December 16, 2016

How To Select Your Best Camping Axe

Camping axe

A camping axe is an ideal piece of equipment if you are heading into a heavy wooded area, expecting to cut your logs and kindling for a fire, chopping down your Christmas tree, or clearing land.

There are many axes that can make your work easier and more productive, ranging form small hatchets that are easy to wield to the larger felling axes for heavy-duty work.

Our guide is determined to help you understand the different forms of an axe and what you need to know to purchase the right product for your tasks, along with when to use an ax versus other tools.

In general, camping axes are a more general term used for any ax that can chop wood and provide help with outdoor tasks. They tend to be small to medium in size, and therefore perfect for keeping in the shed of the cabin or the trunk of the car while camping.

All axes within this article fit this more generic “camping axe” requirement.

Understanding The Advantages Of Types and Styles Of Axes

To answer the ongoing debate about which tools to bring with you in the backcountry you need to focus on what the tools are efficient at versus their weakness.

In general, axes come in a variety of sizes, which are ideal for everything from chopping down large trees to slicing kindling and even hammering in nails.

What is an axe?

An ax contains a long helve (also known as a handle or shaft), most commonly made out of wood, with a sharp metal blade (also known as a “bit”) and head that is designed depending on the task.

Additionally, you want to axe to be weighted, so that easily falls heavily on its edge. Commonly there is a swinging motion involved when powering an ax. The different styles of axes will depend on proportions and design of the blade and head.

The most common types of axes include:

What is a hatchet?

A hatchet is a smaller, more personalized size ax. Commonly, it is around 18 inches in length and 1.5 to 2.5 pounds. It is ideal for smaller jobs, like splitting wood and kindling, along with chopping down small trees and shrubs.

Its small size and lighter weight make it easier and safer to wield one or two handed.

What is a carpenter’s axe?

This axe is slightly larger than the hatchet, but can still easily be used one handed. It has a 2.5-pound head with a half ranging from 10 to 14 inches.

They usually have a larger grip, so that you can choke up the handle for more accurate and delicate work while still maintaining control. The blade also has a relatively flat curvature to it that provides even strokes.

It is perfect for precise cuts and finishing touches, rather than deep penetrating blows.

What is a limbing axe?

At around 24inches and 2 pounds, these axes are ideal for cutting branches off trees. Due to the condensed nature of branches, you will want an ax that you can skillfully move in a small area, but will still deliver a heft blow.

This medium sized ax does exactly that. Ideally used two handed to deliver a significant blow, this ax can also be used one handed for smaller blows and a more chiseling effect.

What is a felling ax?

Meant for splitting wood, a felling ax is small, lightweight, and has a very thin blade and tapered head. The design allows for the ax to be driven as deep as possible with every swing, causing wood to crack easily.

The heads range from around 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, while the helve length averages between 28 and 36 inches – the perfect reach to gain just enough momentum without losing power. Use a splitting maul axe to finish the job if the wood does not cleanly split.

What is the broad ax?

Named for their large and extremely sharp bit with a longer beard (the longer metal edge that continues past where the bit and head meet) these axes are ideal for hewing logs.

These axes have a beveled edged that can cut a flat surface, while also rounding out the edges of a log.

Due to the beveling the axes are right and left hand specific, and therefore most people own one of each. It will be an ineffective ax if you use two hands.

What is a splitting maul?

Designed with a head that weighs 6 to 8 pounds, this axe is used its weight to rend larger logs down the grain, while avoiding having the head get stuck in the log.

The broad butt allows you to swing it like a hammer if you need to finish splitting the wood. This is an ideal tool to use when you initial swing sliced the wood part way, but you need something heavier to finish the job.

What is a tomahawk?

The tomahawk is within the ax family, but a species all its own. Originally, it was a Native American tool that had a large stone or deer antler attached to a wooden shaft.

After European immigrants had come to North America, the tomahawk incorporated the European ax with a small mallet like structure on the other side. Tomahawks tend to be on the smaller side so that they are easy to wield; although they come in many variations.

This provided a multi-use tool with the capabilities of both a hatchet and hammer.

What is a double bladed axe?

Originally a battle-axe, the double bladed axe is exactly what it sounds like an ax with two bits on it. The two bits are commonly forged out of the same piece of steel for a strong and well-balanced affect.

The bits can either be symmetrical or different. Symmetrical bits create a double-edged ax that is ideal for protection or densely wooded or jungle areas where you need to clear a path.

While different bits can create a more functional multi-use tool, such as two different ax styles: a feeling bit matched with a splitting maul piece or a hatchet matched with a broad axe (of course, some differences in helve length and shape will make the double bladed axes not exactly fit any one category).

Understanding The Advantages Of An Axes Versus Other Tools

What are differences between an axe and a machete?

Machetes have long, thin blades (typically 10 inches or more) and are overall light weight. Therefore, they are excellent cutting tools when you need to create your pathway through the jungle.

Machetes are commonly swung in the air in a fashion similar to a sword, and not with the deliberate single blow of an ax.

Axes, on the other hand, have a heavy head, thicker blade, longer handle, and are weighted to have a heavier fall. Even the smallest axe, commonly referred to as a hatchet, has a heavy though smaller head and shorter handle, making it easier to wield close to the body without becoming unruly.

Overall, axes they are ideal for cutting through dense material, as cutting trees and splitting bark. Axes also hold up to winter working conditions.

What is the difference between an axe and a kukri?

Kukris are generally around 12 to 14 inches in length and very similar in design to a machete. They have an extremely thin blade and agile nature, making them ideal for day-to-day tasks around the house.

Additionally, they are made with a curvature ideal for cutting grasses and clearing a path. Historically, they originated in Nepal and are common in South East Asia.

Unlike an axe, a kukri is incapable of delivering a larger, impactful blow that would be necessary for splitting wood or chopping down a tree.Use the kukri at home, out in the wheat fields, and for personal protection, but leave it at home when you are headed for timber.

What are differences between an axe and a saw?

The saw is truly a limiting tool. It cuts wood into smaller, thinner pieces. Additionally, you need the piece of wood you are cutting to be lifted off the ground to slice through it.

In snow conditions, you use the saw to cut slices in the snow to see current conditions of the snow-ice layers. An ax would be ideal for chopping the kindling and wood, but not a proper tool for slicing through the snow.

The pressure needed to chop through the ice would obscure the evidence you are trying to preserve.

What are differences between an ax and a knife?

In general, a knife is the most useful tool and should always be carried on you. From cutting your cheese or apple at lunchtime to whittling to cutting ropes – it is a necessary tool both day-to-day and in emergencies.

Additionally, since knives are small, they are easier to wield close to your body than axes. Nonetheless, a knife will quickly dull if you try to cut a branch to make fire and an ax would be much better suited to any larger jobs.

What is the difference between an axe and a sword?

Bluntly stated: axe chops, while a sword stabs and swipes. The sword will offer a more delicate tool to use in self-defense but will be unable to achieve any work in the outdoors.

There is little reason to being a sword on your next camping trip unless you have also invented a time the machine.

If you are worried about self-defense, take comfort in the fact that axes have a long history of weaponry and warfare, usually in the style of throwing axes, but are most commonly used for timber jobs.

What To Know When Purchasing An Axe

The main thing you need to decide is what you want to use the axe for. Are you splitting wood while camping? Are you chopping down a tree? Is this purely an emergency rescue tool? Or are you walking through the jungle and clearing your path?

Once you have decided what function the ax will serve you can move on to selecting the ax for you. The main differences in types of axes are the length of the helve and type of head.

The larger the project, such as cutting down a tree, the larger the ax you will need. The longer helve will help you gain momentum and keep your form, while the larger head will help deliver and a detrimental blow.

For smaller and personal sized jobs, like chopping kindling or cleaning off branches, stick to smaller axes and hatchets.

When looking for an ax, make sure that you can comfortably grip the handle. If you cannot get a good grip anything else matters, since your form will always be off.

Then move on to the blade. Look for a quality blade that will hold up to the tasks at hand. The most common material to make a blade out of is steel, although there are other options.

Now, hold the axe and make sure the weight agrees with you. You will want it to naturally tip forward, towards the blade’s edge; your swing will just increase this natural tendency and drive the blade in further.

Finally, learn to properly sharpen your axe. Just like any other blade, you will need to take care of it. Expect to sharpen it once every six months or after a particularly taxing day. Never use the ax when the edge is dull, or you risk increasing the damage to your tool.

Besides its use as a tool, an advantage of using an axe is that it is a physical activity.

Chopping wood burns between 400 and 500 calories an hour and offers great cross training. As with most intense workouts, it is great for the heart and considered a cardio activity, while also offers some muscular training of the arms and back.

Just make sure to have proper body positioning. Like anything else, repeating the wrong move time after time can cause injury to your body.

The main disadvantage of an axe is that they weigh a lot. With a steel head, there is just no way around it: they are heavy!

So, unless you are sure that you need or will use the ax, they are not always worth the carrying weight, especially if you are headed onto the trail. With that said, if you are car camping or log cabin-ing it up, they can be an amazing tool that is easily stored in your trunk or the shed.

When using an ax be sure that you are staying safe. Maintain proper body posture throughout your swing and never use an axe that is too large or heavy for you to control safely.

Additionally, never tie a rope from the handle of the ax to your wrist. While some people will recommend this as a way to make sure you don’t drop your ax, the reality is that if you fling the ax while swinging, you will want it to land as far away from you as possible.

If a string is tied to your wrist, this will make the axe arc and could very well impale it into your chest or back. Nonetheless, please try to refrain from any axe flinging and only chop in areas clear and far away from people – as wood can also go flying during the chopping phase.

Our best camping axe

There are many amazing axes out there, but knowing where to start can be hard. If you are still feeling overwhelmed begin by reviewing these five axes.

They are all suitable for work outdoors, such as limbing trees, chopping wood, and splitting kindling, while offering subtle differences. Just remember, selecting a felling ax when you need a hatchet will inevitably lead to frustration.

Therefore, remember always to keep in mind what tasks you want to achieve with your ax and make this your primary consideration when picking out your next axe.

Estwing E24A 14-Inch Sportsman's Axe

At 1.9 pounds this is well-made steel axe that can easily be wielded by anyone. It is ideal for conquering small projects around the yard and camping. However, do not underestimate it based on size, the blade is powerful and durable.

Pros

  • Made in the United States.
  • This hatchet is indestructible.
  • The blade is sharp but will need to be maintained and sharpened regularly.
  • Since the head and the top of the shaft are one piece of metal, the hatchet is thinner than usual. This allows it to cut deeper with every blow and creates a fluid swinging motion.
  • Resistant to corrosion and rust.
  • When necessary the pole can be used as a hammer.
  • 1.9 pounds makes for easy swinging.
  • Perfect for smaller jobs.

Cons

  • The black staining on the special edition does wear off.
  • The lightweight of the ax can be a disadvantage is you are trying to cut larger pieces of wood.
  • There can be flaws within the manufacturing of the helve of this ax. Over all, it is functional more than beautiful.

Gransfors Bruks’ Small Forest Axe

camping axe

A quality piece, this ax is beautiful while still being extremely powerful. You will inevitably be reminded of your grandfather’s axe when holding this tool. The Swedish bit makes work a pleasure, while the book helve is simple and comfortable.

Pros

  • Simple and effective, this ax is all about getting work done. With a hickory helve and steelhead, this ax will last a lifetime.
  • Beyond durable. The steelhead can take a beating and still stay sharp and effective. If well maintained, sharpening one time per six months should suffice.
  • Each blade is hand forged in Sweden. Therefore, there will be small differences between the blades and expect them to chip a little. This is normal at the beginning of an axe’s life. After the first or second sharpening, the chipping should stop.
  • Lightweight (2.2 pounds) and easy to grip makes chopping wood pleasurable.
  • Gransfors Bruks offers a 20-year warranty on all of their products.

Cons

  • The leather sheath it comes with is not extremely durable. Be careful not to break it when placing the axe within.
  • Not meant for larger trees and cannot handle hardwood.

Columbia River’s Chogan Woods T-Hawk

camping axe

This multi use tool can go from your backyard to the outdoors with ease.

The bit is strong enough to take on small chopping and splitting projects, while the maul offers a strong hammering capability.

Pros

  • The perfect multiuse tool to keep in the shed for tasks ranging from chopping wood, pounding nails, and even delicate knife work.
  • Made out of 1055 carbon steel, this axe also features a hammered finish.
  • Primary and secondary bevels make the edging extremely sharp.
  • Hickory handle is durable yet comfortable to hold with two hands and made in Tennessee, United States.
  • There is a small hammerhead that can be used to easily pound nails.

Cons

  • The pole (end of the helve) is narrow. Therefore, you commonly need to choke the handle if you want to deliver both powerful and accurate blows.
  • At 2 pounds this is relatively heavy to carry into the backcountry.
  • The edge dulls out quickly and will need regular sharpening.
  • This axe does not come with a leather cover.

Husqvarna Carpenter's Axe

camping axe

If you need an axe that is strong enough to handle hewing and limbing trees than this ax is for you. Well-made and with a symmetrical blade, this ax can be used one handed, or two handed and fits easily in most hand sizes. This is the perfect ax if you are planning on prepping large quantities of firewood.

Pros

  • At 2.2 pounds, this ax is ideal for hewing and limbing trees, along with other limber tasks.
  • With a symmetrical blade, this ax can be used to either the left or right handed.
  • The reach is excellent for an ax of this size.
  • A well-balanced head.

Cons

  • The blade is too soft for chopping hardwood trees.
  • The grind on the blade can be irregular and unfinished – requiring more sharpening before being ready for use.
  • The axe is heavy to take into the backcountry unless you plan on having extreme chopping needs.
  • The handle will need a coat of linseed oil when it arrives to preserve the finish.

Schrade SCAXE2L Survival Axe

camping axe

Are you looking for your first axe? This is the perfect beginner’s axe. At less than 2 pounds it is easy to wield and will let you learn how to properly utilize an axe.

Pros

  • At 1.94 pounds it is an ideal axe for personal use.
  • The stainless steel head stays sharp throughout use and comes with a sharpening stone.
  • The rubber, ergonomic handle makes it comfortable to grip throughout your tasks.
  • This axe offers a well-balanced helve and bit.

Cons

  • Comes with a lanyard to wear around your wrist, which is a safety hazard.
  • Comes with a protective polyester sheath, but be careful as it easily rips.
  • The handle is made out of black glass fiber filled polypropylene, which can break more easily than wooden handles and is unfixable.
  • There is a bit of shock upon impact, probably due to the polypropylene handle.
  • The rubber handle wears away after time.

Estwing E45ASE 26-Inch Special Edition Camper's Axe

camping axe

With a long helve, this axe is ready to swing!

And weighing 3 pounds, you know that the bit is going to deliver an impact.

Additionally, the blade holds its edge, while still being easy to sharpen when necessary.

Pros

  • With a length of 26 inches and weighing 3 pounds, this axe is perfect for logs 20 to 24 inches in diameter.
  • The axe is forged out of a single piece of genuine American steel and sharpens easily.
  • The 7 1/8 length of the blade delivers a hefty blow.
  • An ideal camping axe.
  • Made in the United States and from the renowned Estwing, which means this tool should last a lifetime.

Cons

  • Not nimble enough for smaller, gentle tasks.
  • Too soft to chop larger hardwood trees.
  • Too large for the backcountry or your bug out bag.
  • There is some hand shock when the blow is delivered.
  • The grip is small and therefore not ideal for medium to larger hands.

The Ultimate Camping Axe

Our favorite ax is the Gransfors Bruks’ Small Forest Axe due to its small size and effective blade. The hand-forged process makes sure that each bit comes out in an ideal shape and thickness. Do be aware that since it is hand-forged each blade will be slightly different.

The Small Forest Axe can also excel at most jobs and has a more useful and well-rounded bit than the Husqvarna Carpenter's Axe. At 2.2 pounds can also easily be carried from the car and into the backcountry if truly needed.

Additionally, the wooden grip is comfortable for most hand sizes and sturdy enough to last a lifetime – unlike the glass fiber filled polypropylene handles of the SchradeLastly, with a 20-year warranty you know that Gransfors Burks stands behind their quality axes.

Your Experience

Please comment bellow and let us know what ax you ended up purchasing!

We are excited to hear what you think, if your new ax was up for the job at hand, how your first few swings went, and if your aim ended up being as good as you were hoping.

Just remember, chopping wood is harder than it looks and it takes the time to become a lumberjack. Nonetheless, practice makes perfect.

So keep at it! Share this article with your friends currently in the market for their first axe or as a hint for your next Christmas gift.

Our goal is to make sure that you always feel prepared when deciding on what gear to bring into mountains.

Alison Lawrence

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