Black Diamond Fusion vs Petzl Nomic Review by Dave Burdick
The Petzl Nomic and Black Diamond Fusion (2009/2010 green model) are among the highest quality ice tools available on the market today. Both of these tools have been designed to perform well in both ice climbing and rock/mixed climbing and they climb very similar to each other. In fact, if you hold one tool above the other, you’ll notice that their geometries are nearly identical (see picture below). The purpose of this review is to objectively compare the two tools and describe their subtle differences. I shall try to keep subjective comments to a minimum, as each climber is different and requires different characteristics and features from their ice tools.
- Double handle design
- Adjustable grip size
- Large clearance in shaft design
- Field replaceable picks
- Hammer, adze or nothing options
- Serrated bottom spike
- Full strength handle-hole umbilical attachment
- 4mm cord hole umbilical attachment
- Reinforced plastic upper grip
- Tape wrap on upper grip
- Double bolt pick attachment
- Double handle design
- Adjustable grip size
- Large clearance in shaft design
- Field replaceable picks
- Low profile, integrated hammer
- Full bottom spike
- Full size carabiner umbilical attachment
- Stainless steel upper grip
- Molded integrated rubber on upper grip
- Single bolt pick attachment
- 680g – Axe + pick
- 22g – Spike
- 702g – Axe + pick + spike
- 600g – Axe + pick
- 5g – Pick spacer
- 58g – Pick weights
- 58g – Hammer
- 69g – Adze
- 605g – Axe + pick + spacer
- 658g – Axe + pick + hammer
The shape of the lower and upper grips on the Fusion and Nomic are overtly similar but subtly different. The Nomic has a more tubular design whereas the Fusion is flatter laterally and longer front to back. The actual diameter is roughly the same, but the in-hand feel is fairly different. The Nomic has a more pronounced “index finger bump” than the Fusion (see above picture). Both lower handles have a “peanut” shaped grip where the shaft narrows in the middle on the sides. While the Nomic has the same width at the front and the back, the Fusion tapers from smaller in the front to larger in the back. The front edge of the handle corresponds to the 2nd knuckle bend of your finger. This subtle narrowing on the front edge of the Fusion allows for people with smaller hands to get a slightly better grip on the tool.
The upper grips also vary in their geometry for the grip shape—the Fusion continues the “peanut” shape into this grip and has a significantly smaller diameter than the Nomic. The Nomic’s upper grip is simply the diameter and shape of the upper shaft with grip tape on top. Again, different hands will often find one of the two tools more comfortable. If you can, try and hold one of each in your own hands to see which fits best.
Sizing & Adjustment Options
The Fusion and the Nomic both offer methods to adjust the size of the lower grip. The Fusion allows you to change the actual shaft length by inserting 0 to 3 spacers into the grip. The benefit to this design is that the basic geometries stay the same as the grip gets larger. The Nomic has a rotating lower pommel with three adjustment sizes: Small, Medium and Large. The 1st generation Nomic felt very different between sizes, with the large size being very “open” feeling on the pinky hook. The 2010/2011 revision of the Nomic (used in this review) fixed this issue by maintaining the pinky hook angle through the three sizes. Unfortunately, a small design flaw in the 2010/2011 Nomic pommel-to-tool interface is requiring a redesign of this part of the tool for the 2011/2012 season.
Handle to Pick Angle
It turns out that the angle of an ice tool’s handle relative to its pick dramatically affects performance. The “pick angle”, as it is called, determines several things including when and at what angle the pick impacts the ice during a swing, as well as how much “pick shift” there will be when hooking small rock edges. It is generally considered advantageous to be “quiet” (little to no pick shift) when drytooling on small edges. If this all seems a bit complicated don’t worry–the Nomic and the Fusion have the same 32-degree pick angle.
One of the greatest differences between the Fusion and the Nomic exists in the spike at the bottom of the tool. With the Fusion, Black Diamond provided classic spike functionality for use in the mountains (such as in piolet cane position). Thus, a removable, full size and downward facing spike sits on the bottom of the Fusion. There are several benefits of this design:
- Extremely clean umbilical leash attachment, including use of full size carabiners
- Excellent traction on everything from low angle waterice to neve and snow
- The spike can be removed during gymnastic mixed climbing so as to protect your other body parts
A spike of a different sort was introduced in the 2010/2011 Nomic. Instead of purely being downward pointing, this spike continues up the pinky rest, intending to brace the lower part of the tool against the ice. This really comes into play when hooking deep into picked out ice. In this scenario, the pinky rest is partially pushing down on a blob of ice. Without a serrated spike of this fashion, a tool tends to feel less secure. On the other hand, if you are not used to swinging a steep clearance shafted tool such as the Nomic, you may find on low angle ice that the serrated spike contacts before the pick. This is a common beginners problem and should rectify its self with continued practice. The serrated spike works well enough in piolet cane position, and is certainly better than nothing.
Most climbers these days climb without classic wrist style leashes. On anything longer than a single pitch, most also choose to use some sort of “umbilical” leash that connects the bottom of the tool to the climber’s harness. Currently, manufacturers are all over the map in how they provide attachment points on the bottom parts of their tools.
As mentioned above, the Fusion has a simple and clean attachment method when the spike is installed. Simply clip a carabiner or umbilical mini-carabiner strait in. The only drawback to this system is that you need to have the spike installed to connect the umbilical to your tool. Having the spike attached does somewhat limit the range of motion with which you can rotate the palm of your hand under the bottom of the tool (see picture below). The Fusion’s spike is quite strong and pull tests to roughly 6.5kN. Black Diamond also “proof-tests” each ice tool to 1000lbs end to end before they leave the factory.
The Nomic provides two options for umbilical attachment: a full strength large diameter hole through the middle of the handle and a 4mm hole drilled into the shaft behind the pinky rest. To use the full strength hole you need to either tie some webbing in a loop or double a short spectra sling through the hole. To use the small hole in the shaft you must tie a small loop of cord through the hole. Either way you choose, you end up with webbing hanging off the end of your tool. This can become problematic when climbing in snow as webbing/cord tends to get wet, freeze and then ball up with snow. A disadvantage of using the large diameter hole is that it allows the webbing to significantly contact the palm of your glove. In wet conditions the webbing can get soaked and transfer water into the glove. For this reason, a removable 30cm Dynex (http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en-us/shop/climb/dogbones-runners/dynex-runners/ ) or Spectra sling is best used here as these materials absorb less water than nylon. The Nomic’s large diameter attachment likely pull tests to the full strength of the tool (or the webbing used). The small hole diameter attachment is limited by the strength of the cord, which usually runs around 3kN in that size.
The shaft design is another point of significant difference between the Fusion and the Nomic. The Nomic uses a curved rectangular aluminum tube of equal proportion from the handle to the head. The Fusion’s shaft is unique as it is made from a single piece of Hydroformed aluminum (for more on hydroforming, see Black Diamonds video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QZsgDrGeDs). The key benefit of hydroforming is that it produces an extremely rigid shaft that can still be made lightweight. A non-flexing shaft is useful on steep mixed terrain (where a lot of the climber’s body weight is hanging from the tool) because it keeps the pick quiet on small holds. The Nomic shaft does have some flex to it, as seen in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qx1AKVCKfro
The first generation orange colored Fusion (not the one in this review) had a similar flex to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-_-eIhKx-0
Another factor, albeit a bit less important, is the shape of the upper shaft relative to your hands. On steep ice and mixed, it can sometimes be advantageous to climb your hands high up onto your tools all the way up to the head. Petzl’s new Ergo tool even goes as far as adding a 3rd handle above the usual 2nd grip to facilitate this. With the uniform shaft of the Nomic you get a little less purchase than you would with the Fusion’s “ribs” higher up. However, the 3rd grip of an Ergo could easily be attached to a Nomic, giving you a much more secure grip high on the tool.
The Head & Swing
The shape and size of the head on the Fusion and the Nomic are upon first glace very similar. They are low profile and simplified in comparison to other types of tools. Generally speaking, the low profile heads were designed to facilitate stein pulling and slotting the tool into tight spaces. The Fusion’s head marks a departure from the modular nature of the other current Black Diamond tools, allowing for only the built-in micro hammer configuration (though it is worth noting that the pick attachment is exactly the same as all Black Diamond technical tools produced since 1988). The Nomic now comes with modular head options allowing for a hammer, adze or neither. In addition, the Nomic comes with weights on the pick that provide further modularity for the user to dial in the head weight and swing characteristics desired.
Head design is inescapably linked to the swing of an ice tool. In the past, most tools simply had one swing available to the end user. Black Diamond was the first to break this trend by offering a full sized hammer and a micro hammer in their Cobra/Viper line.
Ostensibly the Fusion stepped away from this modular system in favor of a streamlined design. Unfortunately it also means the Fusion will have the same weight and swing characteristics for steep drytooling, brittle ice, soft ice and alpine climbing. It also means that you cannot tailor the swing and the weight of the Fusion to match your own climbing style (without permanent modification). On the upside it is a clean, durable design that will swing and perform the same no matter what type of climbing you’re doing.
The Fusion has a bit heavier feel to the swing that is roughly equal to the Nomic when both the hammer and the pick weights are installed. The bulk of the Fusion’s head weight is located in the hammer on the back of the head. I found this weighting a little different from tools that I have used previously and it took some getting used to. I think this brings up an important point when buying and evaluating new tools: it really takes a significant amount of climbing time to adjust your swing optimally to a particular tool. If you’re climbing on different tool geometry, such as the Cobras, a tool like the Fusion (or Nomic) will take some time to get used to.
In terms of swing, the Nomic shows a clear advantage in terms of configurability. A standard Nomic ice climbing setup contains no hammer or adze, and locates the head weight forward in the form of weights attached to the pick. By moving the weight forward you produce a snappy swing that also tends to drive the pick into the ice. To visualize this more clearly, imagine that you put the head weight all the way at the front tip of the pick, leaving just enough pick exposed to gain purchase in the ice. It is easy to imagine in this scenario how last minute direction changes in the swing will have less impact on the pick and weight working together to drive into the ice. This translates to more consistent sticks even when your swing isn’t perfect.
For drytooling or for people who prefer a light headed ice axe, simply remove the pick weights for a very different (and light) tool. For alpine climbing, you can add hammers and/or an adze to the Nomic and remove the pick weights (the hammer weighs the same as the pick weights, see weight listings above). Petzl designed their hammer to stick out from the back of the tool like a classic hammer design. This does change the swing of the tool somewhat, as you’re moving that 58 grams of head weight from the pick to the back of the tool. Generally this setup would be used more in a mixed climbing or alpine environment where the swing of the tool tends to be somewhat less important. As mentioned above, the Fusion does not require modifying the swing (if even ever so slightly) to use the hammer.
There are a couple final notes that I should share about the Petzl pick weights. First, they are useful in drytooling as they are essentially shaped like a #7-10 nut. This allows you to torque your 3-4mm pick in thin cracks and slot the pick weights in wider cracks. Second, several folks have modified their fusions to accept the Petzl pick weights (which are also sold individually). In fact, the fine Black Diamond compatible picks produced by Cold Thistle Tools (http://coldthistletools.blogspot.com/) come pre-drilled with Petzl pick weight holes. It you go this route with your Fusions, you may want to remove some weight/metal from the hammer. Cold Thistle Tools has posted some pictures on their site of this arrangement.
Changing the Pick, Hammer & Adze
Picks receive a lot of repetitive stress and abuse and thus needing to change a pick in the field is a real possibility. Black Diamond has a bit of an advantage here as they use a single slotted nut to connect the pick to the tool. You are likely going to want the special hex wrench along with you, as using the other tool as the wrench is challenging. The Petzl system used on the Nomic, Ergo and Quark is a little more complicated. First, you will need both a 3mm and a 5mm hex wrench—one for the head nuts and one for the pick weights. To allow for head modularity, Petzl cuts some width out from the back of the pick. A hammer or adze fills this space if installed, and a washer-like disc fills the area otherwise. Because there are two bolts on the Nomic head, the holes must be aligned just right to get the bolts back in. This can be challenging to do at home, and especially so if installing a hammer or adze as the head slot is very tight. Doing a pick change with a hammer on the Nomic on an alpine climb would require some time, futzing and patience. With the Black Diamond tool, it should easily be replaceable in a minute or two.
Petzl provides the Nomic with their 3mm Ice pick and Black Diamond provides the Fusion with their 4mm Fusion (drytooling oriented) pick. It you are drytooling or hitting rock with your picks, I have found that Black Diamond picks wear just a little bit faster. Whether this actually becomes a significant difference for you will depend on the type and volume of climbing you do. As mentioned earlier, Cold Thistle Tools is creating after market picks that fit Black Diamond tools. These picks are similar to the “super alloy” Aermet picks that BD produced in the early 1990s. The Cold Thistle picks are made from much “harder” steel than the production picks and will last quite a while.
The Petzl Nomic and the Black Diamond Fusion are very similar tools that mostly differ in the small details. Both tools will climb ice, rock and mountains fantastically and we are all so lucky to have such quality tools being produced by multiple companies. What I believe follows from the above discussion is that the Nomic is slightly better suited for ice climbing, and the Fusion is slightly better suited for mixed and alpine climbing. A summary of the details that lead me to these conclusions are:
- Better swing weighting and configurability
- An ice climbing oriented spike
- Comes stock with an “ice” style pick
- Stiffer shaft design
- Superior umbilical attachment
- Removable spike
- Easily replaceable pick
- Comes stock with a drytooling oriented pick
Ready to buy or just compare prices?
|Petzl Nomic Ice Tool|
|Black Diamond Fusion Ice Tool|