(updated on July 10, 2016)
The moment he shot his friend an awkward glance, I knew the guy had found my axe.
“So…. have you see it?” I asked again.
A moment’s hesitation: “Yeah.” He pulled out my sleek little Gerber unit and plunged it into a nearby log.
I don’t blame him for not wanting to give it up.
My backpacking companion and I had spent an hour struggling to bust up dried chunks of wood by hand in order to get enough starter fuel for a fire. But if I hadn’t dropped my micro-axe on the trail a few hours ago, the task would have taken us mere minutes.
So I was pretty happy to get it back. Not only because it’s useful, but also because that hatchet has been with me through a long list of knee-crippling treks.
OK, maybe I get a little sentimental about my bladed-tools. Tents, sleeping bags and hiking boots come and go, but a good blade can last forever (unless you drop the damn thing). That’s why I’m writing a two-part Backcountry Blades series looking at some of the best hatchets and knives for backpacking – light, durable and ultra-useful. And FYI, these reviews do contain affiliate links.
If you’re hunting for an awesome little axe to add to your collection of camping gear, consider swinging one of the blades from the S&TT hatchet review.
For obvious reasons, I just have to put this one at the top of my list. I’m a big fan of Gerber products and this 9-inch hatchet is among my faves.
With a hallowed-out hard-plastic handle, this tool weighs only 19 ounces so it’s great for backpacking. I’ve been wailing on my Gerber axe for four years now and it’s withstood the test of time. Sure, you don’t have the kind of leverage you do with a larger axe, but this little number still packs a surprising amount of cutting power. Super-handy for hacking down firewood.
The axe is quite durable as well. Most Gerber blades tend to dull a tad sooner than other products, so if you’re expecting heavy use out of this thing be sure to bring a sharpener with you on the trail just in case.
Overall, this axe does what it’s supposed to do well. Just remember: if you’re securing it to your backpack, make sure the Velcro strap is done up. I figure that’s how I lost mine on the trail. You can get this hatchet on Amazon for about $39.
If I actually did lose my Gerber axe for good, this would be my next choice. Well, if I could afford it.
The folks at Gränsfors Bruks make one mean hatchet. Each of these axes is forged by hand. Once the smith is 100% satisfied with the product, he stamps the head with his initials next to the company’s crown logo. We’re talking primo Swedish craftsmanship here.
Unlike most hatchets, no metal wedge is used to attach the head to the handle. This is a rare trait for a hatchet, since it takes a highly skilled smith to forge a small axe with a hole in its head. The result? One ultra-durable hatchet that can take a beating.
The Gransfors Bruks Mini Belt Hatchet weighs in at a mere 11 ounces. The price for such a gem? About $190. Yeah, it ain’t cheap. But if you want the absolute best, this would be it.
If you can get past the silly Bear Grylls endorsement you’ll quickly see the advantages of this little axe.
Single piece construction is great, as the haft of the axe extends all the way through the handle. Labeled 3Cr13MoV steel (ultimately just a modified 420 stainless) Gerber has unfortunately made a choice of steel here which really only serves to confuse the consumer.
Granted, at the $30 price point it’ll be hard to complain about the steel choice but I’d personally like to see a lot more disclosure of steel choice and heat treatment specifications to really feel good about this little axe.
Despite the somewhat mysterious steel, the Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet is a very useful tool at a wonderfully budget price. Weighing just 1.4 pounds, and having a hyper compact profile, it’s absolutely a reasonably lightweight tool for carrying.
This one gets a nod for trail crews and heavy lifters in the backcountry. If you’re backpacking in to do some trail work this might be your axe.
The coolest feature? Interchangeable heads. Just unscrew the head of the axe and go from felling axe to splitting maul without carrying separate full size tools.
An 18″ full length makes it reasonable to carry yet long enough to get a decent swing. Perhaps somewhere between full size function and compact portability.
Again, however, I am disappointed in the manufacturer’s choice of steel. C45 is a mild carbon steel which is also known as 1045 and, in other words, an inappropriate choice of steel for an axe.
Considering the convenience and budget price point, however, the Helko Vario 2000 is still a reasonable choice for the right person.
Seemingly a strange choice for this list, the SOG hawk makes the cut based on a ridiculously budget price, light weight, and near bombproof build. As backcountry guide and outdoors blogger Casey Fiedler puts it:
I’ve personally had my hands on this fun little tool and I can say: it’s a pleasure to wield. Despite repeated attempts to hack, punch, and chop through cans, bottles, logs, and other completely inappropriate axe targets, this hawk keeps on chugging.
My recommendation? Use a hot nail to give the plastic handle a dotted textured grip surface for improved grip.
The SOG hawk holds a reasonably sharp edge remarkably well from experience.
Did I mention that I’ve used this little guy as a throwing tomahawk for years and, despite hundreds of handle-first impacts, it has yet to show damage. It seems I can’t destroy it, despite my best attempts at it.
Ah, those Swedes are at it again. Wetterlings has been crafting fine axes since the late 19th Century and they continue to use the same age-old techniques to create their blades today. Like Gränsfors Bruks, each axe and hatchet is made with hand-forged, high-carbon steel. Beauties, each and every one of them.
The Wetterlings Small Axe is the most diminutive member of this iconic line. Mind you, it’s not quite as small as some micro-hatchets, weighing in at a little over a pound. But that added girth gives it a little extra power behind its 2 ¾ inch cutting edge, which is perfect for slicing through small logs and branches.
So is this the best hatchet in the battle of the Swedish smiths? Personally, I’m thinkin’ the legendary quality of Gränsfors Bruks is tough to beat. However, you can pick up this Wetterlings at much lower price than its rival. It’ll run ya about $105 on Amazon.
Drop by next week for part two of the Backcountry Blade series, which will highlight six of the best pocket knives.
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