Best Survival Axe | Top Hatchets Reviewed

by Vern Evans

A survival axe doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Sure, you could pick up a ‘tactical tomahawk’, but is it really that practical? Well, after some testing we can assure you that it’s not as good as an axe… at being an axe. Sometimes you need to ignore the marketing and hype and go with tried-and-true tools that are quality-made to get serious jobs done. Survival is about as serious as it gets, and that’s why we sought out the best survival axe. There are a lot of options to consider when it comes to axes: weight distribution, head type, handle type, etc.

This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best axes for survival, tested them, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need to lop a log, one of our recommendations will get you chopping.


Contents (Jump to a Section)


The Best Survival Axe

Estwing Camper’s Axe

Full steel, Durable, and Proven

Nothing quite beats steel, as this all-steel beast of an axe proves time and time again.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

When you need to abuse something, just make it completely out of steel. This axe has a one-piece forged head & neck that is welded to a steel handle below the over-chop point. Smash, bash, chop, and slice your way through anything with this axe- don’t limit yourself to the woods. But if you do need to fell some trees in the woods, the 1055 steel 4″ blade will certainly get the job done.

Here is how it measures up:

  • Solid 1055 steel (including handle)
  • Shock-reducing grip
  • Felling head
  • 26″ length
  • 3.4 pounds
  • Made in the US

With unsurpassed durability, it’s easy to see why the Estwing Camper’s Axe is the best.


Budget Survival Hatchet

Fiskars X7

Light, Effective, and Mobile

A lightweight tool out of Finland that saves you valuable ounces while putting versatility in your pack.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Fiskars tools always feel odd to me when I first hold them. They look bulky but have quality coated blades and lightweight handles. The balance takes some getting used to, but the weight distribution towards the head really lets the tool work harder than its smaller size might let on.

Here are the full specs:

  • Coated carbon steel
  • Durable composite handle
  • Hatchet head
  • 14″ length
  • 1.4 pounds
  • Made in Finland

If you are looking for a lightweight hatchet, you can’t go wrong with the Fiskars X7 Hatchet.


Upgrade Survival Axe

Gransfors Bruks

Compact, Efficient, and Weatherproof

This Swedish woodsman’s axe is the pinnacle of axe-making perfection and the go-to for those who thrive in the forest.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

If you are looking to be the envy of the woods- look no further. The Granfors Bruks Small Forest Axe is a work of art ready to tackle anything nature can throw at it. The attention to detail and craftsmanship blows away every owner. The Swedish steel is easy to sharpen yet it also holds an edge. The hickory handle comes perfectly set and is ultimately replaceable if you over-chop regularly.

The low weight and mid-size handle make it perfect for your survival pack if your plan is to get into the woods.

Here are the details:

  • High carbon steel
  • Hickory handle
  • Splitting head
  • 19″ length
  • 2.2 pounds
  • Made in Sweden

If you are looking for the best of the best, pick up a Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe.


Everything We Recommend

Fiskars X7

A lightweight tool out of Finland that saves you valuable ounces while putting versatility in your pack.

Where to Buy

$37* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing

Gransfors Bruks

This Swedish woodsman’s axe is the pinnacle of axe-making perfection and the go-to for those who thrive in the forest.

Where to Buy

$208* at Amazon

*at time of reviewing


The Axes and Hatchets We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to several types and brands of axes that we compared: Gerber, Estwing, Gransfors, Fiskars, Hults, Husqvarna, SOG, CRKT, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We considered a massive range of axes and hatchets from around the world. There are plenty of options from the top garden and household brands all the way to custom-crafted bushcraft art pieces. Our goal was to focus on axes specifically for survival purposes, which typically meant we were weighing functionality versus the axe’s profile (weight and length). Some of the larger, heavier axes just aren’t feasible for mobile survival although they may be excellent choices for the homestead.

We’re always looking for new and better equipment, so if you have your favorite axe or hatchet that you swear by let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested equipment annually, so we can always get it in the next roundup round and see if it makes the cut and we can see if it will beat out our top picks.


What to Look For

We hinted at it above, but the best survival axe has several important features to look for that set it apart from typical axes:

  1. Value
  2. Head Type
  3. Handle Type
  4. Size & Weight
  5. Versatility

When you get the right blend of these, you can find an axe that will tackle any obstacle regardless of the situation. Below, we break down what each of these features means for axes that truly set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like an axe shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. There are plenty of options with a wide range of prices that span between our budget pick and upgrade pick.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like a tool with a specific purpose. It’s better to diversify your preparedness gear to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios.

Head Type

The head of an axe is the most important part- the rest of it is just a stick, after all. You almost always want the head to be a solid chunk of quality steel. As you may know from our other review roundups, not all steel is made equal.

Our picks use carbon steel, with fairly moderate hardness so it can both take and hold an edge on the bit. If you’re hitting the ground or rocks with it, they will dull pretty quickly. Sometimes in survival situations you’ll need to use it to chop something other than timber. You’ll need something to sharpen your axe with, whether that’s your standard survival sharpener or a dedicated axe sharpener.

Handle Type

Most axes have wooden handles, but our picks sport all three main types:

  • Wood – hickory and other hardwoods
  • Composite – great for lightweight applications but needs substantial eye reinforcement
  • Steel – forged steel down the shoulder to the throat is best

Besides the handle material, with multiple benefits and drawbacks for each, there are common handle lengths. Typically the weight of the axe head pairs up with the length for the best balance:

  • Hand Axe – 18″ – 26″ handle
  • Felling Axe – 20″ – 26″ handle
  • Splitting Axe – 16″ – 35″ handle
  • Throwing Axe – 12″ – 16″ handle

The intended application also affects handle size as you can see.

Size & Weight

Axes are heavy. Especially when compared with other survival gear. Adding a head of solid steel to your bug out bag can make a long trip feel much, much longer. Long handles are also tougher to conceal and keep out of the way.

All of these reasons are why size and weight play just as important roles in selecting a survival axe as their functionality.

Versatility

While the tactical tomahawk did not make our pick, versatile tools shouldn’t be ruled out immediately. I’m a huge fan of multitools but am not a fan of tools combined to pander to survivalists and ‘tacticool’ collectors.

Too often, we see the functionality of these tools lag behind in our tests which doesn’t quite make up for the extra versatility they provide.


How to Use an Axe for Survival

An axe is a versatile tool that can be useful for survival:

  1. Building shelter: Use an axe to cut and shape branches and logs when building shelters. You can also make stakes to secure tarp shelters.
  2. Starting fires: Use an axe to create kindling by splitting wood into even smaller pieces. You can also chop firewood to keep a fire going. I’ve used my axe to find fatwood at the center of old pine stumps.
  3. Hunting and gathering: Use an axe to clear brush and dense vegetation, making it easier to hunt and gather food. You can also use it to process game and to prepare food for cooking.
  4. Self-defense: Use an axe as a self-defense weapon against animals and other threats. Even holding one over your shoulder can be intimidating if you are short on other self-defense tools.
  5. Chop trees: You can also chop down huge trees, of course, with an axe, some time, and some know-how.

Here is Bertram dropping a massive 78-year spruce with his homemade axe:


Who Needs an Axe?

You don’t need to be a lumberjack to make use of an axe. Plus, its uses for survival well extend beyond just chopping wood as we showed above.

In many cases, a full-size axe is essential for your home preparedness (as part of a tool kit):

We strongly suggest putting an axe or hatchet in your:

Depending on your situation and specific bug out location, we suggest considering a hatchet for your:

Hatchets can be worth their weight if you need to get a shelter up quickly.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We have vast prepping and survival experience and bring in outside experts when needed. Hours on end are spent testing gear in stressful conditions and using specialized testing gear to verify claims. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. Learn more about how we test.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing we do to determine the best survival axe is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Bressler, J., et al. (1991). Have Hatchet–Will Survive: Suggested Activities for Decision-Making Skills. ALAN Review. Volume 18. Issue 3. Pages 16-18. (Source)

Scott, G., et al. (2009). The oldest hand-axes in Europe. Nature. Volume 461. Pages 82-85. (Source)

Strathern, M. (1970). Stone Axes and Flake Tools: Evaluations from Two New Guinea Highlands Societies. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. Volume 35. Pages 311-329. (Source)


The Final Word

Lop, chop, or smash your way to survival with a dependable axe. Get plenty of practice in the meantime- don’t hold back on getting into the woods or using your axe around the yard. Getting used to your gear is always time well spent, rather than just stocking up and forgetting about it.

Here are a few other reads our subscribers have also found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found the Estwing Camper’s Axe to be the best option given its value, head type, handle type, profile, and versatility.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.


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