The 20 Best Axes For The Outdoors

Apr 28, 2020

Category: Gear

Though not as useful in everyday carry situations, axes are still remarkably handy bladed tools when outdoor adventure is on the docket. And while the item type might seem pretty straightforward — a sharp-edged metal head attached to a long handle perfect for swinging — there are actually several sub-categories with designs modified for purpose-specific utility and each sub-category boasts a bevy of available options.

If you’re on the hunt for your next axe, you’ve come to the right place. Not only have we narrowed down the selection to just 20 of the best options around, but we’ve separated those options by their types. That way, you can be absolutely certain that you’re getting the best axe for the job at hand — be that chopping down foliage, cutting up firewood, assisting you around the campground, or even if you’ve got something a bit more tactical in mind. These are the 20 best axes for every occasion.

Felling

Chopping Down Trees

Probably the most instantly-recognizable shape of axe, this category is designed specifically for cutting down trees — hence the name. This style is marked by extended 2-handed handles mated to large, usually steel axe heads with wide blades perfect for sideways chopping movements. Like all axes, they’re fairly multipurpose, but they shine when it comes to hard, horizontal arcing swings. Timber!

Fiskars 375581-1001 Chopping Axe

Sleek and straightforward — as well as budget-friendly — the Fiskars Chopping Axe you see here is well-balanced for powerful swings; has a sturdy forged steel head mated to a synthetic, proprietary FiberComp handle; and it was built with an advanced head geometry made specifically to allow deeper, more effective cuts with every swing. You’re not going to get the same exceptional quality as hand-forged offerings from master blacksmiths, but you also don’t have to pay the exorbitant prices that can be triple or more the cost of this offering. For a reliable, inexpensive felling axe, you can trust this option.

Head: Hardened Forged Steel
Handle: FiberComp
Length: 28″

Purchase: $54

Husqvarna Wooden Multi-Purpose Axe

A much more traditionally-styled felling axe than the previous example, the Husqvarna Wooden Multi-Purpose Axe boasts a sturdy forged steel head mated to a long, curved, solid hickory wood handle. It’s a simple classic, but it was made for repetitive swinging and should serve you for years if you properly care for it. It also comes with a simple leather blade cover for when you want to stash it away between seasons. Made in Sweden, this felling axe isn’t fancy, but it will definitely help you get the job done.

Head: Hand-Forged Steel
Handle: Hickory
Length: 26″

Purchase: $90

1844 Helko Werk Germany Vario 2000 Axe

Handmade in Germany, this particular felling axe looks vastly different than some other traditional offerings — but there’s a good reason for that. You see, this felling axe — which is built from a combination of C50 high carbon steel and grade-A American hickory wood — boasts a patented bolt-on head design. For those who are keeping score, that means you can swap out the axe head when it has reached the end of its life for a brand-spanking-new one and, just like that, your felling axe has its chopping power entirely renewed. Most axes are made to last for years and years. This one, with its clever interchangeable head design, was made to last far longer.

Head: C50 High Carbon Steel
Handle: American Hickory
Length: 30″

Purchase: $152+

Council Tool Velvicut Premium American Felling Axe

If you’re searching for your next axe (of any kind), Council Tool should absolutely be on your list of brands to consider. In fact, they make some of the best outdoor-focused cutting tools bar none. Their Velvicut Premium American Felling Axe serves to illustrate it perfectly with its American hickory wood handle, 5160 American steel axe head, and a silhouette that somehow both harkens to those of the past and stands apart from its traditionally-styled brethren. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but this is the kind of felling axe you might pass on to your children — who may, in turn, pass it on to their kids somewhere else down the line.

Head: 5160 American Steel
Handle: American Hickory
Length: 32″

Purchase: $182

Gränsfors American Felling Axe

Believe it or not, there are actually still professional lumberjacks. And while most professional woodcutters have moved on to chainsaws, there are still some artisans and workmen that prefer traditional tools — especially if they like to compete in professional woodcutting competitions. The Gränsfors American Felling Axe was designed for these folks. A hefty chopping tool marked by a wide 11.5cm cutting edge, a hand-forged steel head, and a long American hickory wood handle. Almost twice as heavy as a traditional Scandinavian forest axe, this heavy hitter is as hefty as it is effective at felling even the largest trees in the woods.

Head: Hand-Forged Steel
Handle: American Hickory
Length: 31″

Purchase: $214

Pack

A Camper's Best Friend

As their name suggests, pack axes are designed specifically to fit in, on, or alongside an outdoor pack. That could mean a hiking backpack, car camping kit, or even a horse’s saddle bags. The greater point is that these chopping tools tend to be on the smaller side and can often be used with one hand. Typically (though this is not a hard and fast rule), camp axes are also crafted from traditional materials like steel and wood.

Estwing Camper’s Axe

One of the few brands still building their hand tools in the USA, Estwing manages to brilliantly mesh quality and styling with budget-friendliness. Their Camper’s Axe you see here is no exception, clocking in at less than $40, but still featuring a construction of forged steel and a patented claw hammer-style shock-reducing grip — which can protect your hands from up to 70% of vibrations caused by impact. On top of that, it comes with its own sheath, it’s only 16″ in length (making it perfect for pack attachment), and its almost perfectly balanced for easy and effective swings.

Head: Drop-Forged American Steel
Handle: Patented Shock-Resistant Synthetic
Length: 16″

Purchase: $39

Civilware Hatchet

Civilware is actually the brainchild of, believe it or not, ’90s skateboarding phenom Geoff Rowley. As it turns out, Rowley has pretty excellent taste and a penchant for producing great everyday carry and outdoor tools — especially those with blades. Their aptly-named Hatchet is no exception, boasting a solid American hickory wood handle mated to a 1060 high carbon steel head — perfect for superb edge retention. At just 13.5″ in length and weighing 2.5 pounds, this beautiful pack axe is the perfect companion for outdoor adventure and is available in a trio of colorways — all at the same $99 price point.

Head: Drop-Forged 1060 High Carbon Steel
Handle: American Hickory
Length: 13.5″

Purchase: $99

Hults Bruk Almike Hatchet

Hults Bruk, the Swedish axe-making brand, has a history that dates back to 1697. In fact, the foundry they’re headquartered in is the same one that’s been in constant operation since their founding. As such, they certainly know a thing or two about building exceptional chopping tools. If you need further confirmation, just check out their Almike Hatchet you see before you. It’s hand-forged from Swedish-sourced steel and mated to a sturdy and beautiful American hickory handle treated with linseed oil. It’s also equipped with a traditional leather sheath and, at 2 lbs 12 ounces, it’s perfect for attaching to a pack for any measure of wilderness adventure and/or survival usage.

Head: Hand-Forged Steel
Handle: American Hickory
Length: 16″

Purchase: $139

Council Tool Velvicut Premium Saddle Axe

There’s one big obvious benefit to the USA-made Council Tool Velvicut Premium Saddle Axe you see here: it features a head with dual cutting edges. That means, while you’re out on the trails, if your cutting edge gets a bit dull from cutting up kindling or clearing brush, you can just flip it around and you’ve got double the chopping power. The two edges are even ground at different angles — 32° and 25° — so you can choose the one more suited to whatever job you’re facing down. That does mean that you don’t get the added benefit of having a flat side for hammering stakes into the ground, but you could always just turn the hatchet sideways in a pinch and get mostly the same result.

Head: 5160 Steel
Handle: American Hickory
Length: 16″

Purchase: $140

TOPS Knives Grandpa’s Ax

You might think, initially, that the TOPS Knives Grandpa’s Ax is a bit misnamed. After all, it’s a thoroughly modern chopping tool built from a combination of tumble-finished 1095 steel and canvas Micarta. However, in this scenario, you’re actually the grandpa, as this superb camping-friendly chopper was built durable and tough enough to survive through generations of use — meaning you’ll eventually pass it down to your kids and they will, in turn, pass it on to theirs. It’s also ideally-formatted for backpack carry, it comes with a leather sheath, and it was penned by none other than the TOPS CEO and legendary designer, Leo Espinoza.

Head: 1095 Steel
Handle: Micarta
Length: 11″

Purchase: $200

Splitting

Prepping Firewood

The counterpart to their felling brethren, splitting axes are similar in their size and basic format — long handles with fairly hefty metal heads. However, the heads of these axes tend to have more bulk and a narrower blade. As you might imagine, this makes them ideal for splitting firewood via vertical, two-handed swings with a lot of power behind them — both due to the user’s swing as well as the power of gravity. As is the case with felling axes, you can use them for other purposes, but their primary purpose is where they really shine.

Fiskars Super Splitting Axe

As Fiskars is responsible for making one of the best budget-friendly felling axes around, it should come as no surprise that they’re equally well-versed when it comes to splitting axes. In fact, their Super Splitting Axe features some of the same features that make their felling axe so superb — pared, of course, into a splitting-friendly format. That includes hardened forged steel for the head, a synthetic FiberComp handle, and the brand’s unmistakable minimalist styling. At 36″ and 5.85 pounds, it’s a hefty axe, but that’s kind of what you want out of something made for big, vertical swings capable of splitting those big logs into more manageable firewood.

Head: Hardened Forged Steel
Handle: FiberComp
Length: 36″

Purchase: $67

Husqvarna Steel Splitting Axe

Another thoroughly modern splitting axe, this one from the folks at Husqvarna is a bit more manageably-sized at just 28″ in length. However, with a 5-pound steel head and fiberglass composite handle, it’s still perfectly capable of making short work of your future firewood. That’s aided by a coating on the axe head meant to “improve cutting,” and the whole modern package is backed by a lifetime warranty. Furthermore, if you like this axe’s style, the brand actually offers a number of different options made with the same styling and materials, so you can collect the full set.

Head: Coated Steel
Handle: Fiberglass Composite
Length: 28″

Purchase: $106

Hults Bruk Bjork Splitting Axe

Another exceptional offering from the folks at Hults Bruk — the axe-making brand that dates back to the late 1600s — this traditional-styled splitting axe is built from a durable, timeless combination of Swedish hardened forged steel and American hickory wood. It’s beautiful in a simplistic, minimalist way, which actually speaks quite a bit to its functionality. This is an axe that, while nice to look at, was made to be used and used again — right up until you can’t swing it anymore.

Head: Swedish Steel
Handle: American Hickory
Length: 30″

Purchase: $109

Barebones Living Pulaski Axe

Penned by and named after genuine forest ranger Ed Pulaski, the Barebones Living Pulaski Axe is one of the most uniquely-designed and -styled axes on our entire list — which can likely be tied to the real-world experience of the man that created it. Perhaps the two most interesting things about it are the head format and a bit of a secret hidden within the handle. First, the head is crafted from 1055 carbon steel and has a traditional axe edge on one side, but a horizontally-oriented bladed pick on the other — which grants users some extra functionality, like the ability to shovel dirt or break up roots. The second, the hidden secret in the handle, is actually a 1055 carbon steel core that extends the entire length of the handle and is wrapped in beechwood, effectively increasing the axe’s longevity and durability.

Head: 1055 Carbon Steel
Handle: Beech Wood
Length: 24″

Purchase: $114

Gränsfors Bruk Splitting Maul

The cream of the crop when it comes to splitting axes, the Gränsfors Bruk Splitting Maul is a hefty, handsome two-handed outdoor tool if there ever was one. Of course, it also has a price that matches. That being said, this is a tool that was designed to last for generations, so the high price should be looked at as a sound investment in something you, your children, and your children’s children might use. That’s backed by a composition of hand-forged steel and American hickory, as well as a 20-year warranty — which is still long enough to make the purchase worth it.

Head: Hand-Forged Steel
Handle: American Hickory
Length: 31.5″

Purchase: $239

Tactical

Durable & Discreet

The modern cousin of pack axes, tactical hatchets and tomahawks are one of the harder genres of chopping tools to define. Typically, they operate on a “you know it when you see it” criteria. However, there are some things that are a clear giveaway, including purpose (if they were designed for military use, for instance), materials (look for cutting-edge handle materials, like Micarta or G10), and packability (tactical axes usually come with MOLLE-compatible modular sheaths). The lack of any one of these criteria does not mean an axe doesn’t qualify as tactical, but the inclusion of all four almost guarantees that you’re looking at a tactical axe.

CRKT Kangee Tomahawk

The CRKT Kangee does not look unlike a traditional fireman’s axe — however, there are some fairly noteworthy differences. For starters, this tactical tomahawk is a fraction of the size of its two-handed counterparts, measuring up at just under 14 inches in total. Furthermore, this one is styled and constructed with more modern users in mind, boasting an SK5 carbon steel blade with a spike on the reverse end and a secondary cutting edge at the top for forward thrusts. It also has a textured glass-reinforced nylon handle textured for grip and with an ergonomic shape. Finally, it comes with a MOLLE-compatible sheath for pack storage when on-the-go.

Head: SK5 Carbon Steel
Handle: GRN
Length: 13.75″

Purchase: $109

Gerber Downrange Tomahawk

A bit on the bigger side of the spectrum when compared to other tactical tomahawks, the Gerber Downrange makes up for its size by being exceedingly multifunctional. You see, along with its cutting edge, this 420HC steel device has a hefty and functional hammer surface on the reverse side and even has a crowbar-style pry bar where the pommel would normally be — which is aided by its head cutout that acts as a handle for better leverage in operation. It’s also made in the USA, comes with a MOLLE-compatible sheath, and boasts a durable Cerakote coating on all exposed metal.

Head: 420HC Steel
Handle: G10
Length: 19.27″

Purchase: $190

Spyderco Warrior Hawk

A versatile tomahawk that works well for both tactical and utilitarian applications, this Spyderco design is unmistakable. And while the appearance of the Warrior Hawk certainly helps it stand out, the D2 steel and G10 handle scales also speak to its quality and durability. Complete with a tanto-style edge — offering more puncture power than traditional curved edges — as well as a reverse end spike and a pommel that does double duty as a pry bar and lanyard attachment point. It’s unusual, to be sure, but it’s also effective and brilliantly-built.

Head: D2 Steel
Handle: G10
Length: 13.6″

Purchase: $336

RMJ Tactical Shrike Tomahawk

If you have even a passing interest in tactical tomahawks, you should know the name RMJ Tactical. More than any other brand, they flourish in the tactical tomahawk space. And the Shrike you see here is one of the brand’s absolute best offerings they presently manufacture. It features a full-tang 1075 steel head with a fireman’s axe-style spike mated to a grippy and comfortable rubber handle cover. The steel also boasts a tungsten Cerakote finish for extra durability and, while it’s light enough for one-handed usage, the extended grip allows for two-handed use in a pinch.

Head: 1075 Steel
Handle: Rubber
Length: 15.75″

Purchase: $480

Winkler Knives WKII Wild Bill Axe

While the Winkler Knives WKII Wild Bill Axe sounds like something out of a western and looks like something an orc from Lord of the Rings might carry, we assure you this is a very real (read: not mythical) tactical tomahawk that’s fully capable of being brought along on any mission or adventure. In fact, it was actually designed for use by the United States armed forces but was so popular that they decided to make a version available to the public. It features an 80CrV2 steel head with a reverse spike, Micarta handle scales, and a cord wrap. Purchases also include a Kydex sheath that can be attached to a tactical pack or even a belt loop for quick access.

Head: 80CrV2 Steel
Handle: Cord-Wrapped Micarta
Length: 13.25″

Purchase: $600

The 12 Best Tactical Tomahawks

If you find yourself drawn to our final, most modern category of axe, then you may want to see a larger selection. Undoubtedly, you’ll find what you’re looking for on our guide to the best tactical tomahawks.

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