A hatchet is the one outdoors tool you just can’t live well without. Around camp, it can handle just about any cutting task, whether you need to shave tinder and split kindling for a fire, whittle a tent stake, or even pound cube steak. At home, hand axes and hatchets indispensable as a handy hearthside companion. And with the advent of modern survival hatchets, this is the one tool you don’t want to leave home without. A solid design made of tough, corrosion-resistant materials can ride in a toolbox or storage bin and be close at hand if you need to clear a trail or help someone in danger. To make the best choice, read on to find out about the different kinds of steel used in hatchets and how handle and head designs affect performance. Then learn why a handy hatchet has been among the world’s most useful tools for centuries.
- BEST ALL-AROUND GENERAL-USE HATCHET: Husqvarna 13 in. Wooden Handle Hatchet
- BEST STEEL-HANDLED HATCHET: Estwing Sportsman’s Axe – 12″ Camping Hatchet with Forged Steel Construction & Genuine Leather Grip
- BEST HATCHET FOR SPLITTING LOGS: Gransfors Bruks Small Splitting Hatchet
- BEST SURVIVAL HATCHET: SOG Survival Hawk
- BEST CAMP HATCHET: Outdoor Life Camp Axe – 3-inch Satin Finish Stainless Steel Blade with Hammer Head
- BEST CHEAP HATCHET: Fiskars 378501-1002 X7 Hatchet
The Most Important Consideration When Shopping for Hatchets
Hatchets may seem similar, but there are numerous differences among them. You’ll want to match the hatchet to the job, whether you are splitting firewood or chopping small branches or pounding in tent stakes. Think about what you’ll be doing most with the hatchet before you buy. There are lots of choices, which means there’s a perfect hatchet for your outdoor adventures.
Do You Just Want an All-Around Hatchet?
Hatchets are so useful, and they’ve been around for so long, that there are lots of styles to choose from, and lots of materials to consider when it comes to handles and heads. Some hatchets are designed to do a better job at splitting wood, or come with a hardened “pommel” that looks like a hammer head on one end, which is designed for pounding. Others have thinner wedge shapes to the cutting head, which do a better job of whacking off limbs and cleanly cutting through smaller pieces of wood for campfire or home hearth firewood.
While any hatchet will bite through wood, you can definitely fine-tune your choice to your specific activity. And if you need a hatchet for general use—a little chopping, a bit of work cutting branches into kindling, perhaps using at the campsite to set tent stakes or clear brush—then you’ll want a tool that doesn’t go to one design extreme or the other. For camping and general chopping, choose one of these all-around solid performers.
BEST ALL-AROUND GENERAL-USE HATCHET: Husqvarna 13 in. Wooden Handle Hatchet
With a hickory handle and a Swedish steel cutting head, this hand axe looks as great as it performs. Husqvarna
When you’re asking a hatchet to do it all, you’ll want a warm wooden handle that will feel great and have plenty of grip, and a mid-weight cutting head that’s not so heavy you’re pooped after just a few cutting strokes. A great hand axe is made with a proven head, and this one from Husqvarna, of the great names in Swedish metal forging, is a winner for the money.
BEST STEEL-HANDLED HATCHET: Estwing Sportsman’s Axe – 12″ Camping Hatchet with Forged Steel Construction & Genuine Leather Grip
Strong Working Tool
You’ll use a good general-use hatchet everywhere, from camp to home to carrying in your vehicle, so a steel-handled tool is a go-to choice. Estwing
For long-term use, a hatchet with a steel handle is hard to beat. The head and handle on this great tool are forged from a single piece of American steel, so there are no joints to fail. The haft (that’s a fancy word for an axe or hatchet handle) is wrapped with leather which is sanded and lacquered for a solid grip that looks stunning. And the slightly short 12-inch handle also makes it easy to store this hatchet in a pack or tool box so it will be there when you need it.
Do You Need A Hand Axe To Chop Wood?
When it comes to splitting wood, most hatchets do a so-so job. It’s a tough chore to bite through a log round and split apart the dense wood fibers. An axe works great because the long handle and heavier head make it easier to bring a lot of force to the top of a firewood round. But a hatchet has a shorter handle and a lighter head with a thinner edge, and that makes splitting wood a chore.
But there are some great splitting hatchets that make fabulous campsite companions. If you plan on splitting wood, as opposed to chopping longer pieces, a hatchet with a maul-type head can work wonders. The heavier weight packs a punch, but you can still handle the tool with one hand. And the wider wedge shape to the head will crack firewood logs into smaller, handier pieces.
Many hatchets are designed for general use, but this is one example of a time when going with a specialized tool is the smart move. A splitting hatchet should go into every camper’s tool kit.
BEST HATCHET FOR SPLITTING LOGS: Gransfors Bruks Small Splitting Hatchet
Small but Mighty
A hand-crafted tool that will last for generations, this splitting hatchet is the perfect choice for turning rounds of cut firewood into fuel and kindling for any indoor or outdoor fire. Gransfors Bruks
The best hatchets for splitting firewood use premium steels and hardwoods for the tough task of turning just about anyone into a one-handed lumberjack. This is a gorgeous hatchet, with a hand-forged head as sharp as a razor, but with the heft and wedge-shape required of splitting wood. The handle is a few inches longer than that of a typical hatchet to help you develop a powerful swing, and it’s built with a curved and textured grip so you can swing it safely. It comes with a well-made leather edge guard and a very cool booklet that outlines the fascinating history of axes and hatchets.
Do You Want a Hatchet for a Survival Kit or a Bug-Out Bag?
When the going gets tough, you’ll want a cutting tool designed not only to split and chop wood, but hammer, smash, and bash your way out of trouble. A great survival hatchet is a multi-use, multi-purpose tool made with cutting edges, pounding pommels, and other features that will enable you to cut through metal, demolish walls, and even carve small survival tools such as spoons and snare parts.
BEST SURVIVAL HATCHET: SOG Survival Hawk
With special features designed to help you cut your way out of trouble—or rescue someone already in a fix—this survival axe is as much an everyday tool as it is a piece of your outdoor gear kit. SOG Survival Hawk
Everything about this hatchet is built for hard use and even abuse. The glass reinforced handle can take everything you throw at it, and it’s wrapped in reflective parachute cord that you can remove and use in a survival situation. The hard-cased black coating on the head turns away rust and corrosion. And with a ferrocerium fire starter tucked into the handle, you can roast your cake and eat it, too.
Do You Need A Camping Hatchet?
Everyone knows that camping is a ton of fun. But it involves a fair bit of work as well. Firewood needs to be chopped, tent stakes need to be pounded into the ground, and small branches need to be turned into kindling and fuel for the fire. A good all-around camping hatchet needs to handle all these chores efficiently, so smart design is a must.
One thing to look for in a camping hatchet is a solid, flat pommel–that’s the part of the hatchet head on the other end from the cutting edge. A pommel can be used like a hammer to set tent stakes in hard ground, help with pitching tarps, and even construct small projects when you need a way to drive a nail. Camping hatchets should also be light enough to carry on the trail, and compact for easy storage in a daypack or backpack. And you’ll want one made of stainless steel, for worry-free use in all weather conditions.
That’s a lot to ask of a single tool, but camping hatchets are so useful that there are tons of models to choose from. Don’t be swayed by gimmicks such as saws hidden in the handle. Dial in on a solid, well-crafted design that will last.
BEST CAMP HATCHET: Outdoor Life Camp Axe – 3-inch Satin Finish Stainless Steel Blade with Hammer Head
A great camp hatchet has to be a chopper, slicer, hammer, and knife blade all at once. Outdoor Life
This camp hatchet does it all. For starters, it’s made with strong materials. The hatchet head is made of high-quality 3CR13MoV steel, with added alloys of molybdenum and vanadium for corrosion-resistance and edge-holding ability. A dual injection-molded nylon fiber handle wraps around a full-tang construction, which means the strong metal handle extends all the way to the handle’s tip. There’s a great sheath with double snaps to protect the edge, and a belt loop for handy carry on the trail. And a specialized stainless-steel pommel works great for hammering on tent stakes, but can be used to tenderize cuts of wild game, as well. A lot of smart details packed into a single tool.
Budget Hand Axes: Best Hatchet for Under $30
In essence, a hatchet is a fairly simple tool. It’s made of a solid, grippy handle and a stout cutting head. You can pay serious bucks for hand-forged steel and classic wooden handles. But there’s nothing wrong with a hatchet made of proven materials that are just as tough but not as expensive.
What you might not get in a budget hatchet is a leather sheath, a custom-wrapped handle, or a hardcore design for serious survival tasks. But what you can find for less than $30 is a well-made tool with a professionally ground and sharpened blade, a cover to protect the edge, and a solid handle that will handle years of use.
BEST CHEAP HATCHET: Fiskars 378501-1002 X7 Hatchet
Built to Last
This hatchet is made to handle abuse, whether that’s from hard pounding or leaving it out in the rain. Fiskars
Fiskars has been around since 1649, so they know a thing or two about hatchets and axes. This one is made to last practically forever, with very little care required. The handle is a fiberglass composite that Fiskars says is stronger than steel, and it ends in a curving palm swell that helps the user retain a solid grip. It’s a lightweight tool, more suited for cutting small to medium-sized pieces of wood, and it would work as a great camping hatchet or a tool to stash in a tool box. And the low-friction coating on the hatchet head is pure genius. There’s nothing more aggravating than having to rock a hatchet head back and forth to free it when it sticks into wood. This feature solves that problem.
Best Hatchet FAQ: People Also Ask
What is the best steel for hatchets?
More expensive hatchets will be made of hand-forged high carbon steel, which will hold an edge and are easy to resharpen, but need to be protected from rust. If you want a hatchet for general use, and one you don’t have to worry about corroding, choose a stainless-steel hatchet.
What is the advantage of a wooden handle?
A wooden hatchet handle, or haft, can have a better feel than handles of rubber or leather. They are warm to the touch, provide a solid grip, and the wooden material helps dampen the impact and vibration from cutting and pounding. With just a little care, hatchets can last nearly forever.
How do I sharpen a hatchet?
To sharpen a hatchet, use a bastard mill file on the edge, or buy a sharpening puck with both a coarse and a fine side. Always wear gloves to protect hands and fingers.
A final word on shopping for the best hatchet
Using a hatchet effectively—whether it’s a general use model or a tool made specifically for camping or survival—can be one of the most satisfying experiences in the outdoors. Just match the model and design of the hatchet to the job at hand, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly the work goes—and at how much fun it is to swing a well-made hatchet.