Axes and hatchets give you some decided advantages in any outdoor scenario. Compared to a knife, axes and hatchets allow you to gather and split firewood more efficiently, speed up game processing, and create bigger and better shelters.
Archeology even shows us that our ancestors with axes were able to build bigger and better homes than their pre-axe brethren. The tools to chop bone, split logs and shape wood are an important leap forward in self-sufficiency, and having the right tool for the job can make all the difference. Here’s a round-up of my favorite axes and hatchets on the market right now.
11. SOG Base Camp Axe
The new Base Camp Axe from SOG is a mid-weight, mid-sized axe created with durability and longevity in mind. Its forged head has a clever “cutout” which decreases friction while chopping. The axe head also has a flat poll (back) to provide you with a sturdy hammer head. This axe has full-tang construction with a thermal molded rubber handle to give you a solid hold, even in slippery conditions.
The axe is16 inches in overall length, and it weighs 2 pounds, 1 ounce. The blade length is 3.4 inches and it’s crafted from 1055C steel. Like most SOG products, it’s made in Taiwan. As the name implies, this axe is perfect for a base camp situation. It can tackle most felling and splitting work, but it’s too big and heavy for backpacking or bugging out. Sogknives.com
10. Snow and Nealley Hudson’s Bay Camp Axe
The Hudson’s Bay Camp Axe is a hybrid between a hatchet and tomahawk, but this design is hardly a new creation. This style of axe was a very popular wilderness tool and trade item throughout the Fur Trade era. The Hudson’s Bay Camp Axe from Snow and Nealley is a modern update of this historic design, made from high carbon steel. The head has a flat poll for hammering work, and a tough hickory handle that’s 24 inches long.
This axe is smaller and lighter than the average camp axe (1 pound, 12 ounces), making it much easier to carry. The heads are made in China with Tennessee hickory handles. While you won’t be felling any big trees with it, but most camp work is within the range of this durable little camp axe. Onlyknives.com
9. Estwing Hatchet
For an American made classic, the Estwing Sportman’s Axe is probably the most widely available hatchet in the country. Just stop by any Home Depot or Lowes, and you’ll see it hanging there with the hammers and a few other tools. The attractive leather ring grip and one piece forging make this a great looking, long lasting hatchet, and it’s one of the cheapest on our list. The overall axe length is 14 inches, and the blade’s cutting edge is 3 ¼ inches. It weighs 1 pound, 12 ounces and comes with a nice looking acorn and oak leaf stamped leather sheath.
Though the axe has been American made in Illinois for decades, the leather sheath has a “made in Taiwan” stamp on it. But don’t let that throw you off, only the sheath is foreign. It’s hard to go wrong with this readily available choice of hatchet, which is great for chopping small stuff and splitting out kindling. Estwing.com
8. Cold Steel Knives Trail Boss
The Cold Steel Trail Boss is a rugged camp axe featuring a European style axe head made from drop forged 1055 carbon steel. The Trail Boss is of comparable quality and price to the other hickory handled, carbon steel camp axes. The overall length is 23 inches, with a cutting edge of 4 ½ inches.
The Trail Boss weighs 2 pounds, 9.5 ounces. It has a straight-grained, American Hickory handle, though somehow, the axe ends up being made in China. Coldsteel.com
7. SOG Tactical Tomahawk
Considered one of the “stranger” hand-to-hand weapons of its time, the Vietnam Tomahawk earned a place as one of the most versatile tools and weapons of the American soldier. SOG’s Tactical Tomahawk is an updated version of this original item, which provides the user with both a tool and a weapon. The coated 420 stainless steel head of the Tactical Tomahawk is mounted to the fiberglass reinforced nylon handle with heavy-duty bolts and a steel ferrule for stability.
The overall length 15.75 inches and the blade is 2 ¾ inches wide. This tomahawk is designed for breaching doors and windows, digging, chopping, and throwing. It’s made in China. Sogknives.com
6. Gerber Gator Combo Axe
Since most of us end up needing a knife more often than an axe, Gerber decided to give us both in the Gerber Gator Combo Axe. This crafty design conserves space and ensures that you’ll always have a back-up knife, in addition to a handy hatchet. The hollow axe handle holds a small, lightweight, fixed blade Gerber knife (just 2 ounces). Gator textured rubber grip gives you great traction in wet or dry conditions.
Like the other Gerber axes, the Gator Axe features a forged steel head for superior edge retention and a virtually unbreakable handle. If you are looking for a space saving, ultra-light hatchet for backpacking trips and bug out bags, this is it. The overall length is 8.75 inches, with a blade length of 2.7 inches. The removable knife is 7 inches long. The total axe weight is 23.6 ounces. This little guy is good for kindling splitting and light chopping. Gerbergear.com
7. Forged Tomahawk
Sometimes, you can’t make the wheel any rounder. The classic American tomahawk is a great example of the pinnacle of a design. Blacksmith forged, and hardwood handled, the tomahawk is the perfect axe for throwing, light chopping, and many other camp chores. This tool also became a feared weapon, causing devastating wounds during the French and Indian War and upon the American frontier.
The classic “hawk” head is a blade with an eye to receive the handle. With only a thin, rounded band of forged steel for a poll, the tomahawk is prone to breakage when used as a hammer. Otherwise, this tool is durable and light. Being a handmade item from a variety of tradesmen, the specs can vary quite a lot; but these tools usually weigh about 1 pound, have 4-inch blade and a 20-inch handle. Hickory and Ash are popular and long lived handle materials, and this piece of American heritage is as close as your nearest blacksmith shop.
4. Estwing Long Handle Camp Axe
The big brother to the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe, the Estwing long Handle Camp Axe gives you the handle length for a powerful swing, and a one-piece design for years of trusty service. The 26-inch axe has a nylon vinyl shock reduction grip, and is proudly made in the USA. The 4-inch cutting edge does a nice job felling trees, trimming trees, splitting wood, notching timbers and driving stakes.
It comes with an embossed leather sheath and weighs 4.3 pounds. This camp axe is a great addition to a campsite or cabin, but it’s too heavy to lug around with you. Estwing.com
3. Kershaw Camp Axe
This sturdy, mid-sized hatchet is a bit lighter than the others of its weight class. The carbon steel head is drop forged in a single piece for strength, and if you’re wondering what that means – drop forging aligns and stretches the metal’s structure for better durability and resistance to breakage.
The Kershaw Camp Axe has a non-slip krayton handle, and an overall length of 11 inches. The blade is 3.5 inches wide, and the axe only weighs 14.5 ounces. It’s made in Taiwan. Kershaw-knives.com
2. Browning Outdoorsman Axe
The Browning Outdoorsman’s Axe is built for rugged outdoor use, constructed of hot-forged, hollow ground, high-carbon 1055 tool steel, the axe’s one-piece head features an integrated tang that extends down into handle for extra rugged durability. The injection-molded polypropylene and fiberglass handle gives you strength and cuts the weight of the tool down to 2.8 pounds.
Though the blade is a bit small (2 ¼ inches), the long handle’s leverage still gives you a good chop with each stroke. The Browning Outdoorsman’s Axe is made in Taiwan. Browning.com
1. Gransfors Bruks Hunters Axe
Nobody knows sharp steel like the Swedes. So when I borrowed my friend’s Gransfors Bruks Hunters Axe, I had a hard time turning it back over to its rightful owner. The axes from this legendary company are the best I’ve ever used. Also the most expensive I’ve ever used, but you really do get what you pay for in these tools. The Hunters Axe is a tool designed specifically for hunters, and although it cuts wood effortlessly, it is designed to field dress, quarter, and skin large game.
The main difference between the Hunters axe and other G.B. axes is the “flay poll”. The poll of this axe is smoothly rounded and burnished to assist in removing the hide from an animal, even a frozen one. The blade is designed for chopping thru bones, like the pelvis and ribs. The axe features a 19 inch hickory handle, a 3 ¼ inch blade and it weighs 1 ½ pounds. It also has a 20 year guarantee. If price is no object, invest in a Gransfors Bruks. Just make sure you never loan it out, or you might not get it back. Swedishax.com
How to Grab the Right Ax for the Job
Dating back to the stone-age, axes have served a critical role in the processing of firewood, the building of dwellings, and survival in the wild. And very much like knives, there are different axes which are suited for different jobs in the bush. When it comes down to it, you could fell a tree with a tomahawk or throw a large ax—but it’s best to have the right tool for the job. Here are just a few of the wood chopping options to consider for your backcountry camp.
Double Bit Ax
No, it’s not a battle ax (though, it would work for that in a pinch). Traditionally, the double bit ax is for felling and limbing trees. One edge is stout, for the hard work of felling. The other edge is sharper, for chopping the limbs off the tree once it’s on the ground.
These thick and heavy axes typically bear a straight handle, and are used for splitting firewood. They were also used to dispatch livestock before the mechanization of slaughter houses. A blacksmith would draw out the edge to a point, which was meant to strike the livestock between the eyes.
Straight-handled like a maul, these little axes are on the opposite end of the weight spectrum. Feather light and easy to carry, these tools are designed to be carried on the trail for camp tasks. They have also been used as devastating weapons in hand to hand combat, or used as thrown weapons. But the tomahawk does have some drawbacks. The lighter weight of the tomahawk forces you to swing a lot harder to do the same amount of chopping as a heavier ax. And because of their overall shape, they’re not great at splitting wood.
The most common ax in the woods, these small to mid-sized choppers (aka hatchets) are useful for both camping and survival. These lightweight tools designed for one-handed use, ideally suited to chopping and splitting small wood. The famous Hudson Bay ax is a great example of this group. They are light enough to carry, but heavy enough to chop well.
What’s your favorite make and model of the ax? Please share your preference by leaving a comment.