Petzl Nomics: The Ice Climber’s Samurai Sword

The Petzl Nomic Ice Tools are one of the best ice tools currently on the market.  Not only do these tools have a great swing and stick, especially on very technical climbs, but they look sexy. With sleek curves and a graceful shape, they evoke a sense of deadly accuracy.  If an ice climber is a samurai, then the ice tool is his sword, carefully crafted with the utmost care.  The climber and tool become one as she moves up the climb, moving a gracefully as the samurai of old.  In a video on Petzl’s website, Malo Leroy, professional juggler, showcases this samurai sword-like beauty of the Petzl Nomics.

The Nomics are not all just sexy, sleek curves. These ice tools are an aggressive tool for the aggressive route. They are specialized for waterfall ice and mixed routes.  The Nomics are not designed for alpine climbs.  That being said, the tools can be used on those types of climbs; the climber just needs to be aware of the lack of spike for plunging, and lack of hammer and adze, and prepare accordingly.

Design of the Nomics
The Nomics’ handle is large and comfy with an adjustable griprest that allows the climber to set the size to best fit their hand (small, medium, large). Having the proper sized handle helps decrease overgripping and reduces how quickly one gets pumped.  Also the angle of the shaft and handle, the extent of the curvature, helps reduce knuckle bashing.  When the climber swings, this curvature and tilt keeps the knuckles away from bulges in the ice.

The aggressively curved shaft and the angle of the head keep this tool well balanced while swinging, matching and hooking on both ice and mixed routes.  The shape of the head and angle of the shaft keeps the tool solid, with limited shifting when switching hands. The griptape on the upper handle provides better gripping and some thermal insulation.

The Nomics are designed to be a leashless tool.  There is a hole in the handle, but attaching umbilical leashes here gets in the way of gripping the tool. One option for attaching umbilical leashes is to remove the griprest from the handle, tie a small ring of perlon to this attachment point and then reattach the fang over it.

Ice Climbing
Ice tools in this day and age of ice climbing are usually specialized, performing best on a certain kind of route.  The Nomics are designed for vertical, technical routes.  The aggressively curved shaft and angled pick allow for easy clearance of bulges and other difficult or odd features on ice routes.  Since they are designed with vertical terrain and mixed routes in mind, these tools can feel a little odd to swing on low angle ice and do not perform their best at this grade.   On big, vertical and technical routes or mixed climbing they are one happy tool, making you one happy climber.

Caroline George, IFMGA certified guide, sponsored professional climber and longtime Nomics user, commented on using the Nomics on a variety of terrain. “I use these tools on any kind of terrain, low angle to vertical to overhanging….They quickly become the best all-around tool. I’ve climbed big alpine faces with them, WI7, low angle snow; these tools work great everywhere. The only drawback is on snowy ridge, where you need to plunge the shaft into the snow. They are not ideal for that.”

The Nomics do not need a big swing to penetrate the ice, a flicking motion works more effective, especially with the head weights attached.  The head weights are designed to help sink the tool into the ice.  Even with the head weights mounted, these tools are light.  With the head weight added to the tools they weight 605g, without they weigh in at 540g.

Part of getting a good stick with these tools is having the correct swing; it’s not just about how hard one swings, but using good technique.  You don’t need to bury the pick up to the hilt, they can provide a good stick with even only a few teeth in.  It’s just important to make sure that the stick is solid.  These tools though do come out more easily than other tools on the market, which can be both an advantage and disadvantage, depending on the kind of route you’re climbing and condition of the ice.

Mixed Climbing or Drytooling
For drytooling or mixed climbing, the head weights are removable to create an ultra-light tool. With an aggressively curved shaft and the ability to make these tools very light, the Nomics are a dream drytooling or mixed climbing.  They practically climb for you.  Whether drytooling in a gym or climbing a mixed route outside, these tools effortlessly hook small holds, slip into cracks, and torque for a Stein Pull.  The Nomics’ aggressively curved shaft, angle of the head and how they are balanced help the climber fluidly move from move to move up the rock face.  Matching with these tools is comfortable and feels quite natural because of the angle of the tool and how well they are balanced.

For mixed or alpine routes where the climber will be pounding in pitons, the Quarks hammers can be added to the head of the Nomics.

New Nomics vs Old Nomics
Petzl recently made a few modifications to this tool.  They added stainless steel blades to the bottom (pommel) of the tool.  These blades are for stability when using the tool as a cane on low angle ice terrain. Petzl also made the new Quarks’ hammers integrateable with the Petzl Nomics heads.

Important Note:
For New Nomics purchased in 2010, the pommel was constructed with both aluminum and steel; it can wear down fast. Petzl has stopped selling this tool as they fix the problem; Nomics can be purchased again starting September 2011.  This is not an official recall, but Petzl does also not recommend climbing heavily with this problem in the griprest.  If you already bought the new tools send them back to Petzl.  They will put in a pin to hold the griprest in place and then will send you a brand new set of tools when they are released in September 2011.  If your tools are “on order” that order will be canceled and you will need to reorder them in September 2011.  This is not a safety issue, hence the reason there was no recall.  The griprest won’t open and drop you out of your tool.  Any shifting in the griprest will be very minimal.  But, they don’t want their tools mis-performing in any way, even if it’s minor shifting of the griprest.  Petzl always does a great job resolving problems, assisting customers and standing behind their products.

There are two kinds of picks made by Petzl for the Nomics: the Astro pick and the Cascade pick.  The Astro pick does alright on ice, but is more designed for drytooling and mixed climbing.  The Cascade pick is designed for ice. The Cascade is the ideal pick between these two for pure ice routes.

It is important to note the cost of the Petzl picks when considering purchasing the Nomics.  If you climb ice or mixed routes (especially mixed routes) frequently, you’ll be going through picks a lot.  So it’s important to factor in that cost when purchasing any tool.  Both the Cascade pick and the Astro pick cost $50.

The Nomics: Sleek, Sexy and not just beauty, but also a Technical Masterpiece

With all that said and done, the Nomics are flat out a great ice tool. They are a specialized tool for vertical, aggressive, technical routes; one of the best out there for this type of climbing.  If you decide to own a pair of Nomics be prepared to be stopped by other climbers from time to time with them whispering in awe “Are those the Petzl Nomics?”

Disclaimer: The reviewer received these ice tools to test courtesy of Petzl.


Genevieve Hathaway is a journalist, osteo-archaeologist, world traveler, skier, avid ice climber, and alpinist.  She is the founder, Editor and creative force behind Alpine Athena, a woman’s climbing magazine.  Alpine Athena is a core-focused woman’s alpinism magazine dedicated to the woman climber.  The publication strives to be the leading voice for the woman climber, whether she’s an alpinist, boulderer, rock climber, ice climber, or mountaineer. When not in the office, Genevieve can be found climbing mountains and peaks near her native Seattle, and frozen waterfalls in the Washington Cascades, in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, in Ouray, Colorado and as far away as South Korea. Genevieve chronicles her adventures in climbing and travel on her blogs, IceBella and ArchaeoAdventures.

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