There’s a wide range of alpine ice axes or piolets on the market and it can seem confusing or intimidating when trying to choose one.  However, when it comes to a versatile alpine climbing and mountaineering tool the Petzl Sum’tec has no rival.  If you’re in the market for a great tool for summer mountaineering and alpinism this is it!  For the updated version of this review check out Black Sheep.

Design:

The design of the Sum’tec is a blend of modern technical ice tool and traditional glacier axe.  The resulting tool is a step above the crowd.  It has a slightly bent shaft that makes both climbing and self-arresting easier.  The movable pommel which Petzl calls the Trigrest allows for a very secure grip when climbing steep snow and ice but it’s out of the way when you want to plunge the shaft.  An amazing feature that’s being copied by other companies!  There are options for either an adze or a hammer available and the B rated pics are replaceable.  While not super light it’s on the lighter end of the spectrum for it’s class.  Overall a well thought out, functional and incredibly versatile design.

Performance:

The combination of the slightly bent shaft and the movable pommel help make this an incredibly versatile axe.  The pommel and can be dropped to the bottom of the shaft and the axe feels more like a technical ice tool that can quickly dispatch steeper sections of alpine ice.  When climbing lower angle ice or snow the pommel can be quickly slid up to the bend in the shaft making the high-dagger position more secure and easier on the hand.  Then if you want to plunge the shaft of the axe just slide the pommel to the top.

With the
With the pommel moved up (left hand photo) the pointed bottom of the shaft works great for plunging and with the pommel down (right hand photo) you’re set for ice climbing.  I also really like using the pommel at the bend in the shaft when climbing low-angle snow and ice with a high-dagger hand position.

With options for both an adze and a hammer available you choose one of each or both depending on the nature of the climb.  I’ve found that the hammer is a reasonable size, large even when compared to the tiny things that can come on some axes.  And while the bent shaft makes hitting the head of a piton a bit challenging it’s still preferable to packing around the extra weight of a piton hammer.  Needless to say, the hammer is great to have for snow pickets as well.  The adze on the Sum’tec doesn’t have a hole in it which makes excavating in the snow for a T-slot or ice much quicker and easier (many companies add an adze hole in an effort to keep things light).

Sum'tec2
The head of the hammer has a wrench shaped hole for tightening bolts though I’ve never found much use for it. The picks are replaceable but the hammer and adze are not (they will be on next year’s version though).

Petzl supplied some equipment for the review but of course this did not influence us in any way.

3 Comments

  1. New version just been announced at OR! New pommel, slightly lighter and modular hammer and adze. Seem to answer all your cons. See Danes post at Cold Thistle: http://coldthistle.blogspot.co.nz/2017/01/petzls-new-tools.html

    • You’re on the ball David! I was looking at them at OR actually and decided that I’d better publish the review now or never instead of waiting for the spring. The head on the new Sum’tec is basically the same head as the Quark, Nomic etc. meaning that all the various pieces will be interchangeable. Such a great idea!

  2. The top photo in the Cold Thistle post shows the current 43cm version of the Sum’Tec, with chopped end and no spike. Also still listed on Petzl’s web site as available, and weighing 430gms. In fact, I just bought one last week from Backcountry (link below). A bit nervous about the durability of a B-rated head for mixed climbing, vs my T-rated Quarks and Grivel Air Tech Evo, but will give it a go on an upcoming trip to Chamonix. Always enjoy the articles on The Alpine Start.
    http://www.backcountry.com/petzl-sumtec-mountaineering-axe-ptz0320?skid=PTZ0320-HAM-S52CM&ti=U2VhcmNoIFJlc3VsdHM6cGV0emwgc3VtJ3RlYyBpY2UgYXg6MToxOnBldHpsIHN1bSd0ZWMgaWNlIGF4