There are few tools more indispensable for surviving in the great outdoors than the trusty hatchet. More powerful than a knife and easier to wield than the full-blown axe, a solid hatchet is an eternally useful staple of any outdoorsman’s kit, a versatile multitool useful for splitting wood, clearing brush, and driving tent stakes. But not all hatchets are created equal: indeed, the camping and outdoor space is filled with options made from steel and titanium, wood, and carbon — all of which are designed to help you make your way through the wilderness should the situation call for it.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the best hatchets for camping and survival that money can buy. And trust us, they’re worth every penny.
This hickory-handled handmade hatchet from Swedish company Gransfors Bruks is the very essence of a classic woodsman’s tool. Based on the traditional scouting and camping axe, the hatchet comes with an elongated handle for extra power — an especially useful feature for felling trees and hacking at ice. At just over 13.75 inches long and 1.5 lbs in weight, this lightweight hatchet is so durable that the company guarantees its usefulness for 20 years. Sure, it’s a little pricey compared to other similarly-styled hatchets on the market, but two decades of chopping power — as well as a vegetable-tanned leather sheath — are worth the investment.
The 14-inch X7 Hatchet from Finnish company Fiskars is in some ways the total opposite of its Swedish cousin. A hardened steel axe with a specialized shock-absorbing, non-slip grip, the X7 is far modern-looking than the traditional wood-handled hand-axe. It’s also relatively cheap, extremely light (just 1.4 pounds), and ergonomically designed for maximum chopping action, with a wedged head designed to overcome even the toughest logjams. With an extra lug at the handle base for improved grip and a lifetime warranty, the X7 offers a sleeker alternative to its conventional wood-handled cousins.
The Snow & Nealley Outdoorsman’s Belt Axe is a beefed-up variant on the standard hatchet. Weighing in at 2.25 pounds and measuring 15.75 inches, the carbon steel and lacquered wooden handle make this hatchet a larger, heavier alternative to lighter and more nimble hand-axes offered up by premium makers. But what it lacks in versatility it makes up for with a relatively inexpensive price tag: just $50 for a gorgeous wood-handled hatchet that performs just as well as its slicker cousins like the X7. It’s not the easiest piece of equipment to handle, but it’ll get the job done and look damn good doing it.
Bear Grylls has a renowned survival brand for good reason, and his Gerber-made survival hatchet does not disappoint. Weighing 1.4 pounds and measuring just 9.5 inches long, the remarkably-portable Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet is one of the smallest hand axes on the market and among the most versatile, perfect for any practical woodworking and brush-clearing that an excursion into the great outdoors might require. Though it lacks a hammer function on the opposite side of the blade head, the Grylls-approved hatchet is extremely effective at what it does well. It also comes with a copy of Grylls’ Priorities of Survival pocket guide — which we hope includes Bear’s tried-and-true advice.
The Estwing Sportsman’s Axe is an elegant take on the wood-handled hatchet. At 1.9 pounds and 11.5 inches, it’s a bit heavier when stacked up to comparable hand-axes like the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet and the Fiskars X7, but the tradeoff is absolutely worth it, given the visually appealing nature of the Estwing. With a lacquered wooden handle and nylon sheath, this gorgeous hatchet is also a deal compared to, say, the Snow & Nealley Outdoorsman’s Belt Axe. After all, just because you’re out roughing it in the great outdoors doesn’t mean you can’t look damn good while chopping wood.
Wood-handled axes are all well and good, and the specialized no-slip grips of the Fiskars are always useful — but sometimes, you just want something that screams “this is my tactical tomahawk and I’m not afraid to use it!” Enter the SOG Survival Hawk, a straight-handled tomahawk, purpose-built for survivalists by a former U.S. military contractor. At 12.1 inches long and just 1.2 pounds, this lightweight hatchet may be the ultimate camping tool with a firestarter rod built into the glass-reinforced nylon handle. Versatile and visually striking, the SOG Survival Hawk is the very model of a tactical hatchet — and hey, if it’s good enough for the military community, it’s good enough for you.
Designed by German outdoor enthusiast and historian Martin Genzow Spyderco’s limited-edition Genzow Hatchethawk is equal parts hatchet and tomahawk, based on the Frankish throwing ax that dominated Europe during the Middle Ages. At 15 inches long and weighing just 1.5 pounds, that doesn’t just mean a unique design, but a durable one as well: forged in tool steel and molded with plastic over a rigid aluminum core, the company claims the handle is “scientifically contoured” to ensure maximum power and maximum control at the same time. While it’s more expensive than the other options on this list, nothing beats a beautiful piece of gear, and the HatchetHawk is an absolute beaut.
When it comes to hatchets, the Schrade Survival Hatchet is about as modern as you can get, a titanium-coated stainless steel head ensconced in a fiberglass handle with a rubber grip. It is, in some ways, the Glock of hatchets: tidy, ergonomic, and extremely durable. Measuring 11.8 inches and weighing just 1.37 lbs, the Schrade Survival Hatchet is extremely portable while lacking the power of larger axes. Still, it’s a nicely balanced and relatively unassuming alternative to the glitz of other hatchets — plus, it even comes with storage space inside the handle, just in case.
The Kershaw Deschutes is as simple and elegant a hand axe as you’ll ever see. At 14 inches long and weighing 1.56 pounds, it’s a bit heavier than other hand axes and hatchets, but with good reason: forged of tough 3Cr13 stainless steel, the wedge blade of the Kershaw brings remarkable strength and durability to any outdoor project. In addition, the Kershar’s tan, glass-filled nylon handle comes with rubberized inserts that facilitate a comfortable, secure grip. It may not be the prettiest axe of the bunch, but when it comes to raw power the Kershaw is a sure bet for the chopping and splitting that comes with camping and backpacking.
What’s the difference between a hatchet and an axe?
A hatchet is a small axe meant to be used with one hand, while axes are made specifically for use with two hands for maximum power. Indeed, the typical average hatchet will have a 1.25-pound head, which tends to make the whole hatchet somewhere under 2 pounds. There are also different types of hatchets for different uses.
- Splitting hatchets: Designed explicitly for splitting wood like a regular-sized axe.
- Camping hatchets: Designed with versatility and utility in mind, they lack the power for full-on wood-splitting but are easier to control for smaller tasks like stake-pounding and brush clearing.
- Survival hatchets: Designed in a minimalist manner with a small, relatively flat lightweight head, these tools are intended for easy carrying but aren’t necessarily the most useful for woodland tasks.
- Tomahawks: Designed with a straight handle and shorter blade, these tend to serve as more lightweight combat hatchets for the tactically-inclined.
Key features of hatchets
These are the key features of each hatchet that are worth evaluating before making a purchase:
- The head: The so-called ‘business end’ of any chopping tool, the head is the thick-to-sharp metal end designed to split wood. Hatchets well suited for woodworking tend to have a thing head (about a twenty-degree angle), while the cheeks (the sides of the head) tend to remain smooth to efficiently split each piece of wood.
- The back: The rear of the head, this part of the hatchet is normally flat and best used for activities like pounding tent stakes or, in some cases, hammering nails and flattening pieces of wood.
- The neck: The neck connects the head to the handle of the hatchet; some hand axes are made from one piece of contiguous metal without any breaks between the head and handle.
- The haft: Another term for the handle, there are different options on the market, from metal to wood to fiberglass. Metal handles tend to be more durable and comfortable than their wooden counterparts, but they’re also heavy as well, centering too much of the weight in the handle. An in-between option to get the best of both worlds is fiberglass.
- The grip: The grip is exactly what it sounds for: it’s the area of the haft designed for gripping by a woodsman. Some axes, like the Estwing, come with a grip made from leather, rubber, or other material.
Benefits of hatchets
A hatchet is an excellent tool for dealing with woodland terrain, effective at everything from chopping small trees to splitting wood for kindling to carving. Given their lightweight design and compact nature, hatchets are also excellent for other tasks from cooking to defensive needs. The hatchet is just an axe that’s been scaled down for single-handed use, making it easier to carry and far more versatile than other outdoor tools.
Hatchet pricing varies depending on size, material, and function, ranging from just $9 (like the Coleman Camp Axe) to nearly $200 (the Gransfors Bruks). Wooden, handcrafted hatchets tend to fetch a higher price given the craftsmanship and artistry that go into their production, while metal, machine-made hatchets are relatively inexpensive to mass-produce.
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