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Which ice screws are best?

With the winter slowly fading away, now would be the best time to get some last-minute ice climbing in. But before you venture out into the mountains, you must make sure that all of the gear is in good working order.

Whether you aim to scale cliff faces or just want to practice, one of the essential pieces of equipment is ice screws. These look very similar to industrial or construction screws, but are much thicker and designed to insert into ice. Not sure where to start looking? Well, the Black Diamond Ultralight is a great choice.

What to know before you buy ice screws

Decide on the length of the screws

Ice screws keep your climbing ropes and anchor points sturdily in place. The length of the screw will depend on the thickness of the ice, as too short will cause it to become dislodged. But if the screws are too long, they can hit the rock underneath. Early in the climbing season, most mountaineers will have a steady supply of 5-inch screws and a few 8.6-inch screws.

Ice screws should be easy to place

You don’t want to fumble with screws and have difficulty placing them when you are several feet off the ground. It is a good idea to practice inserting screws with gloves on before you go out. Some screws are made with a knob or handle, making the one-handed operation much easier. Also, bear in mind that a longer screw will require more effort to insert than shorter screws.

Storage of your ice screws

You’re going to need a storage compartment for your screws, which will need to be easily accessible. Not only will it be easier to grab one out of the bag, but it will also protect your other gear from its sharp edges. You can also use plastic sleeves called ice flutes to store the screws, and some carabiners allow for screws to be clipped onto your harness. 

What to look for in quality ice screws

Load-bearing and fall factor for safety

An ice screw would be of no practical use if it can’t support your weight or carry the load when you slip. The length and thickness of the screw play a big role in the maximum weight capacity, but the insertion angle is also a factor. But with that said, modern, good-quality ice screws can hold about 1,574-pound force.

High-quality for better climbing

When it comes to safety equipment, you should never go for the cheapest option. This is especially important with ice screws. Poor quality screws can be difficult to put into the ice and place you at greater risk if you need to adjust quickly. Good quality ice screws are made by manufacturers like Petzl, Black Diamond, and Blue Ice. 

Regular maintenance is essential

Ice screws work incredibly hard to keep you safe, so they go through much wear and tear. Just because ice is made from frozen water doesn’t mean that it will stay sharp forever. Even quality ice screws need regular sharpening, but poor quality screws will become duller much faster.

How much you can expect to spend on ice screws

The average price of an ice screw will depend on who the manufacturer is and the length of the screw. Generally, ice screws retail for about $70-$90, measuring around 8 inches. Shorter screws can retail for around $40-$50. 

Ice screws FAQ

How many ice screws should you pack?

A. That will depend on the climber, your ability and the route you plan to take. It is always a good idea to have several different lengths in your bag if you are unsure about the ice thickness.

How long do ice screws last?

A. When they are looked after and sharpened regularly, ice screws should last you a few years. Some of the newer screws feature replaceable tips, which extends their longevity and the ability to adapt to different situations.

What are the best ice screws to buy?

Top ice screw

Black Diamond Ultralight

Black Diamond Ultralight

What you need to know: A reduced weight of 45% makes this ice screw a necessity. 

What you’ll love: The main features of this ice screw are the aluminum body with a steel tip and the aluminum forged hanger with two clip-in points. Measuring 7.4 inches in length, it also features a wire-gate express handle for easy handling. All the different kinds of Express knobs are color-coded, and in this case, it’s yellow, so you won’t be confused about which one to use.

What you should consider: Some users have indicated that it takes some practice to place the ice screw correctly.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top ice screw for money

PETZL Laser Speed Light

PETZL Laser Speed Light

What you need to know: This is a sturdy and effective ice screw for all kinds of mountaineering.

What you’ll love: The leading feature of this ice screw from Petzl is that the tip has been engineered to bite into the ice much easier than other models. The flexible crank also provides for good grip while turning. The tube and hanger is made from aluminum. 

What you should consider: Depending on the length, this ice screw can weigh up to 13 ounces.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Blue Ice Aero Lite Ice Screw

Blue Ice Aero Lite Ice Screw

What you need to know: The lightest ice screw available, yet sturdy enough for harsh conditions.

What you’ll love: Blue Ice claims that the Aero Lite is the lightest ice screw available, coming in at only 2 ounces for the 3.9-inch screw. Ranging from the latter to 8.6 inches, the ice screw features a three-tooth tip which allows for quick and easy placement. The color-coded hanger also easily indicated the length. 

What you should consider: This ice screw is best used for technical routes and might not be suitable for novice climbers.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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