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Petzl Sum’Tec Ice Axe

Sam Shaheen reviews the Petzl Sum'Tec ice axe for Blister Gear Review.

Petzl Sum’Tec

Petzl Sum’Tec

Size: 52cm

Stated Weight: 485 g (adze), 495 g (hammer)

Stated Features:

  • Lightweight technical ice axe, effective in piolet-traction or piolet-canne mode
  • New version of the TRIGREST allows multiple hand grip possibilities, thanks to the simple, tool-free manual adjustment system
  • The thin ALPIX pick (3.5 mm) is designed for effective penetration into ice. It is quickly and securely replaced with a unique screw lock system
  • Stainless steel spike ensures excellent grip on rock
  • Lightly curved handle protects the hand when climbing
  • Available in adze or hammer versions:
  •  SUM’TEC adze version for efficient cleaning of snow and ice. Available in 52 and 59 cm shaft lengths
  •  SUM’TEC hammer version for easy piton placement. Hammer is now lighter and features keys for tightening bolts of 8 to 10 mm. Available only in 52 cm
  • Wide oval holes in the head and in the spike to facilitate clipping a carabiner

MSRP: $198.95

Test Locations: Mont Blanc, France; Grantrisch, Jungfrau region, Valais, Switzerland

Days Tested: 15

Intro

The Petzl Sum’Tec is one of many hybrid axes currently on the market. These tools fall somewhere between technical ice tools and a standard piolets. Since they offer a more technical shape for steeper climbing while maintaining a straight(ish) shaft for more secure plunging, these tools often hit the sweet spot for certain alpinists.

After using the Sum’Tec’s for about 8 months, I am left with a general feeling of satisfaction, but I still have the nagging question, “Why not just use a technical tool?”

Features

The biggest and most important feature on the Sum’Tec is the Trigrest. This is a small hand rest that can be adjusted to any position on the shaft depending on the terrain encountered.

The Trigrest adjusts by flipping a small orange lever at the bottom of the piece. This allows the Trigrest to move freely, flipping the lever back down secures the Trigrest in place.

This design works well and it is easy to adjust the position, even with big gloves on. Occasionally it is difficult to slide the Trigrest past the bend in the shaft and due to the way the lever works, it can not be placed at the very bottom of the shaft which is slightly annoying when encountering very steep terrain.

Also, if you want to be able to use the Trigrest at all positions on the axe, you can’t tape up the shaft. Usually I would put a little tape on the shaft to keep my hands warm in dagger position but I haven’t on this tool because I often put the Trigrest all the way at the pick while using it in cane position. With the tape, there wouldn’t be enough room for the Trigrest to slide over the shaft.

Sam Shaheen reviews the Petzl Sum'Tec ice axe for Blister Gear Review.

Sam Shaheen with the Petzl Sum’Tec, Gantrisch, Switzerland.

The Sum’Tec comes in both hammer and adze versions. The hammer appears to be well sized and sturdy — I’m sure it would sink a piton admirably. I haven’t been in a situation where I’ve need the hammer yet so I can’t comment much further. The hammer also features keys for turning 8 and 10 mm bolts. The keys will turn a bolt but it is super awkward due to the odd shape of the axe. Many bolts can’t be tightened with these keys due to the rock getting in the way.

Pick

At 3.5 mm wide, the pick is a bit thick. The pick is also plated with some kind of shiny metal. I’m not sure the purpose for this coating. It is coming off both of my tools at the tips and chipping off in other places as well — not so confidence inspiring.

The pick is B rated. It feels sturdy and definitely a bit more substantial than many picks on standard piolets. But I still don’t feel comfortable cranking on the pick, especially torquing it in a crack like I would on a standard, T rated tool.

The shape is quite aggressive and is more reminiscent of a technical pick than a hybrid. The pick is rather downturned and a result the pick sticks quite well in firm conditions even though it is not that sharp. The pick on the Sum’Tec is replaceable and secured with a hefty hex bolt at the head. It’s comforting to know if I break the pick I can replace it.

Overall this is exactly what I imagine a hybrid pick being, aggressively shaped but soft in the details. It gets the job done.

Glacier Travel

At 52 cm, the Sum’Tec is pretty short for someone like me (5’10”). On a flat glacier in cane carry, it is nowhere near hitting the ground, and therefore, it’s a bit awkward to carry. The slope has to reach around 20-30° for this axe to be useful as a cane.

Holding either the hammer or the adze in self arrest mode is quite comfortable. The teeth on the pick aren’t sharp so they don’t tear up gloves and the top of the pick and shaft are nicely rounded. The tool feels nice in my hand and that is a big plus.

Also, because a lot of the weight is held in the head, the Sum’Tec feels a lot more substantial than other piolets. There is a sturdiness there — this tool feels solid, especially in self arrest position.

As things get a touch steeper, the spike is extremely sharp compared to many piolets and can bite in almost anything. The adze isn’t that sharp and a result it definitely takes a bit of elbow grease to chop steps. Which is frustrating because if you have to chop many steps, you are already having a bad day. However this is not a huge deal for me as I usually just use the adze to create stances to put skis on and if conditions are too firm, I’ve turned around long ago.

As far as actual self arresting is concerned, the Sum’Tec does a good job. Obviously the curved shaft means that there is a greater tendency for the pick to pull out/bounce than on standard straight shafted piolets just because of the geometry. However, because the Sum’Tec has a decently aggressive pick, it grabs quite well in self arrest situations. Though I’ve not fallen with the Sum’Tec in any critical situations, the bit of testing on safe slopes I’ve done left me feeling confident in using this tool in steep and firm terrain.

Steep Terrain

While the Sum’Tec loses ground to the standard piolet on flatter terrain, it more than gains it back on steeper slopes.

When carrying in high dagger position (something I do quite often) the adjustable Trigrest becomes very useful (more on this later). I can easily move it up or down the shaft to where I need it to provide a sturdy and secure handle on steep and firm terrain. This is my favorite situation to use this axe. When the terrain is between about 45 and 65°, high dagger on the Sum’Tec is a dream. I often carry two tools and can make fast and secure work out of most snow slopes in this range with this setup.

Sam Shaheen reviews the Petzl Sum'Tec ice axe for Blister Gear Review.

Sam Shaheen with the Petzl Sum’Tec, Gantrisch, Switzerland.

As a ski mountaineer, I primarily travel in this type of terrain — snow slopes no steeper than 65°. For this terrain, the Sum’Tec is pretty much perfect. However, there are inevitably times when you don’t end up on perfect snow slopes, even while skiing.

In steeper ice (less than 80°) the Sum’Tec has a great swing to it. It works well for my anatomy. It swings naturally and feels good. I know that people get very picky about the swing of their ice tools, but for me, the Sum’Tec gets the swing right.

The pick does a fair job of sticking in ice but it just isn’t all that sharp (due to the chipping coating, I haven’t tried to sharpen them, and I don’t climb on ice enough to warrant it with these tools). Dedicated ice tools definitely stick better.

There have been a few situations where I’ve been exposed to super steep frozen turf climbing and the Sum’Tec does great here. It is such a satisfying sound to hear a tool sink into turf and this tool is no exception.

Who’s It For?

But climbing steeper terrain highlights the primary issues I have with this tool, which raises two questions:

Why does the pick get only a ‘B’ rating, while the shaft gets the stronger ’T’ rating?

This makes no sense to me. The B rated pick is no longer industry-standard for ice tools. I would not feel comfortable slotting this tool in a slanted crack and torquing it, or pounding it into thin or hard ice repeatedly. There are stronger, thinner and sharper picks on the market that are designed for these thing. So then why is the shaft T-rated like technical ice and mixed tools? Isn’t it logical that the shaft could be made lighter on the Sum’Tec without sacrificing functionality? This tool only needs a B-rated shaft, and I would really appreciate the few grams saved that a B-rated shaft would afford. (Granted, I have never broken a B-rated pick, I’m sure it’s stronger than I’m giving it credit for. But it still just feels wrong.)

The second and bigger question: Why use this tool over the more technical Quark, or Black Diamond Viper?

Here’s a list of things gained by the Quark over the Sum’Tec: technical ice and mixed climbing ability, multiple picks available, additional hand rest, rubberized grip for overhand swinging, up to 35 g lighter fully stripped down.

List of things lost by the Quark over the Sum’Tec: about $60 per tool.

From my perspective, any alpinist who requires the functionality of the Sum’Tec will also, at times, require the functionality of a technical ice tool. So why not just buy the Quarks and avoid paying the additional $400 to get a set of Sum’Tecs too? There is almost no versatility lost and significant functionality gained. If the Sum’Tec saved 70 g over the Quark or if the Quark was less versatile, the Sum’Tec would be a great purchase. However, I think the Quark makes much more sense as a do-it-all alpine tool.

I don’t own a set of Quarks or Vipers, and have only borrowed them from friends. But my initial impressions on both tools are quite positive. These are tools we would love to review and would make for a great head-to-head review.

Bottom Line

The Sum’Tec is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It performs excellently and it inspires confidence on most terrain. I grab it without hesitation on all of my ski mountaineering projects. However, in the back of my mind there is this nagging voice saying, This could be better.

Unless you are confident that you won’t ever need to buy a technical ice tool, I have a hard time recommending the Sum’Tec. Even though it performs exactly as advertised and I have been quite happy with it, I think there are better options out there for most people.

6 Comments

  1. Travis October 16, 2016 Reply

    Great review. I’ve often wondered about the quark comparison myself and really appreciate the points that validate the same conclusion I came to. I’ve also spent time with the sum’tec and appreciate everything they do, but have always thought why not just get a quark. Hoping you can do a follow up after some time with quark/viper

  2. Kurt October 25, 2016 Reply

    Nice review!

    The T shaft rating gives greater confidence when using the axe in a T-slot anchor, particularly in high-load scenarios such as hauling during a cravasse rescue.

    • Sam Shaheen October 26, 2016 Reply

      Hey Kurt, thanks! The T rating definitely inspires confidence which is nice. I’m just not sure it’s necessary. For instance, it’s common practice to carry small scraps of wood for T-slots here in the alps…

  3. Sean January 15, 2017 Reply

    I bought a Sum’tec in 59 cm adze, and bought a Quark hammer as a second tool for the steep stuff. The Sum’tec has superior plunging ability, and is a better self arrest tool than the quark, makes a better deadman, etc. This is a very versatile combination that will get me up pretty much anything. If I’m expecting sustained near vertical ice, I would take a pair of Quarks instead, but for most of my objectives with a lot of snow, I like the mismatched set.

    • Sam Shaheen January 15, 2017 Reply

      Hey Sean, that does seem like a good setup to cover a wide variety of slope angles and conditions, especially if you have a lot of lower angle booting. I’m curious to try this out now…

  4. Sean January 15, 2017 Reply

    I like the Sum’tec as a self belay tool – the smooth shaft plunges and extracts reasonably well, and you don’t tire yourself out trying to free it as you might with the Quark or another tool with a grip at the spike end. I add the Quark if I anticipate needing a second tool for the route, but it lives on my pack until I need it. When I do pull out the Quark, I move the Trigrest on the Sum’tec down to a position which matches the length of the Quark – I find movement more intuitive with identical reach from both arms, even if that doesn’t maximize the momentum of the Sum’tec when placing.

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