In the fall of 2018 Petzl released new versions of their technical ice tools, the Quark, Nomic, and Ergonomic. Although the old and new tools look almost exactly the same, there are a number of small changes that should make the tools stronger, more versatile, and feel better in the hand. While the Nomic and Ergonomic are better suited for steeper ice or mixed climbing, the Quarks are designed for technical mountaineering and low to medium angle ice climbing. We got our hands on the new versions of the Quark to see if Petzl’s new additions made any improvements to the already respectable “fast and light” ice tools. How do they compare to the similar Black Diamond Vipers and Grivel North Machine
Petzl is known for versatile products, and the Quark is no exception. The curved shaft makes the tool easier to use in the cane position vs double handled tools. This makes it a great tool for any sort of approach or longer alpine routes. However, the slight curve of tool gives the grip enough of an angle to be easily used in low to medium angled iced. The Quark would easily be able to handle ice rated at WI3 and below.
The Quark’s niche is supposed to be fast and light mountaineering, and the tools are definitely feel light in hand. Weighing in at 550 grams per tool with the hammer and adze they are just a bit lighter than the Black Diamond Vipers which weigh 570 grams. The Quark’s weight can also be reduced to 465 grams by removing all of the accessories. The Grivel North Machine Carbon weighs 550 grams with the hammer or adze, but can also be used with just their Ice Blade pick without a hammer or adze. This means that it can get down to a weight of 450 grams for the trade off of not having an accessory on the head. Ultimately, the Quark is not the absolute lightest in its class, but it can get down to a very respectable (and usable) weight.
Speaking of versatility, the Quark has numerous accessories that can be used to make it better suited for your climb. Petzl’s pick system is compatible with the Sum’tec, Quark, Nomic, and Ergonomic. The Quark comes equipped with Petzl’s Ice pick, which is their general ice or mixed pick. There are 2 other pick options: the Pur’Ice picks designed specifically for ice climbing, or the Dry picks specifically for dry tooling. The tools come in a hammer or adze version, but these accessory are replaceable, even with the smaller hammer Mini Marteu. If you prefer pick weights on your tools for ice routes, Petzl also has compatible pick weights.
All these accessories make the Quark extremely customizable, and it would be even more worth your money if you already own a Petzl ice tool because of how convenient it is that everything is compatible. This gives Petzl the edge over Black Diamond in compatibility because Black Diamond tools only share the same picks, but not hammer/adze and pick weights cannot be added. Givel’s “Machine” line of tools do share picks and hammer/adze accessories, but also do not have a pick weight option. I have never felt the need to add weights to Black Diamond or Grivel tools, but at least Petzl gives you the option.
Finally, we tested the Quark on moderate to steep ice to see how they compare with other tools on the same climbs and they climbed reasonably well. The shape of the tool made it somewhat difficult to climb over ice bulges and the grip rest was not the perfect shape to keep our hands effortlessly gripping the tool, but those are the trade-offs to making a tool more easily used in the cane position when mountaineering. The Black Diamond Vipers perform similarly on vertical ice. The Givel North Machine also climbs well but does not have a pommel for a second grip which can cause some awkward moves when switching grips. The Quark does not suffer the same flaw because it has an adjustable “trig-rest” which can be adjusted to where you prefer that second, higher pommel.
The first issue with the Quark is something that has carried over from the previous version. As previously stated, the Quark have an adjustable trig-rest which acts as a pommel for a higher grip. Petzl’s trig-rest system allows the user to adjust where this second pommel sits on the tool, and even allows the user to move it higher on the shaft to keep it out of the way when the tool is being used as a cane. The issue that we have with this trig-rest is that it is adjusted by using a trigger. To move it up or down the shaft, this trigger must be flipped up towards the pommel which will cause the rest to move freely up and down the shaft. To lock the pommel in place, the trigger is rotated back down towards the shaft of the tool. If you want the pommel of your second grip to be just above your typical grip, the trigger is in between your fingers. In my experience, the trigger tends to get in the way and gets accidentally knocked upwards. When that happens, the second pommel is no longer locked in place and will slide down the shaft if the climber grips above it and rests their weight on it. Black Diamond’s “flicklock” upper pommel does not have this issue. Other climbers might not experience the same problem with the “trig-rest” based on how they grip the tools.
The other issue I had with the Quark is a new aspect of the design, the folding grip-rest. The older version of the Quark had a fixed lower pommel. The pommel worked fine, it was a fixed pommel that didn’t move so there was nothing to break or lose in order for it to function. For the new version Petzl decided to include a mechanism to allow this pommel to fold upwards, making to tool more “streamlined” for use in the cane position. The old grip felt small enough to not really get stuck in crusty layers of snow the same way that double handle tools do. However, if Petzl added it we figured that there was a reason and we will test it out. In order to fold the pommel up, a metal button must be depressed. The first time we pressed the button on tool #1, the spring and bolt that lock the pommel in place shot out of the tool and were never to be found again. We thought that we must have done something wrong and later on in a more controlled environment read the directions again. Once confirming that we pressed the correct button, we tried it on tool #2 and the folding pommel design worked fine. we tried it over and over again on tool #2 to try and recreate what we had done earlier to tool #1, but #2 worked perfectly. We have since emailed the Petzl rep, and he has yet to get back to me. We will post an update when Petzl gets back to us.
Fortunately, it is designed in a way that the pommel cannot open past it’s original position. However, now that the pin is missing it can freely rotate closed. When swinging the tool into ice, sometimes the pommel is the first thing to strike the ice. Without that pin holding the pommel in place, the pommel will close on the user’s bottom fingers. It isn’t something that is going to injure a hand, but is something that is noticeable and irritating.
Ultimately, my opinion is this: the old grip rest did not seem like much of a problem so why try and “fix” it. Looking at the pommel unfolded and folded you can see that it does not streamline the tool much at all. The only situation where it seems like the folding pommel would be useful is when there are crusty layers of snow that the pommel might get caught on when using the tool as a cane. Why add a feature to accommodate such a specific situation, when that feature has the possibility to malfunction? What happens when ice, dirt and sand gets into that mechanism? Can it freeze in place, or rust and break? Worst of all, it happened spontaneously out of the package during its first use so there is not much you can do to 100% prevent this from happening. We am not sure if this is something that Petzl experienced in their product development but adding extra mechanical mechanisms that aren’t needed is only introducing something that can fail at some point.
I was really hoping that Petzl was going to find a different way to adjust the second pommel instead of the “trig-rest” system. Instead they doubled down on it with their “grip-rest” system.
The Petzl Quark ice tools are extremely versatile tools and seem like a great choice if you are looking for fast and light mountain tools that can also handle unexpected moderate to vertical ice. There are many things that we like abut the Quark. The issues with this tool lies in the small details. The trig-rest adjustment is easy to accidentally unlock during a climb which can cause issues on a climb. The grip-rest mechanism can be prone to flaws. These are issues that don’t exist on the similar Black Diamond Vipers. In the fast and light category, the Black Diamond Vipers seem to be the best choice for now.