Our next camping holiday is imminent and this time I will definitely take a camping ax or hatchet with me. The last time I was very ambitious and only equipped with my (very good) bushcraft knife – and I was almost desperate.
The world suddenly seemed to be all beech and oak, and most of the time I was busy working wood with very frustrating results.
The plan: This time, of course, everything will be different, namely very relaxed. Why? Because of my new camping ax, or better: my camping hatchet – I’ll go into the differences below. Well, and then I’ll have time to go fishing so that I can grill something over the painstakingly gathered firewood.
For those in a hurry, here is the short version of my self-experiment:
My top favorite is the clever Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet, see this camping ax on Amazon.com
My price-performance favorite is the Fiskars leisure ax X5-XS, see this camping ax on Amazon.com
But now again step by step.
My favorite camping ax, Gerber Bear Grylls Hatchet
Despite the rumors of decreasing quality at Gerber BG, what in my opinion is the best camping ax from the Gerber Bear Grylls series. This is where the right thought has been given.
First of all, it is noticeable that the Bear Grylls Full Tang ax is very compact with its 9.46 inches. The weight is a good 500 grams, so it’s quite light, even plus the sheath, which is made of sturdy nylon.
You can easily carry this camping ax on your belt. The blade is made of 3CR13MoV steel, but the real clue here is the cut.
Because the angle of this cutting edge is drastically different from the other axes. The angle is smaller, i.e. more acute. The effect?
This camping ax comes out of the packaging razor-sharp and can also be sharpened ultra-sharp as a beginner. And that also expands the area of application enormously.
First of all, you can hack with this flyweight that it has only one kind (yes, the terrible oaks and beeches too). But thanks to the cut and – the best thing about this camping ax – the finger grooves, I can also perform very controlled cutting work.
Because you can even hold this camping ax in the choke grip, i.e. exert force directly on the blade and thus carry out heavier but controlled work.
Here we have a short video review of the Gerber Bear Hatchet for you!
From chopping wood to pine shavings to preparing food, in my opinion you are well equipped with this camping ax.
Hammering or hammering pegs in, for example, is also very good thanks to the pronounced “back”, i.e. the back of the head.
Pros: Full Tang, handy, versatile, practical sheath, affordable price.
Cons: you might pay a few dollars for the name.
Hultafors Mini Trekking Ax
Yes, it annoys me a little to advertise these commercialized mass-produced goods from Gerber, because in my opinion the really beautiful camping ax or the trekking hatchet from the Swedish company Hultafors is of higher quality.
The Hultafors mini trekking ax stands out due to its very puristic and primeval design, which one could easily imagine in a wild, harsh environment.
But this beauty “Made in Sweden” has its price (spoilers) and not everyone wants to spend it right away, especially not when you go camping every year of jubilee.
Here is a short video review of the camping ax
I am also a fan of the hickory wooden steal, less plastic and more natural materials is always an option, if not always practical.
Hickory is beautiful and very tough, but I would expect that sooner or later the head would get game. But that is only a guess and I am happy to be taught otherwise.
And don’t forget, compared to the Gerber, this beauty is a bit more massive at just under 800 grams.
Advantages: no plastic, forging tradition, high quality.
Disadvantages: price, only cutting protection, without belt sheath; Weight.
Walther Camping Axt Tomahawk
This ax from Walther is actually a tactical tomahawk (similar to the M48 Hawk Tactical Tomahawk), which I consider unsuitable as a camping ax.
It may be an excellent tactical weapon or throwing ax, although I doubt that too.
This Walther ax does not have a full tang and is only, on the contrary, screwed to the plastic handle. But it’s not worth spending it, because you won’t be able to enjoy it for long.
Here we have a short video review of the Walther Tomahawk Axe
I also think the second point is wrong for our purposes. Coupled with the workmanship of the handle, in my opinion there is the greatest risk of injury.
Advantages: Blade material made of 420 steel.
Disadvantages: screwed head, little stability, rather unsuitable for the demands and work involved in camping and there is a risk of injury.
Top price-performance: Fiskars X5-XXS
The XS version of this Fiskars camping ax is very similar to the Gerber Bear Grylls hatchet, and it’s even lighter.
There are only deductions in the fact that the choke handle cannot be carried out so safely. And of course it’s not a full tang either.
But you can do a lot of the work described above, and despite the price, this camping ax is qualitatively better than the above-mentioned master hatchet or the tomahawk – and of course much smaller and more manageable.
Advantages: good workmanship, weight, handling.
Cons: No full tang.
What is a camping ax and what is its purpose?
Archaeologists have long since discovered that after our ancestors invented the ax, they could build much better huts or shelters than before.
I could almost have imagined that without studying archeology, but so be it. It is clear that this tool for splitting wood, cutting through bones and working wood has certainly advanced our civilization.
Hatchet vs survival knife
One of the first US American outdoor and bushcraft gurus to write down his experiences was Horace Kephart.
In his 1906 classic The Book of Camping and Woodcraft, the former librarian described how he survived alone in the wilderness with a knife and a hatchet.
There is nothing surprising about that at first. But Kephart only used his knife for cutting, and his hatchet for almost everything else. Yes, even to shave.
Nowadays it is exactly the other way round – everyone wants that one, often monstrous, survival knife that is used to chop or split the wood.
But there are really some arguments in favor of taking a small camping ax or a camping hatchet with you, quite apart from the efficiency.
Area of application and purpose
Axes and hatchets make a lot of the outdoor work easier, and sometimes have considerable advantages over knives.
Of course everyone knows that the most efficient way to split the wood is actually with axes or hatchets, you don’t have to test it first. But a camping ax can also be used when hunting or to build larger shelters.
All of this makes sense. But the great Horace Kephart showed it: with the right camping ax you can also do other work such as preparing food or even finer and controlled work such as making pine chips.
To do this, the camping ax must have the right cut and the right sharpness, like my personal test winner, the Gerber Bear Grylls Hatchet, for example.
Tomahawk Vs. Ax Vs. Hatchet
After my little comparison, I would like to proceed step by step and consider more precisely what makes a good camping ax.
Let’s start with a basic distinction between an ax, a hatchet and a tomahawk.
I was faced with this question myself, because at first I had considered simply packing my ax, which I use at home to chop wood. But I decided against it. Because this distinction between ax and hatchet or camping ax and tomahawk determines the respective area of application.
Some are better suited for use at home or camping, others for trekking or survival tours, or they are more tactical weapons than tools.
- Bury tomahawks
Now to the more exotic tomahawk, which has the approximate size in common with the hatchet.
The real difference is that a tomahawk, related to the battle ax or hatchet, is primarily a weapon, not a tool.
You can tell immediately from the fact that the classic tomahawk very often either has a second cutting edge, where the back of the ax is, or an extra punch or awl.
Now, of course, all kinds of work can be carried out with it, but a tomahawk was originally also used as a tactical weapon and / or as a projectile.
Even today, tomahawk competitions – here the tomahawk is used as a throwing ax – is a very popular sport.
- Ax in the forest
We come to the ax, the big brother of the hatchet.
Because the first thing everyone notices is the size difference between ax and hatchet. A hatchet is usually much shorter than an ax. An average hatchet is 30 cm, an ax 55 cm.
That means – that is physics lesson light – that the longer and heavier ax can chop wood better.
More precisely: You can cause more damage with the same amount of effort. So you can chop wood more efficiently and faster with an ax, of course.
- On the go with a hatchet or camping ax
But when camping, trekking or even just outdoors, you don’t want to burden yourself with an ax.
A hatchet or a so-called camping ax is often so light, small and handy that you can simply attach it to your belt without it hindering my movements. The weight of around 600 grams on average is still acceptable.
Ax or hatchet?
On every ordinary camping trip, that is, if you are not enthroned in a permanent standing area on the Baltic Sea with a luxury motorhome, woodwork is necessary.
First of all, for the sake of sustainability and the environment, you should of course collect the wood that is available, i.e. lying around.
In our little forest behind the house alone there is so much firewood lying around after the first spring storms that the outside grill can be used for a long time.
Even then, the wood is rarely the right size, so it has to be chopped or cut. A hatchet or a camping ax is certainly sufficient.
But the bigger the job (maybe to build a raft?), The bigger the tool should be, i.e. an ax.
If you want it to be comfortable, handy and light, and if you want to split a few logs quickly, then a camping ax is enough.
In a nutshell
In summary, one can say that
- large axes are suitable for the home plot when it comes to processing as much wood as possible relatively quickly,
- for self-defense purposes and in addition to working a little wood, the tactical tomahawk is the first choice,
- an example or a special camping ax is definitely recommended for moderate woodwork on the go.
In the following, I will not go into any further detail on axes that one would like to use at home in the garden or in a leased piece of forest. I focus exclusively on the average camping situation.
Buy a camping ax
Now I would like to go into more general terms about the essential characteristics of camping axes. From our comparison above, essential aspects can be derived from which we can compile a catalog of criteria.
- Overall length: not too long, rather less than one foot
- Weight: less than 600 grams is ideal
- Length of the cutting edge and bevel: how well can other cutting jobs be carried out with it?
- Handling: is a choke handle possible?
- Handle material
- Blade material: how easy is it to sharpen the ax?
- Width of the back: wide enough for hammering?
- scabbard and attachment?
I think that’s a solid foundation. With this overview-like list of features you can get a first impression.
I am sure that you can use it to find a very good and inexpensive camping ax that is versatile and that you can enjoy for a long time.
7 tips for buying a camping ax
Instead of a summary, I would like to conclude today with a few recommendations regarding the safe use of a camping ax.
And that starts with the purchase:
- First, think carefully about whether you want an ax, a camping ax (or hatchet) or a tomahawk.
- Bargain hunting is always a good thing, but be careful! Steer clear of cheap products. Yes, there are really good inexpensive items like the Fiskars camping ax mentioned above, you just have to know what to look for. My advice is to spend the 10 euros more when in doubt. It’s worth it, because an ax should last a long time.
- Find out about the steel. A good camping ax should hold the edge and still be easy to sharpen.
- The cutting edge should always be sharp. It is best to sharpen your camping ax before each use. A blunt ax will cost you more strength and will result in less good results.
- Never use an ax or hatchet with a cracked steal or a loose head.
- Always use a solid foundation, preferably a block of wood that is firmly on the floor. It’s also good for your back.
- Please never chop wood in the dark or when you are overtired. Avoid accidents and only chop wood when you are rested and during the day or with sufficient light.
So, and now I’m already looking forward to the next camping trip, so that my small, fine camping ax can be used properly!
What are your experiences with hatchets, camping axes and the like? Have I left out aspects? Do you have any further information on safe use? Please write in the comments what experiences you have had or what your favorite ax is.