One of the most important tools you can have in your survival arsenal is a hatchet. This versatile tool is invaluable when it comes to chopping wood to fuel a fire, building an emergency shelter, or in the event you need a weapon for self-defense. While a knife can help with these tasks, no knife can perform as well as a good hatchet when push comes to shove and your survival depends on these functions.
In addition, a good hiking hatchet can make your entire trip more fun by enabling you to relax around a roaring fire each night of your trip. Even if you are only harvesting dead and downed wood for your fire, you’ll need to chop it down to size in order to avoid having burning limbs sticking out of your fire and creating a potentially dangerous situation.
We will introduce everything you need to know about choosing the best survival hatchet for your next trip and highlight five of the best hatchets for different uses, ranging from backpacking to self-defense to surviving an emergency.
BEST SURVIVAL HATCHET
BEST THROWING TOMAHAWK
BEST BACKPACKING HATCHET
BEST TACTICAL HATCHET
BEST TOMAHAWK FOR SURVIVAL
Hatchet vs. Axe vs. Tomahawk
Before diving into hatchets, it is important to distinguish between the terms hatchet, axe, and tomahawk. Although they are often used interchangeably in casual situations, they specify different tools. Hatchets are typically 12 inches or less in length, and as such are significantly lighter than axes that are typically 22 inches or longer. When it comes to backpacking, a lighter weight tool means you’ll be able to move more quickly while spending less energy, although it will take more work to chop large pieces of wood since the head does not have as much momentum behind it and the blade is not as large. A tomahawk is essentially a tactical hatchet, used primarily for self-defense. Tomahawks are lightweight and designed to be thrown or used in hand-to-hand combat. However, they will not be nearly as useful as a heavier hatchet when it comes to chopping large pieces of wood.
What to Look for in a Hatchet
The major things to consider when purchasing the best hatchet for survival are the handle, the blade, and the length.
The handle on good hatchets are typically made out of wood, since this is very durable and unlike other handle materials can be repaired over time if the head comes loose. Wood also offers superior vibration dampening compared to steel or fiberglass, which can make a big difference in how long you can use the hatchet for without getting tired.
The blade on a hatchet should come sharp and hold its edge well. High-carbon steel is used in the best hatchet heads, since this is extremely stiff – you don’t want your hatchet head to be at all flexible, unlike a knife blade. The shape of the head can be straight across the top or curved, depending on your personal preference for what feels well-balanced. Also look for a solid hammer surface on the back end of the head, which can be useful for pounding in tent stakes.
The other major consideration is the length of the handle and of the hatchet overall. A longer hatchet will be heavier, but also tends to offer more leverage when you swing it and is more likely to hit the ground rather than your foot if you swing wildly.
Best Survival Hatchet
Schrade SCAXE10 - For the price, this hatchet from Schrade is one of the best survival tools you can add to your Prepper gear kit. The hatchet is 11.1 inches long with a weight of 1 pound, 6 ounces, making it very reasonable to carry with you into the backcountry albeit somewhat heavier than other similar hatchets. The blade is made with 3C13 steel, which is extremely stiff and durable and extends into the handle thanks to the full tang design.
While the hatchet is not going to help you build a log cabin, it does hold up very well and is balanced enough to cut through 4-inch diameter limbs without a ton of effort – making it perfect for building a shelter in a survival situation. The blade is sharp enough that some users were able to use it for quickly skinning large deer. The hard steel is extremely durable and holds up well over time. The back end of the blade is slightly curved, which makes it difficult to use as a hammer, but users were able to make it work with careful effort for banging in tent stakes.
The handle of this hatchet is made of durable rubber, which offers a nice mix of traction for your hands and vibration dampening to keep you comfortable when striking wood. The handle also has grooves for your fingers that are designed to keep your hand comfortable during long wood cutting sessions.
The only pitfall to this hatchet is the included sheath. It is made of plastic and some users replaced it for a higher quality sheath.
Best Throwing Tomahawk
SOG Throwing Hawks
SOG Throwing Tomahawks - This set of throwing tomahawks from SOG includes three identical tomahawks, each made of stainless steel with the handles wrapped in paracord for comfort. The tomahawks are designed exclusively for throwing and self-defense, since they are not well balanced for cutting wood. These are a great add for any Prepper looking to practice throwing tomahawks and improve their self defense capabilities.
For throwing use, the tomahawks are very well balanced and can fly quite far and straight. However, the blade is relatively small, which makes it more difficult to stick this tomahawk into a target for beginners. The paracord-wrapped handle provides some traction, but more experienced users will likely want to remove the paracord since it improves the aerodynamics of the tomahawk.
For self-defense, the lightweight and small blade allows you to wield the tomahawks with great agility. Although the blade is not huge, it is certainly sharp enough to significantly harm an attacker.
The included sheath is designed to fit all three tomahawks, rather than use individual sheaths for each tomahawk. One point to note, the sheath was somewhat tight when trying to put all three tomahawks into it.
Best Backpacking Hatchet
Estwing Sportsman’s Axe
Estwing Sportsman's Axe is a great all around Backpacking Hatchet - ideal for any Prepper to consider. This axe from Estwing is slightly longer than a traditional hatchet, but still shorter than a full axe at a total length of 14 inches. It is specifically designed for cutting through relatively thick tree limbs while still being compact and lightweight, making it perfect for backpacking use. The axe weighs about 1.8 pounds, which is a significant weight investment on a long backpacking trip, but is still light enough that it is easy to carry along on a shorter camping trip.
The blade is made from 1055 steel, which is an excellent combination of durability, stiffness, and economics. The latter is reflected in the price since this axe is relatively inexpensive for its power. The rear of the blade is flat enough to use as a hammer for banging in tent stakes, which can be a huge help when pitching your tent in an area with stiff soil or rocks.
The handle of this axe is both its best and worst feature. The handle is constructed of wood and finished with a beautiful varnish. However, that same varnish traps in moisture that will allow the handle to rot and fall apart over time. Experiences sportsmen note that by sanding down the handle to remove the varnish and cover it in leather oil, the handle can last for decades while providing the same excellent vibration dampening qualities. However, even this process will not increase the traction on the handle, so you may also want to add a rubberized traction pad to the handle if you will be using the axe in hot, sweaty weather.
Best Tactical Hatchet
M48 Tactical Tomahawk Axe
M48 Tactical Tomahawk - This hatchet from United Cutlery doesn’t look like your typical outdoorsman’s tool – it’s designed as a tactical hatchet that is a cross between a self-defense hatchet and a tomahawk. The tool is 15 inches in length and weighs less than 1 pound, which is very lightweight given the oversized blade. The blade is curved to provide extra surface area for chopping with a secondary edge on the back side of the head to provide added tactical and self defense capabilities.
The hatchet is most useful for hand-to-hand combat given the multiple blades and tips. However, it can also be used as a tomahawk since the balance allows for it to spin through the air easily and the blade is large enough to stick a target without expert accuracy.
The handle of this blade is made of fiberglass, which is not quite as comfortable as other handle materials and does little to dampen vibrations but keeps the weight of the hatchet down. The hatchet comes with a sheath, which users found to be easy to get the blade into and out of and was reliable as a safety tool.
Best Tomahawk for Survival
SOG Survival Hawk
SOG Survival Hawk - This tomahawk from SOG combines all the features of a high-quality tomahawk with survival-specific features to make it an essential piece of your survival kit. The tomahawk is just over one foot in length and weighs under 20 ounces, making it lightweight enough to carry with you deep into the backcountry for extended trips. The blade is extremely sharp and straight along the edge with a point along the bottom that creates a sharply pointed tip.
While the balance of this tomahawk allows it to be thrown, the tomahawk was not constructed with throwing in mind. The point of the blade will bend if knocked hard during a throw and the fiberglass handle is not durable enough to be thrown repeatedly. Instead, the blade is large enough and sturdy enough thanks to the 420-grade steel construction to chop small limbs and kindling for building an emergency fire. Another nice design feature is the claw on the rear end of the blade, which can be used for removing nails.
Where this tomahawk stands out is in the included survival features. The handle is wrapped in paracord, which can be unwound and used on its own if you find yourself in need of cordage. The handle also hides a fire starter tool that can be unscrewed out of the bottom of the handle when you need it. The handle itself is flat enough to work as a hammer in a pinch if you need to reinforce tent stakes.
The tomahawk also comes with a nylon sheath that is lightweight and covers the entire blade for safe carry.
A good hatchet, axe, or tomahawk is a critical addition to your survival kit. The best survival hatchet is lightweight for carry and self-defense, yet durable and strong enough to cut through medium-sized tree limbs for firewood and building emergency shelters. These five tools are among the best on the market, no matter what primary use you have in mind.