Field Tested: CAMP Corsa Nanotech Ice Axe Review

“Wow that’s light.” We’ve stopped for a lunch break and my climbing partner has picked up my Corsa Nanotech. Without fail every single person to lift my axe has expressed the same shock. The weight, or lack thereof, truly is remarkable. Whatever else the CAMP Corsa Nanotech may be, it is light.

The Nanotech is currently the second lightest commercially available mountaineering axe, behind only the the CAMP Corsa.
The Nanotech is currently the second lightest commercially available mountaineering axe, behind only the CAMP Corsa.

Overview and Specs

The Corsa Nanotech by CAMP is the high-tech brother to the same company’s Corsa axe. At 205 grams, the all aluminium alloy Corsa is marketed as “the lightest ice axe in the world” and the Nanotech is not far behind. At a marketed 250 grams (which is accurate, mine came in at 249 grams on my scale) for the 50 cm version, the Nanotech is an aluminum-alloy / steel hybrid that is available in 50, 60 and 70 cm versions.

The Nanotech shares many familial traits with the Corsa. Both axes have shafts and heads made from 7075-T6 aluminum alloy. For those of us who don’t have a background in metallurgy, this means that it is very light and very strong. The downside of any aluminium alloy, and this one is no exception, is that it is a softer metal than say, the steel found in the heads and picks of most ice or mixed technical tools. This means that while a fully aluminum tool like the Corsa is lighter, it is also less durable and will wear down quicker under harsh use.

The way the Nanotech gets around this is by having a steel pick and spike riveted onto an aluminum frame. The theory is that by doing so, one gets the best of both worlds. The strength and durability of steel in the pick and spike where the axe is going to be hitting rock and ice, bolted to a weight saving aluminum body. Both shaft and pick are B rated, and meet CE and UIAA requirements.

The downside to this axe is the price. At roughly $140.00, this is on the more expensive end of mountaineering axes. The Black Diamond Raven Ultra for example, which is a direct competitor to the Nanotech, goes for around $110.00

Performance

The Nanotech is a mountaineering/alpine axe at heart, and I’ve found that it excels at biting into hard snow.  The steel pick comes factory sharp and maintains an edge quite well. Even after a full day of bashing it into rocks hiding beneath a hard spring snowpack this weekend, the edge on the pick is still fearsome and suffered nothing beyond a few scuffs that a quick file job didn’t fix right up. The spike took the abuse in stride. The pick also sticks surprisingly well into ice given the light weight. Although I had to swing a bit harder to compensate for the lack of mass in the head, I did not have to swing nearly as hard as one would first think.

camp nanotech pick
The bolted on steel nose piece bites through snow and ice with far less effort than its light weight would imply

Self arresting works well, with the sharp point and single curve allowing a lot of weight to be driven onto the pick, however the head of the axe isn’t the longest out there meaning you need to really work to get down into the snow.

The spike is curved and tapers to a needle like point, and sticks really, really well into almost anything. Snow, ice, frozen mud, chossy limestone rubble, you name it. The narrow needle point allows for all your force to be displaced over such a small and pointy area that it is able to plunge fairly easily.

The steel spike handily stays where ever you decide to put it.
The steel spike handily stays where ever you decide to put it.

This is complemented by the spike being put into a hollow recess within the body of the axe. The bottom recess is hollow for about half an inch, which allows for very secure plunge placements in hard snow as less snow material needs to be pushed away to allow the axe into the snow. The one downside of this is that the recess will fill up with ice/snow/mud requiring you to tap it against your boot to clear it every so often.

Get used to this buildup, because it stays put unless you clear it.
Get used to this buildup, because it stays put unless you clear it.

The adze has a good edge, but is not very large and has milled slots which leaves some snow/ice behind when clearing or trenching. It took me approximately one and a half the number of swings to cut steps compared to a larger axe. Using the spine of the head will bash a snow stake in, but between the rounded head and slightly curved shaft, it is trickier to get your force onto the stake than with some other tools.

The slotted adze does the job, it may just take a little longer.
The slotted adze does the job, it may just take a little longer.

The axe is comfortable to carry, with a slotted carabiner hole in the head and unsharpened rear teeth for a comfortable and secure hold when walking with the axe. My preferred carry is the axe in one hand and a hiking pole in the other, so this setup works perfectly for me. When holding the axe by the lower grip for climbing technical ice or snow, I found it to have a nice balance with the weight of the head swinging naturally and driving the force directly behind the pick. There is griptape on the lower shaft, which definitely works to increase grip, but it is starting to chip and peel due to repeatedly being plunged into rock piles. I don’t so much view this as a flaw, as no tape could reasonably be expected to hold up indefinitely to that treatment, just be aware that you will likely need to replace this grip tape at some point. It also scuffed the palms of my gloves, so be aware of your handwear.

Conclusion and Food for Thought

This is an awesome little lightweight mountaineering axe which I have found to be perfect as an almost no-weight companion for ski touring, alpine climbing, and scrambling where snow and ice mountaineering elements may arise. It would also be great as a complementary tool to something with a little more heft and a hammer for technical alpine climbing with more involved ice sections. The fancy tech of combining steel and aluminum actually works really well, and gives the axe more versatility and lifespan.

Quite apart from the performance of the axe, the extremely low weight has a huge added benefit which warrants consideration by any prospective purchaser: you are more likely to bring it along with you on your adventure than leave it behind in the car because you don’t feel like hauling the weight. Given the market share that this axe is aimed towards, this is a major selling point.

Like many backcountry alpine climbers, skiers and scramblers, I frequently end up in scenarios where the environment straddles the line between one of those activities and low grade snow and ice mountaineering. Whether kick stepping in windblasted snow up a final couloir, or having to cross an icy patch on a slab traverse, there are lots of situations where I’ve thought to myself “I really wish I had brought an axe with me”.

Since picking up a Nanotech this has not arisen as frequently because I’ve more often than not brought it with me. The availability of a 50 cm version allows for a compact size that fits snugly on almost any backpack, with the spike sitting well below the backpack lid making it easy to ski with or bushwhack through dense brush without fear of the axe getting caught up. The low weight means the Nanotech is not a big energy investment to simply bring it along whenever conditions might be questionable.

The best helmet in the world is useless if it isn’t on your head, and the same logic applies here. If you own an axe but don’t bring it when you might need it because you think it isn’t worth the weight or awkwardness of carrying it, what is the point of owning it?

The Nanotech comes along on alot of adventures because it is so easy to bring.
The Nanotech comes along on alot of adventures because it is so easy to bring.

Pros: Lightweight, strong pick and spike, versatile.

Cons: Price.

Conclusion: A great axe by itself for ski touring, scrambling or low grade snow and ice mountaineering. Suitable for bigger missions if you paired it with another tool with different features.

 

This was an independent review and the axe used was privately purchased.

2 thoughts on “Field Tested: CAMP Corsa Nanotech Ice Axe Review

  1. Brian says:

    600 meters of WI2 with small bits of WI3 to 3+. Would you be comfortable taking two Nanotechs?

    • Monte says:

      Brian,

      Sounds like you have a great adventure planned! To answer your question I would not personally bring two Corsa Nanotech axes on an trip like the one your describe. At heart these are mountaineering axes, great for self arresting, glacier travel and some steep snow but not for sustained ice. That being said I would be tempted to save weight with one Nanotech backed up with something a bit more technical for the WI3 to WI3+ sections, the X-light, Sum’tech or something along those lines. I hope that this helps!

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