Who I Am
In 2021 I hiked around a thousand miles, with maybe a third of that on established maintained trail, often pushing to access areas earlier and later in the season than most backpackers. Though I’m ultralight in principle and process, my beautiful 7lb spreadsheet base weight seldom sees the light of day due to mission-critical gear, like traction and safety for snow travel.
What the Tica Ice Tool Is and How To Use It
Every ultralight hiker, and most PCT hikers about to hit the Sierra, know this thought that constantly rattles around in their head: Do I really have to carry extra traction for safety on this trip?
Enter the Tica Ice Tool. Weighing in at 4 ounces, literally the same weight as a single dinner, it leaves little to chew on.
Specs and Details, as Tested
Shaft: 60 cm, carbon fiber
The shaft is available in aluminum as well as carbon fiber. The head is titanium, bonded to the shaft in a two-part, structural epoxy process. The Tica is not meant to replace a UIAA rated ice ax.
Where I Tested the Tica
Over the course of 2021, I used the Tica Ice Tool on an early season jaunt to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness; during a fastpack 360 of Mt. Adams; while exploring the seldom visited Alta Toquima and Toiyabe ranges in Nevada; and in the Gore Range in Colorado, among others.
Pros of the Tica Ice Tool
The strongest argument for the Tica is that it can do what most backpackers know how to do (sometimes if only in principle rather than practice) at the lowest weight possible. These are:
Piolet Canne: I found, in this position, the Tica is a joy to use, and not just the lightest available option. The hand fits naturally around the pick and the adze. The carbon fiber seldom seems to get excess snow stuck to it. The weight of the tool makes lifting it up and down a breeze. And the closed end is much appreciated for preventing a snowcone-like accumulation around the shaft. The spike drives adequately, but does feel like it could have a bit more bite on harder surfaces.
Step Chopping: This was a surprise. I had figured that such a lightweight and a small adze would be something of an inconvenience, but it actually worked adequately. My guess is this works because it is so top heavy. Any position where you’re holding the shaft on the Tica is pleasant due to the carbon fiber not being as cold as metal, with a slight bit of texturing on the shaft.
Glissading: I like glissading. The Tica is fine for this use.
Self Arrest: I was able to get about 15 fake falls and self arrests on slopes ranging from the mid to high 20 degrees, the latter with really nice runouts, in case I just messed up. I found success with my self arrests each and every time, as the pick bites nicely in a variety of snow conditions.
Bonus Use: Extra tent stake / anchor in windy conditions.
Price: At $225, this safety item might not fit in every hiker’s budget. Though it is worth bearing in mind it's a handmade product, engineered by Steve Evans, the owner of Suluk 46, himself.
Potential for Misuse: The Tica Ice Tool is not designed for technical terrain and is not a replacement for a UIAA-certified ice ax. While the potential for user error in this regard is obviously not good, I don’t view the lack of a UIAA rating itself as a flaw in the tool. Rather, it’s necessary to understand the scenarios and uses when the Tica excels; as well as, be fully aware of its limitations.
Here, at the risk of giving a review that is like an interview candidate saying their greatest weakness is caring too much, I’ll emphasize what this tool is for, through the use cases below. And, as it would turn out, I’d say these dovetail nicely with the Garage Grown audience.
CONCLUSION: SOME USE CASES
Big Carries with Big Unknowns
In June of 2021 I did traverses of the Alta Toquima and Toyaibe ranges of Nevada, which required big water carries, sometimes as much as six liters. Temperatures were in the devilishly hot 90s at lower elevations, at the start of the trip — to the point where the Tica was actually too hot to touch on the back of the pack!
But, by the time I was cruising along the tundra, at 11,000 feet, the tool came into use, being ideal for traversing the soft, medium-angle snowfields I had to occasionally work my way through.
In July of 2021, I did a route-finding escapade through the Gore Range, where I carried nine days worth of food to compensate for the unknown. On this trip, where I lacked beta, again, weight was at a premium. But the Tica’s mere ounces made it an easy decision to bring it along. It also was used as an extra tent stake on this trip!
Every year, I witness the inevitable hand wringing about how much snow gear to bring, as PCT hikers approach the Sierra and CDT hikers criss-cross the Rockies. Four ounces is simply not a lot of penalty for a lot of function. The ability to perform a basic self-arrest is often what’s required along these trail sections.
In early September of 2021, I did a 360 of Mt. Adams in about 36 hours. With an extremely hot summer behind us, the Klickitat Glacier, which is normally comparable to a blue run found on a ski slope, something you can comfortably do in sneakers, had turned into a crevasse-ridden, anxiety-inducing descent.
Having the Tica with me on this “light and fast” trip proved invaluable.
You brought your Tica, right?