Though simple in design, the axe is one of the oldest tools crafted by humans for survival. Despite the days of hunting and gathering being history, a metal blade with a wooden handle is timeless. For the backpacker, survivalist, or outdoor enthusiast, a little bit of axe work can save you from hours of being a campsite or fending off a wild animal. Depending on your camping and hiking preferences, some axes and hatchets might be better than others.
There are dozens of designs and materials to choose from as well, so you might have questions about which one is the best backpacking hatchet for you. That is why we’ve put together a list of the top 10 best hiking hatchets and axes to help you decide. There is also a buyer’s guide at the bottom of the list to aid your decision.
Top 10 Best Hatchets & Axes for the Outdoors
Everyone has their own hiking and camping style. The perfect hatchet is going to be one that compliments your journey rather than adding to the struggle. Here are the 10 best axes for camping, hiking, backpacking and survival:
1. Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet
- Handcrafted unit
- Comes with a leather sheath and instructional manual for maintenance
- Dense, tempered steel head for indestructible durability
- Length: 13.5-inch
- Weight: 20.8 oz (1.5 pounds)Wooden handle
- 20 year guarantee
- Very practical and reliable
- Thick, short handle might be difficult to hold for some
The Gransfors Bruks handmade hatchet is handsome, sleek, and looks every bit the wilderness tool you’d expect. The 13.5 inch hickory handle, topped with a 1 pound steel head packs major chopping force.
Since the GB Wildlife Hatchet is practically indestructible, emits quality and has a hand forged blade, you can expect the price tag to reflect the level of craftsmanship and materials.
Therefore, if you are looking for a trustworthy hatchet that performs optimally, is comfortable to grip, and will never bend or break, you know you’re getting your money’s worth with this one.
2. Estwing E14A 12” Sportsman’s Axe
- Durable nylon sheath included
- Hand sharpened and polished
- Forged in a single piece and tempered – you never have to worry about the head detaching
- Versatile – chop trees, split firewood, and trim kindling
- Backpack-friendly length (12”)
- A little heavy – 1.7 pounds
- Sheath has been called “tacky”
People adore the sleek and classic look of the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe. Estwing is an American company that has been around since the 1940s, and quality has never stumbled or changed. Sportsman’s Axes are both beautiful and functional. The steel head, paired with a lacquered grip, is a favorite amongst many.
Though this axe is a bit heavier than other competitors on this list, the tempered 3.25” razor edge and balance make it a worthwhile purchase—especially when you compare the price of the Sportsman’s Axe to the Gransfors Bruks, for example.
3. Husqvarna 13” Wooden Hatchet
- Hickory wood handle that is curved and ergonomic
- Swedish carbon steel blade
- Hand forged
- Length: 13-inch
- Excellent control and swinging force
- Short length makes it perfect for carrying in a backpack or bug-out bag
- Blade edge dulls quickly
- Heavy weight – 2.2 pounds
- Sheath doesn’t properly fit
- Over time, the wooden handle can break and the head can get loose
The classy Husqvarna Wooden Hatchet gives a lumberjack feel that is also ergonomic and high-quality. The curved, hickory handle and Swedish steel head are hand-forged, which is both a plus and minus. The head alone weighs 1.5 pounds, so while you’re getting a massive power boost every swing, you also might tire quickly.
However, given the low price and durability, this is a great buy for those who do a lot of car camping. Now, you might be thinking, “Isn’t this design a little dangerous?” Don’t worry.
The carbon steel head is held by a wooden spacer and metal expansion ring, which ensures the head doesn’t separate from the handle mid-swing.
4. Gerber Gear 17.5” Freescape Hatchet
- PTFE-coated blade reduces friction for smoother chopping
- Durable blade
- Shock absorbent composite handle is very forgiving
- Contemporary design with cool colors (black and green)Slim sheath for quick and easy storage
- Lightweight hatchet or axe (depending on chosen length)Reasonably priced
- Sheath leaves much to be desired
- Blade will sometimes “dent” on hard swings and needs to be maintained
The Gerber Gear Freescape Hatchet is a reimagining of the time-honored wooden hatchet that pairs a classically shaped blade and a lightweight, composite handle wrapped in a rubbery mold for increased gripping.
The no-frills design works well for minimalists and survivalists alike, especially since the hatchet weighs slightly over 2 pounds. The Freescape model is actually produced by Fiskars, so the overall design is quite similar to the below mentioned X7.
One of the pluses of the Gerber Gear Freescape Hatchet is that you can choose various lengths, ranging all the way from 9-inches to 36-inches (though pricing varies).
5. Schrade SCAXE2 Survival Hatchet
- Rubber grip for superior control
- Good balance ratio
- Lightweight and compact
- Highly portable
- Thermoplastic sheath included
- Lacks the chopping power of other hatchets on this list
- Shaft is short
- Hollow shaft gives you “stingers” when swinging into hard wood
The Schrade SCAXE2 Survival Hatchet is one of the best backpacker hatchets for those who want a modern, minimalist feel that doesn’t overpack their bags.
The titanium-coated stainless steel blade swiftly tackles small to medium bits of wood, tinder, and other cutting duties.
The fiberglass handle and rubber grip are curved for an ergonomic hold. Overall, since the Schrade Survival Hatchet is nearly 12-inches long and weights only 1.37 pounds, it pairs nicely with those who need moderate striking power in a compact package.
6. SOG Hand Axe
- Straight edge
- Sleek design
- Compact enough to fit into a backpack for camping
- Excellent grip, thanks to the G10 scales and finger grooves
- 2.4-inch 420 stainless steel blade
- Blade stays sharp over multiple days of hiking and camping
- Includes nylon sheath
- Limited lifetime guarantee
- Budget-friendly price
- Handle is slightly heavier than the head, causing a slight balance issue
- Not intended for large branches and tree trunks
Here is a budget-friendly recommendation: the utilitarian SOG Hand Axe. Don’t let the “budget-friendly” adjective fool you—this is a quality axe.
The blade is 420-grade stainless steel and full-tag that pairs with the G10 scaled fiberglass handle. Though it might be too small to tackle trees, the SOG Hand Axe handles everything from preparing kindling or tinder, trimming small to medium width branches, and light hammering.
Since it is just over 11-inches long and only weighs 18.6 ounces, it’s also very portable and won’t weigh you down.
7. Off Grid Tools Survival Axe
- 31 functions and tools – hatchet blade, hammer head, claw and pry bar, replaceable 6-inch saw blade, hex sockets, and more
- Sleek design
- Compact and lightweight – 11.5 inches and 1.7 pounds
- Reasonable price tag for everything you get
- Nylon handle
- Comes with sheath
- Sturdy, full-tang blade
- Hatchet dulls quickly
- Handle can be uncomfortable and slippery in bare hands
Multi-tool systems are sometimes overlooked when it comes to functionality, simply because too many features get backed into a single item.
However, the Off Grid Tools Survival Axe shouldn’t be underestimated. Aside from being an axe, there are 30 additional features that are excellent additions to any backpack or bug-out bag. The heat-treated 420-grade blade is small and curved, but it is fortified by a full tang and durable nylon handle.
Other tools include a hammer, belt cutter, valve shut-off wrench, and a lockable 6-inch Sawzall blade that can cut through metal.
8. Fiskars X7 14” Hatchet
- Award winning design since release in 2010
- Synthetic, lightweight handle
- Non-slip grip
- Easy to handle and swing due to minimal weight
- Extremely sharp blade that splits and cuts efficiently
- Perfect for camping and small chopping tasks
- Cheap, competitive price
- Lifetime warranty
- Steel blade doesn’t retain sharpness very well (but it’s also very easy to sharpen)
- Doesn’t come with strap-on sheath
- Not ergonomic
The Fiskars X7 is often called one of the best choices for those looking to keep to a budget.
Not only is Fiskars a well-known manufacturer, the company is also one of the oldest axe makers around since it was founded in 1649 in Finland. The X7 14” hatchet is remarkably popular and has won an “International Red Dot” award for being on the best small-medium sized hatchets out there.
With excellent power to weight ratio, a synthetic, lightweight handle made of Fiber Comp, and maximized chopping/splitting efficiency, this is a model that can make camping a breeze.
9. Estwing E44A Camper’s Axe
- Highly versatile for both camping and backpacking
- Shock absorbent rubber wrapped handle – reduces impact vibration by up to 70%
- One-piece steel designed
- Decent chopping efficiency for a hybridized hatchet
- High-quality steel that splits and chops with ease
- May not fit in a backpack or bug-out bag
- Slightly heavier than other options
As mentioned earlier, Estwing is a quality brand with history and repute. Therefore, you are assured a satisfactory purchase, especially with the highly versatile E44A Camper’s Axe model.
Though slightly longer and about double the weight of the Sportsman’s Axe, there are several ways the Camper’s Axe can outshine the competition.
First, this axe comes with a rubber, shock absorbent grip instead of leather. Secondly, though the design is roughly the same—one-piece forged axe—the length of the handle increases the chopping power exponentially.
The downside for the added power is that this axe is too big and heavy for your backpack.
10. Browning 231 Outdoor Axe
- Light weight
- Incredible swinging power and precision
- Superior durability
- Carbon steel blade with a lifetime guarantee
- Forged, one-piece head
- Concave grip for ergonomic hold and control
- Includes nylon leather sheath
- Too long for a backpack or bug-out bag
- More suited for car camping than backpacking
Browning is celebrating over 130 years in business, meaning you can trust the quality of the axe. The 231 Outdoor Axe is an excellent tool to add to your arsenal for a number of reasons.
First, while the axe is slightly bigger than what the conventional camping axe would be, it is also lighter than your standard axe.
The handle is made of polypropylene and fiberglass, which is more durable than wood (but less durable than metal). The carbon steel blade is pre-sharpened makes quick work for chopping wood or logs of larger size.
Hatchet and Axe Buyer’s Guide
When it comes to choosing a hiking or survival hatchet, there are a couple of things you have to consider. Hiking, camping, backpacking, and survival all have different needs and objectives, after all.
Therefore, no single axe can cover all the bases, because head and handle sizes, shapes, and materials have a wide of array. Of course, this can also create some confusion when you’re trying to decide which model or design is best.
The Difference Between Hatchets and Axes
Simply put, the main difference between an axe and a hatchet would be the length of the shaft. A hatchet is usually aware between 12 to 14 inches in length, while an axe can be longer than 22 inches from top to bottom.
However, the differences don’t stop there. Because an axe has a longer handle, it’s going to have a lot more power behind each swing, giving them better force to hack through thick branches and trunks. This causes axes to be quite heavy.
Yet, if you’re a backpacker, carrying an axe along on trails is going to be quite cumbersome (and worrisome for fellow hikers). Hatchets are lightweight and much more convenient. Though hatchets lack the same wood-chopping power of an axe, using one can speed up campsite construction and other tasks.
What to Look For When Choosing a Camping Hatchet or Axe
There are some important characteristics to look for when choosing the best backpacker axe or hatchet.
Nothing is more disheartening than making a couple of blows with your axe then losing chopping power or having the blade bend and shaft break. For that very reason, you need to invest in a high quality hiking hatchet or axe. Many hatchets today are made with synthetics, so they are more lightweight than your grandfather’s Viking axe over the mantle.
Many commercial companies are reputable and deliver quality items, hand-forged blades are some of the strongest you will find. However, the amount of manufacturing and labor differences between the two production processes puts a tremendous gap between price tags.
The main purpose of a hatchet or axe is to cut. Not only does the blade have to be sharpened, it needs to be resilient and reliable. The edge should be made from a metal that doesn’t dull easily, such as a high-density steel.
One of the most important things you need to bear in mind would be the weight of the hatchet or axe you choose. A couple extra pounds in your backpack can make or break an entire situation. Additionally, the weight of the hatchet or axe affects the power being each swing. A heavier axe is going to slice through wood as if it was warm cheese, while a hatchet might not even be able to make a dent.
You need to choose a balance between weight and ease of use. The hatchet or axe should be light enough for you to pick up and use as intended. In other words, if you need to put the item in a bug out bag, a long handle, heavy axe isn’t the ideal choice. Placing that axe in your truck, however, is a smart move.
The biggest issue with length is whether or not the hatchet or axe is going to fit inside your bag. Some people prefer carrying their tool on their belts, and most axes are designed to allow for that. Still, it’s worth mentioning some rudimentary physics in terms of choosing length.
Short handles equal less force. Longer handles equal more force.
Shorter hatchets and axes are ideal for quick tasks around your campsite or home. Slicing tinder, cutting off twigs, or whittling something down are something shorter axes and hatchets can do well.
Chopping wood or trees, though, is something better left to a longer axe.
Putting all of the previously mentioned characteristics together, you can decide on how efficient the hatchet or axe you are looking to purchase will actually be. Efficiency is another way to describe the overall cutting power. You should also factor into consideration the grip, balance, and the shape and sharpness of the blade.
A good grip will ensure your hand doesn’t slip from the handle while striking or swinging. The last thing you want is to lose control of something as deadly as an axe.
Balance is more than just a relationship between the length and weight. When you swing the hatchet or axe, you should feel in control of the momentum.
Lastly, the blade’s width is as integral to cutting power as the material it’s made out of. The thicker the blade, the more difficulty you will have with chopping. Go too thin, and the blade might get wedged or chip during more powerful swings.
Keep these characteristics in mind, and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the best backpacking hatchet for your adventure.
Whether you are a minimalist in need of a lightweight wood chopper or a bug-out bag specialist looking for a sharp “companion,” there is definitely an axe out there for you. Hopefully, one of the models in the list will catch your attention; but if not, follow the buyer’s guide we included to make a decision you can be proud of. Either way, we know you’ll be hacking and chopping your way through trails soon!