[Photo] Kel Rossiter
You know your friend, the one who was dating his “perfect girl” but somehow things went south, she dumped him and now every woman he meets just can’t stack up? That’s what this review of the DMM Switch mixed-climbing tool is going to sound like–except that in this case the breakup never happened.
Nine years ago, Petzl released the first-generation Nomic. I was pretty slow to come around, enjoying the featherweight swing of the Grivel Quantum Techs, but as I moved into more and more mixed climbing, I came to see the need. Petzl’s third-generation Nomic came into my ice life a few years ago and has since become my standard-bearer. When the Nomic was first released, it was pretty radical–resembling a hybrid between a pterodactyl and a scimitar–one of a kind. Three Nomic generations later, there are many competing tools.
This season, DMM enters the fray with the Switch. With dual offset grips and a radically curved shaft, in essence it references the Nomic. But, put the two tools side by side and you’ll quickly notice the first difference: Though both are marketed as 50cm tools, the DMM is clearly almost 2cm longer. Obviously, a longer tool offers a longer reach, which sounds nice on paper, but I wondered both, “Why these dimensions?” and, “Does the added reach compromise the swing?” Taking the tools out for a first spin on Grand Illusion in Smugglers’ Notch, I quickly reached the twin conclusions, respectively, of “I don’t know” and “Maybe.”
Let me explain: In its product literature and online promotions, DMM doesn’t address why it has opted for a longer tool, but it does present figures on the weight, and that–in combination perhaps with how the added length and hefty weight affect the swing–still leaves me wondering, and is ultimately my largest beef with the Switch. The Switch is sold with 1.6 oz pick weights. Straight out of the box, it was clear that those were about as necessary as lipstick on a pig: With the weights, the tools felt like Cro-Magnon clubs. Immediately, I removed the pick weights, rendering the tools 1.5 lbs each, with plenty of heft to still find purchase in ice. Now they were approaching my ideal, the Nomic, which weighs in at 1.3 lbs.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
Now, a 0.2-pound difference isn’t much. Take a swig from your Thermos and you’ve probably shaved that off your overall climbing weight–but, you aren’t swinging that Thermos overhead all day long. Put that 0.2 lbs on the end of an ice tool and factor in the additional inch the DMM Switch has over most ice tools, and you’ll immediately notice the difference–you can feel it in your shoulders after a long day.
To be fair, I did occasionally enjoy the added reach. Mixed climbing on Dragontail Peak’s Gerber-Sink Route in early May, I needed to hook some rock low with the left tool and sink the right tool high into an ice curtain. The bottom of the curtain was delaminated. Carrying both a Nomic and a Switch, I consciously used the DMM in my right hand to maximize purchase on the better, higher ice. While added extension is nice in particular situations, I’m not about to extend this logic and get on a soapbox calling for the return of the 70cm ice tool.
Another occasionally useful aspect was the ample adze. While I certainly wouldn’t want to do any aggressive mixed climbing with the adze pick without a very good dental plan, I did find it useful this past April in the Alaskan alpine: in a snowy Ruth Gorge, the Switch’s adze made it easier to clear away “snice” in search of something useful. DMM’s picks come with a choice of either a hammer or an adze integrated into the pick. At only $44.95 each, they are considerably cheaper than the $57.95 Petzl charges for solely a pick, sans hammer or adze. I found that the picks placed cleanly, removed smoothly and held their edge well, even when scratching around on rough Ruth Gorge granite.
All that said, I’m still not ready to leave the Nomic behind, for many reasons. First, back to the picks: While you have your choice between an adze or a hammer, you must choose one–consequently the total length of the adze tool’s head is 8 7/8″, a full 1 1/2″ longer than the Nomic sans hammer or adze. That added length makes it much harder to get a good swing in tight confines and more challenging to find suitable placements for steinpulls.
Another major limiting factor is the grips. DMM designers placed a premium on creating a full-strength handle, with the bottom grip hook integrated into the shaft. As a result, the grip doesn’t adjust for different-sized hands or different thicknesses of glove. I wear a size medium glove, and with the mid-weight glove I typically wear for Northeast springtime ice and in the Alaskan alpine, the grip was too large and loose. One aspect of the grip that DMM seems to be pitching is the fact that both the upper and lower grips have a full-strength clip-in point, accessible from either rest–meaning that, unlike Nomics, if you’re occupying the bottom grip and flaming out, you can still easily access the clip point. This could certainly be a “Thank-God” feature in the right/wrong situation, but a better general strategy would be to get more comfortable climbing at the grade.
This has been a review of the DMM Switch. The DMM is a really nice tool–quality-built, nice design and a good price point. But–of course–“really nice” is the kiss of death in so many love triangles. You may have noted that I’ve spent more than a little bit of time talking about the Petzl Nomic. Simple, clean lines, crisp swing, solid placements, easy removals and versatility with accessories: in the end, that’s the tool by which I still measure all others and the one I keep going back to.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
* Slightly longer reach than standard 50cm tools provides some advantage in certain scenarios.
* Picks prove to be durable, and replacement picks are a value at $44.95. Plus, the integrated hammer or adze is an included bonus–provided you really want either.
* Ample adze makes this a very useful alpine ice tool.
* Full-strength clip-in point accessible from either the top or bottom grip could be a useful “Thank God” feature.
* Slightly longer reach than standard 50cm tools, coupled with a comparatively heavy head weight (even without pick weights), makes it a workout on long walls.
* The picks come with an integrated hammer or adze. As such, they are longer than other pick-only tool options. This makes it a challenge in tight swinging confines and in certain steinpull scenarios.
* Grips are not adjustable for different-sized hands or gloves, and too large for the kind of mid-weight gloves average-sized people might wear for the kind of ice this aggressive tool is meant to handle.
Kel Rossiter is the owner/lead guide for Adventure Spirit Rock+Ice+Alpine, and guides in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska and beyond. He is an AMGA Alpine and Rock Guide and holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Vermont.