I find tools are sexy, unlike crampons. That’s just how it is. Tools become extensions of our arms and our hands and they are what make the whole sport of ice climbing even possible. Black Diamond has been exploring manufacturing methods and what is possible for ice climbing tools since 1989. The Fuel Hammer builds on their technical mixed tool expertise with a redesigned head that now includes a hammer for added swing weight and facilitates the pounding pins, hexes, or nuts wherever needed in cold and snowy places like Hyalite Canyon, outside of Bozeman, Montana. This valley has one of the longest and most consistent ice seasons in the lower 48 and I have been fortunate enough to spend the last few winters tromping around this beautiful place. I couldn’t think of a better place to swing and scratch with these tools for a few months this winter and spring. 

Initial Impression of the BD Fuels

The first time I picked up these tools they felt very solid, rigid and stout. Black Diamond pays particular attention the industrial design that goes into each one of their products and the Fuel is no exception. The hydro-formed aluminum shaft is curvy and attractive to the eye and the bold neon green over molded grip is striking from a distance and each subtle texture or line visually looks like it belong exactly where it is. But enough drooling over the looks…

Hammer Head with clipping hole makes harness racking easy. Photo Credit_ Kirk Turner
Hammer Head with clipping hole makes harness racking easy. Photo Credit: Kirk Turner

Fit and Modularity

One of the areas Black Diamond continues to excel with their technical tools is their grip adjustability. A central hex bolt allows the bottom half of the grip to be removed and small plastic disc spacers can be added or subtracted. 

Fuel Hammer Handle Length System
Handle spacer details. Photo: Kirk Turner

The stock configuration that arrived at my door was one spacer, this was too small for my M/L hands with a midweight glove. Adding a second spacer was just about right, but just the slightest bit tight. Climbers with a L/XL mitt will likely want to track down a third spacer? Overall, this system is intuitive, simple and well dialed. Additionally the bottom spike/leash eyelet can be removed if dry tooling is your only game. Speaking of modularity, Black Diamond offers multiple interchangeable picks, with ones designed for ice, mixed, and alpine focuses. Although they keep changing the individual pick names, I highly appreciate that they continue to use the same single bolt for system for mounting which maintains the possibility to use any pick from the last decade or so. 

Pure Ice

I took these tools out and I’m not going to lie, I was not a huge fan for the first two days of WI3-4+s. The tools come stock with the “Ice +” picks that are intended for ice and mixed equally. Each individual tool on the market these days has a unique swing pattern, but some patterns are more distinct. I have spent a bit of time with the Petzl’s Nomic’s which are known for their “flick” at the end of a swing that helps drive the pick home. Although I appreciate the Nomic’s, I find my natural swing more suitable to Grivel’s Tech Machine and Camp/Cassin’s X-Dream. The Fuel’s felt like they required even more precision and flick than the Nomic’s and almost an inverted J swing pattern with significant downward force at the end of the trajectory for a good stick.

G1. Photo credit: Landre Sorlie

I had a difficult time swinging these tools with authority and the “sweet spot” felt very small: too much downward force and the pick would skate off, but if you had too much horizontal trajectory it felt like the pick would just bounce and not penetrate the ice. After a few clearing swings when a climber was able to finally bury the pick, the security felt great until it was time to remove the tool….the Ice + picks felt very sticky and were legitimately difficult to remove often requiring prying back and forth, up and down many times over if you really sunk it.

The only place while pure ice climbing this tool felt more at home was on very steep and featured ice, mostly WI5’s and above. The very aggressive point angle allowed hooking with ease on buckets, thin slots, and natural features, but if the pockets disappeared it still felt difficult to get good sticks in vertical ice consistently. While top roping with some beginners at G1 in Hyalite canyon I had them take a few laps on different tools and they found the Fuel’s very difficult to feel comfortable with compared to other tools on hand. For example, most of the four individuals who had minimal or no ice climbing past experience they graduated toward the Grivel Tech Machine, followed by the Nomic, and finally the Fuel.

Feeling dismayed, I finally decided to try a different pick on the next outing. I have well used pair of Cobra’s sporting BD’s “Alpine Pick” (the replacement pick I bought after wearing out the stock set). The Alpine picks have more of a chisel shape, akin to the Nomic, instead of a sloped upper edge that looks like a bird beak. This shape is stock on the Cobras and Fuels.

Picks_ Stock Ice + Upper and Alpine Pick Below. Photo Credit_ Kirk Turner
Stock Ice, Upper. Alpine Pick, Bottom. Photo: Kirk Turner

Would the Alpine pick change make a difference? Day three was an absolute 180! The sweet spot was found. These tools still hooked well on steeper ice, but the chisel expanded the swing pattern significantly and they cleaned much easier after being buried deep in the ice contributing to a much more well rounded ability on ice. Since then I have used them more consistently for pure ice routes, however at 2oz heavier than the Carbon Tech Machine for example, I can start to feel more fatigue and pump in my arms after 100ft or so of steep ice, the weight can be felt if you need all the help you can get. The standard Fuel without the hammer might be a better and just slightly lighter option. 

It’ll be interesting to see how Black Diamond’s 2018 picks will change the feel of the Fuel since they’re purported to be thinner and will replace the current stock pick. You can see a pick preview in this BD Reactor video.

Mixed / Dry Tooling

These tools shine when rock is around. The hydro-forming in the shaft really seems to add an additional level of stiffness that I have not felt in competitors like Petzl Nomic’s or Grivel Machines. There is a M9 classic dry tool route in Hyalite that’s starts with a thin crack that snakes and flares in many spots, before going into a burly roof which I can’t complete, however the bottom crack is sweet. Twisting horizontal torque is the way to make progress with most too placement as the feet are in short supply. Even with significant horizontal force this tool didn’t make a whimper, and on thin edges the aggressive angle of the pick kept the tool on as long as your arms would go. I spent time with both the standard pick and the Alpine Pick and did not feel a noticeable difference overall. These tools took laps on M4-M6 and felt reassuring each time. Since I am not a super talented world cup climber or the most hard core sender, I can’t tell you how they perform for figure 4s or other inverted acrobatics. 

Getting schooled on some hard Mixed Photo Credit_ Thomas J Anderson
Getting schooled on some hard Mixed Photo Credit: Thomas J Anderson


I have not properly tested the Fuel’s in the alpine yet, but these tools should be at home on longer technical mixed terrain (M5 and up?) like one might find in the Ruth Gorge, Chamonix, Ben Nevis, or at Cannon Cliff in New Hampshire. Both the pinkie rest and the pommel spike angle back toward the head which allows the tool to still plunge fairly easily in snow if needed on steep traverses. The hammers are at the ready to pound the occasional pin or icy hex as well should protection be tough or a belay/rap anchor be needed. 

Knife Blade Pin Placement. Photo Credit Lander Sorlie
Knife Blade Pin Placement. Photo Credit: Lander Sorlie


In the first few days it became apparent the finish is pretty easy to damage: the anodization on the main shaft scratched easily and the paint/powder coat on the head chipped and flaked off significantly after pounding the first pin.

Depending on your swing patter and experience level, the Ice + pick that comes stock is not very universal for ice especially for beginners and purchasing another set is a significant additional cost at $54.95 each. Additional somewhere in the course of normal use a significant cut appeared in one of the neon grips. Not sure how this happened– whether it was a newbie mistake or a fragile grip material.

Grip Damage. Photo Credit_ Kirk Turner
Grip Damage. Photo Credit: Kirk Turner


Black Diamond seems to be one of the only brands that has integrated and co-molded permanent grip material above the main handle. The spacer grip setup is the best system I’ve used for adjusting grip length to accommodate different user’s hands. The integrated hammer means you can pound pins to to you hearts content and although the finish damaged easily these burly tools inspire confidence on rock. 


I was not a huge fan of these tools until I replaced the picks. With the Alpine picks, they became more user friendly, versatile and enjoyable for my swing. I won’t consistently grab these tools for pure ice, but for rock, they are rigid as all get out and my current tool of choice for mixed and dry tooling here in Montana and Wyoming. There are rumors of many updates across the major brands for Fall 2018 from BD and Petzl, but the Fuel hammer is not yet overshadowed.

This purpose built mixed tool can still climb ice acceptably and is well suited for the aspiring and experienced modern winter climber who wants to spend significant time on rock.  The simple and consistent pick mounting system and modular handle means that each climber has the opportunity to experiment and fine tune what they prefer individually as well. As a motivated weekend warrior, the Fuel Hammer has earned a place in my gear closest and will make an appearance on my pack any day ice is not the only thing on the menu.