Black Diamond Vipers – Review

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Are the new Vipers good enough for Dave to swap them from his old ones?

Completely redesigned for maximum versatility on the myriad demands of winter climbing, the Black Diamond Viper Ice Tool is an easy-swinging, all-around tool.

 05-CGRstar

My trusty Black Diamond Vipers have been a trusty companion for all my winter adventures throughout the last 5 years or so. I’ve really used them for everything from Drytooling at White Goods, every major Scottish winter route I’ve done and the majority of my ice climbing in them too.

Out with old and in with the new. The mark 2 and mark 3 Vipers.

Out with old and in with the new. The mark 2 and mark 3 Vipers.

I’ve used Richie’s Petzl Nomics and Kev’s Black Diamond Fusions but I can’t seem to get on with anything other than my Vipers. So you can imagine my excitement when I got to test the latest remodel of the Vipers, this is their third overhaul and on first inspection Black Diamond have done an amazing job. They are lighter, they have improved the head of the infamous ‘Toffee’ Hammer, given them a normally shaped adze and made the finger trigger adjustable.

The bigger hammer means you can happily whack that hex in with abandon!

The bigger hammer means you can happily whack that hex in with abandon!

Although the head of the Black Diamond is slightly small and you won’t be able to retro fit some of the accessories, like the larger hammer and bigger adze that I have for my Mark 2 Vipers they haven’t changed the picks, so you  can still use your old picks and any third party one’s you have bought (hurray my Krukonogi mixed picks are still OK) on them. So it shouldn’t cost you a fortune if you are a multiple pick use like myself and are considering swapping to this newer model.

The BD Vipers neatly stows onto the back of your pack.

The BD Vipers neatly stows onto the back of your pack.

So, let’s get down to details. The Black Diamond Vipers are a technical winter mountaineering tool and are very versatile indeed. I have used them for all manner of winter activities from Drytooling to continental Ice Fall Climbing. Although they come with clipper leash screw holes and I own a pair of clipper leashes I have always climbed leash less in them. One of the great pluses of the Vipers has been the large hole on the base spike. I’ve seen many a tool with bits of tat looped to the bottom so you can attached Spring leashes, but the BD Viper has a nice sized hole that will take a full sized carabiner if you need to (think marginal belays!!!!), so you can use a Black Diamond Spinner Leash if you like to be organised or if you are tight like me, you can put up with Grandma’s Knitting with normal Spring leashes.

The base spike hole is the same but if you look closely the palm rest is slightly shallower.

The base spike hole is the same but if you look closely the palm rest is slightly shallower.

The Black Diamond Viper still utilises Hydroforming (using water at extremely high pressure blown into aluminium tubing) to shape the shaft of the tool. The Mark 3 model sees a slimming down of the shaft without losing any strength so you can torque your way up those corners, or mantel shelf that shaft with full confidence in the shaft integrity. They have dropped the Bronze colour in favour of Black, which is a shame as I liked a little colour – I always loved the colour of the BD Fusions. They also have the same leash bolt in the same place so if you use Android leashes you’ll be fine.

The great sized head makes it easy to get any sized carabiner in it to clip onto your harness.

The great sized head makes it easy to get any sized carabiner in it to clip onto your harness.

The head is smaller too so as I explained earlier don’t expect a smooth interchange of your older accessories if you are planning to replace your Mark 2’s for these. The bolts are still the same with a 12mm hex head bolt which has a large slot which you can access with a pick if you need to tighten it up in the field (there is a spanner supplied with the tools). The Vipers come supplied with the great Titan pick – I’ve had mine for years now and just use it for Drytooling, I use the  Krukonogi mixed picks for Scottish winter and the BD Laser picks for ice climbing but Black Diamond now have a great range of accessory picks to choose from so I will be taking a closer look at those in future. Just to note – I have never had a BD pick come loose when climbing.

The slightly smaller head still uses the same picks but different accessories at the back.

The slightly smaller head still uses the same picks but different accessories at the back.

One of the immediate things I noticed was the adjustable trigger on the shaft – great I thought you can now raise the trigger up the shaft to use it for dagger plunging in soft snow. But you can’t, the trigger is designed to adjust to different hand widths and with different gloves on. So I can adjust the trigger to fit either my drytooling gloves or my icefall gauntlets. It works super easy- just flick open the lever slide to adjust and lock again, a great and neat idea.

The great, adjustable trigger means that you can use them with any type of gloves on.

The great, adjustable trigger means that you can use them with any type of gloves on.

So far this season I have just used the Black Diamond Vipers in an Alpine setting and they have been great to use, they fit easily on the pack, are light and very versatile. They are designed to be used with Android leashes, spring/waist leashes (and work superlatively as leashless tools) and with the large hole on the head clip onto your harness easily too. They have been comfortable in the hand to use as a Piolet and have performed well as general technical tools-simply brilliant!

 

The BD Vipers performed great as a technical Alpine axe.

The BD Vipers performed great as a technical Alpine axe. Used here as a piolet for steep approaches.

Of course, we here at CGR like to do a thorough review so the Black Diamond Vipers will need to be tested in good old UK conditions so look out for the continued additions to this review as soon as I have used them for drytooling and Scottish Winter – we’ll post when we have written up the changes and let you know via our Facebook page so don’t forget to like us for all the up to date reviews, gear news and trip reports.

As to the answer to the original question – I wouldn’t hesitate to swap them over. My mark 2 Vipers were all I ever needed for my winter adventures and the new mark 3 are even better.

To be continued…

SRP: £175 (each)

Available from our partner Facewest and other retailers.

Dave bio shot

Dave Sarkar has tested and reviewed climbing, mountaineering and outdoor equipment for almost 10 years. He works as a qualified MIA both in the UK and Internationally: working full time as a mountaineering instructor and expedition leader for his company Wild Spaces. When he isn’t working in the mountains he’s playing in the mountains and enjoys all aspects climbing and mountain sports whether bouldering at his local crag or ice climbing; as long as he’s going upwards he’s happy!

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2 thoughts on “Black Diamond Vipers – Review

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for your great review.
    I’m wondering about why you say the adjustable trigger can’t be moved up the shaft and is only meant to adjust for different hand widths? It really looks like you can bring it up the shaft quite a bit, they even mention it in the BD video on their website.

    Thanks!

    • You can bring it a fair way up the shaft and it was designed to do that for plunging. In our Scottish winter plunging though it would make any difference where the trigger was!!! But you are correct it does go up the shaft – but not to the head. Hope that helps, Dave.

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