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Considering chords of firewood is often sold at most state, county and regional parks, packing an axe on your next camping outing may feel like overkill. But axes shouldn’t be relegated to lumberjacks. Having the right axe while camping or backpacking can make the difference between a warm night roasting marshmallows under the stars and a miserably cold night stuck in your tent with nothing to keep you warm and dry when the weather turns foul.
When choosing the right camping axe, you want to find the sweet spot between size and heft, something that’s dexterous enough to let you carve the wet layer off of a sodden log to get the flammable stuff, but weighted enough to cut through hardwoods with a few deft, angled chops. Most of our selections technically qualify as one-handed hatches or tomahawks as bigger axes tend to be overkill for all but the heartiest of jobs. But for those who want to fell dead trees at camp — and at home — we’ve got you covered, too. Read on to find the best camping axes to bring along the next time you pitch a tent.
Best Overall: Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet
You should think of the Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet as an investment, something that you can pass down several generations. The 13.5-inch axe is hand-made in Sweden, with an ergonomic hickory wood handle that’s a bit longer than your traditional hand hatchet, which lets you deliver some serious cutting power without sacrificing precision for smaller work. The axe blade is hand-forged from steel sourced from Ovako, Europe’s largest steelworks, and has been specially crafted for chopping; it’s not too hard, or too soft or pliable, so it’ll carry an edge after months of rigorous use. It comes with a beautiful sheath made of vegetable-tanned leather, and weighs only 1.3 pounds, making it suitable for forays into the backcountry as well as at your next car-camping site.
Best Budget: Fiskars X7 Hatchet
You won’t take down any giant oaks with the Fiskars X7, but it’ll make quick work of small branches, medium-sized logs, and kindling. A combination of perfected weight distribution and power-to-weight ratio increases your swing speed, much like an aluminum baseball bat, to multiply power with each chop. The forged steel blade boasts a low-friction coating to prevent it from getting stuck, and the 14-inch Fiber Comp handle absorbs shock, with a textured non-slip grip to cut back on hand strain and improve control. It may not win any awards for its appearance, but as a go-to tool, it’s perfect, weighing a modest 1.64 pounds and includes a lifetime warranty.
Best Design: Snow Peak Japanese Axe
The Japanese Axe from Snow Peak — a Portland, OR-based boutique camping company whose heritage is linked to the Land of the Rising Sun — makes a good case for calling an axe sexy. The black hand-forged axe head carries three slits on either side, a nice visual flair that also helps avoid sticking, with a polished steel edge and a sleek, ergonomic maple handle. At just less than two pounds, it delivers heft and dexterity at a weight and height (only 15.5 inches from handle to blade) that also makes it backcountry-friendly and includes a finely crafted leather sheath and a hole at the end of the handle to attach a lanyard.
Best for Big Jobs: Council Tool Hudson Bay Camp Axe
When it comes to serious wood-chopping, a two-handed axe has no substitute, and this Hudson Bay-style axe will get any job done fast. It comes with a two-pound head forged from 5160-grade alloy steel that’s been heat-treated, then quenched about an inch from the cutting edge and tempered to maximize the toughness and sharpness. Then it’s coated with a light oil to fight off rust and prevent sticking. It can take down small trees but is still nimble enough to split kindling and carve off wet bark. The 24-inch curved hickory handle delivers solid control and lends it a timeless look that makes this the kind of tool you never retire; you just pass it down to the next generation when you’re ready.
Best for Medium-Sized Jobs: Gerber 23.5-Inch Axe
What the name of the Gerber 2.35-Inch Axe lacks in imagination (it is, indeed, an axe with a 23.5-inch handle) it more than makes up for with utility. You can definitely drop medium-sized trees if needed and also perform more delicate work such as splitting logs or cutting kindling. The black blade has been coated with a new PTFE coating for cleaner cuts and nominal sticking, with a forged head designed to split wood evenly. The glass-filled nylon handle cuts down on body strain thanks to a soft-touch over-mold grip, which also helps keep the overall weight of the axe pretty slim. At 3.35 pounds, you won’t be hauling it into the backcountry, but it can live comfortably in your trunk or tent-side till you need it — or whenever you just want to chop some wood.
Best Everyday Carry: Combat Ready EDA Folding Axe
At the opposite end of the spectrum, this “Every Day Axe” folds into a pocket-friendly eight inches when closed in its fortified plastic-and-stainless steel handle. The blade is forged with a “cockscomb spine” and a nail-nick, which basically means you have two ways of unleashing the 2.5-inch axe head — with the flick of your thumb or by catching the spiked back of the head on fabric, rotating out the blade, which then locks into the half-open position. The head comes with a 1.7/8-inch cutting surface, ground to an edge on only one side, meaning it requires a bit of skill to wield successfully. But in many ways, it works like a traditional one-handed hatchet, with a weight balance that allows for solid swings and deep impacts despite its modest size. An integrated clip makes it easy to stash in your pocket, but it is definitely not TSA-approved.
Best for the Traditional: Estwing Black Eagle Tomahawk Axe
The American-made Black Eagle employs a traditional tomahawk silhouette, utilizing a hand-sharpened axe head crafted from one piece of U.S. steel and a leather grip that runs halfway up its overall 16.25-inch length. The pointed rear tip can help wrangle knotted wood under control and lets you manipulate logs beyond the simple act of chopping — say, if you want to craft a lean-to or a Bear Grylls-style raft to portage a river. At less than two pounds, it hits the sweet spot between heft and lightweight utility, making it backcountry-friendly without sacrificing performance. And the bald eagle graphic helps reinforce its all-American origins, apt given that Estwing designed it for both the outdoor enthusiast and the military.
Best for Simplicity: Klecker Knives KLAX Lumberjack Axe Head
The KLAX is what you’d get if you merged a multi-tool with a traditional tomahawk-style axe head. The hand-held device comes with seven different tools that can be used without a handle, including two knife blades, a hammerhead, a cutting and gutting hook, a metric hex wrench set, a quarter-inch hex bit driver socket, a bottle opener (naturally), as well as a lanyard hole, carabineer and ruler. What doesn’t come with, however, is a handle. Instead, it employs a patent-pending clamping system that lets you find your own handle in the wild to transform the KLAX into a proper hatchet. Simply find a strong, narrow branch, use one of the knives to carve it down to size, and then clamp the head onto the wood, rather than the traditional method of crafting the wood to hold the axe.