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!

Features:

Options*: 52cm Hammer 52cm Adze 59cm Adze
Length: 52cm 52cm 59cm
Shaft: Curved, T-rated Curved, T-rated Curved, T-rated
Pick: Forged, Reverse curve, Replaceable, B-rated Forged, Reverse curve, Replaceable, B-rated Forged, Reverse curve, Replaceable, B-rated
Weight:  485g  495g  505g
Spike: Steel Steel Steel

* there is a 43cm hammer version but it has a slightly different design and isn’t included in the review.

Mt. Fay
Testing out the Sum’Tec in the Canadian Rockies.  This photo was taken on the north face of Mt. Fay.

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.

The Adze and Hammer options side-by-side.
The 52cm Adze and Hammer options side-by-side.  The movable pommel has been placed in a different location on each and of course can be moved anywhere on the shaft.

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).

Comparison to Other Axes:

Long straight shafted axes still seem to be popular, likely because of their price point, but they aren’t very versatile.  Sure they make a great cane when walking on flat glaciers (ski poles work even better!) but don’t really compete with modern tools in any other way such as ability to self-arrest, plunge for self-belay (manche) or climb steep snow and ice.  Other companies like BD, DMM, Grivel, Cassin, etc. have also blended features of technical tools and mountaineering axes to make a similar product but no one has really nailed it like Petzl.

Where to use:

The Sum’tec is an alpine work horse that excels in modern mountaineering and alpine climbing.  Do you want to get out and cross glaciers, climb snow, ice and rock and really need a tool that will be there for you in every condition?  Or, maybe you need one great tool that will do everything needed for that summer mountaineering trip or course?  Either way, the Sum’tec is the way to go.

Wandering around on a glacier Sum'Tec in hand.
Wandering around on a glacier, Sum’tec in hand.

Where not to use:

First, this is not an ice tool so if you’re looking to dispatch a bunch of steep ice look for something more technical.  We’ve done a few reviews but these are my personal favorite when things get steep.

Second, if the axe is going to spend most of the time on your pack you’ll want something lighter.  This is often the case where you need it to get to a long alpine rock climb or for some ski mountaineering.  Again there are a few options out there, one that I’m currently reviewing is the Petzl Ride.  I should have the write-up published soon.

Pros:   Extremely versatile and functional alpine tool

Cons:  It’s a bit heavy, it would be amazing if the adze and hammer could be switched.

Overall:  The right tool for summer alpinism whether you’re looking for that one axe that does it all or a pair that can conquer just about anything you find.

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