Forgetting your hatchet on your next camping trip can be a catastrophe, especially if you intend to cook on a fire pit. One of the main reasons for taking a hatchet or small axe when outdoors if to cut kindling or trim logs for the fire.
There are a number of key criteria that you should consider when selecting your hatchet. This includes performance through the cutting edge, durability in the handle construction, the ability to sharpen the blade easily and keep it sharp for long periods of time. Other aspects that you might not have thought about is that length and weight of the axe for both transport and storage.
I am a big camping fan and have tried to compile my years of bushcraft experience into this hatchet guide, so let’s get into it.
Small Axe Buying Guide
There are hundreds of different brands and variations of axe available on the market, so the key is to understand your own personal requirements so that you can narrow your available options. If you are looking to fell trees or hew logs, then you will need a different axe than if you only intend on cutting kindling.
This guide is focusing on hatchets – which I am defining as a one handed axe primarily used for cutting kindling. This is ideal for camping purposes with the key criteria of being lightweight, easy to transport and pack, durable enough to last for years, and high performing blade material and design.
I have split these key criteria so let’s explore each one individually.
The length of the handle is an important consideration. If the handle is too long then it is difficult to store and can be unwieldy when cutting smaller logs and kindling. If the handle is too short then you cannot get enough leverage when swinging the axe head which makes cutting hardwoods more difficult.
The most common range of handle lengths in this list of camping axes is from 9 inches to 16 inches. My personal preference is slightly longer at the 12 to 14 inch range. I just find that the shorter hatchets, while easy to pack, do lose a significant amount of performance in cutting.
Hatchet handle’s have traditionally been made from wood, but in recent times fiberglass or composite handles have become more popular.
Wooden handles are cheap and durable, and they can be replaced or maintained in the field. They can also be damaged by rot or insects over time. To keep a wooden handle in good condition I prefer to maintain and oil it regularly.
Composite handles are lighter and provide a comfortable, non-slip grip. They are also durable, but they can’t be maintained by the average outdoorsman, especially in the field.
Alongside the length of the shaft, the weight of the hatchet, in particular the head weight, provides leverage when cutting kindling. If you are working with harder woods or wood with knots, then you will want to have extra weight to increase the force on the blade through each swing.
The heavier the axe head, the less force you need to apply personally – this can result in a big difference in muscle fatigue, especially if you are cutting a lot of wood.
Within this range of hatchets, most options will be available from 1.0 to 2.0 lbs of weight. This is also impacted by the size and shape of the axe head as well as the material of construction.
Uses and Functionality
I generally split up hatchets into three categories – traditional wooden hatchets with a steel head, composite hatchets made from synthetic materials, and tactical hatchets which are thinner, lighter, and designed for throwing.
Traditional hatchets are made from a wooden handle with a separate steel head. These are easily maintained, but do require maintenance. They can last for generations as long as the wood is treated and replaced as it gets damaged. The blade can also be sharpened and replaced over time. If you went camping with your grandpa, then this is the kind of hatchet he would’ve used.
The composite hatchets are made from a synthetic material that is lighter and stronger than a traditional hatchet. The head is often build directly into the handle and cannot be replaced. This means that it does not require as much maintenance but can be more durable over time. For beginner outdoorsman, then I would recommend a composite design.
The tactical hatchet or tomahawk is better suited for throwing. They are made from much lighter weight materials so they can be thrown further and with greater accuracy. They are not recommended for cutting kindling, so I haven’t included any in this list.
6 Best Hatchets for Camping
1. Fiskars X7
One of the most popular hatchets, and rightly so, is the Fiskars X7 Composite Hatchet. It is specially designed for chopping kindling and has a number of features that make it the top of my list. Fiskar’s claim that the composite handle material (called FiberComp) is virtually unbreakable.
Is it unbreakable? No, but it is extremely strong and lightweight.
The photo below shows what can happen to a Fiskars composite handle over a long period of time. It has broken in half. I have found this to be extremely rare. When comparing this axe to a wooden handle it is much more robust.
Fiskar’s also provide a lifetime warranty, so even if it does break, it is nothing more than a few days of inconvenience. While the photo below might be confronting or even surprising, I still give this axe a 5 out of 5 in terms of durability.
The axe also comes with a plastic sheath. This keeps the blade protected from dulling and nicks or even from cutting yourself or damaging other possessions. The sheath has a quick and easy carry case and can be attached to a backpack for camping.
- Weight – 1.4 lb
- Length – 12.5 in
- Head Material – Carbon Steel
- Handle Material – Composite
- Extremely durable composite handle
- Comes with a useful plastic sheath
- Strong and lightweight
- Lifetime warranty
- While it is extremely durable, it is not ‘unbreakable’ like the marketing might claim.
This hatchet makes the top of my list because of its overall quality and performance. If you choose this axe then you won’t have any regrets. I own the Fiskars X10, which is a slightly larger model than the X7 and it handles very well.
2. Estwing Campers Axe
Estwing are an American manufacturer renowned for quality, and their Camper’s axe does have a good combination of performance and durability. The axe is made from one piece of fully forged tool grade steel. This makes it different to a two piece design with a removable handle from the head. In terms of disadvantages this means that the head cannot be replaced if damaged and the handle cannot be replaced when its worn out. But in the positive category, the likely if needing to do maintenance is significantly reduced.
The other important aspect to know about is the weight. The design of the one piece steel design makes it much heavier than some of the other options – particularly the lightweight composite handle competitors. If you are backpacking or travelling long distances where weight matters, then I would avoid this option.
However, if you are driving in a truck and want an axe that will last for a lifetime, then the Estwing Camper’s Axe is an option I would recommend.
It also comes with a nylon sheath to protect the blade, which I always recommend to keep your axe sharper for longer.
- Weight – 2.0 lb
- Length – 14 in
- Head Material – Steel
- Handle Material – Steel with a shock resistant handle
- Available in multiple colors if you care about aesthetics
- Comfortable shock resistance handle
- Made in USA
- Keep in mind the axe is a forged one piece design, so you can’t replace the handle or head if damaged, although this does make maintenance much easier.
- It is one of the heaviest camping axes in the category at 2.0 lb because of its one piece steel design.
3. Husqvarna Composite Hatchet
The first thing you will notice about this hatchet is the design of the blade – it has a flat top and a downwards facing blade. It also has a hammer function on the back of the blade which I have found to be very useful when camping for hammering in tent pegs. I am a big fan of having less tools but more functionality.
The handle is made from a fiberglass reinforced composite handle. Although it still weighs in at 1.9 lb, which is one of the heavier options on my list. Again, you really need to take into consideration the purpose you are looking for – if its just for cutting kindling around your house then this will do the job just fine, but if you are backpacking through the mountains then I would go with a lighter alternative.
Husqvarna also claim to have an anti-friction coating on the head help with cutting and splitting, although I personally couldn’t notice any difference in terms of performance.
- Weight – 1.9 lb
- Length – 13.5 in
- Head Material – Steel
- Handle Material – Fiberglass Composite
- I like the 14 inch length as it does give plenty of leverage for applying its significant weight to applying more force.
- The design of the composite handle makes it very durable.
- This is at the heavier end of spectrum at 1.9 lbs, so is not ideal for backpacking.
4. SOG Camp Axe
This SOG Camp Axe is a different style from the previous options. The reason I have selected this is because of its lightweight and small stature. At only 11.5 inches in length and 1.0 lb in weight it is half the weight of some of the previous options like the Husqvarna. If you are backpacking and really care about size and weight to fit in your pack, then give this option a serious consideration.
I must say that the axe does feel like it has a lower quality of construction and this might be because of the way it attaches the handle to the head, which is less robust than the one-piece designs. I do like the stainless steel head which protects the blade from rust and sap that can cause corrosion over time.
This is not a versatile axe – it is too small for doing any real work. You cannot fell a tree or hew any reasonable sized limbs off a log. It is for kindling and kindling only. I really like SOG’s other designs, in particular their throwing axes.
It also comes with a glass-reinforced nylon sheath, which I always recommend to keep your blade sharper for longer.
- Weight – 1.0 lb
- Length – 11.5 in
- Head Material – 2Cr13 Stainless Steel
- Handle Material – Glass-Reinforced Nylon
- Extremely lightweight and portable.
- Stainless steel head protects the head from long term corrosion.
- Not a versatile axe – only suitable for kindling.
- The light weight means you will need to supply most of the power yourself.
5. Gerber Freescape Hatchet
I have picked the Gerber Freescape because it is a slightly larger option at 17.5 inches, but it is still relatively lightweight at 2.0 lb considering its extra size. The longer handle also means that you can use it in two hands and apply significantly more force.
The geometry of this Finish design has fatter cheeks in the head which gives it better performance as a log splitter, which is an advantage over the smaller hatchets. The handle is moulded around the axe head, so it is extremely durable but you cannot replace the handle or head if they are damaged. It also has a hammer function on the back which I have found is useful for pegs and other camping activities.
I also like that it is bright green, so you won’t leave it behind at a camp site, but this is just personal preference.
The Freescape is extremely similar to the Fiskars X10 – in fact, they might be the same axe under a different name and branding.
- Weight – 2.0 lb
- Length – 17.5 in
- Head Material – Forged Steel
- Handle Material – Composite
- Suitable as a log splitter as well as for kindling due to its thicker cheeks.
- Very similar to a Fiskars X10 option.
- It is a longer, larger axe than the other hatchets.
6. Coleman Camp Axe
Coleman are a common brand in camping gear, and they also make a quality hatchet. This axe has a steel handle with a rubber grip and a steel head. This makes it heavier than the composite handle options of an equal length. It is capable of cutting up kindling, hammer in pegs, and any other number of camping tasks.
At 1.8 lbs, you can also apply a fair bit of force through this axe if you are looking to do a little bit extra, although I wouldn’t use it for tree felling or log splitting.
It also has a fairly unique notch in the head – this is designed to help you pull up tent pegs when packing up. I am a big fan of less tools but multiple functions, especially when camping and this fits that bill.
The Coleman hatchet is the budget option on this list – in fact at this price it is hard to walk past. You could throw it out and replace it every few years and still come out ahead financially. It doesn’t offer anything fancy, like the blade coatings of the more premium axes – so you will just have to apply a little more elbow grease.
My father owns a Coleman hatchet and has used it for as long as I can remember, so you can be assured of its durability.
- Weight – 1.8 lb
- Length – 12.5 in
- Head Material – Forged Steel Head
- Handle Material – Steel with Rubber Grip
- This is the most affordable hatchet in this list.
- This is a no-nonsense axe that will do everything you need and nothing more.
- It doesn’t come with a sheath to protect the blade when travelling.
- The steel handle does make it heavier considering its shorter size.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a good hatchet cost?
The price range for camping hatchets is from $10 to $60, depending on the handle material, design, and durability. Composite handles are much stronger than wood and lighter than steel but do come at a premium cost.
Should I buy an axe or a hatchet?
Hatchet’s are best suited for smaller tasks such as cutting kindling or trimming branches. Axes are better suited for felling trees or hewing logs. If you are camping or backpacking where size is an issue, then I would certainly recommend a hatchet.
How much should a hatchet weigh?
A hatchet should weigh between 1.0 and 2.0 lbs, depending on whether you need to just cut kindling or perform other tasks such as splitting logs for firewood.
How long should a hatchet be?
The most common range of hatchet handle lengths of camping axes is from 9 inches to 16 inches. My personal preference is slightly longer at the 12 to 14 inch range, as this gives enough leverage to provide sufficient force to cut the wood but is compact enough to pack and travel.
Having a high quality hatchet is essential to any camping trip. It gives you the ability to cut firewood, especially kindling, as well as to trim firewood and hammer tent pegs. I have spent many years camping and have used a lot of hatchets, so I hope I have been able to provide some insight to help your buying decision.
The key considerations are weight, length, handle material, and head construction. If you are clear on your own personal requirements then picking a small axe from this list makes sense.
Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API