The Bottom Line: The Laser Speed is a huge jump in technology for ice screws. It combines the best features of screws on the market into one ergonomic and effective package. It’s not without its flaws, but they are easily overlooked with such an easy and effective tool.
The Laser Speed Light holstered comfortably in a harness. Tam McTavish.
The feel of the Laser Speed is a big jump in ice screws. The anchor at the end serves a dual purpose as an attachment point for carabiners, but it also fits perfectly into the palm of your hand, lining up directly with your arm. When correctly placing a screw at waist height, this means that rather than muscling your screw in you need only to lean in with your elbow locked to add pressure.
The worst part of ice climbing, after the screaming barfies, is placing screws. It’s awkward and always a little nerve-wracking, especially when you are new to leading ice or just tired.
The worst part is getting the bite. We’ve all been there when you’re hacking away on some cruddy or hard ice, and the screw just won’t bite. We curse them for being too dull while our legs start wobble like Elvis. It’s terrifying sometimes. The Laser Speeds have dramatically improved this experience.
First, the angle of the teeth is slightly different. They have a sharper edge. They are thinner than the competition. This means they cut easier into the ice. This is normally where you hit the first thread. On a Black Diamond Express, the first thread crashes into the ice, often breaking much away and forcing you to restart.
On the Petzl Laser Speed Light, the first thread is tiny and slides in with ease. On an Express, a three-quarter turn is required to get it set, and then you must delicately remove your hand to keep turning it. But the hooks at the base of the Laser mean only a half-turn is required, and it stays in place far more securely.
And then the crank: More than twice as long as the Express, it screws in faster once set. Overall, it’s pure efficiency.
It's worth noting that the aluminum Laser Speed shares all these benefits. While wider and made of a different material, the pressure-fitted stainless steel teeth work great.
The anchors are solid and fit two HMS screw gates and one thinner wire gate while still allowing movement, which is rather handy for three-person, two-screw anchors. They also stack well on standard CARITOOL holders even with other ice screws. With that said, you can normally get six Express screws on a standard CARITOOL, but only 5 Speeds. The Petzl Laser Speeds are a little bulkier.
There are two drawbacks to the Laser Speed when compared to other screws. The first is that the big crank handle makes removing the screw awkward, certainly more than the Express for the second climber. To me this doesn’t really matter as being on top rope makes this a moot point. The lead's comfort is far more important, unless you are guiding.
The screw also doesn’t clean ice well. You really have to bash it about to get the ice loose, especially with the Laser Speed Light. I’ve had to buy a Grivel Candela Abalakov to push out the ice when required.
The coup de grace of the Petzl Speed Light is its accessory, the LIM'ICE. The LIM'ICE is a plastic device that allows you get your screws back to factory sharp. In the past, you would have to send your screws off to steady-handed craftsman to sharpen inconsistently by hand for a lot of money. Now you can sharpen your whole rack in less than an hour. This alone makes them the best screw on the market.
The durability is great. The stainless steel hasn't seen any major damage. With the aluminiums, I am a little more careful as it is much softer. Still, after two years of regular use, it's showing less wear than I expected. And thanks to the stainless steel teeth, it is still quite sharp.
Between the Speed and Speed Light, a whole rack of Lights is not worth the huge expense unless you are doing high-altitude ice climbing or multi-day alpine climbs requiring every possible gram to be cut. The Light is great as part of a Crevasse Rescue System. The weight is superbly low and shaves a fair few grams while not requiring fewer screws.