Best Backpacking Hatchet & Axe [2023 Update]

Best Backpacking Hatchet & Axe: Estwing 12 Inch Sportsman Axe

ESTWING Sportsman's Axe - 12' Camping Hatchet with Forged Steel Construction & Genuine Leather Grip - E14A

Overall, the best backpacking axe and hatchet goes to the Estwing 12 Inch Sportsman Axe. It’s versatile in the sense that you can use it to split firewood, kindle, and chop small trees, logs, or just branches. Such versatility in a hatchet can be useful when backpacking as you may encounter a host of different situations.

Alongside that, it’s durable thanks to being made in one piece. The handle is balanced as well, so there is little worry about feeling fatigued after extended use. It’s cutting edge is tempered and re-sharpens with ease for a simple, yet powerful, cutting experience.

The Best Backpacking Hatchet and Axes for 2023 – Reviewed

Backpacking, no matter how short or long the journey requires tools. Whether you’re stopping to set up camp, handling food, or forced to construct an emergency shelter, a camping multi tool, hatchet or axe can come in handy – you may want to check our reviews of the best backpacking saw and the best camp knife. However, since you’re walking and hauling backpack, it’s crucial that your tool of choice can fit with your gear as well as not add an abundance of weight.

To give you some options when searching for the right tool, we reviewed six of the best hatchets and best axes for backpacking. Each tool has its advantages and disadvantages, so we addressed all aspects so that you have a well-rounded view of them to make your decision.

Choosing Your Hatchet & Axe for Backpacking

backpacking hatchet and campfire

Selecting the right hatchet or the best axe for your backpacking needs might take time if you don’t know what to look for. So that you don’t spend unnecessary hours browsing the internet to learn about hatchets and axes, we created an extensive buying guide that explains necessary features like the differences between an axe and a hatchet, the various types, how to use them, and more.

Difference Between a Hatchet & an Axe

Mistaking an axe for a hatchet and vice versa is easy. That’s because they’re close in appearance and use. However, there are some distinct differences between the pair. For one thing, a hatchet is described by many as a hand axe used in one hand. You can use it for various things such as minor chopping.

Keep yourself healthy, clean and safe with the following guides:

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As for an axe, though you can find small ones, they’re usually larger than hatchets. Also, most of them require the use of two hands for a better swing as they can handle more jobs such as felling trees. If you understand exactly what you need a tool for, you can have an easier time deciding which camp axe or hatchet to buy.

Backpacking Axe/Hatchet Buying Guide

Now that we understand the differences, even if minor, between a hatchet and an axe, let’s help you learn what to look for when choosing one of these tools.

backpacking axe and thermos


Generally, there are three different types of camping axes and hatches: tactical, survival, and camping. Camping hatches and axes may be the most user-friendly for beginners. They’re usually mid-size and meant to handle tasks around the campfire such as splitting wood and even hammering in tent poles.

When it comes to survival hatchets and axes, these may be the number one choice for all you outdoor survival enthusiasts out there who have a Bug Out Bag stashed in your house or car. These have multiple purposes and features to build a shelter, open cans, and more.

Lastly, tactical hatchets and axes are usually thinner than the other types. Much of this contributes to how precise they are when swung, which is probably why this can easily be used for defense if needed. For chopping, it can work better with thinner branches.


Likewise, with just about all backpacking gear, weight is an essential factor to consider. Since these tools, especially an axe, can be various sizes, it pays to be aware of the weight before purchasing. This can help you decide between a particular axe or hatchet over another one as you can compare the load to the rest of the gear you’ll haul.

No matter how useful a cutting tool is, you can render all that moot if you get something that weighs down your pack or tires you out before you get anywhere far.

Head Size

This is another feature that plays into weight. However, the head size doesn’t just determine how easy you’ll be able to carry your cutting tool, but also how easy it is to use. Generally, a hatchet with a head size of around 10-12 inches tends to be relatively lightweight and simple to manage. If you want something that takes little effort to swing, try to aim for a head around those sizes.


If you’re unfamiliar with the term, tang refers to the back part of the blade where it extends down to the handle. Each type of tang has some benefits and not-so-good aspects. With a full tang, one that extends the whole width of the cutting tool, they are sturdy and reliable as long as they’re made high in quality.

Meanwhile, a partial tang is far narrower. It is lighter in weight though. Applying a lot of force with a partial tang isn’t recommended as you can with a full tang cutting tool.

backpacking axe on pile of firewood

Handle Material

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the head material and neglecting the handle. We’re here to tell you to throw that thinking out the window and take a look at that axe’s handle. Different material and build design can determine how easy or difficult a time you’ll have swinging it.

Many hatchets and axes are made with fiberglass handles. They’re durable and absorb shock readily. Some might not be as comfortable as other handles though.

Wood is another material used in handles, and it absorbs shock just as well, if not better, than fiberglass. It also handles various temperatures well. Both wood and fiberglass might break more often than other materials, however, but replacing a broken handle is always an option for you DIY folks.

Another popular handle material is leather. It usually offers good grip as long as it’s appropriately sanded. With proper treatment, leather handles can last for a while.


Price is always a factor when buying gear for backpacking. You have to take into account all of your other equipment as well as the axe or hatchet. However, if you go for something purely because it’s budget-friendly, you may have some quality issues down the road.

High-quality tools are various prices, but they are typically in the higher range. At the same time, with proper investment, you may have an axe that lasts you for years rather than one you must replace time and time again. Also, look to well-known brands with a good reputation that you can still find selling at a reasonable price.

How to Use a Backpacking Axe

By now, you’re probably eager to get to the point where you use the axe and hatchet. We won’t have you waiting any longer as below; we get into some talk about fundamental aspects to keep in mind.

Use a Sheath

Almost all hatchets and axes come with sheaths, though you can purchase some separately. A sheath serves many purposes. For one thing, it keeps you and those with you safe when the cutting tool isn’t in use. It also protects any belongings you may have around it such as your backpacking gear when it’s stored inside the pack.

A sheath also keeps the blade itself safe and free from snagging on something. They’re made from various materials from leather to nylon. Leather ones have remarkable durability, but you can find a sturdy nylon sheath as well to get the job done. Of course, if any DIY lover is reading this, you can indeed make your own.

Eye Protection

Using a hatch or an axe isn’t like the movies. When you strike wood, chips can and will fly out at you. Don’t skip on backpacking safety, with flying wood chips you don’t want to have to resort to field medicine (taking a wilderness first aid class is always a good idea though). The only way to avoid getting some in your eyes is with protection such as safety glasses or goggles. Beginners especially should keep this in mind, so don’t forget your safety gear when loading up.

Observe Proper Splitting Technique

When you stop to set up camp or build a shelter, splitting wood is an important thing you’ll be doing plenty of. If you aren’t used to doing it, there are some simple tips to follow.

Arguably, the most important tip is this: use a flat surface. You don’t want the wood running away from you, do you? Leave it on something flat so that you land your strike correctly. Maintain a stable grip, be sure there’s no one close around from all angles (behind, in front, around, and above), and always keep your eye on the target.

Using gloves can be beneficial as well to prevent any injuries or splinters when handling the wood itself. If you’re a more visual learner, consider this handy video that showcases precisely what to do while splitting wood.

Top 6 Backpacking Hatchets & Axes

Best Backpacking Hatchet: Estwing 12 Inch Sportsman Axe

ESTWING Sportsman's Axe - 12' Camping Hatchet with Forged Steel Construction & Genuine Leather Grip - E14A

The American-made Estwing 12 Inch Sportsman Axe is forged in a single piece from the head to the handle, which can help create a more durable hatchet overall. If you have trouble wielding a hatchet because of things like age, then note that this distributes weight evenly. By being well-balanced, it can grant you greater control and offer less fatigue.

For appearance’s sake, this hatchet also has a lacquered leather grip that comes out of the factory shiny. However, it may cause the handle to be slippery than intended, so you might want to consider further sanding it to create a stable grip. As for cutting, it has a tempered 2 ¾ inch cutting edge, which can be beneficial for those who want something easier to use. It includes a nylon sheath for protection.


  • Well-balanced so that it’s easier to use
  • Head and handle are forged in one piece
  • Easy to sharpen and touch up the edge


  • Handle can initially feel slippery

Estwing 12 Inch Sportsman Axe is a high-quality hatchet if you’re looking for something versatile that’s easy to handle.

Best Camping Axe: Fiskar’s X15 Chopping Axe

Fiskars 378571-1002 X15 Chopping Axe 23.5', 23.5 Inch, Orange/Black,Yellow/Black

The Fiskar’s X15 Chopping Axe may be an ideal choice for those with a smaller frame due to its length and lightweight feel. This comes with a plastic cover to keep the edge, and its handle is made from shock-absorbing FiberComp, which can be helpful for those who get fatigued easily or have a hard time maintaining a grip. The handle also offers durability to help prevent overstrike damage.

With that said, there is a chance of chipping the head after a few uses, so if you want something less inclined to chip, you might want to consider the Estwing 12 Inch Sportsman Axe. Even still, this axe can fell trees particularly well, and with a balanced power-to-weight ratio, speed is increased enough to multiply the power so you can cut deeper to get done faster.


  • Good size for accurate wielding
  • Blade maintains its edge well
  • Weight on the head provides good amount of speed


  • Potential to chip after a couple of hard uses

Fiskar’s X15 Chopping Axe is one of the top-selling axes that features enough speed and power to allow you to get the job done as quickly as you can efficiently. In our opinion, the best camp axe on the market.

Best Backpacking Axe: Browing Outdoorsman Axe

Browning 322231 Knife,Outdoorsman Axe

To help keep the weight down while backpacking, consider the Browing Outdoorsman Axe as it weighs in at under 4oz. This not only makes it easier to carry around in a pack but also gives you the chance to swing faster. When not in use, the nylon leather sheath keeps it safe. It also has a one-piece head for durability, and in the event, it gets stuck, you can make use of the head tapered tail for easier removal.

The handle doesn’t seem as sturdy for harder use like Fiskar’s X15 Chopping Axe, but it is generally easy to maintain a stable grip without worrying about blisters. As for the cutting, the head features a concave grind along with a convex edge. These traits can be welcoming if you need something that cuts with a bit more ease and less effort required.


  • Handle material holds up well against the elements
  • Lightweight enough for faster swinging
  • Keeps sharp overextended uses


  • Handle seems to have a bit too much flex

One of the best lightweight axes, the Browing Outdoorsman Axe can fit along with the rest of your backpacking gear with ease and allows you to swing faster and maintain a tight grip.

Best Composite Hatchet: Gerber’s Freescape Hatchet

Gerber 17.5-Inch Freescape Hatchet [31-002536]

A much sought-after hatchet made with a composite handle, the Gerber’s Freescape Hatchet is lightweight while still offering a good sense of durability. The handle also has an over-mold for a softer touch, a feature that may be helpful if gripping these tools tend to be rough on your hands. Also, the hatchet is balanced overall to make using it simpler.

Although this is known to hold its sharpness for a good deal of time, there is a chance that the edge can chip after only a few uses. In this case, re-edging it is an easy task that takes little time to complete. Once it’s sharp, the hatchet can handle all of your simple camping tasks from splitting to chopping.


  • Well-balanced and simple to use
  • Comfortable thanks to soft-touch handle
  • Powerful enough to chop above its weight


  • The edge can chip after a few uses

Gerber’s Freescape Hatchet is one of the best performing composite hatchets that keeps the tool light enough in weight for backpacking while offering durability and balance in the handle.

Best Survival Axe: Off Grid Tools Survival Axe

Off Grid Tools Survival Axe – Black, All Steel, Ultimate Outdoor Multipurpose Tool, Hatchet Blade, Hammer Head & Claw, Changeable Saw, Steel Glass Breaker, Seat Belt Cutter

If you require an all-around survival axe, it may be in your best interest to go for the Off Grid Tools Survival Axe. Not only is this ideal for chopping and splitting, but it features numerous other features such as a nail claw, a hammerhead, a seatbelt cutter, and even a glass breaker. It’s a hatchet that can take the place of other tools in your pack, reducing how much you have to carry.

There may appear to be a slight downside to the hatchet as the blade itself may lose its sharpness quick and become dull. Though it might not maintain a sharp edge as well as Gerber’s Freescape Hatchet, it can re-sharpen well enough.


  • Multitude of uses for camping and backpacking
  • Manages well in spite of its weight
  • Glass-filled nylon handle for durability


  • Seems to dull rather quickly to require frequent re-sharpening

Off Grid Tools Survival Axe is the go-to choice if you want a true survival tool that does far more than chopping, reducing the need for you to carry extra tools.

When out in the wilderness there are many creatures, plants and weather patterns you should always be on the watch for:

Best Value for Money: Gerber Bear Grylls Hatchet

With the Gerber Bear Grylls Hatchet, you can get a straightforward tool to use while backpacking without breaking the bank. It’s simple enough to use in many different basic outdoor situations from improvising a shelter last-minute to various camp duties such as pounding down tent stakes. This is aided by the crosshatched striking surface on the back of the head.

There may be some limitation when it comes to chopping as this doesn’t appear to have much power behind it for heavy-duty use like the Estwing 12 Inch Sportsman Axe. This can be useful if you’re backpacking in wet weather, however, as it has a rubberized handle for a secure grip. For extra security, there’s a hole where a lanyard can attach and the military-grade nylon sheath.


  • Size allows it to fit into smaller spaces easier
  • Ergonomic finger grips near the base of the blade
  • Slim enough for easy carrying on your belt


  • Difficult to get good chopping power from it

The Gerber Bear Grylls Hatchet is a quality, budget-friendly hatchet that’s especially useful in rainy conditions thanks to the rubberized handle and ergonomic finger grips.

Last update on 2023-01-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

2 thoughts on “Best Backpacking Hatchet & Axe [2023 Update]”

  1. Hey Brian, I want to thank you for the information, it was very very helpful. Here are some similar articles that I want you to check out and know your thoughts. Thanks!

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