The need for cutting wood is inherent on any camping trip. Even if you’re one of the ecologically responsible campers who only takes dead wood from the forest floor, you’ll still need to hew it and cut it down to size, lest you have flaming branches sticking out of your fire pit. This necessitates having a quality hatchet or axe on hand so that you’re never overwhelmed by a stubborn log and can stay warm and safe during your rousing renditions of “Kumbaya.”
Before you jump right in, you’ll need to determine whether you need an axe or a hatchet. While having both is useful, sometimes taking both is overkill and a waste of space. The bigger job, and the more room you have, the more likely to are to need an axe, with it’s superior size and thus strength for cutting off green boughs or felling trees. For portability, lightness of weight, and capacity to be used quickly as both a self-defense tool and a fast-hacking log splitter, you’ll want a hatchet. Either way, getting one of the 9 best camp axes and hatchets is sure to make your excursion a success.
SOG F09N-CP Hand Axe
Pro: Small head for precision work
Con: Head is too slender to work as a hammer
Small and Strong: On the lower, lighter, smaller end of the hatchet spectrum is the hand axe, made to be even leaner and more specialized than a hatchet, and far, far smaller than any standard axe. Certainly made with the hatcheter in mind, the F09N-CP comes with 420 steel construction and G10 handle would be at home on a military piece of hardware, which makes this better for tough trips into the deep woods. With a no-slip grip and die-hard makeup, this is a tough, tactical chopper.
Kershaw Camp Ax
Pro: Works well in tight quarters
Con: Cheap sheath
Quick Cuts: Made to ride on your belt whenever you’re at camp, the Camp Ax from Kershaw is only 11-inches long, which makes it far too small for building the cabin of your dreams, but ideal for being carried around as your companion tool for all the little jobs. A no-slip secure grip makes it safe to use without fear of it flying away, while the solid, drop-forged, high carbon steel construction ensures it won’t split apart when put to the test.
Gerber Gator Axe II
Pro: Glass-filled nylon handle
Con: Wood sticks between head and handle
Bridging the Gap: Between hatchets and axes there lies a region for cutting tools that are neither. With a straight body that lacks the curves common to hatchets, the Gator Axe II is still smaller than your average axe, so you won’t be doing much log splitting, but it’s plenty versatile for chopping off branches or whittling sticks for roasting brats over an open flame. Inside is a handy little bluntnose saw that works where the axe doesn’t.
Fiskars X11 Splitting Axe
Pro: Maul strength with lighter weight
Con: Dense and not very portable
Axe Man Cometh: There’s very few names in the axe game as well respected as Fiskars. While we prefer the 17-inch X11 for camping purposes, if you need something in a different size, trust this brand: They won’t let you down. It uses the same physics as an aluminum bat that multiplies swing speed for greater strength and heavier impacts per strike. The low-friction coating and beveled edge on the axe head reduce chipping for a cleaner split every time.
Estwing E24A Sportsman’s Hatchet
Pro: Made in the USA since 1923
Con: Mediocre splitting tool
Real Steel: Made from a single piece of 1055 carbon steel, the E24A hatchet has gained a lot of deserved popularity in recent years. It’s tough and hardy, able to hold an edge for a long time and to whack it’s way through many a tough piece of wood thanks to the narrow head. While the full metal construction with a handle wrapped in leather rings is unbeatably tough, it also tends to transfer shock up the handle to your arm, so going after a piece of greenstick is going to leave your teeth rattling. Conversely, you also won’t need to worry about replacing a broken handle.
Pro: Works in extreme temperatures without fail
Con: Sheath covers hammer head
Multi-Tool: Using a rubberized handle, a textured rear striking surface that works well as a hammer, and including a fire starter in the mix, the Schrade Axe is made with survival camping in mind. Small enough for any hatchet user, but also able to handle a few medium jobs, this can either be a backup axe for smaller jobs or a travel axe for expeditions into the brush. Coated entirely in titanium nitride, it’s meant to survive in the worst conditions that mother nature can come up with.
Husqvarna Curved Handle Multipurpose Axe
Pro: Exceptional raw materials
Con: Unfinished and requires elbow grease to get perfect
Swedish Engineering: Probably the only true axe you’ll ever need, this is an affordable marvel that is light enough to be tucked away for car camping, but big enough to handle long periods in the wilderness, felling timber to survive. The specialized ergonomic handle makes long splitting sessions easy on your body and creates a smoother cut with more power for dealing with stubborn logs and crooked grains.
Columbia River Kangee T-Hawk
Pro: Easy to aim thanks to curved handle
Con: Heavy head shifts balance
Military Grade: Campers and backpackers who want an item intended for saving lives and combat as much as straight wood cutting will find the Kangee T-Hawk right up their alley. With a spiked rear end that can be used to pry and dig, this is a hardy customer that is crafted out of a single piece of 1080 steel. At less than two pounds but more than 14-inches in length, it has a lot of force capacity built into a slim body. It’s nearly impossible to break and a deadly asset under the worst conditions.
Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe
Pro: Extremely sharp out of the box
Con: Handle can come with unfinished open grain
Unbeatable Balance: Gransfors Bruks is a name that you can always count on. For camping axes, we found this 19-incher to be your best bet, though with a hickory handle you can change the size if you so choose, but it will alter the balance. For handling all the sapling cutting, quick chopping, and either single or dual-handed operation, this is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come. A little large for backpackers, it’s still only 1.5 lbs of pure clean-cutting quality.