Ice Screw Comparison Review

I like to crunch numbers sometimes. It’s fun to engage the left-brain and get a little meticulous from time to time. I recently acquired some of Petzl’s newest Laser Speed Light ice screws and could certainly feel the overall weight difference of my ice rack in-hand but figured I would play around with the numbers a little bit and determine what my weight savings actually were.

It can be tough to make an an objective comparison when individual ice racks can vary in make up from climber to climber and region to region (and season to season and condition to condition) so for the sake of simplicity we are going to have to settle on a base line for comparison. I have settled on this as my base ice rack in New England and will make some changes based on route conditions and what not, but this is to me a “baseline” 10 screw ice rack:

1 22cm

8 13cm

1 10cm

Now before you ask why no 17’s, 19’s, etc let me explain…

First, testing shows screw holding power is all from the threads; in good ice a 13 cm screw is as strong as a 19 cm screw. I can chop through rotten ice to find the good stuff.

Second, falling while leading pure ice routes up to grade 5 in difficulty is, and should always be, quite rare. We climb in control with all these sharp things attached to us least we end up with expensive hospital bills.

Third, anchor stances are usually adequate enough that I can clear rotten ice to get full strength 13 cm screws. If it is particularly crappy ice or warm/sunny hanging belay I’ll use my 22 cm in the anchor, but the 22’s main purpose is my v-thread building screw.

Finally, if I am heading to someplace steep with hanging belays (Willoughby) I will add about four 19 cm screws to mix in with anchors and pre-crux placements bringing my screw total to 14. If I need more than 14 screws it is probably above my pay grade.

And one last note, I’m only looking at screws with fold-able speed knobs. If you want to save an extra 20% in cost you could go for “non-speed knob” screws but the extra savings are not worth it in my personal opinion.

Ok, enough on that. Let’s get to the comparison. I want to compare a Black Diamond Express rack, a pure Petzl Laser Speed rack, and a Petzl Laser Speed Light rack side by side. We will first look at the weight differences between each choice then other pro’s and con’s.

Black Diamond Express Rack

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Black Diamond Express Screws (the 22 cm is the older Turbo Express model)

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 47.06 ounces (just shy of 3 pounds) MRSP $599.50

Pros: Time tested design with a hanger with dual carabiner holes for versatility. Durable finish. Long re-sharp-ability period.

Cons: Larger hanger requires more “clear space” for placements. Threads are more prone to damage then Petzl design.

Petzl Laser Speed Rack

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Petzl Laser Speed Ice Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 48.63 ounces (just over 3 pounds) MRSP $599.50

Pros: Low profile hanger allows placements with less “clear space”. Large hanger hole allows 2-3 carabiners for versatility. Rounded threads resist damage while still maintaining full holding strength.

Cons: Slightly heavier than Black Diamond Express. Some reports of finish wearing off quicker than Black Diamond screws (I have not noticed after 2 seasons of use).

Petzl Laser Speed Light Rack

Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws
Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws

Full 10 screw baseline rack

Weight: 35.52 ounces (2.22 pounds) MRSP $734.50*

Pros: Lightest option available, save almost a pound on your ice rack. Low profile hanger allows placements with less “clear space”. Large hanger hole allows 2-3 carabiners for versatility. Rounded threads resist damage while still maintaining full holding strength. Limited re-sharp-ability.

Cons: Most expensive option. Least durable option (it is aluminum vs. steel). UPDATE 1/20/17: I have started to experience the sticky placement issues that Jacon mentions in a comments below. So far it has been in very dense ice or wet ice and I have managed with solid stances to crank hard enough to overcome the resistance, but I could definitely see this being an issue on a climb where firing in a screw easily is clutch. This is definitely a con, and one I plan on exploring more this season (and will update accordingly).

Summary

So what should you get? This is a personal choice. What do you value most? Lightest weight? Durability? Ease of placement? If you count ounces like I do you might justify the added expense and lower durability of the Petzl Laser Speed Light screws. If you only replace your one 22 cm ice screw (the one you carry to make v-threads) with a Petzl Laser Speed Light you save a full 2 ounces. Replacing half your running protection screws with Petzl Laser Speed Light screws will probably save you a half a pound. Replacing all will save you close to a pound with a sacrifice to durability (less of a concern for those who pro-deal or shop the best sale times).

ice climbing screw review
The author places a screw on the classic grade 5 backcountry ice climb, Drool of The Beast- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

The real bottom line is all three of these options are great. Meticulously thought-out designs made out of the best material that could be sourced. I hope this info helps you round out your ice rack the way you want it. Please let me know in the comments below your opinions on this topic!

Best Prices on Ice Screws!

From Backcountry

From Bentgate

From EMS

From Moosejaw

From Mountain Gear

From REI

Shout out!

A big thanks to my good friend, fellow mountain guide, former jeweler, and current magician at making dull things sharp again, Jason Hurwitz of A Nice Screw dot Com. Jason can sharpen ice screws, crampons, and ice axes to better than factory condition. Please check out his website out for details!

*total weight assumed 9 Petzl Laser Speed Light screws and one BD Turbo Express 10 cm screw since Petzl does not make the Laser Speed Light in 10 cm.

Disclaimer: I purchased all the items referred to in this comparison with my own money. Affiliate links above help support this blog.




35 thoughts on “Ice Screw Comparison Review

  1. Nice review! I’ve picked up a few of the Laser Speed Light’s myself. I find the weight savings to be somewhat noticeable. I tend to only take them out if I’m going to be leading something steep and fat as I’m kind of paranoid about damaging them. I’ve found they go in super fast with cold, dry ice but really slow down and stick in wet ice.

    • Thanks for commenting! I have an ice axe here with your name on it John! Please reach out next time you are in the valley!

  2. I suppose if someone amortizes the expense of a rack of screws across their useful/expected lifetime, the Speed Lights look decidedly worse. But “we does likes us our lightweight toys”!

    • Thanks for commenting! Agreed if durability & longevity are prioritizes than sticking with a stainless steel model is best. Not counting the more sensitive thread design of the BD option that model wins in that regard. The Speed lights certainly sacrifice some longevity at the case of weight savings though I can definitely see how the thread design of both Petzl models will resist damage better than the sharper BD model.

  3. some things I have noticed> new Vs new the Petzls start easier than BD and go in easier. 2nd seasson in brittle ice the Petzles fractuer more ice than the 2nd season BD screws. YMMV

    • Interesting observation Nick. I don’t see anything in the design that would cause Petzl screws to fracture more ice while placing so I do think this might be very condition dependent.

    • Thanks for commenting Stephen! I have lots of experience sharpening tools & crampons but I decided long ago I lack the skills & equipment to effectively hone ice screws. I’m quite careful with them so as not to “bottom out” but if I do need a tuning I send em’ to the master at http://www.anicescrew.com. He can seriously revive a screw to better than brand new performance!

  4. Hey David, one comment I would make is that in hard ice BD screws require significantly less inward force to start threading into the placement than Petzl screws. I think that this is due to the sharp threads on BD screws which cut right into the ice while the rounded threads on the petzl screws do not. Just my .02 from several seasons of climbing with a mixed rack.

    • Thanks for the comment Sam! I haven’t experienced any noticeable difference in starting a screw with any of the models I refer to. Once the threads engage it all seems the same to me but I appreciate you sharing your experience!

    • Thanks Chris! Bottom line is all three options are head & shoulders above what our forefathers put up insanely hard ice routes with so we can’t really go wrong!

    • Hmmm, I would have to go back over the numbers but what I did was take the manufacture specs and convert to ounces, and I added the disclaimer that the Laser Speed 10 screw rack included a 10 cm BD Express because Petzl does not make a Laser Speed 10 cm and that was a part of my “base” rack. My guess is that one 10 cm stainless steel screw put the rack over by about 1.6 ounces… If I made a math mistake here I stand by the difference only being 1-2 ounces, much less difference between these two racks and the Laser Speed Lights.

  5. just started off my first rack with BD expresses, so far i really like them and for a beginner i definitely don’t see weight savings as a big deal to me.

  6. Hey David,

    This review was a bit disappointing because you don’t address the stick-factor that many people have complained about, never mind the cracking some people have experienced. I can crunch the numbers myself—but without buying some, I can’t experience the qualitative aspect of driving in the screw, which is what I hope a review would cover. Many have said the aluminum screws struggle in wet ice, with some claiming they refuse to go in altogether. Theories abound as to why—whether it’s the aluminum itself, or the transition from steel to aluminum, but it’s enough to give an interested buyer pause, and so to read any review that doesn’t cover that aspect is disappointing.

    Also, I have to take issue with your claim that most of the strength of a screw comes from it’s threads. With the exception of poorly-designed tests, most of the force on a screw is going to be torque. I agree with 100% with your claim that the quality of the ice is what’s important—that a 13cm can be as strong as a 19cm (I’ve whipped twice onto stubbies), but that’s simply not because the threads take most of the force. It’s because good ice is a lot stronger than bad ice.

    Now, you could reasonably argue that a larger percentage of the force is transmitted to the threads if the screw is placed at an upward angle (relative to direction of pull), which is smart when the ice is brittle, but likewise a smaller percentage or none of the force will be transmitted to the threads if the screw is placed at a downward angle, which is smart when the ice is strong but it’s warm enough that an upward-angled screw could melt out and then fall out.

    Just a few thoughts.

    • Hi Jacon,

      Thanks for the comment! I could have probably included a bigger disclaimer that I am just starting out with the Laser Lights and that this “Comparison Review” was a bit statistic in nature. Over the last few days I’ve started encountering the sticky issue you refer to and it is a concern. I’m going to put a full season on these and update this whole post at the end of this season with final thoughts. I have made an edit to the cons listed on the post.

      I’ve never heard that upward-angled screws could melt out any faster than down-ward angled screws and I always place at either a neutral or upward angle regardless of ice condition. If you have a link to testing that shows downward angled screws are stronger in warm conditions I would love to look it over!

      Best,

      Dave

  7. Dave,

    I have climbed with BDs for many seasons and I always thought they were good until I acquired the new Petzls 2 seasons ago.

    I find the new steel Petzl screws to be superior to the BDs. I find they are easier to start and drive faster. I also like the lower profile hanger and I like the lower mass aluminum hanger and how it makes the screws less top heavy when removing them.

    I liked these screws so much in fact I bought 6 to replace half my BD rack.

    I also acquired 4 of the speed light aluminum screws. They drive just as well as the steel versions except in wet ice. I have never not been able to drive one but it can be very hard to do so. I have also has issues clearing the ice from them post removal. Durability is also an issue.

    My preference for cragging is for the Petzl steel screws. I find them superior to the BD screws with no downside.

    The aluminum screws weight savings cannot be overlooked for long alpine routes though. This is where I think they offer a true advantage.

    This is of course my informed opinion. Gear is somewhat of a personal thing and each climber should use what inspires confidence for them.

  8. Clean and spray inside and out your Petzl Laser Speed Ice Aluminum Screws with Boeshield T-9 Waterproof Lubrication. Let dry overnight. It is essentially a wax that is also a super awesome no mess bicycle chain lube. I use it on crampons as well. Much less likely to get ice/snow build up.

  9. […] by Brett Fitzgerald If you are familiar with ice climbing or looking to purchase a rack of ice screws you know that there are options. Like any other piece of gear, it can be confusing, time-consuming and overwhelming to choose the screw for you Photo By Brent Doscher, BrentDoscher.comIf you are familiar with ice climbing or looking to purchase a rack of ice screws you know that there are options. Like any other piece of gear, it can be confusing, time-consuming and overwhelming to choose the screw for you. Don’t sweat it. NEM Guide, David Lottmann has got you covered over at NEAlpinestart.com. […]

  10. Dave,

    Great write up, especially for someone like me who’s just starting out building my ice rack.

    There is one thing I’m wondering about though. You list “threads more prone to damage” as a con for the BD’s. I was looking at screws at IME this past Sunday and wondered why this would matter? With the Petzl screws having a rounded thread profile vs the BD’s sharper threads I wouldn’t think dulling the threads on the BD’s would have much effect on performance, considering the result would be a more rounded thread similar to the Petzl.

    • Thanks Jeff! If the “sharper” threads get knicked they could add some resistance while placing. Granted I think the difference here is nominal but worth mentioning.

      • That does make sense. I hadn’t thought about the nicks in the threads making it more difficult to place the screws, however slight that increased difficulty may be. Makes perfect sense to me now.

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