Best Camping Axe for Backcountry Badasses

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Best Camping Axe for Backcountry Badasses

Few backcountry accessories are quite so capable of making you feel as badass as a great camping ax. 

But a camping ax is far more than a simple symbol or bringer of backcountry swagger – it’s also a versatile piece of kit that, perhaps more than any other, can supercharge your independence, survival skills, and self-efficiency out in the wilds. 

Whether you’re deep in the wilderness trying to chop firewood to size or constructing a makeshift shelter or out car camping with the kids, an ax can be an indispensable tool.

In addition to processing wood, it can be used to hammer in tent stakes, for food prep, self-defense, as a pry bar, and, of course, for the odd ax-throwing competition with your camping chums. 

Because there are dozens upon dozens of worthy axes out there that you may choose to wield, many would-be buyers are left scratching their heads when it comes to deciding upon the best option for their needs. 

To help you separate the not-bad from the brilliant, in this post we’re going to introduce you to the best camping ax out there in 2021 along with ten standout runners up.

What’s the Difference Between an Ax and a Hatchet?

At first glance, hatchets and axes for camping look very similar. So what’s the difference?

Hatchets tend to be more petite, a bit easier to handle, and have thinner and smaller blades. This makes them ideal for lighter tasks like trimming firewood or kindling and even a little bit of camp kitchen food prep. For the most part, hatches are similar in appearance and structure to tomahawks. Which, of course, begs the question: “what’s a tomahawk?”

Tomahawks are general-purpose defense and bushcraft tools traditionally used by Native Americans. Originally made out of bone, over the years they’ve evolved into slim metal axes with a straight shaft. This sleek design makes both hatchets and tomahawks great for multi-tasking, but not quite as effective for processing wood or chopping as axes. 

Camping axes, on the other hand, are typically much larger, heavier, and are designed almost exclusively for chopping and splitting wood. 

Axes designed specifically for splitting wood are called splitting mauls. These come in particularly handy if you have a whole tree or log to process. They use a more rounded, wider head shape that forces the fibers in the wood apart when striking. 

Mauls are usually made with softer metals that allow you to strike their poll or butt (the side opposite the blade) with a mallet or hammer. Standard axes, conversely, are made out of much harder metals that could split if struck with a metal mallet.

How to Choose the Best Camping Ax

Camping axes aren’t like any other part of your equipment. Choose wisely, and the chances are you’ll have a chopping companion for life, not just a few seasons. But what makes the difference between a wise choice and an unwise one? Below, we’ve added a quick, at-a-glance overview to explain. 

Weight

What are you using your ax for? Car camping or backpacking? If car camping, then weight is less of a concern. If backpacking, it’s best to opt for an ax that weighs less than two pounds.

Primary Purpose

Do you want to split, chop, or have a great multitasker? For splitting and chopping, the best axes have curved handles, longer shafts (16”-25”) and a wider head. For more delicate tasks that require more precision, a sharper, narrower blade and hatchet-style axes with straight shafts are usually more convenient. 

Strike Power

An ax’s strike power – i.e. the force that can be generated with it when swinging – usually corresponds more or less directly to the length of the shaft and the weight of the head. In short, longer shafts and heavier heads provide greater strike power, while shorter shafts and light heads will require more brute force from the user. 

Materials

Different axes and hatches use different types of materials in their construction. As a general rule, the best of the bunch are made with forged steel heads and hickory shafts, but in recent years plenty of highly effective models that use carbon fiber or GRN (Glass-Reinforced Nylon) shafts have hit the market.

While wooden shafts offer classy aesthetics and a nice feel when striking, synthetic materials often provide better grip and shock-absorption.

The Best Ax for Camping: Our Top 11 Picks

Husqvarna 13 in. Wooden Handle Hatchet

Husqvarna 13 in. Wooden Handle Hatchet
  • Materials – Hickory shaft; hand-forged Swedish steel head
  • Weight – 2.24 lbs
  • Uses – Light woodcutting, slicing, hammering in tent stakes
  • Made in – Sweden
  • Comes with – Leather sheath
  • Overall length – 13″

If you are keen to get your paws on the most classy-looking camping hatchet out there, look no further than this. 

Husqvarna has a 300-year history of producing high-quality, last-a-lifetime products, from rifles and shotguns to sewing machines, motorcycles, and lawnmowers. But it’s in the camping ax market that this prestigious Swedish brand really makes its mark.

When it comes to weight and packability, this wooden hatchet is a true winner, using a 13-inch shaft that provides enough leverage for solid strike power yet weighing in at a very portable 2.24 pounds. This makes it ideal for light cutting, building shelters, splitting small pieces of wood, and driving in your tent stakes.

Bottom-Line: A classic, no-nonsense kinda ax that’s built to last a lifetime and, dare we say it, is a bit of a handsome devil in the looks department. 

Estwing Sportsman’s Axe

Estwing Sportsman's Axe - 14' Camping Hatchet with Forged Steel Construction & Genuine Leather Grip - E24A
  • Materials – Leather, Tool-Grade Steel
  • Weight – 1.86 lbs.
  • Uses – Light woodcutting, slicing, hammering in tent stakes
  • Made in – USA
  • Comes with – Ballistic nylon sheath to protect the sharp cutting edge
  • Overall length – 14″

This one-piece, lightweight ax is the perfect camping companion for buyers who like to get their chop on around camp but ain’t too keen on carting too much extra poundage in their pack.

Estwing is an American company that has been manufacturing axes, pry bars, and hammers that have served thor users well for over 100 years. The company’s Sportsman’s Axe is a sleek, tidy little tool that weighs in at a mere 1.86 pounds but packs enough punch for light splitting and chopping.

The Sportsman has a comfortable, leather-covered handle that is easy to grip and uses a hand-sharpened blade forged from a single piece of steel. 

This makes it great for performing more delicate campsite tasks like food prep, whittling, or delimbing branches, while it’s 14” length offers a little more leverage to boost strike power and make up for the lighter weight of the head.

This ax also comes with an easily removable sheath, has a sharper edge than many of its weightier competitors, and has a nicely sized butt-end that’s perfect for hammering in tent pegs or stakes or even tenderizing your steak dinner!

Bottom-Line: A lightweight, low-cost axe that’s great for backpacking trips and splitting smaller pieces of wood or making kindling around the campsite.

Gränsfors Bruks American Felling Axe

Gränsfors Bruks American Felling Axe 31' Curved Handle
  • Materials – Wood, steel, leather
  • Weight – 4.6 lbs
  • Uses – heavy-duty tree felling, notching, heavy woodworking, and chipping
  • Made in – Sweden
  • Comes with – vegetable-tanned leather sheath
  • Overall length – 31″

If you have some serious lumberjacking to do on your car camping trips, there are few options out there as suitable as the Gränsfors Bruks American Felling Axe.

This beast of an axe weighs in at a mighty 4.6 pounds and measures 31 inches in length. This means it’s far from the most portable option out there, of course. But it also means that it offers far superior leverage and head weight than any other ax in our review. 

Because head weight and shaft length typically translate directly into striking power, this one’s a winner for anyone who envisions using their ax for high-quantity processing, felling trees, or any other larger and tougher tasks.

In terms of quality, this product is truly hard to beat, too. It’s made with a forged steel head with a 6-inch, broad edge that slices through tougher woods with absolute ease, even when striking against the grain. The shaft is also as robust as they come and curved into a nicely ergonomic shape for easy handling. 

Bottom-Line: While too heavy and bulky for backpacking, this ax’s raw power makes it ideal for car campers who plan on using the axe primarily for splitting wood, feeling trees, or building makeshift woodcraft shelters in the wild. 

SOG Base Camp Axe

SOG Camp Axe - Camping Axe with Sheath, Survival Axe Camping Hatchet, Wood Splitting Axe w/ Hatchet Hammer Head, 3.1 Inch Bushcraft Axe Edge (CH1001-CP)
  • Materials – 2Cr13 Stainless steel blade, glass-reinforced nylon handle (GRN)
  • Weight – 1.1 lbs
  • Uses – tasks requiring a sharp precision tool, hammering, branch cutting, and making kindling
  • Made in – China
  • Comes with – hard-molded sheath
  • Overall length – 11.5″

If you’re looking for something that’s the perfect size for backpacking, this lightweight ax may be the model for you.

SOG (Studies and Observations Group) has long excelled in making knives and small axes and their combination of strength, multitasking ability, and durability has even made them a standard issue tool for Navy SEAL units and the US Special Forces. Credentials don’t come much better than those!

This SOG Base Camp Ax combines all of the combat-worthy features that has made SOG’s products so popular since first used during the Vietnam War. It’s light, tougher than nails, measures just 11 inches, and uses a super sharp, 3.5-inch blade that’s ideal for more delicate tasks around camp. 

Bottom-Line: Not the best bet for felling or splitting large quantities of wood, but a great option for those who like to travel light and looking for a low-volume, versatile campsite tool. 

Columbia River Kangee T-Hawk

CRKT Kangee Tomahawk with Sheath: T-Hawk with Spike, Black Powder Coated High Carbon Blade, Checkered Handle Scales, Molle Compatible Sheath 2725
  • Materials – High-performance SK5 carbon steel, Glass Reinforced Nylon (GRN) handle
  • Weight – 1.12 lbs (with sheath)
  • Uses – tasks requiring a sharp precision tool, hammering, branch cutting, and making kindling, self-defense
  • Made in – China
  • Comes with – Boltaron/MOLLE Compatible Sheath
  • Overall length – 11.5″

This tomahawk-style hatchet isn’t made for processing large quantities of wood, but is ideal for cutting, trimming, creating kindling, and campsite food prep. 

As mentioned above, tomahawks are primarily combat and survival tools, and the Kangee T-Hawk is, simply put, a survivalist’s dream. It’s incredibly versatile, low-volume, incredibly well made given its budget price, and light enough to be carried even on long-distance backpacking trips without overburdening yourself with pack weight. 

The Kangee is made with lightweight carbon steel with a glass-reinforced nylon handle. This combo provides a nice weight balance and decent strike power for such a small ax. It also boasts a secondary blade on the top of the head that allows you to cut, trim, and slice with more precision when need be. 

The full-tang design used in this product makes it very easy to handle and absorbs vibration nicely when striking harder woods, while the splitting spike on the butt end makes it easier to process chunkier logs than with other models in this weight class. 

Bottom-Line: A high-quality, lightweight backcountry tool that goes the extra mile in terms of versatility.

Fiskars X7 Hatchet

Fiskars 378501-1002 X7 Hatchet
  • Materials – Forged steel blade
  • Weight – 1.38 lbs
  • Uses – Making kindling, chopping up to medium-sized logs, driving tent stakes
  • Made in – China
  • Comes with – Sheath
  • Overall length – 16.5″

This lightweight, long-shafted ax is ideal for backcountry campers who want an ax that’s tough enough to take on larger chopping tasks but light enough not to overload your pack.

Fiskars is a Finnish company with a long history of building rugged and durable hardware. This hatchet was designed in Billnas, Finland, and it’s perfect for any camping task, including getting those tent poles in place, chopping hefty pieces of wood, or making kindling to get your bonfire started.

As with all things Fiskars, it’s also pretty much unbreakable and built to last a lifetime and uses a hugely convenient, textured non-slip grip that absorbs shocks effectively and is great for all-day use.

Bottom-Line: A lightweight but powerful axe that’s about as practical as they come for campers heading deep into the backcountry before they do their chopping.

Gerber 23.5-Inch Axe

Gerber 23.5-Inch Axe [31-002651]
  • Materials – Forged steel blade, composite handle
  • Weight – 4 lbs.
  • Uses – Downing trees, chopping large pieces of wood, construction
  • Made in – Finland
  • Comes with – Sheath
  • Overall length – 23.6″

This Finnish-made chopping ax strikes a happy medium between the ultra-lightweight axes in our review and the beefier, car-caping models designed for high-volume wood processing. 

The Gerber is a heavy-duty ax that combines a lighter composite handle with a hefty forged steel blade to optimize balance and provide far superior striking power to most of its straight-shafted competitors.

The composite handle also absorbs shock better than almost any other ax in our review and is grippy enough to eliminate any fear of slippage, even when using the tool in wet weather or when working up a sweat. 

It’s 4-pound weight and 23-inch shaft might make this a little on the large side for multi-day backpacking trips, but makes it ideal for car camping adventures or even shorter, overnight backcountry trips when you anticipate having to hack through large quantities of wood. 

Bottom-Line: Rugged, easy to handle, and just about as powerful as axes come in its weight class, this is a solid choice for buyers looking for an alternative to more traditional designs and wooden shafts. 

Schrade SCAXE2 Survival Hatchet

Schrade SCAXE2 11.8in Stainless Steel Small Axe with 3.8in Blade and Glass Fiber PA and TPR Rubber Handle for Outdoor Survival Camping and Everyday Tasks
  • Materials – 3CR13 Stainless Steel with Glass Fiber Filled PA Handle, TPR Rubber Grip
  • Weight – 1.62 lbs
  • Uses – Light chopping, branch cutting, hammering
  • Made in – China
  • Comes with – Polypropylene Thermoplastic Sheath
  • Overall length – 12″

Schrade is a well-known manufacturer of knives and outdoor tools and accessories that’s been around since 1892 when George Schrade patented the press button switchblade. 

Although their trade is mostly in knives, they have wandered onto the survival and camping hatchet market in recent years, making scores of high-quality full-tang hatchets, survival hatchets, and axes. 

This 1.6-pound, 12-inch hatchet performs well across the board. It offers decent striking power, uses a tough, ding-resistant blade that doesn’t require frequent resharpening, and uses a handle that’s absolutely ideal for camping in cool conditions.

Because it’s made with a protective rubber coating with finger grooves, it’s much more comfortable to grip for longer periods of time than most other designs and far better at absorbing shock. If you’ve ever tried to sink an ax into a stiff chunk of wood on a cold morning with a regular ax, you’ll know just how valuable this attribute will be!

Husqvarna Multi-Purpose Axe

Husqvarna 26' Wooden Multi-Purpose Axe
  • Materials – Steel and Hickory
  • Weight – 2.1 lbs
  • Uses – Heavy duty tree cutting and chopping, multi-purpose
  • Made in – Sweden
  • Comes with – Leather Edge Cover
  • Overall length – 12″

This is another classic ax that is made with a traditional hickory handle and forged steel and is ideal for wood processing jobs little and large. 

Measuring 12 inches long and weighing in at just 2.1 pounds, this ax straddles the ground between a lightweight backpacking ax and a midweight car camping ax. The added weight compared to ultralight models gives it greater heft and translates into greater striking power for the user, but is maybe a fraction too little for chopping through tougher, larger logs. 

The hickory shaft is both very easy on the eye and superbly easy to handle thanks to a curved, ergonomic design. As with all things Husqvarna, the head is quality defined and uses a slightly tapered design that makes the bit slender enough for chopping kindling but wide enough for splitting smaller chunks of wood.

Bottom-Line: A relatively lightweight and portable ax that oozes quality and hits the sweet spot between backpack weight savings and striking power. 

Estwing Camper’s Axe

Estwing Camper's Axe - 16' Hatchet with Forged Steel Construction & Shock Reduction Grip - E44A
  • Materials – Forged Steel
  • Weight – 2 lbs. 13 oz
  • Uses – Branch cutting, chopping
  • Made in – USA
  • Comes with – Edge Cover
  • Overall length – 16″

This ax is hand-made in the USA and is one of those no-nonsense one-piece axes that offers, above all else, lifelong reliability.

Estwing Manufacturing Company is based in Rockford, Illinois. Their founder, Ernest Estwing, was from Sweden and started the company back in 1923. Since then, Estwing has developed a rep for producing high-quality but low-cost hammers, axes, and other forged tools. 

This ax is another that sits somewhere between backpacking models and car camping models. It weighs in at 2 pounds and 13 ounces, has a 16-inch shaft, and measures 17.3 inches overall. While this doesn’t make it the most portable option in our review, it still has plenty to offer that make it well worth a punt. 

First of all, this ax uses a full tang design that, together with the rubberized, shock-absorbing handle and curved shaft, make it far less likely to sting on errant strikes or when chopping particularly stubborn wood types. Estwing even claims, in fact, that this shock-reducing grip reduces vibration and shock by up to 70%. 

Secondly, the Estwing’s 17.3-inch length means it packs way more cutting power than other axes in the 2 to 3-pound weight range, meaning it’s more than capable of slicing through large chunks of wood and a solid choice for high-volume processing.

Finally, this ax also uses an incredibly sharp bit that stands up well to repeated use and abuse, meaning it provides far better value for money in the long term than pricier competitors.

Bottom-Line: A low-cost but high-performing and powerful ax that’s as comfortable to use as any other in our review. 

LEXIVON V14 Camping Hatchet

LEXIVON V14 Camping Hatchet, 14-Inch Axe | Ergonomic TPR Grip, Lightweight Fiber-glass Composite Handle | Protective Carrying Sheath Included (LX-V14)
  • Materials – Hi-Tech Fiberglass Composite Injected Handle, Drop-forged Grade A High-Carbon Steel
  • Weight – 2 lbs
  • Uses – Chopping firewood, cutting angles, driving stakes 
  • Made in – Taiwan
  • Comes with -Two protective sheaths
  • Overall length – 15″

This quirky-looking camping hatchet might lack the old-school aesthetics of the hickory-shafted items above, but is a good choice for those looking to balance portability with striking power. 

The V14 weighs just 2 pounds but uses a 15-inch shaft that provides plenty of power-boosting leverage when swinging at larger logs and branches. The lightweight shaft also makes weight distribution surprisingly effective and the textured handle makes for easy, slip-resistant handling. 

While there are more suitable options out there for processing large volumes of wood, this one’s a solid option for buyers keen to have an ax for every occasion, whether that means a backcountry backpacking trip, a car camping trip, or light use around the home. 

Bottom-Line: A lightweight, effective little hatchet that’s agile enough for more nimble tasks but long and powerful enough for heavier chopping and splitting. 

Conclusion

Whether you’re off-roading and trying to get your truck through rough territory by clearing felled trees, or car camping and just want to chop some firewood and knock in some tent stakes in, you need the right tool for the job. 

Above, we’ve introduced you to eleven camping axes that fit that description perfectly. While each one is designed for use in different scenarios, they all have in common lifelong durability, quality craftsmanship, and the kind of build that will make them your go-to camping companion for many years to come.

Because using an ax is a little riskier than using, say, a spork (!) or any other gear items we’ve reviewed elsewhere, before leaving you we thought we’d add a little note on axe safety and maintenance: 

Ax Safety

  • Always use your tools the right way. 
  • Only swing a full-size tree-felling ax with two hands.
  • Lash your ax or hatchet to your backpack when you’re hiking to minimize the risk of injuring yourself or others
  • When walking with your ax, always carry it blade down
  • Don’t take the sheath off until you are ready to use your ax
  • Make sure your tools are sharpened – like knives, it’s more dangerous to use a dull blade
  • Make sure the area around you is clear of clutter and obstacles, such as rocks, when cutting
  • Don’t use your whole strength to chop, but focus on accuracy with your hit and use the tool’s momentum
  • Finally, inspect the ax or hatchet for any damage before use, especially if it’s not made with single-piece construction

Ax Maintenance

Cleaning Your Ax

  • Clean your ax after each use by wiping it down with a cloth or rag
  • Use oil to moisturize and condition the wood in the shaft
  • Use fine-grit sandpaper to clean the blade/head of your axe if any dirt is ingrained

Sharpening Your Blade

  • Use a knife sharpener, file, or whetting stone
  • Bring your sharpener to the blade, not the other way around
  • Use a heavy-duty file if your ax blade is really dull or damaged
  • Follow through with a finer sharpening stone or a knife sharpener to get a razor-sharp edge 
  • If your blade has dents or dings, you can start with a go-over with a wire wheel, then an electric sander, to restore a sharp edge 

Here are the tools you need for ax maintenance:

  • Leather gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Sandpaper – 180, 320 ,400 and 800
  • Electric sander
  • Wire wheel/bench grinder

Wooden Ax Handle Maintenance

  • Wash away any dirt on the handle
  • Towel-dry the handle
  • Apply linseed oil with a paper towel
  • Choose a warm day for treatment – this helps the wood absorb the oil
  • Repeat this process at least once a year

Did you like our article? If so, please feel free to comment, like, or share with your friends!

Last update on 2021-01-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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