The hatchet. The perfect midground between an axe and the trusty old fixed blade.
You might have come across the term “survival hatchet”- this usually refers to features that are useful for survival like an inbuilt compass or fire steel.
However, a well made, high quality hatchet used for its intended purposes is going to help you accomplish most tasks necessary for survival (such as felling small trees, limbing logs, sharpening sticks into tent pegs, carving, etc). So really, the best survival hatchet really is just a good hatchet.
So don’t let these smaller more specific functions and features distract you from the importance of the fundamental properties of hatchets like overall head shape, blade profile/grind, head weight, steel hardness, handle material, etc. We’ll get more into these details further down.
In this review, we’ll mostly be paying attention to hatchets that are suited to survival in the wilderness, as it’s the scenario most people will find themselves in needing to survive. But also included are hatchets that are made for urban environments, which vary greatly to their bushcraft counterparts.
1. Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet
Our money-no-object pick
Steel: Swedish carbon steel
Length: 13.3” overall length
Overall weight: 1.32lb
Handle: slightly concave wooden handle
Gransfors Bruk (let’s shorten it to GB from now on) is pretty much the premier brand in the axe world, with almost all of their axes and hatchets being hall-of-famers. The GB Wildlife Hatchet is no exception to this.
It has superb construction and durability- every component fits like a glove on the Wildlife Hatchet, and you’ll get thousands upon thousands of swings out of this nifty tool. For the head, GB uses a proprietary alloy you can have confidence in, and as such, you’ll barely hear of anyone complaining that they’ve chipped or rolled the edge during use.
What you can bet on is that the Wildlife Hatchet, like all other GB axes, is hand-forged. Hand forging assures a stronger edge that retains its sharpness longer, thanks to the more consistent grain of the metal.
It also comes sharper out of the box than most other axes and hatchets. And should you somehow want it even sharper than that, it sharpens with ease.
It comes with a premium price tag, and with that premium price tag also comes premium performance that not many other hatchets on the market will be able to match. If it’s within your spending power, you’ll appreciate the extra sturdiness and attention to detail that comes with the GB Wildlife Hatchet.
2. Hardcore Hammers Supernaturalist
An exceptionally tough hatchet with added utility
Steel: 4140 alloy steel
Length: 18” overall length
Head weight: 1.1lb
Handle: classic ergonomic wooden handle
The Supernaturalist is an impressive hatchet from lesser known American company, Hardcore Hammers.
It uses 4140 alloy steel, which is a rare sight amongst axes and hatchets. 4140 is a very tough steel that’s able to withstand large amounts of abuse due to its hardness and high fatigue strength. Because of its toughness, 4140 is applied in things like car engines, machinery and piston rods. These are all parts and pieces that have to cope with thousands of uses and millions of revolutions- a testament to the durability of 4140.
At 18 inches, this hatchet’s a little on the longer side, and that comes with it more potential force generation and increased comfort when using 2 hands. Pair that with the thin profile of the head and you’ve got a hatchet that really cuts deep into wood.
It also features a nail pry on its head, which you’ll find handy for prying out metal tent pegs in the outdoors and nails in more urban environments.
The Supernaturalist is steadily putting Hardcore Hammers on the hatchet map, and is an easy recommendation for most people looking for a trusty survival hatchet.
3. Husqvarna Camping Axe
A more dexterous and lighter GB alternative
Steel: Swedish carbon steel
Length: 15” overall length
Overall weight: 1.1lb
Handle: classic ergonomic wooden handle
Like Gransfors Bruk, Husqvarna is another very reputable Swedish axe manufacturer with an extensive lineage of high quality products.
At a glance, the Husqvarna Camping Axe may look similar to the Wildlife Hatchet by GB, with a slightly more reflective coating and slightly differently shaped handle (mild S shape vs mild concave). This is not surprising as many hatchets opt for the tried and true woodman’s axe form factor.
The magic in this hatchet is that it’s very competent- competent enough to just about compete with the GB. Yet you don’t need to shell out as much to get your hands on one.
It’s a little longer and a tad lighter than the GB, and at times that can work in your favour when doing smaller, more delicate tasks, like carving and skinning.
For those who’ve liked the thought of owning the Gransfors Bruk, but find it a little too pricey, you won’t be disappointed by what the Husqvarna Camping Axe can offer.
4. CRKT Woods Chogan Tomahawk
A great longer hatchet that excels at chopping
Steel: 1055 Carbon steel
Length: 19” overall length
Overall weight: 2lb
Handle: straight wooden handle
CRKT is a company known more for its extensive range of knives, but has a few axes and hatchets to offer as well.
Their Woods Chogan Tomahawk is probably their most well regarded outdoor hatchet, and for good reason. Don’t be thrown off that it’s labeled a tomahawk (tomahawks are technically tools, but nowadays there’s a stigma that they’re solely weapons)- it’s no slouch when it comes to chopping wood.
The Woods Chogan, with its great blade profile and heft, really excels at penetrating wood- deep bites with every swing.
It’s got 1055, which is a fairly high carbon steel, so expect good durability. On the other end of the head is a dedicated hammer, which is also a nice touch. Its extra heft certainly aids in chopping ability.
One thing to note is the handle. It’s straight, and very round. Not entirely round, slightly oval, but this is something you might have to look out for when chopping. The rounder the handle, the easier the hatchet can change angles in your hands on impact, especially if you aren’t holding it tight and only using one hand. Thankfully, due to the length of this hatchet, 2 handing feels pretty natural.
Another potential downside is the lack of a swell on the base of the handle, so extra caution should be taken when conditions are wet or when your palms are sweaty to ensure the hatchet doesn’t fly out of your hands.
5. Fiskars X7
The modern standard for the entry level
Steel: Unspecified carbon steel
Length: 14” overall length
Head weight: 1.4lb
Handle: fiberglass composite handle
The brand Fiskars is widely known across the world, which is no surprise as they manufacture a huge range of products that have to do with blades. While they may not be a specialty axe maker, their axes and hatchets are remarkably good performers. Especially this one.
The X7 is a household name that really needs no introduction. Its price to performance ratio has brought legend-status upon the X7, and this is evident through the seemingly unending praise sung by the people who’ve owned it.
This hatchet has a head profile that doesn’t resemble the rest of this lineup, and upon first impressions, you might find it’s got that wedge shape typical of splitting axes. But the overall head is thin enough that you’ll get very decent chopping power with it. And because of the wedge shape, it also splits like a dream.
Something that’s very admirable about the X7 is that even though it’s such a comparatively affordable hatchet, it comes with a fiberglass handle, which isn’t cheap to produce and also deals with shocks handily. A lot of sports equipment, for example hockey sticks, also use fiberglass for their handles for this very reason.
It’s a stout hatchet with heft to it, it performs well, and for a lot of people, the Fiskars X7 is THE budget go-to.
6. Marbles Camp Axe
Solid entry level contender for those who like a classic shape
Steel: 1045 carbon steel
Length: 15.9” overall length
Overall weight: 1.87lbs
Handle: classic ergonomic wooden handle
Marbles is a brand that doesn’t crop up on people’s radars that often, but anyone in the market for a well performing budget option should familiarise themselves with it.
The steel they use on this hatchet is a 1045 mid-carbon steel, so it’ll handle practically any kind of lumber you throw at it, and that’s pretty good considering this hatchet is only 25 bucks.
Something that’ll surprise many is that the head on this hatchet is also hand forged. You’ll see hatchets on the market at two to three times the price of this one that aren’t hand forged.
1045 is a little softer than the other steels on this list which means it sharpens very easily and still holds an edge pretty well.
This hatchet is a good purchase to start off with, allowing you to then gauge what you desire in a hatchet in future. You could very well be completely content with it too.
People looking for the form factor of the GB or Husqvarna with decent ability to boot might find this the hatchet for them.
7. Ontario SP16 SPAX
Our indestructible urban survival hatchet pick
Steel: 1095 carbon steel
Length: 13.1” overall length
Overall weight: 1.625lbs overall weight
Handle: kabar-style kraton handle
Ontario Knives is a company that’s somewhat parallel to CRKT- their catalogue consists mainly of knives with a few axes scattered about here and there.
We’ve included the SP16 SPAX in this list as our urban survival pick.
It uses the comparatively hard 1095 carbon steel, and for good measure too, as in an urban survival scenario, you’ll be faced with many more materials you’ll have to tackle other than just wood.
It’s one-piece construction means the head will never loosen on you, which may bring some peace of mind when you’re using the pry bar/spike on the other end to punch holes in metal doors.
Within the head is also a cutout for turning the valve on fire hydrants, which may be necessary if a building or house is on fire and there are no firefighters on the scene.
It’s got a rather long blade edge, but with the way it curves, you won’t have a problem with achieving deep cuts.
One thing it cannot do well is split wood, as the head profile stays the same width front to back after the blade ends. Hammering things could also be an issue as there’s no dedicated surface to hammer with. Having said this, there is no cause for concern here as these aren’t task you’ll find yourself performing in urban environments anyway.
Should you foresee the need for a tool that can follow you around during collapse in urban areas, you might find yourself satisfied with the SP16 SPAX.
Which to choose: bushcraft or urban?
Let’s quickly get the differences between hatchets suited to wilderness survival and hatchets suited to urban survival out of the way.
Your regular bushcraft hatchet was made for one purpose: to interact with wood. You’ll probably find yourself processing game once in a while, but mainly wood-related tasks.
Now, the urban hatchets are a completely different beast.
Some of them don’t even look like hatchets at first glance, and the range of features they have are quite astounding. Some, such as crash axes, have specially shaped heads made for cutting through aviation paneling in the event of an accident. Though SHTF scenarios in the city could call for clearing rubble and cutting your way out of a car.
Others, such as the Ontario SPAX 16, even have cutouts in the head that can interact with the valve on fire hydrants. A lot of urban hatchets have pikes on the head for puncturing purposes.
On the extreme end, you get tactical tomahawks labeled as survival hatchets, and these definitely serve the purpose of combat. Hopefully you’ll never be in need of one!
What to consider when choosing a survival hatchet
Let’s now go over the specific details on a survival hatchet that are important to look at. I’ve forged my own knives in the past, which has given me some knowledge and an adequate understanding of blades that can be translated over to axes and hatchets too.
Blade profile / grind:
It’s well known that full sized axes come in a number of distinct varieties. The 2 main groups of axe are the splitting axes and the chopping axes. But this is also the case for the hatchet too. We recommend a cutting profile for your hatchet.
Between a hatchet with a splitting profile and a chopping one, the hatchet that has a profile made for chopping will aid you better in more bushcrafting tasks overall.
For example, the chopping hatchet will be more handy for things such as felling trees, limbing them, carving, that kinda stuff.
It won’t outdo a splitting hatchet at processing firewood, that’s for sure. But there are ways to offset the chopping hatchet’s weakness in that area, such as using the “flick technique”.
On the flip side, should you be stuck with a splitting hatchet in the wilderness, you’ll find cutting down trees a lot slower, getting tired faster when limbing trees, and unable to easily perform more delicate tasks.
How do you tell which one is which? A splitting axe’s head will have a profile that widens out gradually from where the edge starts, whereas a chopping axe’s stays relatively thin until it gets to where the head hangs on the handle.
As splitting makes up a comparatively smaller portion of your bushcrafting tasks, our hatchet list only includes hatchets with chopping edges on them. This is assuming you’re forced to choose only one type of hatchet (you’ll want something that can cover as wide a range of tasks as possible!).
Photo credit: Last Line Of Defense (youtube)
This is also very important, especially for tasks that require a higher level of precision and dexterity. Such tasks include sharpening tent stakes made from branches, making tweaks to your bow drill and creating feather sticks.
When considering a survival hatchet, look out for ones with heads that have a decent amount of “beard” on them.
Having a beard is greatly beneficial for precision because it allows you to get a higher purchase on your hatchet handle in relation to the cutting edge.
Being able to have more hand behind the blade allows for more control. You can almost think of a bearded head like a pistol with a lower bore axis, if that makes any sense.
Photo credit: Survival On Purpose (youtube)
The weight of the head determines how much power you can generate with a swing. Power determines how well the blade can bite into wood, which pretty much means heavier head = more cutting power.
Easy choice right? Just go with a hatchet with a heavier head!
For smaller tasks that don’t require you to cut through so much wood in one swing, having a heavier head can work against you. This is especially evident if that particular task is repetitive. You’ll be able to get less done before fatigue crops up.
For hatchets that are on the shorter side, you might find yourself one-handing a lot. Should the hatchet feel a bit too heavy in the hand, your chopping accuracy will suffer, potentially increasing the risk of an accident.
So strike a good balance when it comes to the weight of the head. Something around the 0.9-1.5lb mark is usually a safe bet.
Steel / steel hardness:
You’ll need to worry less about this bit, as going with a reputable axe manufacturer usually ensures that you’ll get a pretty high quality steel on your hatchet.
A carbon steel that’s not overly hard is recommended. Stainless steel will also get the job done, but it’s a lot harder to sharpen.
Hardness of the steel is correlated with how long it can stay sharp for, so why do I say “not overly hard”?
The harder the blade steel is, the more brittle it is. Having a blade that’s super tough will afford you more cutting power, but also makes it more susceptible to chipping if it meets wood that’s too hard (or a particularly stubborn knot), which can severely hinder the performance of the hatchet.
So steel that’s of a medium to medium-high hardness will be your friend in the long run.
As a silver lining, the softer the blade steel is, the more easily it can be sharpened.
You can’t go wrong with wood, really. It grips well and absorbs a great deal of shock from chopping. It’s also cheaper, and if you find yourself needing to replace the handle on your hatchet, a lot easier to find than other materials.
It’s a bit like wool. It’s been around since forever, and yet it’s still able to outperform the manmade materials of today in certain aspects.
That being said, wood can interact negatively with copious exposure to moisture, getting warped in the process.
If you’re worried about your handle’s ability to resist the elements, you might want to consider getting a hatchet with a fiberglass handle. Do make sure you’re ready to pay the extra premium for one though.
Beware of hatchets that have tangs coming into the handle, as they will transfer more shock to your hands.
Photo credit: Last Line Of Defense (youtube)
So which of these hatchets sits atop the throne? Sometimes it’s a hard decision to make when you have to entrust your life to a piece of equipment.
For those looking for the absolute best hatchet money can buy, the Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet is an easy recommendation echoed by hundreds of owners who will swear by theirs.
Maybe you haven’t done much looking into hatchets until now and want something reliable but cheap to start off with. In this case, you won’t be disappointed by the Fiskars X7 with its tried and true design.
Our recommendation when it comes to price-to-performance is the Supernaturalist by Hardcore Hammers. Just an excellent all rounder with great traits- tough steel that isn’t brittle, a slightly longer length for better control and power generation, heftier weight for deeper cuts and very welcome utilitarian additions like the hammer side and nail pry. All this for a fairly reasonable price! Not to mention it looks very pretty.
All other hatchets mentioned in this list are also very good and reliable options. You won’t go wrong with any of them.