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If you're hunting for the best camping axe, we swung 11 of the best to find the right one. We researched over 30 top options before buying them to test their blades head-to-head in the real world. We bucked up fallen locust trees, split rounds, chopped kindling, and limbed and removed every invasive autumn olive tree we could find. Without hands-on experience, it can be hard to discern the right axes for splitting firewood, precision tasks, and which are easy to carry. So we did it for you. We found the best splitters, our favorite limbers, and top options for those shopping on a budget.
The Fiskars X11 17-Inch is a stellar camping axe. Impeccably balanced and compact enough for most adults to use with one hand, it's great for small jobs like splitting kindling or limbing trees. It also excels at bucking up larger logs and, living up to its name, splitting firewood. This last task is the most impressive and rare among camping axes. The sharp blade widens into a wedge with a pronounced curve on the axe's cheek. Instead of biting into a round of wood, it forces the grain apart for an efficient split. Fiskars claims that the geometry, specifically the concave cheek, makes it easier to pull back out of the wood. We have to agree. The low-friction coating doesn't hurt. The orange end of the handle is hollow to absorb the shock of a blow. It works well, keeping our hands and forearms fresh. We also appreciate that the sheath doubles as a handle for longer walks from camp.
Made in Finland, the X11's construction seems very solid. The molded head is robust, and we don't have any durability concerns for the axe itself. A spinning lock on the plastic sheath seems like a possible weak point. Time will tell how long it lasts. At 17.5" long and 2.4 pounds, the X11 is larger and heavier than many other options. That gives you more leverage and power, which works well for splitting firewood. Its balance also keeps it feeling light in hand. If you're willing to haul that extra weight, this axe works at home and camp flawlessly. It offers great value, and its length, balance, and effective blade shape combine to make quick work of most tasks.
The MTech USA Two-Tone is light and small — a big plus for a camping axe, as it's easy to fit in a pack or stash in your rig. It also feels sturdy and well-made, lacking any discernable points of weakness and boasting a fairly sharp blade right out of the box. The handle is comfortable to grip, with an arched construction that provides excellent balance, leverage, and blade control. The combination makes it reasonably powerful and pleasant to use. We like it best for chopping kindling out of pre-split wood or scraps. It also works well for felling small saplings or light limbing.
The MTech's short handle makes it less suited to bigger jobs, like cutting a log in half, and it's not suited to splitting anything larger than kindling. It bites into the wood on larger wood rounds without wedging it apart. We also worry about the nylon sheath. Its snaps are stubborn, making it hard to open and close. The entire sheath can also slip, exposing the top tip of the blade even when it's closed properly. If you choose this one, take care to avoid cutting yourself or duct tape the sheath's top edge. We think of this as a backup camping axe. It's not large enough for extended tasks or large logs, but it will easily chop enough kindling for a fire, help you knock in some tent stacks, and clear a limb or two out of the trail. Overall, the MTech offers the best performance of the compact options in the test.
The Gerber 14-Inch Freescape offers excellent performance in a robust yet compact package. It's made in Finland by Fiskars and branded for Gerber, so it's very similar to the other two Fiskars options in the test. Its molded head, vibration-damping hollow handle, and wedged steel blade make for a comfortable and efficient tool. It also has the same plastic sheath with a carrying handle as the Fiskars X11, making it convenient to grab and go. It is the smallest of the Fiskars and the easiest to wield one-handed. Therefore, we often choose it for light-duty jobs like cutting down invasive autumn olive shoots and chopping kindling. The friction-reducing coating on the blade helps you along.
Its wedge-shaped head is excellent at splitting off small pieces of wood but starts to suffer if you need to split rounds or full-sized firewood. It's just too small to be effective at that scale. It doesn't have the convex cheeks that make it easier to pull the other two Fiskars options out of the wood between strikes, either. You can use it to chop logs in half. It just takes more time and patience. It is more expensive than we'd like, especially since Fiskars has a similar option available on their website for less. If you want an axe that can do it all but excels at light-duty tasks, we can't argue with the Freescape's performance.
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 works beautifully. The curved handle balances the weight of the axe head nicely. It feels light in hand, gives you excellent leverage, and improves precision. This is 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 channel your 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 tasks. It's solid and built to last.
While the Bruks Small Forest will split rounds, it's not great at it. The blade bites into the round but doesn't pry it apart since the head doesn't widen into a wedge. We limited our splitting chores with this axe, though it excels at carving kindling from pre-split wood. If a recycled hand-forged axe made in Sweden sounds expensive, that's because it is. Its good looks, environmental ethic, and excellent accuracy must be worth it to you.
The Fiskars X11 axe is great at splitting firewood, especially given its compact size. The Fiskars Norden N12 is better, primarily because it's longer and gives you more leverage. They share a blade design with a wedged head, convex cheeks, a low friction finish, and a molded head-to-handle connection meant to protect from overstrikes. The N12 feels lively in our hands as we work through the woodpile, splitting rounds into fireplace-ready stacks. It also serves well for smaller tasks like kindling and larger ones like bucking up logs. It has enough heft and length to put weight behind your swings.
However, we don't find the same precision in our strikes as the Gransfors affords. All of our testers preferred other options for delicate or overhead work like limbing trees. Fiskars advertises the Norden as a one or two-handed axe. Our smallest woman tester definitely needed two. The head feels heavy, and we found it less balanced than the other two Fiskars options. We wouldn't use it to replace a machete or a dedicated splitting axe or maul with a longer handle. We do use it as a solid, all-around camping axe. If you're a van lifer or car camper or don't mind some extra weight, this is a great option for your kindling chopping, firewood splitting, and log clearing needs.
The Kershaw Deschutes Bearded Hatchet is one of the lightest and most compact options we'd 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 to do the job. 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 if you don't need it, but it's easy enough to remove. 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 or fire roaring.
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 to the sound of a chainsaw, splitting rounds, and stacking wood. After grad school, she turned cutting trees 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 no stranger to turning wood into kindling. In a two-generational effort, she also ran these axes by her Dad, Glen Tate, who was in charge of cutting down all those trees. 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 and 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. The limbing and splitting work elevates a handful above the rest. Keep reading to find out which axe is right for you.
We know how much your money means to you. After we compare these axes' performance, we also rank their value. Models with high scores and low costs will always be a great buy. Our top choice, the Fiskars X11 is hard to beat, with top scores and a mid-range price tag. The Gerber Freescape costs about as much but is more compact. It's a solid investment, but it is a branded Fiskars product, and they sell a similar version for less. Therefore, we're not particularly impressed with Freescape's value.
If you need a budget buy for chopping kindling and limbs, the MTech USA gives you a sharp blade and balanced performance with one of the lowest price tags in the test. The Fiskars Norden is one of the more expensive options. Still, if you need to chop any amount of firewood, its long handle and solid construction are worth it.
The Gransfors Bruk Small Forest axe is far more expensive than any other item in the test. It's also meant to be an heirloom and is hand-forged using processes that are sustainable and treat workers fairly. If you share those values, the price and quality of the axe may be worth it to you.
Balance and Accuracy
Cutting wood is hard work. 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 for precise tasks like limbing logs or cutting down saplings (of invasive species only, don't worry). The Fiskars X11 is a close second. It's a little less light and lively and more ruthlessly efficient, which we appreciate. The hollow orange handle also helps absorb vibrations, saving your forearms.
The shorter but very similar Gerber Freescape is also balanced and easy to put where you want, particularly given its compact size.
The Estwing and Kershaw options are also well-balanced axes, though they have very different designs. The Kershaw is incredibly light and straight. The Estwing balances its hefty weight with a power-transfer curve.
Unfortunately, the Estwing's sanded and lacquered leather handle wrap is hard to hold onto, detracting from its efficiency and quickly tiring our hands and forearms. It's less accurate, and 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 Fiskars Norden N12 is more top-heavy than other top options, making it harder to swing with one hand. It's not terrible, and we don't have trouble with accuracy when splitting wood or choking up on the handle to hold it near the axe head. Still, for precision tasks, we'd choose a different axe.
The Gerber axe is more of a chopper than a swinger. There's not much there to balance. It can be accurate if you use it more like a cross between a plane and a knife. The SOG is graceless but works.
Though all of these camping axes will shave kindling from ready-made firewood, only the three Fiskars options are proficient at splitting it in the first place. After all, the X11 and the Norden were made for it, with the cutting edge curving up to a convex wedge. They work exceedingly well and are a welcome break from our testing consultant's normally massive splitting maul.
The Norden is better since it's bigger and longer. However, we appreciate the X11's hollow, impact-dampening handle, which kept our forearms and hands fresh. Unfortunately, they are both smaller than many full-size splitting axes, which means it may take longer to get through a full woodpile — but it also means they're compact enough to work as camping axes. Our lead female tester particularly likes using them for daily chores and camping since she is smaller.
Due to its compact 14" length, the Gerber Freescape is more of a purebred camping axe that can also chop wood when needed. It's also made by Fiskars and sports a wedge-shaped head for splitting wood, but the cheeks aren't concave to help you extract the blade from the wood between strikes. Its shorter length gives you less leverage but makes it very easy to wield.
The rest of the axes bite into the wood but don't effectively wedge it apart. It's not their main purpose. They can split kindling. The accuracy of the Fiskars, Gransfors, and Kershaw help again here. The sharpness and easy swing of the MTech also works, but we tire faster when using it. The Estwing offers a similar experience but with more power and, unfortunately, a slick handle.
We tested these axes right out of the box to compare their sharpness. We are most impressed by the razor edge of the Gransfors Bruk. The three Fiskars axes, including the Gerber branded Freescape, are nearly as good, as is the Kershaw Deschutes. All of them maintained a great edge throughout the weeks of testing.
The Estwing Sportsman's Axe is nearly as sharp as the category leaders, with the MTech following closely behind. All of these axes performed to our expectations. The performance of the remaining axes tended to suffer due to blunter blades.
The Schrade is very similar to the MTech but isn't as effective. Its comparatively dull edge takes far longer to get anything done. The Gerber Pack Hatchet and SOG Axe are another step down from there, making them frustrating to work with. The Best Choice is comically blunt.
Ease of Carrying
Part of what makes an axe good for camping is that it's easy to pack and carry. That means shortening the handle and making it less pleasant for large jobs or long periods. We're impressed with the Fiskars X11, Fiskars Norden, Kershaw, Gransfors Bruk, and Gerber Freescape. All are relatively compact and offer excellent utility. They also come with the handiest carrying systems.
While most 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 five axes take a different approach. The X11 and Freescape include a plastic handle on their sheathes, the Kershaw gives you a nylon sling that you can use or choose to tuck away, and the Gransfors and Norden will clip around your belt without the need to remove it. Easy indeed.
The MTech, Estwing, Schrade, and Gerber are small enough to toss in a pack or loop through your belt. The Gerber would be the most comfortable but the least useful once you get there.
This Gransfors Bruk is a beautiful little beast that should hold up over time. The three Fiskars axes (including the branded Gerber Freescape) also feature quality construction, leaving little cause for concern. The X11 and Freescape have plastic dials that lock them into their sheaths that seem easy to break. It's not mission-critical, though.
The Estwing forges its axe from a single piece of steel in the U.S. We don't see it failing anytime soon. 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 your best backpacking backpack, toss in your car camping rig, or strap to the outside of your camper van as you head out to the horizon.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.