Here’s my outright confession:
There’s nothing that gets me excited about another day in life than a morning spent heading out to the great outdoors.
Ever since Dad taught all of us kids about hunting, camping, fishing, surviving out in the woods and being around nature the outdoors has been a part of life. Fast forward through Eagle Scout and heading off after high school and that need to hit the wilderness remained strong.
That probably had a lot to do with why I was obsessed with Alaska and would end up living in the Interior for years (and loving every moment of it).
There’s one thing that a long line of exciting experiences taught me from earning my wilderness survival merit badge on a small lake island 3 miles from where the rest of the troop cabin camped in an isolated Canadian fishing resort to being dropped off on a lake 100 miles from any human with the plane not coming back for a week – you learn very quickly to also respect what Mother Nature can throw at you.
Packing the perfect gear for the right situation is tremendous.
That means first and foremost having knowledge and training, and immediately following that up is having the right gear! It wasn’t long before I had my own emergency kits, survival kits, and of course my stripped down “must have” gear that included a good Buck Knife passed down in the family, a magnesium waterproof fire starter, a compass, LED flashlight, some fishing line (later to be replaced by paracord) and of course I wasn’t dropping in the middle of nowhere without a reliable survival hatchet.
While some people might have different preferences when it comes to the exact brand or style of starting gear, no question that among the preppers, survivalists, and just genuinely solid outdoor guys I know, a good small ax or hatchet is going to be on the top of that list.
You can’t go wrong if you follow me.
Read on to see my picks for some of the better options out there when it comes to the best survival hatchet whether you’re camping for the weekend or challenging yourself during some survival time.
Table of Contents
- Comparison Table for the Best Survival Hatchet & Axe for the Money (2021)
- Survival Axe vs. Hatchet vs. Knife
- Basic Parts of A Hatchet – Know Your Tool
- Techniques to Use Your Survival Hatchet Effectively
- Practical Uses of A Survival Hatchet
- Should You Be Carrying an Axe: The Pros and Cons
- Attributes to Consider When Buying the Best Quality Survival Hatchet
- How Sharp Should A Hatchet Be?
- Hatchet Maintenance Tips
Comparison Table for the Best Survival Hatchet & Axe for the Money (2021)
Estwing 14″ Hatchet (E24A)
Legendary brand does not disappoint
Estwing’s most popular model of hatchet is going to rank pretty highly on just about any bast camping hatchet article you’re going to find online and there’s a good reason for that.
Right off the bat, you can tell this a forged one-piece hatchet, which is what you always want to see in a good camping ax.
The E24A model of hatchet from Estwing looks solid.
The lacquered leather grip gives a very traditional treated wood look while offering a comfortable grip on the hands.
This hatchet is forged from a high-quality carbon steel that gives it an impressive durability. In fact, I know many people with an Estwing hatchet that is many decades old and it is fair to assume the new models will hold up this tradition.
- Extremely durable option
- From a trusted brand with a long track history of quality
- Holds a great sharp edge
- Great balance
- Heavier model – may be too heavy if you’re aiming at going for a light or ultralight backpacking weight
- Hatchet is the USA manufactured, the sheath is not (if that’s important to you)
The one minor complaint I have is the weight (head is 14.9 ounces or 0.93 lbs) – it would be nice if they could offer the same quality without the extra weight. Any long distance ultralight backpackers will want to look for a different option as the weight can be a bit of a pull on the pack. However, everyone else looking for a really exceptional hatchet should take a serious look at this Estwing option.
This is an excellent overall design and holds up to even fairly heavy and challenging use. There’s a reason the Estwing E24A is one of the top-rated hatchets currently on the market and in my opinion overall is the best camping hatchet for the money for most people.
Husqvarna 13″ Wooden Hatchet
Unique design for better results
The Husqvarna hatchet out of Sweden definitely jumps out from the moment you see it. The handle is clearly carved from hickory wood while the bottom features a distinctive curve that makes it really stick out from other models. If you like old school look and design, this hatchet does not disappoint on those levels.
Billed as an all-around use hatchet, there are some concerns about the design that make me feel like expectations need to be tempered a bit.
The blade is heavy, which is good for cutting but even if you are traditional, let’s face it: carved out wood combined with an ax head blade that is not bonded with the handle means over enough time or with a sharp enough force breaking is much more likely.
In other words, this is a camping ax that is very likely to work until it doesn’t. One of the best ways to prevent breakage is to focus on smaller or basic jobs. Much better as a workshop hatchet or around the property light work versus heavy cutting or survival, in my opinion.
- Great workshop hatchet
- Very traditional look
- Heavy head for more chopping power
- Handle design allows for easy hanging or carrying via the lanyard
- Quality Swedish design
- Too heavy for long-term backpackers or ultralight hikers
- Wood handle means accidental damage or snapping is more likely
- Many individuals have had problems with the ax breaking
However, in that carefully limited role, the Husqvarna can be one of the better options out during the time it is properly used.
Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet
Best compact hatchet option when space is at a premium
Whatever you might think of the Bear Grylls TV show “Man vs. Wild” (my feelings are pretty mixed, personally) the hatchet bearing his name carves out a solid niche for itself that’s definitely worth paying attention to.
This isn’t your conventional survival hatchet, but that is part of what makes this particular option so interesting.
Honestly, my first instinct was to have reservations when I saw this design. After all, this hatchet is small. Really small.
When put to the test, there was a lot to actually like. The grip on the handle is exceptionally good. Designed to be ergonomic and no slip, this means a solid and comfortable hold even when the sweat starts beading up on the hand.
The blade is a single tang piece with the handle/grips wrapped around. This is the better design the far majority of the time, in my opinion, and shows a serious intention with good design.
Now does it pull that off? The blade is a bit thin for my tastes and I can see situations where if pushed too hard the blade could chip or falter. This is impressive for what it is and what it aims for, but if you’re looking for a consistent use camping ax chances are you’ll want to look elsewhere.
- Most effective small survival hatchet
- Great space saver
- Works for small-scale cutting work or emergency situations
- Very comfortable handle
- Even a great small hatchet isn’t going to match what a quality normal hatchet brings to the table
- Some potential issues with blade quality because of the thinness of construction
In my mind, this miniature ax works best as a backup or #2 option, though some ultralight hikers will find this the best backpacking hatchet because of the lightweight along with dependability.
SOG Tactical Tomahawk
Outstanding defensive hiking ax
SOG has made itself a trusted name among many outdoor enthusiasts with years of good products. While the phrase “tactical tomahawk” makes me nervous in many cases here SOG holds up to that standard of quality and produces a really interesting outdoor tool.
The blade up top is small but properly compact to be useful and not overly hard to wield.
If having a slightly smaller blade head means more stability and less chance of breakage that is a tradeoff I’m willing to make.
My favorite part of this ax is the design. This is designed to be a multi-use tool that is just for that: for being used in the wild. Not for sitting on the wall and looking cool.
The blade up top is small but properly compact to be useful and not overly hard to wield. If having a slightly smaller blade head means more stability and less chance of breakage that is a tradeoff I’m willing to make.
My favorite part of this ax is the design. This is designed to be a multi-use tool that is just for that: for being used in the wild. Not for sitting on the wall and looking cool.
The blade for cutting wood is sharp and compact but effective for reasonably small cuts while the back instead of being a “hammer” edge like conventional hatchet is a pick that is more than enough for self-defense purposes and offers a tool with some serious digging power.
If you want an all around survival tool in hatchet/tomahawk form, this is the one I would most recommend.
- Good overall design
- Very solid pick to go with the hatchet blade
- Hard plastic handle offers excellent grip even in inclement weather
- Tends to be very moderately priced
- Hatchet blade is a bit small, meaning this isn’t great for large cutting jobs
- Would prefer to see metal/steel handle over reinforced fiberglass
- Doesn’t hold up when used consistently as a throwing tomahawk
If you’re looking for a pure throwing tomahawk there are better options. For a tool based tomahawk, this is a solid buy that will serve a lot of people well (though I wish they would change handle materials).
Fiskars 14″ X7 Hatchet
Top quality small job hatchet
The X7 looks much different than many other hatchet designs.
Not only does the Fiskars X7 hatchet stick out because of bright orange contrasting to dark black coating but the overall look and design is not your conventional camping ax.
The design is definitely a bit different, as well. The handle offers a plastic grip while the loop over at the top shows this is not a one-piece crafted hatchet but comes from a modern mass-produced design and assembly.
That being said, it’s hard to argue against the X7 as an excellent little camping ax perfect for frequent smaller jobs and ordinary use.
- High visibility makes it easy to see
- Unique blade design focuses the force of the swing
- An outstanding option for frequent regular use
- Great small hatchet
- Definitely a little ax, not a great choice for larger jobs
- The unconventional look may turn off traditionalists
Why doesn’t Fiskars make a hatchet to take on larger jobs? Probably because the same company also makes a quality splitting ax which can do that job – leaving the hatchet for smaller cutting jobs to make the two pieces an effective combo.
Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet
Mastering the traditional camping ax
There are plenty of modern hatchets and camping axes that choose to use new materials or designs and do so very effectively. I’ll even admit that in many cases the new designs are probably better and more secure than the wood handle, pins, and hatchet head designs that are very old school.
However, when exceptionally well done these will hold up to some pretty heavy work and in this case. The Gransfors Bruk hatchet is one I really like for a variety of reasons.
The hatchet is lightweight, making it solid for hikers and backpackers, holds up to heavy campsite use, and cuts exceptionally well with a blade that really likes to hold an edge.
A hole through the bottom of the handle allows easy carry via lanyard or attaching to a belt loop with a small leather bit (only do this with a proper cover on the blade), and this hatchet is designed to last.
Very solid camping ax that can last long term if properly cared for. Perhaps the best hatchet for splitting wood (within reason, of course).
- Arrives extremely sharp and ready to cut
- Proper heat treat
- Lightweight so good for backpackers
- Solid traditional design
- Very high-quality craftsmanship
- Does take more proper care to keep both wood and metal in the good working shape
- Ax sheath is poorly designed
The only big drawback here is that the sheath while it looks nice – the way you have to put the ax in means the top little section of the ax head will slice against the leather from the inside.
Given enough time it will eventually slice right through the cover as a result. That is a big disappointment because you will want to purchase a good protective sheath for the blade if you buy this hatchet.
United Cutlery M48 Apocalypse
Tactical tomahawk with plenty of flashes
Oh boy – where do we start with this one? For what it is, the M48 Apocalypse tactical tomahawk is a pretty solid option using modern design and construction to bring together a modern tomahawk that definitely catches the eye.
That being said there are multiple reservations on this one.
First: what are you looking for?
If you want a “cool looking” tomahawk that you imagine using as a self-defense weapon or something to get shady people thinking twice if you’re in an isolated area, then maybe. But as far as a practical camping ax that could be used long term, this isn’t the one.
While the look is good and the weight definitely feels good and balanced, there are definite structural concerns with this design that make me hesitant to fully embrace it.
- Looks very cool
- Designed with defense/attack in mind
- Good length
- Good blade compared to many other similar looking tomahawks out there
- Paracord handle is a great practical touch
- Not going to compare to a conventional hatchet for survival or practical tool use
- The design isn’t great and makes this model open to breakage
This is one that’s best for collectors, as a fun backup piece, or for individuals who want a halfway decent tactical tomahawk that is better than the many terrible mass-produced options out there right now.
MTECH USA Camping Axe
Serious potential from simple design
The MTECH USA camping ax is a simple design featuring a one-piece blade and handles mold of steel that is then covered by a rubber handle for grip. This is not to be mistaken with the throwing axes or “tactical throwing hatchets” by the same company.
Sitting at 11 inches in length, this hatchet is a bit smaller than other full-sized options but still offers some decent cutting power. That said, you will need to sharpen this upon arrival as it does not show up ready to go in that respect.
The MTECH USA is a good option but you can’t help feeling like a few shortcuts might have cost them from being a great option. There are several reports of the handle breaking for some buyers and while this seems infrequent it happens enough you have to look at this as a potential problem.
This isn’t a bad hatchet for small work but it can’t handle larger jobs. You would also be right to be concerned about even trying considering the broken handle reports.
- Generally inexpensive
- Focuses on simple but practical use
- Good looking all black color
- Handles small chopping jobs easily enough
- A touch on the heavy side
- The handle is not especially impressive – I could see breakage issues with this model
If you need an inexpensive hatchet for occasional small to medium use or are looking for a good inexpensive top rated hatched for splitting kindling then this can serve that role just fine but there are better and more reliable options out there.
CRKT Tomahawk Axe
Outstanding traditional tomahawk tears into the competition
Sometimes newer designs bring the best option to the table and once in a while you find that the old design (or a version of it at least) actually triumphs as the better choice.
Among the tomahawks, the CRKT Woods Chogan Tomahawk is a favorite for a lot of us who spend a lot of time in the bush.
Right off the bat, I love the length of this. An extra long handle means a 19-inch long tomahawk.
That extra bit of reach and distance can mean more control, the ability to drive more power into a chop, and it means your legs are a bit further back if something goes wrong for some reason.
The handle is made from top-notch hickory wood while the hatchet head is made from a very high-quality carbon steel. The blade sharpens incredibly well while the back actually features a flattened out design to work as an actual hammer.
My one major complaint: as much as I like the wood handle that protective finish means when the hands get sweaty, the handle gets slick. Not the best situation.
- A very long handle allows more force
- Great control on the swing
- Hatchet head forged from exceptional carbon steel
- Durable craftsmanship
- Can take a very sharp edge
- The lacquered handle can cause a slippery insecure grip, especially with moisture or rain
- Doesn’t come with a sheath
This tomahawk is a great choice for individuals into bushcraft or who need a camping ax that will do heavy duty work over a long period of time.
Oak Curve 14″ Camp Axe
Simple but effective camp hatchet
There are tactical self-defense tomahawks, long-handled tomahawks, survival hatchets, long and short hatchets, but sometimes all you want is just a simple camping ax.
Whether donating to a Boy Scout troop or having it on hand to split some wood for a fire, the Oak Curve Outfitters hatchet is an unpretentious option that simply focuses on making a good quality hatchet.
For the most part, they manage to deliver. The blade and handle are forged as one large metal piece for better stability while the rubber handle gives one of the better grips I’ve seen from a hatchet. That means no slipping when your hands get sweaty or the rain starts drizzling down.
The head of this hatchet is good for splitting and chopping make it a great choice for firewood.
- Good relatively light option
- Made from high-quality steel
- Sturdy and durable
- Great for firewood
- Fairly affordable
- The sheath is pretty cheap and unimpressive
- Adequate blade but not the sharpest option out there
This is a great option for people who need an affordable hatchet for basic firewood duty while camping or prepping a backyard bonfire.
There is no shortage of great options out there when it comes to finding the right survival hatchet. If you take some time to focus on what you need most out of a survival ax, what features are the most important, and focus on the top options like the ones listed here, I’m confident you can find the right match (or two or three) that will keep you happy as you chop away without issue.
Survival Axe vs. Hatchet vs. Knife
A survival ax should not be confused with a hand ax and a knife. Technically, a hatchet is just an ax but has a butt or hammer-head on the back side of its blade while an ax doesn’t have that. A hand ax usually has a broad flat area, similar to a wedge shape, and without a v-shape cut out of the blade which lets it cut wood logs easily than a hatchet.
A hatchet could be used to cut logs too although with the v-tapered head is much better for hewing wood logs into smaller pieces or for splitting into smaller sections.A hatchet although quite similar in shape to an ax usually has a thinner blade and thin head. Additionally, a hatchet is a lightweight ax and could also be used to cut through cartilage or bone when skinning carcasses and for cutting saplings or kindling.Basically, a hatchet is a multi-purpose tool whereas an ax is meant for battle or forestry expeditions.A survival knife is much smaller than a hatchet or ax. Regarding use, a knife is often used for simple tasks like chopping, skinning, peeling, and cutting.
Basic Parts of A Hatchet – Know Your Tool
- Hatchet Head
The heat is the metallic part of the hatchet. This is usually the part that is bounded by a blade on one end and the poll/butt on the other end. The blade is for cutting through wood while the butt is for driving in wood pieces or nails.
- Hatchet Eye
In the hatchet head, there is the eye which is the hole through which one inserts the ax handle. The eye is typically round and thick, and its size determines the handle size you will use.
- Cutting Edge or Blade
This is usually the cutting surface of the hatchet head. All axes do have this, and camping hatchets are no exception. And based on its use, the cutting edge could be arc-shaped or straight. This is the part you will need to sharpen if you need to cut or split pieces of wood.
- Hatchet Side/Cheek
This is the part of the hatchet that is on both sides of its eye. It surrounds the eye and extends towards the bit. Typically, this will be the thickest part of the ax, gives it most of its weight, and contributes to the hatchet’s cutting force.
- Axe Lip/Lug
This section offers more handle-to-head contact thus adding to the steadiness of its head and durability of fit. It usually extends from the lug into the handle for at least an inch.
This part of the ax head is opposite of the cutting edge. It could be shaped like an arc or could be entirely flat. This part is used to shatter or crush objects as well as driving in objects.
This part of the ax has been traditionally made of wood, but recent axes have fiberglass or fiber plastic handles. The handle lets you have a firm grip of this survival tool and adds to the leverage for a stronger hit.
This is the section of the handle where you most naturally hold the ax. This part is usually thinner and allows your hand to completely wrap on the grip.
Techniques to Use Your Survival Hatchet Effectively
If you want to use your survival ax effectively, it is essential that you always hold it correctly.
If you are right-handed, carry your hatchet so that the left hand sits slightly above the knob at the handle’s edge with the palm facing your direction.
The right hand should grasp the neck some inches below the head with the palm facing away.
Still, on using your survival ax, it is vital that you first focus on accuracy rather than power.
It will not help for you to swing your ax so hard if it only ends up hitting different spots each time. You will cut more wood faster and efficiently if you hit your logs at the same point every time you strike.
Therefore, start by focusing on accuracy. Keep both eyes trained on the point you intend to hit and concentrate on maintaining this aim with the help of controlled strokes.
An adequately sharpened ax could easily slice through wood, and if proper care is not taken, it could also slice through your clothing and eventually body tissue.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a sheath.
If you are not using your ax, it is crucial that you have the sheath on to cover the cutting edge. And if the sheath is not available, you can stick the cutting edge of your ax into a log rather than leaning it against a tree or laying it on the ground.
Practical Uses of A Survival Hatchet
Starting a Fire: You should always have a minimum of two ways to start a fire in your survival backpack. In most cases, you will probably carry a lighter and matches, but a survival hatchet gives you another alternative. Besides serving its obvious purpose of splitting large chunks of wood, it could also be used to strike against rocks and create sparks which can ignite a fire.
Cutting Ice: If you are stranded on the snow and have no way out, you could use the survival hatchet or ax as a cutting and digging tool. This tool will come in handy if you need to dig out a snow shelter, want to dig a hole to protect your campfire and much more.
As a Weapon: Many often see the hatchet as being more of a tool and the tomahawk as a weapon. Genuinely speaking, both pieces of survival gear are versatile and could serve either purpose. An ax is a perfect, close-quarter self-defense weapon against any predators in the wild. You would probably wish to have a bow and arrow or gun to keep predators far from you, but when the encounter gets too close, you could easily use a hatchet.
Should You Be Carrying an Axe: The Pros and Cons
This survival tool has often been hit by numerous controversial discussions on whether you should carry it or not. Many people often argue that they rarely have enough rooms in their bags to accommodate such accessories and must justify each piece of survival gear mainly if they will be carrying more than 3 pounds of luggage.
Despite all the controversy, it is crucial that you always carry an ax to your camping or hiking trip. While this could mean additional load for you, the merits of taking this tool are numerous.
One of the pros of carrying a survival hatchet is that you will enjoy the versatility of a tool that you could use for felling trees, splitting wood, starting a fire or for self-defense. This tool can be put to numerous uses, and it is therefore vital that you have it with you on your next camping trip.
Despite all the advantages, survival hatchets have the disadvantage of adding weight to your luggage. If you are going for a hike, you do not want a load you cannot carry, and in such an instance, a survival ax might not be a necessity.
Attributes to Consider When Buying the Best Quality Survival Hatchet
Hatchet Weight: When you are going camping or for a hike, weight counts. The lighter your gear is, the easier it will be for you to move and the same applied for survival hatchets. If you will be carrying your ax for long distances, be sure to go for something light.
Handle Material: The type of handle material on your ax determines how comfortably you will grip your survival ax. Classic axes usually have wood handles, and this could cause blisters on your palms.
Plastic is also a common material though it feels uncomfortable after prolonged use. I would recommend leather as the best ax handle material since it is comfortable, smooth, and offers a secure grip.
Price: This is an important aspect to consider because you do not want to spend a fortune on your survival ax and at the same time pay less for something that is not worth the quality. It is advisable that you go for well-known brands as well as reasonably priced axes.
Strength and Durability: An ax is not to be bought now and then and a high-quality and well-made ax could serve you for years. The handle, as well as the ax head, should be made of durable, high-quality materials. The blade should also be reinforced with steel so that it does not start chipping away after a few hours of splitting wood.
How Sharp Should A Hatchet Be?
After refining both edges of your hatchet, you could test the blade on your forearm. If you can easily cut the hair off your arm, then your ax is sufficiently sharp. However, you should be careful since this could be a dangerous way to test sharpness. If you are not courageous enough, use a piece of paper to see how sharp your ax is.
Hatchet Maintenance Tips
With proper care and maintenance, you are bound to get more from your piece of survival gear. For example, there are multiple ways to keep your blade sharp, but this is not the only maintenance activity you can perform on your ax.
- Always apply some beeswax to the metal areas to keep the ax protected.
- You could use special sharpening stones to keep your hatchet sharp. You should always apply some oil to the sharpening stone before you start and rub it against your blade in up and down circular motion.