Kong is mostly known for being on the forefront of carabiner technology. The Soul are technical ice tools like nothing you’ve ever seen or felt. They are tools for steep technical climbs and cost around $300, putting them in the same category as the Petzl Nomic, Black Diamond Fuel, Camp X-Dream, and Grivel Tech Machine Carbons. The Soul tools seem to be designed around the premise of reducing the vibrations felt by the user when swinging the tool into ice. Does it work? And is that enough of a selling point to raise the Soul above its competition in the world of vertical ice?
The pick is made from zinc plated steel, with a shape and angle that easily penetrates the ice. There is a larger tooth in the middle of the pick that can help obtain a positive placement when climbing irregularly shaped ice. A hammer can be added to the back to the pick. The top of the head has teeth to help grip it when using it in the cane position. Unlike the aggressive and uncomfortable teeth Grivel tends to use on the top of their tools, the teeth on the Soul are appropriately aggressive enough to comfortably keep your hand in place.
The shaft is a quarter inch core of Iroko wood that is reinforced with aluminum plating on either side. Iroko is a durable wood and is known for withstanding moisture. Besides the dark hardwood looking amazing, it is also one of the key components that dampen the vibration between the head of the tool and the user’s hand.
The cork composite handle is the other key component of the vibration dampening. Between the soft cork material and the excellent grip shape, the handle is one of the best I’ve felt on any tool. It is not adjustable, like the Fuel, Nomic, or X-Dream, but the shape of the handle allows for different grips if you need the extra room. The cork also adds a little more insulation than a plastic and rubber handle found on most tools. There is an upper pommel to allow the climber to put both hands on the tool comfortably. Because the grip was so narrow, it felt easier to control the tool and ensure the pick swings squarely into the ice. The spike on the pommel is useful for caning on an approach.
It is 590 grams which makes it lighter than the Fuel and in between having the pick weights on the Nomic and X-Dreams. It is light enough to feel easy on the arms, yet has enough weight in the head to punch cleanly into the ice. The wooden core and cork handle significantly reduce the vibrations felt in the user’s hand when swinging into ice. The reduced vibration is the big selling point for the Soul and it is difficult to describe how nice it feels to not have that shock of vibration resonate through your arm with every swing.
I find that the Nomic vibrates a lot more without the pick weights on the head. The Soul has the light feel in hand that is comparable to the Nomic without the pick weights, and it swings into the ice better then the Nomic with pick weights. The bottom line is that the Soul are the most comfortable tools I’ve ever used on vertical ice, both ergonomically and functionally.
The only negative aspect of the Soul is the lack of modularity. It is great at only one thing: technical ice climbing. Because of their pick options, removable pick weights and hammer options the Petzl Nomic and the Camp X-Dream can be configured for low angle alpine climbing or dry tooling. This makes them better choices if you are looking for one tool to fill multiple roles.
With the Iroko wood and aluminum plate reinforcements, the Kong Soul are the perfect mix of looks and functionality. They are light, but stick cleanly and effortlessly into ice. They are not the most versatile ice tools but stand on their own when it comes to vertical ice. If you are looking for tools solely to climb steep technical ice, you’d be hard pressed to find a better tool for the climb.
Reducing the vibration felt by climbers was a significant reason why everyone who used these tools loved them. In the coming years as ice tools become more modular, versatile, and efficient, I hope that manufacturers look more into how they can reduce that shock felt in climber’s hand with every swing into the ice. Hopefully, the innovation Kong used in the design of the Soul can drive the market in the direction of thinking outside the box to make the tools more comfortable for the end user.