out of yoru hands.

    As far as I know, the slightly bent shaft axes work fine for self arrest, although any axe with too much pick angle may grab the snow too aggressively when you perform classic self arrest. Again, I think practice with your chosen tool is the only way to know for sure.

    I just got Mike Zawaski’s new book for review, “Snow Travel, Skills for Climbing, Hiking and Moving Across Snow.” The self arrest photos in the book show him using a Sum Tec.

    Be it known that self arrest with an ice axe to stop a fall down steep snow can be futile. One should learn the technique and practice, they’ll immediately find out how limited it is. On the other hand, ice ax self arrest has saved lives, and many deaths could have been averted if people had been equipped with an ice ax and practiced self arrest before needing it.

    Lecture over. Perhaps Zawaski will chime in here.


  22. Erik Erikson May 30th, 2013 6:43 am

    Thanks, Lou for the very detailled answer! I trained self arresting with several different axes quite often, but I guess almost never on real hard ice, more on firm snow.

  23. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2013 7:27 am

    It’s worth playing around with practice self arresting on ice, but easy to get hurt.

    There was a guy in the PNW back in the 1970s who designed the MSR ice axe specifically for arrest on ice. Lots of debate and controversy surrounded that, as working on that design had some use, but was most often just mental gymnastics. If I recall, he was big on the pick/point of the axe not “hooking” and ripping the axe out of your hands, so the point had to be at the correct angle in relation to how the axe was held in the self arrest position.

  24. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2013 8:12 am

    Here is a link to a guy’s blog post about the Thnderbird axe

  25. Erik Erikson May 30th, 2013 12:11 pm

    T-bird axe seems to be an interesting concept, though the looks are a little unfamiliar. Dont think the model did ever make it to Europe. But as it seems to work and had its buyers I wonder why they discontinued to develop it. A modern, lighter version would be interesting

  26. Lou May 30th, 2013 2:00 pm

    For a while, Thunderbird aluminum model was THE ax for ski mountaineering, very desirable. I eventually tried to score one and never had and success. They were really good for snow climbing. But the “international orange” color was obnoxious and the thick coating would chip off and make it look ratty.

  27. dmr June 3rd, 2013 2:23 am

    I like this axe as well. While not the lightest of the light, its versatility makes it a great compromise. I’ve used if for both ski mountaineering and summer mountaineering, and the trigrest really helps out for a variety of different types of terrain, including short mixed sections. I’ve used both Camp’s Nano Corsa and the Petzl Sum’Tec in mixed situations, and the Petzl handling wins hands down, even though the Camp axe is extremely light and what I prefer for basic ski-mountaineering.

    To compensate for the lack of any sort of grip, I use ice-climbing gloves that have some sort of palm grip.


    P.S. Just want to state that no one made any joke about “plunging a smooth shaft” and the like. Sure, low-hanging fruit, but c’mon, let’s not take ourselves too seriously!!

  28. Lou Dawson June 3rd, 2013 6:35 am

    Dmr, the low hanging fruit is best plucked from other websites, but that doesn’t mean we’re too serious, it just means that the lowest common denominators of humor are not necessary here except on rare occasions. Finding sexual inferences in writing to use as humor is like substituting profanity for clear expression, or like the “that’s what she said” moronic humor on construction sites. You can do better. We can do better. Lou

  29. chris seilern June 3rd, 2013 2:07 pm

    There is also the Grivel Air Tech Racing, popular here in Europe – 100 grams than the Petzl and the lightest steel headed ice axe i could find.

  30. Erik Erikson June 3rd, 2013 10:56 pm

    Chris, do you know also the Simmond Fox carving axe? This one I use when packing really light on Skitours. Full steel (no alu), great for climbing and under 300 g of weight. Really can recommend that one, as long as ist just for climbing, not really for crevasse-rescuing and similar things.

  31. Chris Seilern June 4th, 2013 4:39 am

    Thanks Erik, that one looks even better!

  32. Lou Dawson June 4th, 2013 8:48 am

    All, I’ve had to temporarily remove our lightbox image enlarger for technical reasons. You can still enlarge most images by clicking on them, but they’ll just open up in another browser page. If you want the image to enlarge but not kick you out of the blog post, with Google Chrome or Firefox right click it first and use the resulting “open in new tab” options. Not sure what works best with Internet Exploder… probably something similar. I’ll re-install the lightbox in a few days. Lou

  33. Erik Erikson June 4th, 2013 8:59 am

    @Chris: Yes, it is a good tool. And so small and light that you don´t hesitate to take it with you for “just in case”. On many occasions by using this light axe as an aid (often by plunging in the shaft) I could forego to bring crampons and instead just hammer steps in the snow with skiboots (without the use of the axe this would not have felt save). And I do not like to use crampons when they are not definitely needed.

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