The Best Backpacking Axes in 2020
Most people in the USA (and the rest of the world, too) don’t use axes in their everyday life. How are you going to use a splitting axe or even a small hatchet when you live in the middle of a city? But 75 million households in the US are keen campers. Some are more active, others not so much, but the love of camping, backpacking, and spending time in the great outdoors is real – and growing. This article is dedicated to reviewing the best backpacking and bushcrafting axe for your trips to the great outdoors. This is specifically for backpackers, not all campers – I’ve selected the axes taking into account their weight and other features that are important for backpackers who are people who hike and travel the great outdoors on foot and carrying everything they need on their back.
So without further ado, here are the 7 best backpacking axes that you can get pretty much anywhere in the USA.
Backpacking axe comparison
This list starts off with one of the larger axes on the list. The Husqvarna Carpenter’s axe, at 19 inches and 2.4 pounds in weight, is the hefty workhorse of small backpacking axes. Designed as a carpenter’s axe, it excels at carving and shaping wood. Its symmetrical bevel makes it more all-purpose and easier to use than many carpenter’s axes which have a single-beveled blades. You can make a feather stick (for easy fire-starting) with ease, but it’s not as if the carpenter’s axe is good only for such small tasks around your campsite. In fact, its weight gives you more heft and allows you to put more force into your swings if you’re chopping down small trees or splitting logs. And that’s where the beauty of this axe lies. It’s equally good at small tasks (like carving) as it is at bigger ones, such as limbing trees that have fallen across a trail. Its length allows you to use it comfortably with two hands, which is not always the case with smaller axes, such as the 13” hatchet also made by Husqvarna. Finally, the size and weight of the Husqvarna Carpenter’s axe makes it more viable to use it as a self-defence weapon. The main drawback of this axe might be that it is too top-heavy to use comfortably with one hand if holding the handle at the bottom end. It also doesn’t come shaving-sharp, but a few minutes with a sharpening stone should take care of that easy.
Verdict: Best for backpacking trips where you think you might need a heftier axe for heavier work or if the area has predators that might attack you.
Important note: Several popular reviews on Amazon state that the axehead is liable to break where stamped with the maker’s logo. These are from a few years ago, and as far as I know, Husqvarna have addressed the issue. The most recent reviews don’t mention such breakages.
The Hudson Bay Camp Axe by Council Tool is an excellent tool made in the USA. This alone almost put it on this list for reasons that I’ll get to shortly. First of all, this axe is based on a design that French and American traders and frontiersman used in the Hudson Bay region hundreds of years ago. The life of a trader and frontiersman was a tough one, and each tool had to be the best it could be. The design is time-tested. Relatively thin cheeks allow the Hudson Bay camp axe to cut well and deep. The handle is advertised as being 18 inches long, but I measured it at 17 inches. That’s fine – most axes are shortened in the hanging process anyway. The steel of the axehead is excellent – it’s Carbon US 1060 steel, between HRC 48-55 on the Rockwell scale. And this is where being US-made comes in – since the company is an American one, they have excellent customer service. Some reviews online have mentioned how they received defective axes, but Council Tool stepped up and provided a prompt replacement, even going so far as to have a company executive personally contact the reviewer and make things right with them. That’s the kind of service you won’t get from a cheap mass-produced axe manufacturer or even a European-based one. There are many good reasons to buy American, and the quality of the Hudson Bay axe and the service Council Tool provide are two of the main ones.
Verdict: A very good quality axe made in the USA, excellent service by Council Tool in case you do have any trouble.
Fiskars is held in high regard as a company that has a lot of experience making affordable axes that use cutting-edge technology to give you the most bang for your buck. Made in Finland, a country of endless forests and which uses a lot of firewood to heat its homes throughout the long Arctic winter, Fiskars axes are designed for maximum chopping and splitting efficiency.
The Fiskars X7 hatchet is a very light hatchet that packs a big punch. The wedge-shaped design of the axehead means that it will split firewood with greater ease than other axes with thinner profiles. The axehead is also coated with an anti-friction coating that stops it from getting stuck in the wood and making it easy to keep up a steady chopping rhythm. A big plus of this axe is the lightweight handle made out of composite materials and molded around the axehead. Fiskars claims that the material is stronger than steel (and “virtually unbreakable”) but in any case it is very tough and you don’t run the risk of an axehead coming loose and flying off into the bush just when you need it most. At just 1.4 lbs in total weight, the Fiskars X7 is an excellent choice for those looking for a lightweight axe that nevertheless provides you with a lot of oomph and cutting power.
Verdict: Great for longer hikes and when weight is an issue. Very tough and hard to break, with no risk of the axehead coming loose.
4. and 5.
These are two different axes from the same well-known and highly-regarded US manufacturer – Estwing. I decided to group them together because they’re similar in many ways, but different in several important ways. First of all, these axes are more or less indestructible. Forged out of one piece of US steel, these Estwing axes won’t quit on you. The handle won’t break (which is a risk with both wood and fiberglass handles, especially in cold weather for the latter), the axehead won’t fly off, and the axe won’t catastrophically fail in the middle of serious chopping – at least not in your lifetime. There are three main differences between these two axes:
The Estwing Sportsman is only twelve inches long from head to handle-end, making it hatchet that is only really suited to one-handed use. The Estwing Camping axe, however, is 16 inches long, and that immediately gives you the extra length needed to be able to use it with two hands as well as one. The Estwing Camping axe also has a longer cutting edge (at 4 inches) than the Estwing Sportsman, whose cutting edge is only 2 and ¾ inches.
This is a big difference, because the extra inches on the axes mean a difference in weight of a pound and a half! To be specific, the Estwing Sportsman’s axe weighs 1.38 pounds, while the Estwing Camper’s axe weighs 2.9 pounds. That’s a significant difference in weight, and backpackers and woodsmen who’ll be moving a lot or covering large distances should keep this in mind.
The final difference between these two axes is in their handles. The Estwing Sportsman axe has a handle of stacked leather (leather rings stacked on top of one another on the handle and then shrunk tight) with some sort of laminate on it – that’s why it looks like it has a shiny wooden handle in picture. The Estwing Camper’s axe has a handle of leather dyed blue without the laminate. This, in my opinion, provides a better grip.
To sum up, the Estwing Sportsman’s hatchet is good if you need something light to take with you on a camp-out or hike where you won’t need to do a lot of heavy-duty chopping. It’s best suited for splitting small pieces of firewood and things like that. The Estwing Camper’s axe, however, will serve you well if you think you might need to clear the trail, chop down small trees, or split small to medium-sized logs. The customer service on these axes, as with most American-made products, is great, and Estwing is officially endorsed by the Boy Scouts of America. Both these axes are a great choice – durable, long-lasting, and with a sharp bite.
Hults Bruk is right up there with Gransfors Bruks as makers of the highest-quality axes that you can still find for sale “off the shelf.” The Almike is exactly what it’s description says it is – a hefty 16-inch axe that’ll slice through most anything that you throw at it – or throw it at. Made by hand from the highest-quality forged Swedish steel, the Almike has a cutting edge of 3 inches with a handle of just under 16 inches. This is a multi-generational tool that is also a work of art – if you take care of it, it’ll last long after you’re gone. But while you can use it, it’ll serve you well – the steel’s quality means that it’ll take a mean edge quickly, and comes shaving-sharp out of the box. The wood grain of the handle is perfectly straight, meaning that it’s much less likely to break, and, as with all great axes, is made of American hickory. It’s lightweight – only 1.75 pounds in total weight, but will work just as well or better than larger axes of a lower quality. It also comes with a well-crafted, very tough leather sheath that is both beautiful and very utilitarian. It’s length – 16 inches – means you can use it one or two-handed, and choking up your grip near the top of the handle is a breeze as the Almike is also perfectly balanced. Swinging is a joy with this axe. It doesn’t come cheap, but then again it’ll last you a lifetime – well worth the investment, I’d say. Swedish axes are considered the best in the field by many for a reason.
Another excellent compact backpacking and bushcraft axe is the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife hatchet. Coming in at 1.3 pounds and just 13.5 inches in length, it shares many of the great characteristic of the Hults Bruk axes. Comes razor-sharp out of the box, the steel is proprietary mid-carbon steel that doesn’t chip and takes and holds an edge well. It also comes with a durable leather sheath. The main difference with the Hults Bruk Almike is that the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife hatchet is smaller and lighter. Its size means that you won’t be able to use it very effectively with two hands, but as a one-handed camp hatchet it’ll work beautifully.
With the wealth of small axes and hatchets out there, it can be tough to choose the right (or any) one for you. It isn’t that hard, though – the 7 axes and hatchets listed above are all great tools. With care, they’ll serve you well for a long time. Consider your needs carefully – are you going to be walking a lot and doing light work, such as chopping off small dead tree branches, splitting pieces of wood for kindling and firewood, and so on, or do you think you might do heavier work such as trail or campsite clearing? If it’s the first, you’ll want something light. If it’s the second, a longer and heftier axe that can be used with two hands would be more appropriate for you. And if you have any comments or experience that you’d like to share with others, leave a comment below! Thanks for reading, and good luck choosing the best backpacking and bushcrafting axe for your needs!