Cassin X-All Mountain Ice Axe Review by Dave Burdick
CAMP and its sub-brand Cassin have offered a steady line of nice tools over the past decade (and beyond of course). While these tools didn’t get the same hype and adoption in North America that other large brands have, the designs were solid and innovative. One of these tools, the CAMP Awax, came out as a light alternative to the heavier clearance shaft tools that were becoming mainstream. Good clearance, light weight and a solid pick design made it a popular tool in Europe, but I failed to see many around our local crags. As tools started growing extra handles, huge clearance and lost leashes, it was time for some evolution.
Enter the new Cassin X-All Mountain, which aims to please across several categories of use. Here Cassin seems to have taken the requests of climbers and tried to put them all together into a single quiver tool for technical ice, dry tooling, alpine climbing and mountaineering.
How light is it? Five years ago I would have said that it was among the lightest on the market (as the Awax was). However, given the range of new tools on the market, it is technically middle of the road at 628g per tool. Compare this to the Grivel Quantum (510g), the 2010 Quark (550g), the Black Diamond Cobra (595g), the Black Diamond Viper (623g), the Petzl Nomic (663g with head weights, 605g without), and the Black Diamond Fusion (702g). Still, it feels light in your hand and lightweight in the swing. This is not your father’s black-rubber-shaft Black Prophet ice tool.
Let’s get back to the swing, because for me, that is the single most important feature in an ice tool. It appears that Cassin has taken great care to produce a smooth and natural swing with the X-All Mountain. You pick it up, swing it into ice, and it behaves exactly how you’d expect. No need to “learn” the tool, as it so often the case with new tools. It appears that Cassin has also deliberately designed this to be a light headed tool. The intent here is for the climber to be precise and use their own strength to drive the tool into the ice instead of relying on the head weight. This is beneficial as you can adapt to warmer or colder conditions. It can also be a real pain on brittle -20C days where a little extra weight can help drive the tool and avoid pick bounce.
Speaking of the pick, Cassin has evolved (via the Awax) a pick design that priorities ice performance and compliments the light head weight of their tools. The tip of the pick is extremely low profile vertically, which reduces shattering. This also helps to avoid the dreaded pick bounce on hard ice to a certain extent. Try it out side by side at a demo and see what you think. Cassin believes (and I agree) that the less hard you have to swing, the more swings you’ll have in ya. The main drawback of this design is that the pick will be significantly less durable for drytooling, especially on mixed alpine routes. The long and skinny tip will dull and wear faster than the more chisel-like tips of most other tools.
What I really want to talk about, however, is the shaft. The clearance on this is surprisingly huge. This tool has significantly more shaft clearance than the Nomic, especially on the lower half of the tool (but less than the 2010 Ergo). It makes designs like the Cobra or the Quark look darn near strait shafted. This is a great: no bulge interference on ice, relaxed hand angles while drytooling and dry gloves while alpine climbing. I’m impressed that the swing remains so natural with such a deep shaft bend.
Finally, a few mandatory features: pinky rest? Check. Upper match rest? Check. Hammer? You bet. Spike with carabiner hole? Comes standard. All of these features add versatility and allow it to play in many arenas.
This tool is a good choice for someone who is looking for a single tool quiver to climb across multiple disciplines. I think it is less suited for the climber who likes a heftier swinging tool or for those headed to the hills in search of thin ice, rock and a maybe a lucky clump of moss to swing at.