When I first started hearing about the re-designed Petzl Ergo, the tool was still nameless and was only floating around in prototype form. From the early photos friends sent me, it was already starting to take shape and beginning to resemble the tool we now know as the Ergonomic (though I still continue to call them Ergos). Alongside those early photos came comments like ‘game-changing’ and ‘next-level.’ Trying them for myself at Petzl’s press release event in Ouray a year or so later, I was also suitably impressed but knew the real test would come on my home ground back in the Canadian Rockies, on routes I knew well, and weather conditions I am more familiar with.
Of course, performance is one thing, and durability a whole other question. This is an especially pertinent point as Petzl’s second-generation Nomic was plagued by the dreaded head-wobble and various loose pommel issues. And after some early incidents with the bottom pommels on the latest-generation Nomics also breaking (mostly through misuse, however), would the Ergonomic — designed, presumably, for much harsher use on technical ice and demanding mixed- and dry-tooling routes — show any weaknesses?
After two years of regular use and abuse, I am happy to report that the Ergonomic has had no major issues. I am fortunate in that Petzl sent me two pairs of these tools: one that I use as my personal tools for drytooling and mixed climbing, and a second pair that has been a dedicated loaner set. Over the past two years, these loaners have been used by everyone from Petzl’s own athletes to your everyday weekend warrior, and have spent barely a week or two at home during the winter months. I’ve lost track of how many pairs of picks I’ve swapped, or how many times I’ve re-wrapped the upper shaft.
If there is one thing I can say is that our local climbers are quite respectful of loaned gear, even if it is meant to be used hard: the first few times the Ergos came back they had barely any scratches, and even the paint on the picks didn’t look worn. They’re looking a bit more used now, but are still in remarkably good shape for how many days they’ve spent out in the mountains.
Other than some scratches around the head and lower pommel, which are to be expected, the tools are showing some wear and small scratch marks on the handle, probably from getting wedged in somewhere. Again, nothing unusual — I’ve seen much worse on other tools, and besides, these small nicks don’t affect grip or functionality.
What is surprising, however, is that the rubber coating on the upper pommel has separated from the plastic griprest. Upon closer inspection it appears that the rubber covering is press-fit into small channels in the plastic grip, and I would imagine was also glued down to the griprest at some point. Some glue will take care of the loose rubber, but this is the kind of minor wear and tear I was not expecting to see on tools that cost almost $1000 Canadian for the pair ($480 Cad PER tool! / $360 USD). Unfortunately, this is also not exclusive to the Ergo, as I have seen similar separation on well-used Nomics as well.
However, as far as head wobble issues or loose pommels are concerned, none of the tools I have, or have seen, are exhibiting any problems: the plastic insert between the head and the aluminum shaft is as tight as on day one, and the rivets and screws are all holding well. This goes for both the Ergonomic and the current-generation Nomic; it’s great to see Petzl took these issues seriously and rectified them.
When it comes to performance, these tools still astound me every single time I use them. (If you haven’t read my ridiculously in-depth analysis of the latest generation Petzl tools, head here first for some background, weights, pick differences and other info: link). The best way I can describe climbing with the Ergos is that they’re an extension of your hand, but an incredibly precise one with tenacious grip. Strip off the pick weights and mini-hammer and you’ve got a lightweight drytooling machine like no other I’ve used. (Though I suspect Grivel’s Dark Machine X will give the Ergo some solid competition when they finally show up.)
With the Dry pick on, the way these tools hold onto tiny rock edges is nothing short of astonishing, and this works in ice as well: a tiny ledge that most tools would pop off of is a solid hold for the Ergos. These tools excel anywhere that’s overhanging or horizontal, and they feel equally comfortable in large pockets as they do on small edges. On rock their only downfall comes on very laid-back terrain where the aggressive curve makes for awkward handle angles. They’re workable, but not ideal — I stick to rock that’s at least vertical or steeper when using the Ergos.
Swap the Dry pick for the Pur’Ice and now the Ergo is set to dominate on steep, overhanging and massively featured ice. Swinging these overhead into bulges and tops of mushrooms is pure joy and revelry in how solidly the picks stick even when you can’t see them. Equipped with the pick weights, the balance moves up the shaft closer to the head and makes for easy, almost effortless, wrist-flick placements. The Pur’Ice pick is precise and ice penetration is easy to manage. Their downside, once again, is less-than-vertical terrain where the shaft’s curvature makes for awkward swings and an uncomfortable strain through the wrist. Ask Petzl, however, and they’ll tell you this is by design: if you want an all-around tool get the Nomic — the Ergo was designed for steep and overhanging terrain and that is where they excel.
I absolutely love my Ergos, but I spend a lot of time on steep drytooling routes, as well as having the luxury of multiple sets of tools in my gear closet. It’s hard to justify so much money for tools that may not get used on a regular basis, especially when the Nomic is a better all-around tool, and only gives up a bit of ground on overhanging terrain. But if you want a dedicated pair of tools for steep ice and overhanging rock, I can’t think of a better choice than the Ergonomic. They are absolutely phenomenal.
As always, a huge thanks to Petzl for sending tools for testing, use, and abuse. If you’re around Calgary/Canmore, drop me a line — the loaner set is here to be tested and used!