Overall: Five Stars for by far the lightest metal-bladed shovel. If your only goal is to meet the ISMF reg, then you can save about an ounce and a half (plus some $) by buying the CAMP Crest. And if you want a larger blade for moving unconsolidated winter snow, then the CAMP Plume might be a better choice with a relative weight penalty of less than four ounces. But the ARVA Ultra offers an amazing combination of a fully functional “real” shovel at rando race weight (or rather, lack thereof).
Background on product familiarity: For the 2012-13 late-spring/early-summer season I used the slightly heavier predecessor, the ARVA Snow Pure Light, which had a shorter and thinner shaft, combined with a reinforced composite blade. For the 2013-14 late-spring/early-summer season, I then switched to the Ultra.
First, the first impressions out of the box: Although obviously small, this shovel seemed “real” enough that I was sure it had to be far over its spec weight, given the metal blade and sufficiently long shaft. But the spec is spot on, so it is indeed about half the weight of a typical compact shovel.
The shaft end is nicely plugged and inserts reliably into the shaft. But I noticed some looseness in the connection. This prompted me to check some of my other shovels, whose varying looseness I kind of noticed for the first time. Still though, something about the combination of the carbon fiber shaft and the loose fit concerned me more than on my other shovels. But after wrapping some tape around the base of the shaft, the fit is now just right: secure yet still very easy to assemble.
Second impressions, in use: The plastic “T” handle is fine for gloved hands (but might be too small for mittens). The “neck” on the blade entails a longer effective packing length, but it still fits fine in the small outer compartment of my original-generation Dynafit Broad Peak 28.
Third impressions, for long-term durability: The blade material seems relatively thin, and the neck weld is relatively short. For backcountry companion rescue with good technique (i.e., chop then lift, not pry!), I think the Ultra should be fine. But for snowpit work, well, you want a larger blade anyway, so somewhat of a moot point, as the Ultra’s sole intended purpose is emergency rescue.
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