Winter is Coming - time for new Ice Screws?

As per usual links are floating around the Winter Climbing forums saying that this year is going to be the coldest winter on record, just like they've said every year around this time, that said this year it feels different, in fact the Lakes last week and Scotland seem to be coming in condition earlier than they have been in a while. 

With that in mind, it seems appropriate to look at the options for Ice Screws on the market, specifically my current favourite the Petzl - Laser Speed Light.

Ice Screws are a difficult investment to make living in the UK, Winter ice is at best sporadic and if you're up in Scotland you're more likely to be place Torque nuts and rock gear than long screws. In recent years the go-to option has been the Black Diamond Express screws which are some of the best value on the market and some of the best performing, razor sharp teeth and easy to use, integrated cranks. There are other options around, the reverse threaded Grivels with their extra long handles etc and a variety of continental models with integrated quickdraws that I've only found more hassle than using a caritool for screws and separate quickdraws. Ultimately though most people have stuck with Black Diamond Express screws.

The new school screw of choice however has to be the Petzl - Laser Speed Light, these things of Engineering beauty are instantly recognisable thanks to their bright orange, anodised aluminium tubes in comparison to the traditional silver, stainless steel. Here in lies the key to their brilliance - whilst not the only aluminium threaded screw on the market, competitors have missed out on the outrageous weight savings on offer by integrating replaceable tips and other 'features' - Laser Speed Lights are quite simply designed to be light and light they are! 

To put it in context the 102cm of Petzl Laser Speed Lights on the left including the carrying wrap (80g) weigh 736g, the 97cm worth of assorted stainless steel screws on the right again including carrying wrap weigh in at 1342g, near as damnit twice as much! As my colleague James, said as he held up the two wraps, this is a weight saving you instantly notice, there's no trying to convince yourself that you're saving a few grams, it's very, very obvious!

Saving weight is great and all that but how do they perform? In short brilliantly, they have marginally longer teeth and a slightly different angle of attack meaning with the first jab and twist I've found them to bite more often than most others. 

Once engaged another element of their polished design comes into play, they've got a significantly longer crank handle, making the winding in stage feel more natural and comfortabl, giving a bit more power. The only downside I've found is that because of this larger crank, that when finishing up close to the ice, I've found I've had to knock a bit more ice out the way to get the hanger to sit nicely. Not a major problem by any means and nothing a wallop on the hanger won't fix!

So what else needs to be considered, they can't be that fantastic? Truth be told, I personally think they are! Not getting more than a week or two of Water Ice climbing in a year, the durability of the aluminium tubes isn't too much of a concern and knowing friends who use them in more Alpine climbing situations they haven't been let down. Whilst the threads might be a little more susceptible to dings, it's not enough to consider for most peoples usage, equally a few people have raised concerns about them being a little harder to clear because the ice core seems to freeze into the tubes a bit more than with stainless steel screws, ultimately though nothing your V-Threader won't clear.

Finally they're a little more money but in reality very little - we've got the go to 17cm Petzl Laser Speed at £49.50 and the equivalent 16cm Black Diamond Express at £45.

- Pete -

Ultimately don't just listen to me, here's what UKClimbing have to say:

"Summary: Great screws that are unbelievably light. They work exceptionally well, rack well, weigh next to nothing and - being bright orange - they even look cool. Downsides are that they can ding up easily on the threads and they cost about a tenner more than similar steel screws, but if that £10 is available, then the saving in weight is, we think, worth it."

Pete Derrett November 22, 2016