Best Camping Axe of 2020
The Fiskars X11 Splitting Axe is great for small jobs around camp, like limb trimming or bucking up longer longs. It also excels at splitting. It makes carving off some kindling a breeze and splits rounds with surprising authority. The cutting blade quickly widens into a wedge, with a pronounced curve on the axes' cheek. This shape wedges between wood grains, amplifying your work to break wood apart efficiently. Fiskar says that this geometry also makes this camping axe easier to pull back out of the wood, and we'd agree with that. The axe's great balance, lightweight feel, and effective blade shape combine to make quick work of most tasks. The orange end of the handle is hollow, meant to absorb vibrations, saving your hands and forearms. It seemed to work for us during longer splitting jobs, and we love that the sheath doubles as a handle for longer walks.
Made in Finland, the axe's construction seems solid, and we don't have any durability concerns for the axe itself. There is a plastic spinning lock on the sheath that seems like an apparent weakness. Time will tell how long it lasts, but you can certainly get by without it. At 17.5" long, it's larger than many of the camp axes we tested. That makes for more leverage and power, though, which is part of why we like it. This axe works at home and at camp flawlessly, offering a great value and our favorite performance across the board.
The MTech axe is small. It's also one of the lightest options we tested. That means it's easy to fit in a pack and or stash in your car. The handle is comfortable to grip, with a curve that gives you good leverage and blade control. The combination means that it's pleasant to use, with a reasonably sharp blade out of the box. We like it best to chop kindling out of pre-split wood or scraps. It feels sturdy, without any discernible weak points. It also works well for felling small saplings or light limbing.
The MTech is small in size, and its short handle makes it less suited to bigger jobs, like cutting a log in half. We also worry about the nylon sheath. The snaps are stubborn, hard to open and close, and the entire sheath can slip, exposing the top point of the blade even when it is closed properly. If you choose this one, be wary to avoid cutting yourself, or duct tape the sheath's top. We think of this as a backup camping axe, not one you want to use for any amount of time. But it will easily make you enough kindling for a fire, help you knock in some tent stacks, and clear a limb or two out of the trail.
The Kershaw Deschutes Bearded Hatchet is the lightest and most compact option that we'd opt to use for anything more than a quick job or two, like getting a fire going or cutting down a few shrubs. The entire axe head is thin, keeping weight down while the mid-length handle still gives you the power you need to get the job done. The axe head is 3Cr13 steel with a black oxide coating. It's one of the sharper options in the test out of the box, and the rubber inserts on the glass-filled nylon handle are comfortable to hold. The construction seems solid, and we expect this axe to last. The plastic sheath is also surprisingly sturdy and handy, with an included nylon strap so you can sling it over your shoulder. We like this axe best for jobs like cutting down saplings, chopping up kindling, and carving off small limbs, though it also does a surprisingly good job cutting a log in half.
We wouldn't want to cut log after log with this camping axe. It's just too short to be efficient for jobs that call for more power. The nylon webbing sling on the sheath can be annoying but is easily removed. This axe does the best job of balancing weight and power and is our favorite choice to toss in a backpack to keep trails clear of fire roaring.
The Gransfors Bruks Small Forest axe is hand-forged from recycled steel with a hickory handle. There's even a tanned vegan leather sheath that doubles as a belt loop. It looks beautiful, and it works beautifully. The curved handle balances the weight of the axe head nicely, making it feel light in hand and giving you excellent leverage and improving accuracy. This was one of our favorite options for accuracy tests like limbing a log and power tests like bucking it into rounds. It's long enough to pack a little power, and the sharp blade gets the job done quickly. We also like it for cutting down small trees and chopping kindling. This axe is so pleasant to use that we go looking for (invasive) trees to chop down. It's built to last, and we really appreciate Gransfors' 20-year product guarantee.
While the Bruks Small Forest will split rounds, it's not great at it. The blade cuts into the round but doesn't split it very efficiently since it doesn't widen into a wedge. We limited our splitting chores with this option, though it's great and carving kindling off from pre-split wood. If a recycled hand-forged axe made in Sweden sounds expensive, that's because it is. It's good looks, environmental ethic, lasting guarantee, and excellent accuracy need to be worth it to you.
The Husqvarna describes this carving axe as a tool made for working wood, meaning that it provides a lot of control and can act like a big knife. Unless you're into wood carving by the campfire, we're betting you'll mostly be using it to carve up kindling. This is one of our favorite uses for the Husqvarna. You can swing the heavy head down to bust things up or hold it by the head to split smaller pieces. It also works reasonably well for chopping logs in half. Its heft makes it feel powerful, and it seems built to last. It has a nice looking leather sheath, the steelhead is hand-forged in Sweden, and the relatively long handle is pleasant-in-hand hickory.
Unfortunately, the axe head feels too heavy for the length of the handle, throwing off its balance and making it feel less effective. You can generate a fair bit of oomph, but the swing is less precise. The blade doesn't cut into the wood as well as sharper options like the Gransford either. If you like this axe's look enough to pay for it, it will complete its camp tasks well enough to get you through.
The Estwing Sportsman's Axe is forged in one-piece and made in America from American steel. It feels as solid as it sounds. We were impressed by the sharpness of the blade, the axe's balance, and how indestructible it seems. It's also versatile, tackling log chopping, sapling cutting, and kindling creating. The blade cuts easily into wood, and the length and handle curve provide impressive leverage. Estwing doesn't advertise the poll, or back of the axe head, as a hammering tool. Still, it is a wide and flat surface that many will use that way. It worked well in our experience, though the handle may not be engineered for the force generated when coming from that direction.
We wish the handle had a better grip. It's wrapped in sanded and lacquered leather that feels like plastic, and it's slippery. As a result, this axe is unpleasant to use, since hanging onto the handle is tiring. It's also heavier than our favorite compact option, the Kershaw, without seeming to offer more cutting power. The nylon sheath has a loop for your belt and is built to be opened from above, but the top snap is incredibly stiff, and it can feel awkward to open and close. If you're passionate about American-made products, this is a quality axe that works well for the typical tasks if you're willing to hold on harder.
The Schrade SCAXE10 is very similar to the MTech USA axe. The two have similar dimensions and are small enough that you never hesitate to toss them in your car or pack. Though the Schrade is slightly heavier, they are both well balanced and pleasant to swing. Of the two, the Schrade has a more comfortable grip. The rubber is softer, helping to cushion vibrations on impact.
It doesn't bite as well, though, feeling comparatively dull. Taking more swings to get the same amount of work done gets old quickly. The sheath is protective, but it seems overly complicated and is annoying to operate. This axe is also more expensive than the MTech, so we don't recommend it unless you find a really good deal and don't plan on using it very often.
One of the lightest options in the test, the Sog Axe has a stainless steel head and glass-reinforced nylon handle. The flat poll, or back of the axe, doubles as a hammer. It works well for the task, transferring power effectively. You'll want to cover up the blade with the included sheath while you're swinging it back at yourself to use the hammer.
Unfortunately, the straight handle that works well as a hammer is harder to hold on to when you're swinging the blade side. It's uncomfortable and provides little in the way of leverage. The sheath is also disappointing. The screws that hold the sling on around the back are already loose after a few weeks. This is an okay option if you need a hammer on your axe, but the Estwing is a better one.
The shortest axe in the test, the Gerber Pack Hatchet certainly looks appealing when you're heading out for a long haul. Like many of these axes, it comes with a sheath that can loop through your belt. Unlike many of the axes, this one is so small that we wouldn't mind having it there. It feels sturdy and well-built, with a stainless steel head connecting to a rubber handle. Gerber claims that it's corrosion-resistant. This is the only model that has finger grooves in the handle to help you control the edge.
That's handy since this option is so short that it often doesn't make sense to swing it, so you do find yourself choking your hand up to carve off a piece of kindling rather than whacking away. With some work, this axe will get you the kindling you need to start a fire and help you knock off a few small limbs. Any project bigger than that will take a lot of work.
The other axes in the review outperform the Best Choice in every aspect, including price. On the upside, it's a nice size, and the rubber wrapped fiberglass handle offers a sturdy grip. It also curves promisingly, suggesting enough leverage for a powerful blow.
While the axe is heavy for its dimensions, and that weight lends it a bit of power, the balance is all off. The blade is also surprisingly dull. It tires you out. We don't recommend buying this option.
Why You Should Trust Us
Clark Tate, our lead tester, grew up in a house heated by wood. That meant spending weekends watching trees fall, splitting rounds, and stacking wood. After grad school, she turned cutting trees down into a living, controlling invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees on western rivers. And when you're running rivers, you're building fires. Clark's spent years turning wood into kindling. In a two-generational effort, she also ran these axes Glen Tate, the one in charge of cutting all those trees down. He grew up cutting, bucking, and milling trees to build fences and barns on the family dairy farm.
Our two lead testers split rounds, chopped up logs, and went on an invasive autumn olive tree-chopping rampage (because old habits die hard). Switching back forth between the axes and comparing notes made it clear which are well-balanced, which are built to split, which are sharp, and which are tiring.
Analysis and Test Results
Most of these options do a passable job of cutting up kindling, it's the limbing and splitting work that elevates a handful above the rest. Keep reading to find out which axe is right for you.
Balance and Accuracy
Cutting wood is hard work, and you want every swing to count. A well-balanced axe transfers power effectively from the handle through the blade, cutting into the wood efficiently. It also works with your body, making accuracy easier.
The Gransfors Bruks Small Forest offers outstanding balance and is our favorite option in the test for accuracy oriented tasks like limbing logs or cutting down saplings (of invasive species only, don't worry). The Fiskar X11 is a close second. It's a little less light and lively and more ruthlessly efficient, which we totally appreciate. The hollow orange handle also helps absorb some of the vibrations, saving your forearms.
The Estwing and Kershaw options are also very well balanced axes, though the Estwing has to balance weight while the Kershaw feels incredibly light. Unfortunately, the Estwing's slick handle really detracts from its efficiency and tires our hands and forearms quickly. We don't reach for it often. In contrast, the Kershaw has a great grip. It's light but still manages to make headway in a hurry. Both make headway more quickly than the MTech and Schrade, which have similar and pleasant swings but less power. Of the two, the MTech is sharper and more effective.
The Husqvarna is not well balanced. The axe head is just too heavy for the handle, and we don't like it for smaller, precise jobs. It's more of a bruiser. On the other end of the scale is the Gerber. You don't swing this one so much as you chop with it. There's just not much there to balance. You can be accurate with it, though, if you use it more like a cross between a plane and a knife. The SOG is graceless but works.
Ease of Splitting
This batch of camping axes does not excel at splitting rounds. Though all will shave kindling from pre-split wood, only the Fiskars is proficient at splitting it in the first place. That's what it's made to do after all, with the cutting edge curving up to a convex wedge by the cheek of the axe wedge. It works exceedingly well and was a welcome break from our testing consultant's normally massive splitting maul. Though it's small, offering less leverage, our testing team enjoyed working through a woodpile with it. Our lead female tester particularly liked using it, as she is smaller herself.
The rest of the axes bite into the wood but don't effectively wedge it apart. It's not their main purpose. They do split apart kindling, though. The accuracy of the Fiskars, Gransfors, and Kershaw help again here. The sharpness and easy swing of the MTech also works, but we do tire faster when using it. The Estwing offers a similar experience but with more weight/power and that slick handle.
Ease of Carrying
Part of what makes an axe good for camping is that it's fairly small, easy to pack, and easy to carry. That tends to mean shortening the handle, making it less pleasant to use for long periods. That's why we're so impressed with the Fiskars, Kershaw, and Gransfors Bruk. All are relatively compact and offer excellent utility. They also happen to come with the handiest carrying systems.
While most of the axes include a loop on their nylon sheath that you can run a belt through, you have to take off your belt to do so. These three axes take a different approach. The Fiskars' sheath has a plastic handle, the Kershaw gives you a nylon sling that you can use or choose to tuck away, and the Gransfors will clip around your belt while you wear it. Easy indeed.
The MTech, Estwing, Schrade, and Gerber are all small enough to toss in a back or loop through your belt. Of these, the Gerber would be the most comfortable to wear, but the least useful once you get there. The Husqvarna is the largest and heaviest, closer to the size of a traditional axe. It's not hard to carry, just harder.
We're buying into the 20-year guarantee behind the sustainably constructed Gransfors Bruk. This thing is a beautiful little beast that should hold up over time. The Fiskbars construction also leaves little cause for concern, aside from the orange plastic dial on the sheath, though it's hardly mission-critical. The Estwing is forged from a single piece of steel in the U.S. We don't see it failing anytime soon.
The Husqvarna is a bit of a Frankenstein. Though the hand-forged axe head will likely last through the ages, it's hard to say how well it will hold on to its wooden handle in the long term. The Kershaw and Gerber handles seem similarly well-anchored to their steel axe heads, but time shall tell. The streamlined MTech and Schrade axes leave little to break, while the multiple connection points on the SOG give us pause.
With any luck, we've answered your camping axe questions. Now you too can find the perfect option to strap on the outside of your camper van as you head out to the horizon. Or just, you know, toss it in the trunk.
— Clark Tate