Anyone seeking the best backpacking hatchet on the market has come to the right place, because we’ve just finished our deep dive into the fifteen best-selling models, and we’re ready to narrow it down to the top 8. We’ll go over the most important elements like overall weight, pack size, and steel variety, as well as a few not-so-obvious features like comfort, and of course, style.
Backpacking hatchets are not for everybody. The ultralight backpacker looking to hit 30 miles a day on the Appalachian Trail might balk at the thought of the additional weight. True backcountry adventurers, however, know that a good hatchet is one of the most important survival tools that you could possibly have with you in the case of an emergency.
What follows are the 8 backpacking hatchets that really stood out from the crowd. And by “backpacking hatchet” we mean compact, lightweight, and versatile. While there are plenty of powerful hatchets out there, our list will stick to the ones that are designed to be carried on longer journeys.
Best Backpacking Hatchet – Gerber Bear Grylls Edition
|Material||3Cr13MoV High Carbon Steel|
If there is one person out there who has the expertise to advise us adventurers on how to win the ongoing battle between Man and Wild, it would be ex-SAS officer Bear Grylls. This officially licensed hatchet has not only been approved by Bear Grylls himself, but also apparently by many hundreds of satisfied consumers through their online feedback. The BG hatchet has a thin, full-tang 3.5” blade with a comfortable rubber grip around the handle.
As a tool, this hatchet is capable of making both precise cuts and more aggressive chopping … in fact we can’t imagine what could possibly cause any serious damage to this full-tang blade. The nylon cover takes a bit of getting used to (especially considering how sharp this thing comes right out of the box) but the overall comfort and non-slip grip make it a good all-around performer. If we could change one thing, we would make the back end of this hatchet a touch wider so that we could use it to pound in tent stakes.
Most Durable Backpacking Hatchet – Estwing Sportsman
Our pick for the most rugged backpacking hatchet is most certainly the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe, which has been forged in one single piece to provide one of the strongest and most reliable striking tools that we have ever laid our hands on. Whether your goal is to cut firewood, split kindling, or hack through branches, the Sportsman Hatchet is up to the task. The 12” length is significantly larger than the Bear Grylls Hatchet, but the extra swing leverage is more than worth it.
And somehow it comes in at about the same weight as the Grylls model, which is a good thing for long distance adventurers who are trying to keep the extra ounces out of their pack. American consumers will appreciate the fact that all Estwing products are made in Rockford, Illinois, which is not something that can be said about most knives and blades on the outdoorsman market these days.
Best Hatchet with a Ferro Rod – Schrade SCAXE2
|Material||3Cr13 Stainless Steel|
One of the most important creeds of the true outdoor adventurer is that if you can find a piece of gear that combines two other pieces of gear, then it’s most likely going inside the backpack. The SCAXE 2 by Schrade is precisely this kind of equipment, offering not only the chopping and splitting action of a backpacking hatchet, but also the convenient fire-starting capabilities of a Ferro Rod. While the inclusion of the ferro rod was reason enough to include the SCAXE 2 on our list, it certainly isn’t the only attribute that we’re fawning over.
Here is a hatchet that has a specially designed hammer-pommel on the back side, making it possible to hammer in tent stakes when not busy chopping wood. Some people might consider the mostly fiberglass construction to be a drawback, we are certainly not among those people. The SCAXE2’s handle is both durable and comfortable, and offers just enough flex to help prevent premature breaking and cracking.
The Sharpest Blade on a Backpacking Hatchet – SOG Camp Axe
|Material||2Cr13 Stainless Steel|
While putting a good new edge on your camping knives and axes can be an enjoyable, even meditative experience, there is not always time to hit the grindstone before jumping out onto the trail. The Camp Axe from SOG eliminates the possibility that you enter wilderness situations with a sub-par chopping blasé, as this particular hatchet has one of the sharpest edges that we have ever tested. The blade edge might be a bit smaller that some of the competition, but the sharpness more than makes up for it. In addition, this little powerhouse is incredibly sharp from the moment you pull it out of the box.
While it’s possible to find sharper hatchets out there, you certainly aren’t going to find one in the sub-$100 range, and the SOG is about half that. While this is a sleek little chopper, the hard GRN handle is not very slip-resistant, so this thing asks for a bit more control out of the user. Our only qualm was with the sheath, which is a little awkward to put on without risking cutting yourself on the sharp edge.
Best Workhorse Hatchet – Gränsfors Bruks 413
There is no denying that traditionally made, hand-forged tools can often be far for reliable than their modern machine-cut counterparts. This is certainly the case with the Gränsfors Bruks hand hatchet. This is quite simply one of the highest performing cutting tools that money can buy, that is, if you have a few extra bucks to spare on the comparatively high cost. The unique Swedish design of the 413 is the significant size discrepancy between the head and the handle. Having such a large axe head on top of a short, thick handle provides portability and power in the same package … two things that any backpacker worth their boots should be interested in.
In fact, the 413 makes a great replacement for your fixed blade camping knife, as it is able to perform all the slicing, cutting, and curling tasks that are common to wilderness adventures. The lack of a slip-free grip is problematic for those of us with camping grease all over our hands, but a touch of pine sap will get it where it needs to be.
Best Budget Backpacking Hatchet – WatchFire Camper’s Hatchet
This sleek camping hatched from WatchFire is simultaneously the lightest and cheapest backpacking hatchet on our list, which is what earned it the title of the best budget backpacking hatchet around. While the WatchFire hatchet is made from a thinner, cheaper stainless steel that is unlikely to hold out nearly as long as some of the other hatchets, the remarkably low price is more than enough to make up for it. What really surprised us was how sharp this thing was for an entry-level hatchet. We doubt that it will be able to hold a firm edge for very long, but again, that is certainly to be expected for a tool in this reduced price range. The super lightweight construction is another reason that this might be a good option for an extended camping trip when space is tight. And unlike a lot of the other hatchets, this one has a skid-proof rubber handle that has the kind of grip that we’ve been looking all over the place for.
Best Bang for the Buck – Hults Bruk Jonaker
|Material||Solid Swedish Steel|
Like the Gränsfors Bruks 413, the Jonaker Hatchet utilized time honored construction methods and design elements to create an old-world tool with premium performance capabilities. The Jonaker makes uses of Swedish steel and American hickory … truly a match made in axe heaven. While it might be a bit inappropriate for us gear-reviewers to say, our very favorite thing about the Jonaker is simply how beautiful this little axe is … truly an aesthetic achievement that is simultaneously rugged and elegant.
The oiled leather sheath is the preferred favorite of professional hatchet throwers (yes, it’s a thing) and we agree that this style tends to provide a safer and more easy to use method of protecting the sharp blade edge. The handle is a little small for people who are looking for a truly mighty swing, but the balance between head and handle is so perfect that the average user simply isn’t going to notice.
Best of the Rest – Gerber 9
|Material||30CrMo Stainless steel|
If you’ve spent any significant amount of time browsing our review guides, then you might already know that we tend to be quite gushy when it comes to Gerber-made blades. Whether it’s a pocket knife or a pack axe, our enthusiasm for this particular brand is due in equal parts to the company’s modest style and impressive affordability… a truly balanced tool for any occasion. Gerber’s hatchet is available in 9, 14, 17.5, 23.5, or 36 inch models, but when it comes to lightweight backpacking axes, the 9-inch is the one to keep an eye on.
All models are made with a hollow composite handle, which might seem counterintuitive at first until you realize just how much shock absorbency is possible with that empty interior space. A number of different user reviews have mentioned how often this particular model needs to be sharpened in order to perform at its peak, and our own tests seem to confirm these findings. In our humble opinion, a bit of extra sharpening is a small price to pay for such all-around value and performance.
Comprehensive Buyer’s Guide: Lightweight Backpacking Hatchets [2021 Edition]
If you’re thinking about hitting the trail for an extended period of time, then packing in a good lightweight hatchet is almost a necessity. Not only are hatchets capable of creating manageable firewood from sticks, stumps, logs, and even living trees, but they are also an essential tool for shelter building. Yes, we realize that most of you like to sleep in tents, but even bear Grylls will tell you that not every adventure works out the way that you think it will.
A good hatchet is not just for chopping. A diligently-sharpened pack hatchet can in fact completely replace the need to bring a longer fixed-blade camping knife with you on your trip, allowing you to bring a much smaller (lighter) folding knife for medical applications.
We made out list of the top 8 lightweight backpacking hatchets based of a number of different factors, including user reviews and sales numbers among others. But now it’s time to share a few more details on how you can choose the best hatchet for you, even if none of the models on our list have yet struck your fancy.
They say that you can spot a backpacker by their tendency to measure things in ounces instead of pounds, and that has certainly been our experience. Out on the trail, every ounce counts, and bringing a bunch of unnecessary weight with you can be the difference between an enjoyable challenge and a truly miserable death march.
Backpacking hatchets have a decent amount of variance in their overall carry weight, but there is a basic range that you can expect them to fall into. The lightest hatchet on our list is the WatchFire hatchet at only .7 LBS, and the heaviest is the Jonaker hatchet at 1.5 LBS.
Anything lighter than .7 is almost guaranteed to be useless as a chopping tool, and anything heavier than 1.5 will likely have you thinking about leaving some things behind at the next campsite, just so you can keep up with the group.
The type of steel used for hatchets is no different in concept than the steel used for hunting knives and picket knives, in that it can vary significantly in both strength and sharpness, and that the good stuff is usually noticeably more expensive than the cheap stuff.
Contrary to what its name implies, regular old stainless steel is not the best choice for a hatchet because of how susceptible it is to rust, and how weak it is when compared to the stronger, harder Swedish-made steel varieties.
Hatchet handles can be made from anything from carved oak to synthetic, machine-printed materials and plastics. The difference usually has more to do with price than anything else, though these materials all have slight strengths and weaknesses when it comes to performance.
A handle that is made from the same steel as the blade (like the Estwing Sportsman) have be remarkably strong but offer virtually no shock absorption, which can lead to tired hands well before you’ve collected enough campfire. Wooden handles offer a good balance of flexibility, rigidity, and shock absorption, but without some kind of exterior wrap, they can also be quite slippery.
Sheaths & Cases
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, you should know that we are pretty big sticklers when it comes to the quality and design of the sheath or case that a hatchet comes shipped in. Sheaths are designed to protect the blade end from damage when not in use, and quite similarly, protect people and things from being damaged by the blade edge by accident. Some of them serve an additional function of being a waist-mounted holder, but for backpacking purposes, users are more likely to simply keep their pack axe tucked into a side pocket on the backpack.
Plastic cases are cheap and should be avoided at all costs. Nylon and rubber cases offer more protection, but they generally to not offer as snug of a fit as oiled leather, which is hands down our favorite option for a hatcher sheath (or any blade sheath for that matter).
Conclusion: The Best Backpacking Hatchets of the Year
We started with 15 different lightweight hatchets, and then narrowed the field to the best 8 based on strength, comfort, and edge retention, among other factors. Now, we’re taking on the even more challenging task of selecting one from the eight to offer up as our team’s official recommendation. This is never the easy part!
When you take the term ‘backpacking hatchet’ to heart, then the answer becomes pretty clear. You’re going to need a pack axe that is as portable as it is versatile, and if at all possible, built with such integrity that you aren’t going to have to replace it every season. To this end, we think the Gerber 9 stands out from the pack, and is our official “Best of the Rest” pick when it comes to backpacking hatchets.
Frequently Asked Questions
This is the kind of question that you will get wildly different answers for depending on you ask, but since you’re asking us, we are going to go ahead and say that wooden handles offer the best cumulative blend of strength, flexibility, and shock absorbance when compared to any other materials.
However, the dedicated ultralight hikers will likely want to go with a synthetic & hollow handle like the ones that Gerber makes, mostly because they make it possible to reduce overall weight by a significant amount.
If you were to look at all of the best-selling hatchets and try to average their materials, you would probably find that 420 stainless steel is the most common variety of metal used in hatchet heads. This particular variety of steel is very affordable, but with a carbon content of .3% - .4%, it is considered a fairly soft steel and as such will require more frequent sharpening.
Sharpness is certainly a matter of personal preference, especially when you get into the “razor-sharp” levels. We know some hatchet throwers who will test their edges by shaving with them, while more everyday use doesn’t really need to be that sharp to get the job done.
Anything is throwable if you throw it, but we get the feeling that this is not quite the question you are asking. The sport of hatchet & tomahawk throwing has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence in recent years, and more and more young people are looking to get in on the challenging fun. However, not every hatchet is made with the kind of balance that is required to get a really good flight path. If you are looking for something that is close to what they use in competitions, the Gränsfors Bruks 413 is pretty much the standard.