Mom Goes Camping

Best Camping Hatchets (And How Not to Be a Jerk When Using One)

best camping hatchets

A hatchet can be incredibly useful to have while camping.  But, honestly, most camping hatchets are gimmicky and are used more like toys than tools.  Before you get a hatchet for camping, please consider whether you really need a hatchet and understand how to use it without being a jerk.  This guide will go over all of that plus the best camping hatchets which actually are up for the job.  

 

HatchetLengthWeightPrice
Estwing Sportsman - Best Overall14"1.8bs$$
Husqvarna 13" - Best for Beginners13"2.1lbs$$
Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet - Best for Aficionados 13.5"1.3lbs$$$$
Hults Bruk Tarnaby - Best for Heavier Jobs15"2.3lbs$$
Fiskars X7 Hatchet - Best Budget Pick14"1.4lbs$

 

Do You Really Need a Camping Hatchet?

As I talk about in this post about camping saws, in almost all cases, you do NOT need a hatchet when camping. You’ll be able to gather enough firewood from the forest floor without having to hack up any fallen trees.

If you can’t find enough dead wood on the floor, then you are probably in a:

  • High-traffic area or
  • Sensitive area with few trees

In both of these cases, you shouldn’t be taking firewood from the ground.  The environmental impact is simply too great.

 

The Only Reason You Need a Hatchet When Camping

In many National and State Parks, collecting firewood is forbidden because decomposing wood is vital for the forest floor.  It is also forbidden to bring your own firewood because wood from outside sources can introduce invasive species like borer beetles, larval grubs, and fungi.

why not bring your own firewood camping

The National Parks Service made a campaign to inform people that they should never bring wood from home.

If you can’t gather or bring firewood, that means you’ll have to buy it locally.  The wood is often sold in bundles of logs.  You will need a hatchet to split the logs into tinder and kindling to get your fire going.

Firewood bundles for sale near a National Park

Splitting locally-purchased firewood is the only reason I can think of to bring a hatchet camping.  If you are planning to use a camping hatchet for any other reason, then you probably aren’t following the rules of Leave No Trace.

 

Hatchets and Leave No Trace

It absolutely drives me crazy to see hatchet marks on trees while in the woods.  Not only is it ugly, but people don’t realize how much harm they are doing by randomly hacking into standing trees.

As Leave No Trace says,

Hatchet scars on live trees can allow disease to infiltrate their protective bark, which can damage or kill trees.

What about using a hatchet to chop dead branches off of trees?  Also a terrible idea and against the principles of Leave No Trace.

Even dead branches and trees are vital for wildlife. Owls, woodpeckers and squirrels, along with numerous other animals, use snags (dead trees) to build nests and dens, find food, raise young, and hide from predators.

Hatchet marks on a standing tree 🙁

Please don’t be a jerk. Use your hatchet responsibly! 

 

What about Using a Hatchet On Dead, Fallen Trees

Assuming that it’s not forbidden, you could use a hatchet to chop up a fallen tree for firewood.  However, if there’s a dead tree on the ground, there’s also probably enough sticks on the ground for a fire.   It is less effort and a safer to gather sticks than hatchet up a fallen tree!

Burning large pieces of wood in your campfire isn’t a good idea anyway.  Large logs don’t burn completely, which means you are left with smoldering logs at the end of the night.  These are difficult to extinguish and do cause forest fires.  It’s safer to burn smaller branches – which you don’t need a hatchet for.

Hatchets for carving and bushcraft?

A hatchet can be really useful if you want to chop wood pieces or de-bark for carving. They can also be used for slicing food, cutting up game, and a zillion other things. But most campers don’t need a hatchet for this.  And, if you really plan on doing a lot of bushcraft tasks, a knife is better suited for many of these tasks – like one of these affordable outdoor knives.

 

Best Camping Hatchets

If you are going to buy local wood and chop it into kindling, then here are some good camping hatchets to choose from.  Otherwise, don’t bother getting a camping hatchet.  Save your money and use it for other cool gear – like a better water filter or permethrin clothing.

 

1. Estwing Sportsman’s Hatchet

Best For: All around best hatchet for price and performance

  • Handle Length: 14”
  • Cutting Edge Length: 3.25”
  • Handle Material: Leather
  • One-piece design
  • Head weight: 14.9oz (0.93lbs)
  • Weight: 1.8lbs
  • 1055 high carbon steel
  • Nylon sheath
  • Made in USA
  • Price: Mid
  • Buy Here

In my opinion, this is the sexiest camping hatchet you’ll find.  It is forged out of one-piece and is hand polished to get a mirror finish.  The handle is wrapped in leather, which greats a stunning appearance even from a distance.

The camping hatchet isn’t just sexy; it actually performs well too.  The hatchet is drop forged from 1055 high carbon steel which holds its edge very well.  The one-piece design means the hatchet is stronger and it would take some serious misuse for the handle to break on you.

As for the handle, the leather is coated in varnish so it doesn’t require maintenance.  Some people hate the varnish because it can get a bit slick.  If you want to put forth the effort, you can sand off the varnish to expose the leather.  Then you’ll need to regularly oil the handle as you would with any other leather tool.  I find it a bit ironic that the handle is made of leather but the hatchet now comes with a nylon sheath.   However, these are minor complaints for a mid-priced hatchet that performs so well.


2. Husqvarna 13 Inch Hatchet

Best For: Newbies because the thicker handle will resist breaking well

  • Handle Length: 13”
  • Cutting Edge Length: 3 3/8”
  • Handle Material: Hickory wood
  • Head weight: 1.2lbs
  • Weight: 2.1lbs
  • Price: Mid
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Buy Here

This is a mid-priced hatchet with a classic style that is good for cutting firewood as well as some light tasks around the home, like cutting branches. At this price, don’t expect perfection.  However, the hatchet has some nice features.

The hatchet head is actually hand-forged.  The head weighs 1.32lbs by itself and stays attached to the handle without any wobbling. I can’t find any info about what type of steel is used to make the axe head, but it holds its edge well.

The handle is made from hickory wood.  A nice thing about wood handles is that, if it breaks (which is almost always due to improper use), you can easily get a replacement handle. The handle is a bit thick, so not great for small hands, but this does help resist breaking.

The main downside of this hatchet is that it is a bit heavy.  Inexperienced people might appreciate the extra force from the weight but it will drain your arm if you need to chop a lot of wood.

Shape of the handle makes it a bit uncomfortable to use as a hammer, but should be fine for tent stakes.


3. Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet – Best High End Pick

Best For: Serious outdoors people who use their hatchet often

  • Handle Length: 13.5”
  • Cutting Edge Length: 3”
  • Handle Material: Seasoned hickory wood
  • Head weight: 1lb
  • Weight: 1.3bs
  • High carbon steel
  • Edge hardened to about 57 RC 
  • Convex grind
  • Price: Pricy
  • Buy Here

If you are ready for a more serious camping hatchet, Gransfors makes truly gorgeous hatchets.  They are all handmade in the village Gransfors in Sweden.  Just hold a Gransfors hatchet after holding a cheaply made hatchet and you’ll understand what enthusiasts mean when they say “balanced.”

Because it is handmade, the length of the handle varies slightly from 13.5 to 14 inches.  They also make a shorter handled hatchet but the extra length will give you more power and versatility.  This hatchet is definitely tough enough for felling wood as well as chopping drywood and softwood.

The hatchet head weighs 1lb and is 3 inches from toe to heel and 5 inches from toe to butt.  There is a convex grind on the head which is incredibly sharp. The high carbon steel holds its edge well. The mirror finish looks gorgeous.    The design of the hatchet means you can use it for camping firewood as well as cutting, slicing, and chopping game.

One slight downside to the hatchet for camping is that its poll (butt) is a bit rounded.  It’s still okay for hammering tent pegs but you can’t use it for general hammering.

It’s lightweight enough to carry around with you, comes with a leather sheath, and should last several lifetimes if cared for.


4. Hults Bruk Tarnaby Hatchet

Best For: When you need more power

  • Handle Length: 15”
  • Cutting Edge Length: 3.5”
  • Handle Material: Hickory wood
  • Head weight: 1.25lbs
  • Weight: 2.3lbs
  • Price: Mid
  • Buy Here at Amazon, REI

Hults Bruk is another Swedish axe and hatchet manufacturer with a good reputation.  Their products are hand forged (this one is probably 1095 steel) and very good quality.  The head has tempered zones for better edge retention. While they don’t compare to Gransfors Bruk hatchets, the price is much lower.

Compared to the other camping hatchets here, the Tarnaby is longer at 15” and heavier at 2.3lbs.  As a general rule, light hatchet heads on longer handles are more comfortable: You get power from the extra length but don’t want a heavy head to hold back your swing.  At 1.25lbs, the head is slightly heavy but the hatchet still feels well balanced.

For a tiny woman like me (who can’t get a lot of force into her swing), the extra weight is nice – but it does mean less accuracy.  Thus, I recommend this hatchet for people with more experience and who need to do heavier jobs.


5. Fiskars X7 Hatchet

Best For: People on a tight budget

  • Handle Length: 14”
  • Cutting Edge Length: 5”
  • Handle Material: FiberComb
  • Head weight:25lbs
  • Weight:4lbs
  • Price: Budget
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Buy Here

At under $25, don’t expect this hatchet to cut through large pieces of hardwood. However, for chopping pre-cut logs into kindling, it performs surprisingly well. It is well balanced and a good starter hatchet for newbies who only need it for camping.  The main downside is that the handle, made from molded carbon fiber, has a weird feel to it.

 

Please use your hatchet responsibly! And happy camping 🙂


Sources:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOKc3fmuE2k
https://lnt.org/axes-hatchets-and-leave-no-trace/
http://bushwalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=8490%20
http://www.canoetripping.net/forums/forum/gear/miscellaneous/203-camp-saw
https://www.reddit.com/r/CampingGear/comments/cq0id4/axes_versus_saws_and_leave_no_trace/
https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/backcountry-basics/leave-no-trace/axes-hatchets-saws/
https://lnt.org/axes-hatchets-and-leave-no-trace/
https://www.bladeforums.com/threads/handle-length-vs-head-weight.1354431/
https://www.bladeforums.com/threads/can-you-use-a-shorter-handle-on-a-heavier-head.1049708/
Image credits:
Fat Bundles of Firewood For Sale on Side” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by puroticorico
Hatchet” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by High Trails

About the author /


Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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