Not every outdoorsman knows just how useful a good tactical tomahawk can be, so there are very few people who are on the lookout for the Best Tomahawks, year after year. For the firefighters, survivalists, and tacticians out there who know that the tomahawk is more than just a historical curiosity, we’ve put together a list of the Top 6 Tomahawks, narrowed down from a field of over 50.
Here’s the thing about tomahawks: they might look like an antiquated piece of equipment … neither as big or thick as an axe, nor small and compact as a knife. And yet, tomahawks tend to offer the best of both of those worlds. In fact, some field military units prefer tomahawks to fixed blade knives, simply because they cut just as well and have the added chopping ability of a hatchet.
Now, for your reading pleasure, we present you with our side-by-side comparison of the top six tomahawks, whether you’re looking to throw, chop, slice, or breach. Afterwards, we have put together a supplemental guide offering all the info you need to shop for a tactical tomahawk, just in case our picks didn’t quite hit your sweet spot.
Editor’s Choice – SOG Tomahawk
|Material||420HC Stainless steel|
There’s nothing like a tactical tomahawk when it comes to keeping yourself prepared for the most unlikely of scenarios, whether it is a zombie attack or simply getting lost in the wilderness. While not as ideally suited for chopping or splitting wood, the SOG tomahawk has all the features needed of a survival tool, including dense 420HC stainless steel and a 15.75” handle that provides the perfect balance of lightness, control, and leverage. The nylon sheath goes on easy and doesn’t risk any accidental cuts, like some of the cheaper tomahawks out there.
Amazon lists two different models of the SOG tomahawk for sale, the Tactical or the Survival. While there are some slight differences in the blade shape and construction, the primary difference between these two models is the inclusion of a Ferro rod that can help in case you need to start a fire. The blade arrived quite dull and will need some sharpening right away.
Best Tomahawk for Emergency Situations – Gerber Downrange
|Material||420HC Stainless steel|
The Downrange Tomahawk from the blade experts at Gerber is one of the most premium tools on our list, offering not only a unique construction design but also a few key features that set it far apart from all of the competition. Firstly, the Downrange Tomahawk can also be used as both a hammer and pry bar, which is perhaps why this is a popular carry choice for firefighters.
Secondly, the handle itself is made from the same 420HC steel that the blade is, and is coated with G-10 composite scales for even more grip and durability. Seriously … this thing is not going to break on you. The nice, long 19” handle provides some extra comfort and knuckle protection, but the real winner here is simply the indestructible construction and multi-tool functionality. The only down-side is the price, which can be considerable for the more casual outdoor adventurer.
Best Tomahawk for Throwing – SOG Voodoo Hawk Mini
|Material||3Cr13MoV Stainless steel|
The problem with a lot of the more expensive tactical tomahawks is how bulky and heavy they can be, which can make them a poor choice for throwing and backpacking, where a lighter and swifter model is required. The SOG Voodoo Mini is the smallest tactical tomahawk that they make, with a 12.5” handle and a weight of 23.1 ounces. (It is not the lightest tomahawk they make, interestingly enough, which would be the 12.5” FastHawk @ 19 ounces).
The MiniHawk is a great all-around camping pack axe that isn’t going to cost too much … and is in fact one of the most affordable models in SOG’s hatchet and tomahawk lineup. The pommel on this thing reminds us of a certain Norse god of thunder, but it is probably only there to help prevent too much slipping in chopping and throwing applications … a handy touch indeed. Our only question for SOG is, why call this one the “Mini”? The FastHawk has the same size handle but a smaller blade and is lighter.
Best “Workhorse” Tomahawk – Smith & Wesson SW671
|Material||1070 Carbon Steel|
If we’re being completely honest, not every hatchet on our list works very well for chopping wood, especially if you need to get a lot of it chopped before the sun goes down. The Smith & Wesson SW671 is a multipurpose “extraction & evasion” tomahawk that is designed to do some serious chopping, whether it is through the door of a burning building or simply the branches of a fallen tree that will become that night’s bonfire.
The long 15” full-tang construction gives the SW671 one of the best chopping powers of any hatchet on the market, and the 1070 Carbon Steel construction is a step ahead of the 420 HC when it comes to overall strength and durability. It doesn’t share the same multi-function design as the Gerber Downrange, but it also is less than half the price … so we’ll let you decide on that one.
Best Tomahawk for Bushcraft – Cold Steel Frontier
|Material||1055 Carbon steel|
The Cold Steel Frontier Tomahawk is the only product on our list that features a wooden handle, which used to be the standard for many years. The added lightness of a wooden handle is a serious benefit for throwers, but some of the more serious tactical users might find the Cold Steel Frontier to be not suitable for their purposes. This is also the only tomahawk to feature drop-forged 1055 Carbon Steel, which is pretty okay in our book even if it is known for rusting over a little bit over time. Keeping the blade clean and oiled can protect you from such a thing ever happening.
There is no sheath included with the Cold Steel Frontier, which sets it apart from models like the Gerber Downrange or the SOG Voodoo. However it is also significantly cheaper than the other models, at under forty bucks. The set-screw mounting system is not very well designed … even historical models utilize a friction fit which tends to be the better way to go. It is possible however to replace the included set screws with ones that will fit a little better and not stick out so much.
Best of The Rest – M48 Ranger
|Material||4130 Hardened Chromoly steel|
Made by the professionals at United Cutlery, the M48 Ranger is one of the best all-around survival hatchets for wilderness situations, not only because of the impressive amount of features but also because it is on the more affordable end of the spectrum by a long shot, which makes it easy for everyone to have an awesome bushcraft tool like the M48 Ranger. Nylon cord wrapping, a nylon reinforced handle, a snap button sheath, and an included survival compass are all some of the little upgrades that make this model a nice and rounded tactical hatchet.
As you might expect, the compass doesn’t work all that well and you might be better off buying a separate compass if you need one. Some online retailers used to offer a model without the compass that was a few bucks less, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Comprehensive Buyer’s Guide – The Best Tomahawks of 2020
When it comes to survival tomahawks and pack axes, it can be hard to sift through the incredible selection of recently released products, many of them identical to one another in apparently every way. Some are offered by big name brands that you already trust … and others by new pop-up gear suppliers that have come from nowhere to dominate their little corner of the outdoor supply game.
If the 6 tomahawks on our best-of list didn’t quite scratch your itch, then let the following supplemental information act as a guide as you try to determine what the best model is for you.
Hatchets vs. Tomahawks: What’s the Difference?
If you put the best-selling hatchet up against the best-selling tomahawk … would you even notice the difference? While the similarities might be striking indeed, it turns out that there are some easy ways to not only tell them apart but also understand what makes them unique from one another.
Hatchets are defines as a small ax with a shortened handle that is designed to be used with one hand. They are built heavy to handle the tasks of splitting, shaving, and chopping. Their increased weight makes them less ideal for combat situations.
Tomahawks are a class of weapon that was initially made by Native Americans. While they almost certainly had multi-purpose use, their chief function was that of an effective weapon. This is why they are generally smaller, lighter, and more well-balanced than hatchets.
Today, the line between hatchets and Tomahawks has blurred significantly. Hatchets have become lighter, and Tomahawks have become heavier. In addition, new “fusion” products have been released that kind of split the difference.
If you were to look at the full spectrum of tomahawks that are available on the market, you would probably notice about a dozen different varieties of steel that are used for the blade construction. Every manufacturer has their preferred materials, after all, based not only on performance requirement but also availability and price.
However, for the sake of our list, there are really only three different metals to look into:
420HC Steel is one of the most common options, and certainly the most likely metal to guess if the actual variety is not listed in the product description. 420HC is a popular pick for knives, axes, and hatchets because it has a really impressive blend of strength and affordability. The metal is not super hard, which means that more frequent sharpening is required, but 420HC can be sharpened to an impressively dangerous point, so be careful.
1070 Carbon Steel is a pure carbon steel containing about 0.7% carbon. 1070 is capable of being hardened to the point where edge retention is significantly increased, though the actual sharpness max tends to be slightly lower. 1070 carbon is great for knives and tools that are doing a lot of impact work, like chopping and battening.
1055 Carbon Steel is an excellent blade steel if properly hardened. Edge retention will vary from manufacturer (as hardness does) but it sharpens as easily as any other carbon steel and is on the more durable end of the spectrum … certainly a bit more durable than 420HC but since it is not stainless, it does suffer from a higher susceptibility to rust.
The different handles of Tomahawk construction all come with their own pros and cos.
Wood Handled Tomahawks are great for throwing because they tend to be lightweight and more intentionally balanced. Many wood-handled tomahawks, like the Frontier Tomahawk from Cold Steel, utilize historical designs that also make them quite appropriate for historical reenactors.
Steel-Handled Tomahawks utilize what is called “Full-Tang” construction. Just like with knives, full-tang means that both the blade and handle are simply one single piece of forged metal (though the handle is usually wrapped with either plastic or nylon cording). Steel-handled tomahawks offer a great amount of strength and stability but are not usually as comfortable or controllable as ones with synthetic handles.
The overall weight of a tomahawk or hatchet will determine it suitability for wilderness applications. For instance, if you are looking for a tomahawk that can join you on a 500-mile walk through the Colorado Rockies, you are going to want something as light as possible. However, if the whole reason you are bringing a tomahawk with you is to chop wood, then you are going to want to make sure that you get a model that is strong enough for the task … and those tend to be significantly heavier.
Hammer Backs vs. Spike Backs vs. Pry Bars
The rear end of a hatchet or tomahawk can have a number of different shapes, though the traditional shapes had no “back” at all, it was just the rounded end of the blade. Today, the other side of the hatchet blade can be shaped into a hammer for stake pounding, a spike for door breaching, or even a pry bar for survival applications.
If you’ve got a tomahawk that you’re interested in, be sure to take a look at the back side and make sure you are getting the “B-Side” that you are looking for.
You know how outdoor gear companies work: they try to pack as many little add-ons and upgrades into their model as possible, probably in an effort to help it stand out from the competition. Some of these extra features are well worth it, and others are not anything but a gimmick to sell more units.
Here are some of the cool add-ons and upgrades that you can find with tactical and survival tomahawks:
- Nylon survival cording (removable)
- Ferro rod for fire starting
- Survival Compass (be wary)
- Pry bar for firefighters
- Snap-button sheath
- M.O.L.L.E. mounting systems
The Difference Between a $40 Hatchet and a $200 Hatchet
After browsing through our list of the Top 7 Tomahawks, you might notice that there is a significant difference in price between our most affordable tomahawk and our most expensive tomahawk. It is certainly enough to make one wonder: What’s the difference? Why spring for a more expensive tool when the cheaper ones look just as good?
As it is with any type of outdoor equipment, the answer is primarily a matter of personal preference. More affordable tomahawks generally use cheaper steels, softer handles, and skimp out on some additional features like sheaths and Ferro rods and fire spikes. Interestingly enough, the length of a tomahawk doesn’t seem to factor into this conversation.
The high end tomahawks, like the Gerber Downrange, has better steel and more of it. It also has a multi-functional design that allows it to work great as both a hammer and a crow bar, which is why firefighters and EMTs tend to love it. No doubt, the added strength and versatility is usually worth the extra bucks.
Conclusion: Editor’s Pick Tomahawks
If you are going by the strict definition of a tomahawk, then the best model on our list is going to be the one that offers the lightest, swiftest, and most well-balanced performance while paying homage to the tools and weapons of yesteryear.
For this reason, the Cold Steel Frontier Tomahawk has earned our Top Pick of the category, for the reasons mentioned above in addition to its comparable affordability and nostalgic, entertaining design.
Frequently Asked Questions
The type of handle that you need for your tomahawk is going to depend on what kind of activity you are going to use it for. Wood-handled tomahawks tend to be the preference but both throwers and historical reenactors. Full-tang tomahawks (where the blade and the handle are the same piece of metal) can provide a remarkable amount of sturdiness, but suffer from a lack of shock absorption capabilities that can cause them to be quite fatiguing.
The great majority of Tomahawks on the market today feature synthetic, nylon-based plastic handles that are a generally good balance of weight, strength, and shock resistance. It also far less expensive to make a nylon handle than a full-metal handle, and those savings tend to get passed on to the consumer.
SOG is a maker of fine knives, blades, hatchets, and much more, and over the last few years they have become one of the most reputable brands in the category. Their products are made in both the United States and in Taiwan depending on the specific product.
While the tomahawk was a very common weapon / tool for a soldier to carry with them in historical battles, it is hardly considered a modern weapon. However, some contemporary troops do carry tomahawks while on duty, specifically, come members of the Air Force and Army Rangers. This is largely because tomahawks are simply considered a more effective field tool than a simple fixed blade knfe, as it can both cut and chop with more power than a knife
Traditionally-shaped tomahawks are not designed to chop serious amounts of wood; for that you would want either a pack axe or a large hatchet. Those tools tend to have thicker blades and more heft in the handle which can translate to extra chopping power.