There was a question about when a placed ice screw is not reliable. Now I want to know where to best place an ice screw in advance.

So what are features of the ice I should look for or avoid when choosing an ice screw placement?

  • 2
    I don't think it's a good idea to start leading on ice based on information from the internet. This is a complicated topic that you want to learn in person from someone who knows what they're doing.
    – user2169
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 23:49
  • I totally agree, there is no replacement for learning and exercising on the ice with a competent teacher! Especially because there is much more to ice climbing than general advice on ice screw placement. Still I think it is valid to collect them here, because even if you did follow all this you sometimes don't do it consciously - and maybe there even comes up something new.
    – imsodin
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 16:52

2 Answers 2


Good Ice

Sounds obvious, but that's the answer, you need to learn how to identify good solid ice for all your screw placements.

The best ice is the thickest ice you can find, so you can place your longest screws; clear and blue will be the most solid, while the worst ice is cloudy or brown, full of bubbles (aerated) and 'crunches' when you poke it, or has water flowing through or under it. You can test ice by gently tapping it and listening to the sound, but don't hit it hard enough to weaken it. The temperature plays a huge part in the quality of ice as well; -10°C (±5°C) is the best temperature for ice climbing, warmer temperatures mean softer ice, and colder temperatures mean harder, more brittle ice.

What features should you look for? Thick slabs of solid ice stuck to rock. Don't place ice screws on curtains or pillars, this can be to your detriment, if you're climbing some hanging ice that happens to cleave from the wall while you're still on it, then being bolted to that falling ice could kill you, It's best to wait until you climb up to where the ice is secured to the rock above to place your first screw.

Be sure to use a screamer or reusable shock absorber for your first screw, as well as over any over-hangs, and angle your screws about 10° up into the ice, tests have shown that screws have better holding power when angled up a bit.

Doesn't matter how good the ice is, you never want to take a fall while ice climbing, depending on who you ask, there's no such thing as good ice just varying degrees of bad ice. Rule number one when ice climbing: DON'T FALL.


Addition to ShemSeger's answer, from way back in my mind:

  • A concave spot in the ice is stronger than a convex spot, given equal ice quality.
  • The ice should be deeper than the screw is long, so the screw doesn't push the ice away from the rock.

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