Review: Cassin X-All Mountain Ice Tools

As a newish ice climber, I spent the first few years renting ice tools from the local outdoor centre and borrowing tools from friends, acquaintances and whomever was willing to lend me a pair. As I live in Calgary, Alberta, with a large population of ice climbers and a short one hour drive from Canadian Rockies’ ice, I had a good opportunity to climb on a large number of tools before picking a set for the big investment. This allowed me to see the differences between various tools: straight vs. bent shaft, off-set handles, pick weights, pick angle, etc.

When I finally had had enough of borrowing and renting, I had some options to consider. After much deliberation, I chose the Cassin X-All Mountain tools.

General reputation – After asking many more experienced climbers about which tools they would recommend, I was told several stories about broken picks on Nomics and, because of this, many people investing in Cassin X-Dreams instead. These two tools dominate the Alberta market when it comes to hard ice and mixed climbing. Lately, Nomics seem to be in frequent need of repairs or returns, but every person who used Cassin tools loved them and sought them out. Before purchasing new ones, I did look for a used pair but could not find any.

Pick width – If you have never experienced that perfect placement, where you get most of your pick embedded in the ice after just one swing, and it’s solid – you have to try these tools. The “twang” or vibration you feel is like nothing I have ever come across with any other tool. There’s no need to test your tool placement when you can feel and see the entire tool vibrate when you get a solid placement with this narrower pick. The width also makes for less effort and fewer fractures when swinging. This stood out from the very first time I swung the X-All Mountain’s.

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Curved shaft and pick angle – Climbing on tools like the Quarks and Vipers requires you to have a swing that does not feel natural. I had to consciously focus on how I swung my tools to get them to stick. On steeper ice this is a huge problem as being able to hook over bulges or swing when you’re pumped is not easy. With the Cassin’s, the combination of the shaft shape and the angle of the pick make swinging similar to using a hammer. This motion is much more efficient and easy to use when hooking. The curved shaft also allows for more clearance from the ice — and as a result, much less knuckle bashing.

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Weight – As a female climber I need to work more on swinging. Because I do not work in construction (i.e. use a hammer), play sports where I throw a ball or use an axe very often, my ability to swing — and swing with FORCE — is not the greatest.  Furthermore, being right handed means that my coordination with my left is not great. I have repeatedly smashed the knuckles on my left hand into the ice while swinging incorrectly, resulting in significant bruising and swelling.  And once you’ve hit your knuckles at the beginning of the season, any sort of small brush against the ice is excruciating. Heavier tools and ones with pick weights (eg. Nomics) make tools top-heavy and harder to control.  This makes swinging more difficult when you’re learning to aim and swing correctly while managing the pump in your forearms. The weight of the X-All Mountain tool is more uniform throughout the axe, making it easier to grip and swing than a heavy-headed tool.

Versatility – Have you ever tried climbing grade 2 or 3 with aggressive tools? It’s not fun. Swinging down instead of over your head is cumbersome and trying to pull the tool out after is even more so. The curved shape (instead of bent shape) of the X-All Mountains allows for climbing on easier ice as well as steeper climbs. Though I have climbed my fair share of 5’s on top rope, I am just beginning to lead easier climbs and wanted a tool that would work in a variety of situations. Furthermore, I have found that these tools will work mixed climbing without being a mixed specific tool or having a mixed specific pick. This was a big factor in choosing the X-All Mountain vs. the X-Dream. The X-Dream are very nice to climb with, but were a bit too aggressive to learn to lead easy ice with.  Lastly, the shape of the handle and spike at the bottom of the X-All Mountain makes using it on the approach slopes easy to penetrate snow like with a mountaineering axe.

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Cost – The mid-range cost of the X-All Mountain is a bit less daunting than, say, the X-Dreams or Nomics.  At just $229 (Canadian) per tool, a pair of Nomics would be $210 more, and a pair of X-Dreams would be $120 more. The X-All Mountain is a much more attractive option when purchasing your first set of tools.

So, a good reputation, narrower pick width, curved shape of the shaft, angle of the pick, lighter and more uniform weight of the tool, versatility of what’s climbable with them, and lower cost are the major details that formed my decision to purchase the Cassin X-All Mountain tools.

Now, not everything is perfect, here’s the other side…

Cons – The X-All Mountain has only one pick available for it, and it is only B-rated. This means that when I begin leading steeper ice and become more accomplished on mixed routes….I will probably buy a set of X-Dreams (as they are more aggressive and have three different picks [ice, mixed and competition] available).

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8 thoughts on “Review: Cassin X-All Mountain Ice Tools

  1. Luke says:

    Preface: I live my all mountains, but there is another significant con:

    I have now gone through two pairs of handles. They get thrashed by approaches (in piolet cane), and the cheap plastic comes apart in several places.
    Replacements aren’t expensive, but it is frustrating to have such beautifully made, and durable tools that also have flimsy handles.

  2. Brent says:

    So for someone who has a couple years following WI4-WI5, and getting into leading, would you recommend this over the x-dream? I guess I can see myself having a year of these tools while leading WI3, WI4-, and then desiring the X-Dream when doing more technical/vertical/hooky stuff in a year. Thoughts?

    • Raf says:

      That sounds about right — the X-Dream is a superb technical tool, but for learning and climbing mid-grades, something less-aggressive like the X-All will work out better for you.

    • Lyndsay says:

      I have definitely followed grade 4 and 5 with these tools perfectly fine but if overhanging or super vertical steep sections are what you’re aiming for, the X-Dreams are much better suited.

  3. Tony says:

    Great write up, and solid advice all around. I love how you talk about the buying process involving trying a bunch of tools out and figuring out the one that works best for you. I used to tell customers this on the sales floor all the time, and just say that the best thing to do would be to go to an ice festival, demo and swing everything you can, and take notes!

    I replaced my BD Vipers with the All Mountains a couple seasons ago and I couldn’t be happier. I even climb mixed and harder stuff on top-rope without problems (other than my arms screaming at me). My main use is alpine ice and easy to mid grade waterfall ice, and that is certainly their happy place.

    I am curious, have you noticed that they stick a bit too well when you swing them? I’ve had a hell of a time finding a perfect balance between “is it solid?” and “OMG GIVE ME MY FRIGGIN TOOL BACK, YOU MOTHER F@#%’ing ICE BASTARD!”. I tend to use more of the colorful language when I’m leading and nervous about my placements, so I know that’s part of it.

    Great to see female writers too!

  4. Nick says:

    Great review, I agree on all counts. These tools are awesome! I’ve had these tools for two years and taken them up everything from snowy Cascades Couloirs to WI4 along the Icefields Parkway. The picks are very good, just slicing through ice in a way that many other tools can’t quite match. Very happy with them!

    The only downside to these tools becomes apparent when you get on truly vertical ice – when you match on these tools, the “second” grip is actually further out from the ice than the main handle, which pushes you out from the ice and makes it feel even steeper than it is. I just ordered a pair of X Dreams for WI4 and above, but will be keeping my set of X-Alls for alpine routes and moderate ice. I’d highly recommend X-Alls for the ice climber who wants to cruise up to WI4 and easy mixed ground. If you are getting on harder ice (WI4 and up) or sporty mixed climbing, I’d recommend a tool with an offset grip (Nomic, Fusion, Tech Machine, X-Dream, etc).

    Another minor quip is that the spike is attached to the shaft by a puny 1/8″ bolt – not confidence inspiring. However, it seems to hold body weight fine – this is nice in case you pump out mid pitch and need to clip in to a well-planted tool. (I have tested this)

    At the end of the day, the X-Alls are the best “all-around” tool that I have used and will likely continue to be my preferred tool for alpine ice routes like Triple Couloirs.

    PS: the last picture of you with blood running down your face is awesome!

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