Are you looking for the best survival axes or best survival hatchets? My name is Paul, and in this guide, I reveal how to select the best one for your situation.
I get this question all of the time: what’s the actual difference between an axe and a hatchet? I'll explain the differences below and what wood processing tasks each tool is best at.
When it comes to survival, you want to make sure you have the best tools, as it could mean life or death for you or someone you love.
But there's a catch: the best doesn’t mean the most expensive.
In this guide, I will discuss the top factors to consider when making your decision. I will also share the top 3 axes and top 3 hatchets on the market for survival.
I hope you learn some new things from this guide and that it saves you a tremendous amount of time. So let's get started!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
When it comes to survival, your requirements should be far more strenuous vs. other situations.
I wrote a separate guide on how to select a axe or hatchet for camping, hiking, or backpacking, as in those situations you don't have to worry as much. However, the gear you select for survival will also dominate these other casual situations.
When it comes to selecting a hatchet or axe for survival, you might want just one or the other. Or perhaps you want the best of both. Your survival plan and environment should guide that decision.
If you don’t know yet which one you should choose or whether you need both, one simple question can help clarify your needs: what do you plan to use the tool(s) for?
Some questions to think about when deciding which one to get:
- Is the tool intended for light wood processing or will you need a tool for a lot of wood processing?
- Will you be chopping down (felling) trees often?
- How often will you be splitting logs for firewood?
- Do you need precise wood processing capabilities (i.e. hewing, etc.)?
- Will you also have a tomahawk in your tool set that can do the work of a hatchet? How about a saw?
I’ll explore these questions fully in the critical factors to think about below.
But first, let’s take a quick look at the top 3 axes and the top 3 hatchets for a survival situation. Later on in this guide, I’ll review each of the top recommendations in detail.
Best Survival Axe and Survival Hatchet Summary Table
Hardened Forged Steel
Top Factors to Consider
When selecting an axe and hatchet for survival situations, there are several factors to think about.
These critical factors include :
- Clearly identifying the survival environment
- Identifying what tasks the tools will be used for
- Choosing an axe vs. a hatchet
- Knowing what to look for in material, design, and quality
- Considering size and weight
I discuss each of these factors in detail below.
Identify the Environment
First off, It’s important to identify what environment you’ll be in and what tasks you’ll need to do to survive in this environment. This seems pretty simple, but it’s often overlooked.
There are tons of options for tools out there, and the reason is because there’s so many different environments, situations, and needs.
Another common mistake is to try to plan for environments that would be extremely rare. It’s critical to clearly identify the highest probability of the environment you would be in if things went south fast.
What Tasks Will Be Needed to Survive?
In a survival situation, there are many tasks that will mean life or death.
Each of these require the proper tools while also balancing other considerations like weight, size, and cost.
In addition, it’s important to consider the frequency (how often) these tasks will need to be completed. Will it be every day, once a week, once a year, etc.?
Let’s take a quick look at some common tasks for surviving in the wilderness:
A common task is constructing and maintaining a shelter. Typically, a hatchet is more suited for this activity if the shelter is small, although procuring and processing large logs is better accomplished with an axe.
Crafting Kindling and Tinder for Fires
One common task is producing kindling and tinder for fires. A hatchet is usually better than an axe for this task; however, there are also axes that can do the job well.
Chopping down trees (also called felling) and sawing logs into manageable units is another common survival task, assuming there are trees in your survival situation.
This task is needed for several activities such as procuring logs for splitting logs firewood, shelter building, etc. and even clearing land for farming or a campsite. There are specialized blade (bit) designs for felling axes and hatchets that are intended for chopping tasks vs ones designed specifically for splitting logs.
The size of the trees that will be processed is also important to think about. Will they be small, medium, or large trees, or all of the above? You want tools that can accommodate these requirements.
Splitting logs is another critical task and is needed to process wood into small enough pieces to use for firewood. Axes and hatchets designed for felling trees efficiently are not typically designed to also efficiently split logs.
For log splitting, a wedge design on the head is ideal. For chopping trees down, other blade geometries are more ideal.
Why does design matter? You want the tool to be as efficient as possible for the task it’s intended for. Why? Quite simply, to conserve life sustaining energy and time.
In addition, you want to make sure you don’t wear the tool out faster by using it for a task it’s not really designed for. There are axes and hatchets available that can perform both tasks, but if a certain task will be completed often, it’s best to choose a specialized tool for it.
Again, the main reason for this is to ensure that you’re completing that task in the most time and energy (calorie) efficient way possible. Time and calorie preservation could mean life or death.
Choosing an Axe vs. a Hatchet
First, let’s discuss what the difference is between an axe and a hatchet. For most folks, size dictates the main difference between a hatchet and an axe.
Hatchets are seen as smaller and also as one-handed, where axes are seen as larger and can be two handed.
The line between them is very blurry though. Technically, what makes a hatchet a hatchet is that it has a hammer head on the other end of the blade.
Other than that, there’s often times a lot of overlap in tool capabilities.
Differences in Capabilities
The way I like to think about the difference between an axe and a hatchet is this: Typically, axes are used for chopping down trees (felling), heavy log splitting tasks, and refining logs.
In contrast, hatchets are used for building shelters, splitting small logs, creating kindling (combustible small sticks or twigs used for starting a fire) and creating tinder (dry and flammable material using for the initial lighting of a fire).
Hatchets can also be used for crafting other tools and weapons (i.e. wood spears or spikes). A knife can also perform some if not all of the tasks of a hatchet, so there’s also overlap there too.
How to Decide
The key to figuring out which one to get is to identify all of the tasks you will need to do in a survival situation, rank them in terms of highest frequency, and then to select your tools based on those needs.
You want to ensure that you have specialized tools for the most common and most critical tasks in your situation. These tasks are the ones that 1. will be done the most often (highest frequency) and 2. that are the most critical for survival.
You can then select more versatile tools for tasks with much less frequency and that are less critical to survival.
It’s not possible to have one tool that will meet all of your needs.
When it comes to survival, I recommend using a multiple tool strategy with tool overlap (redundancy) in critical capabilities in case one tool fails.
On that note, there’s a lot of overlap between an axe and hatchet for the tasks discussed above, as an axe can be used for similar tasking as a hatchet and vice versa.
However, it’s important to use the tool for what it was designed for in order to conserve energy, maximize time efficiency, ensure you don’t put excessive stress on your tools, and to make your survival situation easier on yourself.
Let’s take a look at a few examples to hit home the points we’ve been discussing.
When deciding between an axe and a hatchet, it’s critical to understand your survival situation, your environment, and to determine what your survival tasks will be.
1. Will you be processing branches and small logs?
This is probably the most common task in a survival situation. A hatchet or smaller one handed axe is ideal for this task. There are a lot of cool hatchets available that can perform this duty.
2. Will you be chopping down a lot of medium to large trees?
If so, a hatchet isn’t going to be the best choice for this work but using a hatchet is possible if you’re in a pinch.
Ideally, you would want the best felling axe you can get. Look for a longer axe designed specifically for chopping.
3. Will you be splitting wood for firewood?
A splitting axe is designed specifically for this task. It has a wedge like geometry that is efficient at breaking apart logs along the grain. I wrote another guide on selecting an axe specifically for splitting wood (link).
Efficiency is critical in survival as you want to manage your calorie consumption on completing the necessary work needed to survive.
Chopping down trees and splitting logs is hard work (requires lots of calories), so you want the best tool for the job if you think it will be a constant task in your survival situation.
4. Will you have a tomahawk in your gear?
If so, then depending on the one you select, you may not need a hatchet, as the right tomahawk can do similar tasks.
Or perhaps you’ll have an axe that can also perform as a tactical axe or fighting axe for self defense. Or even a hatchet that can also function as a throwing hatchet or combat hatchet.
Material, Design, and Quality
Let's discuss some other critical considerations when making your selection. The type of material, the design of the tool, and the quality of manufacturing are all very important.
Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel
The type of material used in the design is critical. There’s a lot of debate on the best type of material for the blade.
I’m a big fan of carbon steel over stainless steel on the blade of an axe as you want to keep a very sharp edge to maximize performance and you want it to be very strong. As long as you take care of the tool (oil it), rust won’t set in.
For hatchets, stainless steel might be okay (I don't recommend it for survival situations) but you might have an issue with keeping a very sharp edge. That will translate into less efficiency. However, the advantage of stainless steel is not having to worry about rust.
In essence, with material selection, there’s trade-offs.
Design of the Tool
Design is also critical; however, what’s most important is selecting an axe or hatchet that is designed for the task that you intend to use it for.
I'm going to oversimplify the axes and hatchets that are available today into 3 design categories. It's important to understand these divisions so that you can select the best option for your situation.
1. Wooden Handle
This type is the most traditional image of an axe or hatchet. It consists of a metal head with a wooden handle.
The significant advantage of this design is that if the handle breaks, you can replace it if you know how. This is great for a survival situation if you have the repair knowledge, assuming there's a lot of wood around to craft a new handle.
2. Metal Handle
Companies, like Estwing, have designed axes and hatchets out of 1 piece of steel. The significant advantage of this design is that it is very hard to break.
In addition, even though they're completely metal, they're not that much heavier than the other options. This design is great for survival if you don't want to have to replace a wooden handle. Obviously, if the all steel handle were to break, you wouldn't be able to repair it like you would a wooden handle.
3. Composite Handle
A third design that is very popular is the composite handle for a hatchet or axe. Fiskars is one of the most popular brands that makes a lot of options with this design. If designed right, a composite material can be very strong. Some composite handles claim to be stronger than steel.
The main advantage of this design is that typically, there's less of a chance of breaking the handle during an overstrike. The main disadvantage of this design is that if the handle breaks, it can't be replaced. Your axe or hatchet is gone for good. This is huge problem in a survival situation for obvious reasons.
Ultimately, you have to decide which design is best for your situation. Some folks swear by composite handles while others will only use wood handles that they can replace. Furthermore, there are other folks that won't get anything that isn't 1 piece of solid steel. Each design has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Quality of Manufacturing
Quality of manufacturing is also important for obvious reasons. Looking at axe reviews for quality axes is very wise before you make your purchase.
If there’s just one or two occurrences of tool failures in the reviews, it could be due to misuse of the tool or just the natural fallout of manufacturing (nothing is made perfectly every time).
That’s why testing your survival gear when you get it is also a good idea. Light use can often times reveal a dud before you’re actually in a survival situation. Then you can send it back for a replacement or refund.
Size and Weight
Another important factor to consider for an axe and a hatchet is size and weight. The lowest weight and smallest size is not always the best.
For example, an axe is used for cutting down trees and splitting logs, and a longer length and more weight can be critical for ensuring you can efficiently perform these tasks.
Why? Longer length gives you mechanical leverage and more weight gives you extra momentum that converts into more cutting/splitting power with each swing, providing greater efficiency in those tasks.
Imagine trying to cut down a tree with a very small, lightweight hatchet. It would take you a long time (valuable daylight in a survival situation) and you would expend tremendous calories doing it.
However, if you need to process small branches, using a large heavy axe is not the most efficient. A smaller one handed axe or hatchet would be ideal for that task.
Keep in mind that in a survival situation, if you won’t be constantly mobile and will have a camp/base established, you won’t have to carry everything with you during the day. You can pick and choose your daily gear loadout based on your objectives and tasks for that day.
Also, in a survival situation, you can’t afford to waste energy and time. It’s a matter of life or death for you or someone in your crew. That’s why you need to pick the right tools for your situation.
Cost is always a major consideration; however, the cheapest is not always best. With axes and hatchets, like most things, you get what you pay for, but that doesn’t mean that the most expensive is the best either.
In a survival situation, you don’t want a cheap axe or cheap hatchet failing on the first day or in the first week. This can happen if you buy low quality products. But that doesn’t mean spending a lot of money on gear is the answer.
I’ve found that you can usually find a sweet spot of cost vs. quality right in the middle of the price range. All of the recommendations that I make are in this sweet spot and of high quality.
Below are reviews for the top axes for survival.
The Husqvarna Carpenter's Axe is the best choice if you will only have one wood domination tool in your gear.
It comes with a leather sheath, weighs around 3 lbs and is 19 inches long.
If your survival needs will be felling small to medium trees, processing a lot of smaller to medium wood, crafting weapons and other tools (i.e. stakes), this axe is the best choice. It can do the work of both an axe and a hatchet.
The Husqvarna Carpenter's Axe has a head that is made of hand forged steel and has a straight cutting edge, giving the user the capability of doing very fine wood crafting tasks, including whittling and carving.
The handle is made with hickory wood and is replaceable, which is a great advantage in a survival situation.
This axe is designed to give the wielder maximum control to complete very precise woodworking tasks while also having the capability to chop down small to medium sized trees.
Again, if you plan on getting just one axe or hatchet, instead of one of each, this axe is the best choice, which is why it’s my #1 recommendation.
Pros: Best well rounded axe. Amazing design and quality from a trusted brand. It is designed to be rugged and also give the user incredible control over their wood processing tasks, while also being capable of chopping down trees.
Cons: Slightly more expensive than the average axe. It’s also not designed specifically to split wood (it doesn’t have a wedge shape for the head); however, this is an expected trade off for the control you get for finer wood crafting tasks. If you will be splitting a lot of logs, I recommend getting an axe or hatchet just for that task.
The Estwing E45ASE Axe is the best axe for chopping wood (felling trees), trimming logs, and even light log splitting.
This axe is designed to chop and process wood fast.
This axe is forged in one piece of steel, which is an excellent design. It’s also made from American steel and made in the USA by Estwing, which is a quality brand.
It comes with a nylon sheath and weighs around 3 lbs.
If you choose this axe, I would recommend complimenting it with a hatchet or tomahawk.
This axe also comes in a 16” version, which makes it a smaller one handed axe. The 16” version is ideal if chopping trees down is necessary but will be light, and you want more of a versatile tool for other wood processing tasks.
Pros: An incredible wood chopping axe. Good design and quality product. Made in the USA with American steel.
Cons: This axe is specialized for chopping/felling trees., so if you have additional wood tasking needs that will be frequent, then I would recommend selecting an additional tool to compliment this axe.
The Fiskars X15 Chopping Axe is also a great choice. It is designed to fell (chop) trees as its name would suggest.
This axe is made by Fiskars, a quality brand. The axe head is made with hardened forged steel and has an incredible balance to it.
The handle is a composite design, which Fiskars claims is stronger than steel. This handle is great for protecting against a break during an overstrike.
This axe is designed to maximize the power of every swing, which is important in a survival situation as you want to conserve calories and time.
This axe is 23.5 inches long, weighs 3.2 lbs, and comes with a heavy duty protective sheath that makes the axe easy to carry.
Pros: This axe is an excellent choice if you will have a lot of chopping tasks and want to spend a little less money than the top 2 axes above. In addition, this axe comes with a lifetime warranty.
Cons: Designed in Finland but made in China. This axe is designed to chop trees, so if you will have other frequent wood processing tasks (i.e. splitting logs), you might need to compliment it with an additional tool. Another drawback is that if the composite handle breaks, you can't replace it, which should be a consideration.
Here's my reviews for the top hatchets for survival.
The Husqvarna Hatchet is my #1 recommendation for a hatchet in a survival situation.
It's an excellent choice if your needs are producing kindling, light chopping duties, and other hatchet tasking.
The axe head is made with hand forged steel, weighs 2.2 lbs, and is 13 inches long. It comes with a leather sheath, has a hickory wood handle, and is well designed.
This hatchet is one of the best survival hatchets available in my opinion.
The axe head is of the highest quality. In addition, the wooden hickory handle is great at absorbing shock. The handle (being wood) can also can be replaced in a survival situation.
Note: This hatchet is perfect for you if you know how or learn how to replace wooden handles.
Pros: Comes with a leather sheath. It has a wooden (hickory) handle that can be replaced if it breaks. Hand forged in Sweden. A well designed and high quality hatchet at an affordable price.
Cons: If you don't know how to replace wooden handles on axes and hatchets, you definitely don't want to learn out in the wild. If that's your situation, then I recommend one of the other hatchets.
The Estwing Sportsman's Axe is my second recommendation for a hatchet.
This axe by Estwing is 14” long and weighs 1.5 lbs. It's made with one piece of forged steel; however, it's still pretty light.
It's solid all the way through with a full tang. You would have to try really hard to break this hatchet, making it an excellent choice for survival.
It's made in the USA, and it comes with a nylon sheath.
The Sportman's axe is great at creating kindling/tinder for fires. It can also handle light chopping. It's perfect if you will be on the move.
Pros: Made in the USA by Estwing, a trusted brand. Made with 1 solid piece of steel, making it very difficult to break. Very light.
Cons: Since it's so light, it's not designed to cut down medium to large trees. Also, I'm not sure why it's called an axe, when it clearly looks like a hatchet.
The Fiskars X7 Hatchet is 14 inches long and weighs 1.4 lbs.
The X7 has a head made of hardened forged steel, a composite handle, and it comes with a heavy duty sheath that makes the it easy to carry.
Fiskars is a great company based out of Finland, and the quality of their products is well known.
The X7 is ideal for producing kindling and tinder for fires and chopping down small to medium sized trees.
It can also perform light log splitting duties, as this hatchet is designed to be very versatile, which is why it's my top recommendation.
In my opinion, it's a great hatchet due to its versatility, quality (lifetime warranty), and durability if you're a fan of the composite handle design.
If your survival needs include lots of hatchet work, light tree felling/chopping, and you will not have an axe, then this hatchet is a good option.
Pros: Lifetime warranty. Great, versatile design. Inexpensive.
Cons: The handle is made of a composite material. If it breaks, the handle can't be replaced so the hatchet is gone.
To summarize the essence of this guide, we walked through the critical factors to consider when choosing an axe and hatchet for survival.
First, identify the mostly likely environment you will have to survive in. Then identify and prioritize the critical tasking you will have to do to survive.
Both of these steps will help you clarify which tool you need, if you need both, or even a combination of an axe and a hatchet.
Once you’ve determined which tools you need, then look at the available options and consider the material of construction, design, and also the quality of manufacturing.
Also consider the size and weight of your tools. Remember that larger size and more weight can be an advantage for certain wood processing tasks like cutting down trees or splitting logs due to more leverage and momentum; however, it can also be a hindrance for tasks that require more dexterity and a lighter touch.
Lastly, consider cost. The cheapest is rarely the best; however, the most expensive is often times not the best either. All of the recommendations I made above are in the middle price range.
Now it's your turn! Please post your thoughts in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, please share it.
Good luck out there!
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