First Look: BD Cobras

We might as well address the elephant in the room: Black Diamond tools have a bad rep. Their picks are — reputedly — prone to breaking for no reason at all. And while I have friends that have broken BD picks, or seen their partners break them, I’ve never seen one break. And damn if the Cobras aren’t one of the better swinging tools around. I’ve got a few friends that love them, and having tried their tools, I was suitably impressed to get a pair and try it out this ice season and see for myself.

TAS_REV_Cobras_004Soloing with the Cobras on Cascade. The rambly nature of the climb matches the Cobras’ strong-points.

Though I’ve yet to make the personal sacrifice and cut up a tool out of my own curiosity, I’m told by BD that the Cobra’s shaft is pure carbon fibre. The layup and alternating fibre orientation create a strong yet vibration-damping shaft that is mated to a cast steel head and rubber grip. The result is a relatively lightweight tool (598 grams with stock micro-hammer) that is beautifully balanced and sublimely dampened. The stock micro-hammer can be exchanged for an adze, or a bigger, wider hammer head more suited to regular pin pounding.

Look at the Cobras — really look at them — and the high level of fit and finish becomes readily apparent. The carbon fibre layup is flawless, the head mated perfectly to the shaft and the rubber grip precisely trimmed. Being an all-around alpine tool, the Cobras have a non-removable spike, as well as clip-in holes on the head and in the spike that will accommodate large carabiners.

TAS_REV_Cobras_001The high level of fit-and-finish on the Cobras is obvious – they are beautifully made, and the carbon is gorgeous to look at.

The Cobras’ swing is sublime. The carbon shaft dampens vibrations wonderfully, so much so that even punching through thin ice into rock doesn’t send a shudder up your arm. The tools seem to stick best from a shoulder-driven forearm flick that drives the pick deep into the ice, which despite appearances cleans quite easily. I’ve found them to work best on less-than-vertical, and generally featureless, ice, though obviously much more talented climbers use them to good effect on pretty much anything you can imagine. Due to the somewhat laid-back angles, as compared to more aggressive tools such as the Nomic or Fusion, the Cobras do not hook as well, nor do they feel as secure in such placements.

TAS_REV_Cobras_002The Cobras’ carbon shaft, lightly scratched from drytooling and clearing away icicles.

The tapered shaft ends in a slim handle, allowing the use of thicker gloves without getting pumped as quickly. The generous pinky-guard doesn’t get in the way of thick gloves, and the upper ‘pommel’ allows for easy matching. The generous clip-in hole easily takes a ‘biner and allows for simple, secure attachment of various leash/tether systems.

Add to all this the interchangeable mini-hammer, full-size hammer and adze, and you have a great all-around alpine tool. So far, I’m very impressed, but we’ll see how they hold up to repeated use throughout a Rockies winter!

TAS_REV_Cobras_003All the damage I’ve managed to put onto the Cobras’ picks so far. A few days of cragging, a couple of routes and even some time drytooling. I’m quite impressed.


3 thoughts on “First Look: BD Cobras

  1. Jim says:

    The carbon shafts really are works of art. I’m no engineer but it appears to be laid up and shaped beautifully. Need a set in my quiver for alpine for sure.

    Great blog! Keep it up!

  2. Anton says:

    This is one of the classic ice climbing debates… are BD or Petzl pics better and do you like Nomics or Cobras. I like your assessment. I have tried both on numerous occasions and for me it boils down to this; do you like to swing from the elbow or swing from the wrist?

    The Nomic is mostly a ‘swing from the wrist tool’, whereas the Cobra is more ‘swing from the elbow’. I prefer the Cobra because I find the wrist flick/swing more tiring with Nomics, though I will acknowledge that the clearance is better on the Nomics and once its in the ice the reclined handle angle is comfortable.

    As for pick breakage, I’ve climbed on a variety of BD tools for 10 years (avg 25 ice days/season) and only broken 1 pick. To me that’s pretty damn good and I’m fine with that failure rate (they weren’t intended to last forever!). I’m curious to see what type of ice or style of climbing the people are doing that break lots of pics. Perhaps X man vs stacked tools!? i.e. more side to side movement to clear the tools once in the ice?

    There is also no debate that the Cobra is a better alpine tool, hands down (even with the new hammer for Nomics – the agressive curve makes pounding pins difficult).


    • Raf says:

      Great assessment, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      The more I climb on the Cobras, the more I like them, though I am still hesitant to take them onto harder ice, mostly due to their less secure ‘hooking.’

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