If you’re in a rush, get yourself the X7 from Fiskars.
Hatchets are sort of like a Swiss army knife – at quick glance, a simple tool. But under close inspection, an invaluable companion for outdoor enthusiasts. Your trusty hatchet can be used to cut firewood, drive tent stakes, or even dig holes if needed.
Most campers should bring a hatchet with them, but how do you decide which one is right for you? Today I’ll give you 5 excellent options for campers of every shape & size.
The Top 5 Hatchets
There are countless hatchets for you to choose from out there, but not all of them are worth the price tag they have on them. I’ve spent days going through my tool shed and trying out all the hatchets in my catalog to jog my memory on what each one does best.
After some live comparison and detailed research, this list of five products was born. It should help you find the right fit regardless of your camping style. Read to the end for bonus info on how to pick a hatchet.
Let’s start the list off with the hatchet I use on most trips. I’ve always been a Fiskars fan, and this model, in particular, just knocks it out of the park. The weight is perfectly balanced, which makes it extremely easy to swing.
I often play baseball with my sons, and the swing balance on this hatchet reminds me of high-end aluminum bats. The head also never gets stuck in wood thanks to the low-friction coating on the blade. This is a big selling point for me since stuck hatchets are such a nuisance.
Fiskar’s proprietary grinding technique provides unmatched sharpness that gets you a deep chop with every swing. This FiberComp handle is also very ergonomic, not to mention durable. Finally, the lifetime warranty shows you that Fiskars has full confidence in this product.
- Balanced weight
- Low-friction blade coating
- Very sharp
- Ergonomic, durable FiberComp handle
- Lifetime warranty
- Might get blunt faster than average, but regular sharpening negates that
Best for: Campers looking for a hatchet with a sharp blade and good power-to-weight ratio
Estwing Sportsman’s Axe
If you’re looking for a top-shelf American-made hatchet, then Estwing’s Sportsman’s Axe might just be the product for you. It’s crafted in Rockford, IL using locally-sourced steel and is forged from a single piece meaning its durability is outstanding.
The edge is hand-sharpened, so you know it’ll be good to shave with right out of the box. Plus, the genuine leather grip adds a nice vintage touch to the whole hatchet. The nylon sheath that comes with it is high-quality and protects that razor edge no matter what.
Those who don’t mind paying extra can get the special edition variant that comes with a black coating on the blade and adds a lacquer finish to the handle. The only thing to be wary of is that some people have complained about chipping on the coat. My unit is fine, though.
- American-made with local steel
- Single-piece construction
- Hand-sharpened edge
- Genuine leather grip
- Comes with a well-made nylon sheath
- Some units may be prone to chipping
Best for: American campers who prefer hatchets manufactured on local soil.
Campers yearning for that tactical look will go nuts for this hatchet from Schrade. Durability-wise, everything is up to par with the high-carbon steel blade and nylon fiber handle. So, you don’t have to worry about this thing breaking on you.
I’m generally skeptical when I see any fancy coating on axes. Still, the black powder coat on this hatchet has survived a beating, so it gets my seal of approval. The spike pommel on the back is also really useful as a pry bar and nail pull, so that’s an added bonus for those who need it.
My biggest gripe with these is that they’re pretty blunt out of the box. That said, it’s not a massive deal, especially if sharpening blades is like calming therapy for you. In fact, the above-average price point may be a more considerable deterrent to buyers than the mandatory sharpening.
- Tactical aesthetic
- SK-5 high-carbon steel
- Nylon fiber handle
- Resilient powder coat
- Multi-use spike pommel
- Requires sharpening before use
- Pricier than competitors
Best for: Campers who want a durable hatchet with a tactical look — and don’t mind sharpening it
Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet
This Swedish-made hatchet may not be as flashy as some of the other products on this list. But, it definitely pulls its weight in the performance department. Some people even like the rugged, barebones aesthetic that Gransfors Bruks goes for on their axes.
I’d also recommend this hatchet to beginners. That’s because it comes with “The Axe Book,” an instruction manual with a lot of useful info that can fast-track the learning curve of newbies.
This tool’s maintenance is also a breeze since it sharpens fast and holds up to a lot of torture.
If there’s one thing that would make me think twice about buying this hatchet, it’s the customer service at Gransfors Bruks. Sure, they make some great axes, but if you’re unfortunate enough to end up with a lemon, you’ll have a tough time getting the help you need.
- Swedish quality
- Comes with an informative book
- Takes on a honed edge quickly
- Durable blade
- Lackluster aesthetic
- Subpar customer service
Best for: Campers with a “function-over-form” mindset.
Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet
If you’re a Man vs. Wild fan, you’ll love the Bear Grylls hatchet from Gerber. Its small form factor makes it very portable, while the ergonomic rubber grip prevents any slippage. Both of these create a fantastic user experience.
Despite being smaller than some competing products, it cuts far above its weight class. Whether you’re clearing branches or splitting a log, the wildly sharp blade shows you that 3.5″ is more than enough to pack a punch.
The nylon sheath (included) has secure belt loops so you can keep it close to your body. It’s also mildew resistant, so your hatchet will be protected in all climates. I’ve taken the hatchet on very wet trips, and it’s still in like-new condition.
- Portable size
- Ergonomic non-slip rubber grip
- Excellent cutting performance despite small form factor
- Mildew-resistant sheath
- The lighter weight means you may need to put more effort into your swings
Best for: Campers who want a portable hatchet to take on trips to soggy environments. Or, Bear Grylls fans.
How To Pick The Right Hatchet
Above, I’ve given you five gold standard options to choose from. But, maybe you’re still on the fence choosing the right pick for you. In that case, look at these four metrics to consider: weight, sharpness, handle length, and maintenance.
While this isn’t the authoritative list of everything in the buying process, it should serve as a solid foundation for making up your mind.
The first thing you should consider when picking out a hatchet is which weight class is ideal for you. Some extremists will tell you that only the beefiest axes are worthwhile. On the other end of the spectrum, diehard lightweights swear by nimble hatchets. Both have merits, and I land somewhere in the middle.
Lightweight enthusiasts argue that proper technique allows you to cut wood without a heavy ax. They say that ax weight can often be used to compensate for lack of skill. There is merit to this, but more ax weight could come in handy for beginners & pros alike when faced with thick wood.
If you’re new to wood-cutting, I’d recommend a light ax since the agile weight will make it easier to get the hang of the technique. Larger axes can help you split high volumes of wood without getting exhausted since you won’t have to put as much power into each swing. But, it’s unlikely that beginners need that kind of firepower.
It really comes down to your use case, how experienced you are, and your physical fitness. I’d recommend you try a few axes out to see which one is most comfortable for you if you’re not quite sure.
Next, think about your sharpness requirements.
Rookies should try to find an ax that’s totally sharpened before it leaves the manufacturer. This will cut down on the amount of work needed to get it game-ready. With a pre-sharpened blade, you can get right to chopping wood and practicing your swing instead of spending hours watching YouTube tutorials for sharpening a hatchet.
On the other hand, veterans can get away with buying a blunt blade since their years of experience will help them sharpen it in no time.
Your selection also depends on the type of work you’ll be doing with the hatchet. If you’re felling trees, then you want something as sharp as possible to get that pine down in the minimum number of swings. In contrast, working with small pieces of firewood is less demanding.
Ultimately, blade durability is usually more important than blade sharpness. The reason is that you can always re-sharpen the blade if necessary. Hatchets don’t need to be the sharpest tool in the shed to serve their purpose, so I recommend focusing on robustness.
The length of the handle is another factor you should consider when you’re picking out a hatchet. Longer handles allow you to put more force into each swing, but that comes at the cost of control and pack size.
If you have a hatchet with a really long handle, then you can swing it with a lot of power, but that won’t be of much use if you’re not able to aim correctly. Of course, the inverse is also true when you grab a hatchet with a short handle for optimal control but can’t put enough “oomph” into it.
It’s all about finding that right balance. When you get a hatchet in the Goldilocks Zone of handle length, the user experience will be “just right.” Finding the sweet spot between power and accuracy may take a while, so beginners should start with a shorter handle while they learn.
Different types of hatchets will require varying levels of maintenance. Look at the blades from Gransfors Bruks as an example. Despite being robust and of excellent quality overall, the steel isn’t stainless, so you could end up dealing with rust if you’re not careful.
Not only will rust be detrimental to the finish of the hatchet, but it can also shorten the blade’s lifespan. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for old ax heads, but it serves as a reminder to not leave your hatchet damp for extended periods.
Wiping off excess moisture can go a long way if you want your hatchet to last you a lifetime. Oiling up the blade after each use can also help. Boiled linseed oil works wonders for those trying to maintain the finish of their handle too.
Be sure to use boiled linseed oil rather than the raw variant. Why? Because raw linseed oil won’t dry, it’ll just make your handle sticky. Trust me, that’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Finally, linseed-soaked rags are flammable, so tread carefully.
When you consider the factors we’ve gone over above, it’s clear that the Fiskars X7 is unrivaled any way you look at it. It dominates in maintenance, sharpness, weight, and handle length.
There’s a reason it’s been on my EDC list for longer than I can remember. I would feel like I’ve forgotten something if I go on a camping trip without taking it with me. After a lot of strenuous use, it still continues to do everything I need it to.
Sure, there might be flashier, cheaper, or bigger options out on the market. But, none of that will sway me away from the performance and ergonomics that Fiskar’s brings to the table. There’s no question that the X7 is the obvious winner for me, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick another option.
Every hatchet on this list provides value in its own unique way, so there’s no wrong answer in this scenario. If you have friends with a hatchet collection, then you might want to consider borrowing a few just to see which style feels the best in your hand.