Grivel Dark Machine

The Grivel Dark Machine deserves to be in the conversation about the best ice tools out there.

MSRP: $420


Light, mean and versatile, the Dark Machine is Grivel’s newest tool in their “Machine” line—which also includes the Tech Machine, North Machine and Light Machine—and it is the most technical ice tool of the bunch.

The Dark Machine’s shaft is a carbon-aluminum composite while the handle is full carbon fiber. At 490 grams, it is among the lightest technical tools on the market—for comparison, the Petzl Nomic and the Black Diamond Cobra are each around 580 grams. Despite its lightness, the Dark Machine slices through hard ice like butter. It does require a bit more umph than a heavier tool to generate the necessary force, but the energy saved from the lighter weight more than offsets the additional power required. A high balance-point far up the shaft, combined with the light weight, is why it penetrates so well. At the apex of your swing, the tool feels head-heavy, as though it wants to swing back like a pendulum—almost as if it has pick weights, though it doesn’t.

The 3-millimeter, hot-forged steel pick has a complement of gradually longer teeth the closer you get to the shaft and positively eats ice. I only had the pick glance off the clearest bullet-hard blue ice I’ve ever climbed in northern Norway. If you’re diligent about sharpening and only take off the thinnest shavings of metal, these picks should last a long time.

The Grivel Dark Machine performs well on mixed terrain—with a similar curve to that of the Petzl Nomic, it can handle a wide variety of ice and rock of varying steepness—but if you’re planning on mainly tackling dry-tooling routes, opt for the Dark Machine X, which has an even more recessed handle.

The only major “inconvenience” in the design is the lack of a rubberized handle. Since most climbers these days customize their tool handles by wrapping them with electrical tape or some other grippy material, Grivel thought that they might as well provide a blank canvas, which means you have to tape the handle.

At $419.99, the Dark Machine ain’t cheap, but it’s on par with other carbon-fiber tools. It is a major step up for Grivel, a company with heaps of history, and the Dark Machines deserve to be in the conversation about the best ice tools out there.

Michael Levy


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