Reviews - Tried & Tested: Alpkit Figfours versus Schmoolz dry tool training axes
Ever since the invention of ice climbing, climbers have devised methods for training for the specific skills needed to ascend snow, ice and mixed. Trees have been climbed with axes and crampons. Rock has been abused. Grivel used to sell plastic picks to retro fit to existing axes. Rope Race had a foam sheet, the Beacon Climbing centre in North Wales had a dedicated dry-tooling area and, most successfully, The Ice Factor in Kinlochleven uses walls of real ice.
(The Schmoolz (left) and the Alpkit FigFour (right). Photo: Alex Ekins)
Over the last few year two similar pieces of equipment have been developed that offer a more convenient method for getting strong for your attempt on those steep Northern Corries mixed routes or for your visit to Vail. The idea is so simple it's strange that no one has thought of it before. A bent bit of wood designed to mimic a modern ice-axe handle with a thin rubber loop at the pick end for hooking over the existing holds on a normal climbing wall. These training aids allow climbers to accurately replicate the actions of steep winter climbing indoors, without damaging the holds or base panels of existing climbing surfaces. The design allows climbers to train at their local climbing wall or at home in their cellars.Both the Figfours and the Schmoolz use the same principle but with some subtle differences between the two devices
The original and award-winning design, the Figfours are beautifully engineered and it's obvious a lot of care and thought has gone into making them as good as they can be. The wooden handle is comfy and can be hung onto without discomfort for extended periods of training. The handles offer less support than the Schmoolz but that does mean you get pumped sooner but consequently stronger quicker. The large rubber loop fits easily over larger holds but also grips well on smaller crimps.
(Dan Bradley using Alpkit Figfours at The Climbing Works climbing wall, Sheffield. Photo: Alex Ekins)
The Schmoolz are a virtual copy of the Figfours but with some subtle differences. Most immediately obvious is that the handles are shaped to resemble a modern leashless axe and this means the Schmoolz are easier to hold onto. The handles are also thinner, which will suit climbers with smaller hands and the children who tried them preferred the Schmoolz over the Figfours. However, some people found that the pronounced curve at the bottom of the Schmoolz handle meant that a lot of weight was directed onto the little finger, which became slightly painful after extended use.
Both the Figfours and the Schmoolz do pretty much the same thing. I preferred the Figfours but there isn't really much difference between the two tools and they both do the job – it will mainly come down to personal preference for how they feel. They are both available to buy online.
Thanks to Virgin Active Sheffield, The Edge, The Works, Dan Bradley, Tom Randall and Ed Chard at The Association of Mountaineering Instructors. Alex Ekins is sponsored by Wild Country and Red Chili.
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