Perhaps one of the most striking survival books of all time is Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. In it, he chronicles a young man enduring in the wilderness for 54 days using little more than his wits and a survival hatchet. Though a work of fiction, it accurately portrays why a simple hatchet might very well be the ultimate survival tool. These simple items serve many of the same purposes as a fixed blade knife and a few others that even survival knives can’t quite touch.
Hatchets built for thriving in the great outdoors are part hammer, part weapon, part fire starter, part hunting knife, and having one gives you a range of subsistence options in the wilderness that you wouldn’t otherwise have. They are small survival axes and should come with more utility than just a standard hatchet or camp axe because you’ll need it to be more than a woodcutter. When looking to buy one, search one that is dependable, retains an edge for a long time, and is the right weight for your pack or bug out bag. So that you never need to be caught out there alone, we found the 8 best survival hatchets to keep you company.
Pro: Handle resists damage from over-striking
Con: Edge retention suffers if reground
Bearable Lightness: Tipping the scales at a scant 1 lbs. 6 ounces, this weighs less than some of the beefier tactical knives we’ve encountered. The key to its slender heft is also part of what makes it such a strong piece of hardware: The FiberComp handle. The carbon steel head chops again and again without needing to have the edge re-honed, so it shan’t fail when you need it most. Add in a rubberized grip that reduces impact and cutting fatigue and you’ll look for an excuse to get lost with the X7.
Bear Grylls Gerber Hatchet
Pro: Military nylon sheath is surprisingly easy to use and resilient
All Season: We want to love the stuff that has Bear Gryll’s name on it, and sometimes it’s good. Other times it’s garbage. This is one of the cases where Gerber did justice to the Man vs. Wild star in their gear. A full tang design, it can’t be broken apart, but also doesn’t rattle your teeth with each strike thanks to the impact-fighting textured rubber handle, which also provides great grip wet, dry, or even bloody. Finger notches near the head make detail work easier and more precise.
Estwing E24A Sportsman’s Hatchet
Pro: Designed for hunting and sport
Con: Trim build doesn’t split logs well
Unbroken: Forged out of a single piece of 1055 carbon steel, the body, head, and handle of the E24A cannot break apart and are nigh impossible to damage. The grip is made of leather which does a fair job of reducing impact, though there’ still more jolt than with wooden handles. With no eye on the head, there’s a slim, concave look all down the head to the poll. You’ll find a nice grip from the stag leather rings that adds comfort whether being used with work gloves or barehanded.
Pro: Large ferro rod fire starter built into handle
Con: Head can be chipped with relative ease
Short and Sweet: At just under a foot in length, this isn’t going to be winning any big and beautiful contests, but the abbreviated length let Schrade add in a little more bulk where it counts. The head is broad with a textured hammer on the back that handles smooth camping tent stakes with ease. Our biggest problem was actually the sheath which limited carrying thanks to an integrated belt loop.
Pro: True Hults Bruk Swedish steel
Con: Company has some QC issues
Most for the Money: Not the cheapest product you can get, but if you want a lot of chop for your buck, this shall provide. Swedish steel and American hickory combine to make a traditional hatchet that is the perfect accessory to go with your bushcraft knife. The straight grain of each handle is superb and prevents breaks and splits from over-striking. We found that this had a special knack for wood splitting that rivaled many of our favorite axes for sheer chopping capability.
CRKT RMJ Woods Chogan T-Hawk
Pro: Flat ground primary and secondary bevels
Con: Does not come with a sheath
Pinhead: We recognize that not everyone is looking for a traditional survival hatchet for their wilderness needs. Perhaps you’re seeking something with a tactical tomahawk vibe that can also work for all your woodsy requirements. The chopping surface is abbreviated, but that allows for faster movement. Able to take a longer handle than many of its contemporaries, you can get extra leverage using the T-Hawk for digging or self-defense. Still able to pound stakes and make short work of timber, the ability to more easily change out the handle gives the head a customizable feel.
Pro: Thin blade allows for fine work
Con: No hammering or heavy swinging ability
Freak Show: The Farson hatchet goes way off the reservation and breaks all the rules when it comes to axes of any kind, tomahawks, and camping knives, but still manages to be a stunning addition to whatever group you put it in. It has a full tang handle wrapped in paracord that makes the overall length 9.5″. Small for a standard survival hatchet, but you’ll hardly miss the extra girth when the weight is a mere 9.6 ounces. Tough 1095 carbon steel coated in titanium nitride, this can go the distance and get back in time for dinner.
Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet
Pro: Perfectly balanced
The Platinum Standard: For a timeless creation that sets a high bar for hatchets – as well as axes of all kinds – there’s little that can compare to this item from Gransfors Bruk. Handcrafted in Sweden, each blade is carbon steel of unique makeup, but they all hold an edge like a dream and won’t dull or blunt after hacking through green trees or animals joints. Each handle is true, down home, Lincoln-would-be-proud American hickory, and the straightness is unparalleled. Money well spent.