In the world of bushcraft, you’re going to rely on a large variety of tools to survive.
Among those tools, you’ll probably find your bushcraft ax to be one of the most important.
It can build your shelter, process wood for your fire, and it can process any game animals that you might hunt.
Our 9 Best Bushcraft Axes for Survival
Axes for the Bush: Benefits of an Ax
I like to think of the bush ax as my kit’s most versatile tool.
That’s a fairly controversial topic in the wilderness survival community, but I can explain my reasoning.
While large knives dominate the recommendation lists on every survival forum, YouTube video, and casual conversation between preppers, no one can deny the sheer power that a good ax provides. The thick wedge of an ax head helps to split wood faster than a narrow knife blade.
It also helps to send wood chunks flying.
So, an ax doesn’t tend to get stuck as often as a survival knife. In comparison, a large knife tends to struggle with chopping tasks, and you tend to exert more energy when chopping down trees.
It’s possible, but a major part of survival is minimizing how much energy you spend throughout the day.
After all, you can’t just drive down the street for some McDonald’s burgers when you’re starving in the woods.
Here’s an article by Survival Sherpa that backs up my claims, and you can learn how to properly use an ax with it.
If you catch yourself in the middle of the woods with a broken knife, you won’t have any issues adapting your ax to fill that role.
Despite their larger size and bulkiness, axes can be used with a fairly astonishing amount of precision. You won’t want to whittle a wooden ball or puppy with your ax.
To be fair, you also wouldn’t want to try that with most survival knives.
However, you can easily use your ax to dress a deer, carve notches, or sharpen stakes for primitive traps.
In fact, an ax can be adapted to work for most essential cutting tasks that you can think of. Obviously, a mid-sized or small knife can perform these tasks more effectively. Knives are designed for fine cutting tasks.
However, a good ax can easily be substituted in a pinch.
You can’t pull out your 5 inch bushcraft knife to chop down a 12 inch diameter tree.
This gives a high-quality ax a major advantage over other tools.
Variety of Options
There are countless different designs in the ax world.
However, you can typically break them all down into 1 of 4 categories.
- Hunting hatchets: Hunting hatchets aren’t as large as axes made for chopping and splitting wood. These are mainly designed to process large game animals, build small shelters, and carry out basic camp tasks. They’re not as heavy or powerful as other axes, but they’re my favorite choice for general use. They tend to pack a lot of versatility into a relatively lightweight package.
- Felling axes: A felling ax is a great choice for the survivalist that plans on building a long term shelter. A felling ax tends to be one of the heaviest axes out there, and the handle is quite long. It’s definitely not a tool that you want to go scouting with. However, it absolutely plows through large trees and logs with ease.
- Splitting axes: One of the most common uses for a bushcraft ax is splitting logs. You’ll have to split logs for firewood, shelter building, bow carving, and even collecting fatwood in some wetter climates. These axes are known for having long handles and wide heads. The long handle makes it less likely for stray swings to result in a missing foot, and the wide wedge of the head works to push a log apart with ease.
- Hand axes: Hand axes are pretty much the smallest type of hatchet on the market. They’re not going to cut down a mature tree, but they can tackle saplings and fine carving tasks easily. These are meant for the lightweight survivalists out there.
The Best Axes for Survival
When I go to look for an ax, I look for something that doesn’t need to be replaced, will do its job well, and will ultimately help me survive.
The first thing that I look at is the quality of the materials. A $10 ax might not hit your wallet hard, but it’ll cost you a lot more when it fails during basic use.
Then, I look at my own needs.
Personally, I like an ax that is pretty flexible.
If I can adapt it to fit roles it wasn’t designed for, that’s a great sign that I should buy it.
You never know what can happen out there in the wilderness.
You surely don’t want a one trick pony that can’t adapt to the situation. If you need some more information before looking to buy a new ax, check out this video
- The SCAXE 2 packs a lot of power into one foot worth of ax. You can easily strap this bad boy to your pack, or you can use its belt sheath to carry it attached to your body. Either way, its stout profile keeps it from getting caught on the environment.
- The SCAXE 2 is outfitted with a rubberized grip. Since the shaft is a bit shorter in length, that is a welcome safety feature. The biggest flaw that small axes have is their ability to slip and easily cleave the user’s leg. The SCAXE 2 minimizes that risk, but it doesn’t sacrifice its portability by adding length.
- One of the biggest complaints about axes is their weight. Traditionally, hickory, maple, or oak is used to make an ax shaft. The SCAXE 2 cuts its price and weight by using a molded polymer handle. This can be a negative point sometimes, but more on that later.
- In an ax this small, you really don’t want an overtly large edge. It would simply be too unwieldy. However, this ax has a 3.8 inch edge. That’s more than enough to function as an ax, but it won’t get in the way during smaller tasks.
- Bushcrafting is a lot different from prepping and survival. It’s the intentional act of placing yourself in a primitive survival situation. Bushcrafters like having tools that they can fix on the fly, and rely on for years. That’s one of the major pros with wood handled axes. You can simply carve another handle, set it, and start chopping again. However, the polymer handle on the SCAXE is molded around the head. If that handle breaks, you’ll have little more than a sharpened piece of steel.
- Speaking of steel, this option isn’t made from a very durable steel. The head is made from 3CR13 stainless. That means that you’ll be sharpening it a lot more often than you would a traditional carbon steel head. However, you get a lot more corrosion resistance as a trade.
- The small size and soft steel in this model make it better for small camp jobs. You’re not going to want to build a log cabin, but it can easily make a fire, build traps, and throw together a quick shelter.
- At 14 inches in length, this Fiskars ax can easily ride along in your pack.
- Fiskars has a lot of experience with making edged tools that work. They’re known for putting quality edges on their products. So, it should be ready to go out of the box.
- The polymer handle cuts back a lot of the weight that holds other axes down. However, it’s long enough to gain plenty of momentum when you swing. This leads to it taking less energy to swing, and you’ll be able to survive for a longer period of time.
- A lot of attention went into the balance of this ax. When an ax is improperly balanced, you have to exert a lot more force to chop. Fiskars has made sure that the X7 can easily do most of the work.
- The handle has the same cons as every other polymer handle ax. If it breaks, you’re screwed. That means that it’s great for bug out bags and kits designed for a month. However, you shouldn’t plan on using this ax heavily for years. It’s best to look at wooden handle axes for long term survival.
- A lot of people have complained that their ax heads have chipped with use. That’s not uncommon for an ax, and the softer steel makes it easier to remedy. However, it’s worth noting.
- What says survival better than a bright orange color scheme? Seriously, I hate orange tools. They make it easier to find them when they’re lost, but others can find them easily, too. You can remedy this with some camo duct tape or tennis tape, though. In defense of Fiskars, they didn’t plan for this to be a survival tool.
So far, we've covered two budget axes that cover light camp tasks.
Now, we can talk about something a little beefier.
The X27 is another Fiskars product, but it's far from being a hatchet.
You can order the X27 in three different sizes, but we'll cover the 36 inch option for the purposes of this guide.
- The long handle length of this model makes it great for splitting logs. With shorter axes, you have to be extremely cautious, or they might cleave your foot off. The 36 inch length of the X27 gets rid of that risk. If you miss your swing, you’ll just end up with a dirty ax head.
- As with the X7, Fiskars has paid attention to the edge quality on this ax. You won’t have to worry about taking it to a grindstone before you use it. That sounds like a basic feature, but most ax companies intentionally put poor edges on their products. That’s done to allow the end user to adjust the ax for their needs. It’s not exactly convenient, though.
- The polymer handle makes this a lightweight splitting ax. That’s why I’m not going to call the polymer handle a con this time. Usually, splitting axes are quite heavy. That can cause them to require a lot of energy to operate. However, you shouldn’t have any problems using the X27 to chop an entire stack of wood. For that reason alone, I’d recommend this over most traditional splitting axes when it comes to survival usage.
- Again, I’m going to complain about anything with an orange handle. Try imagining that you’re in a hostile survival situation. You have fifty other survivalists within a mile of you. You’ve put a lot of energy into building a hidden shelter. Then, your bright orange ax handle shines through the holes in your little foliage shelter. You would be busted the second someone walked by. However, I can’t blame Fiskars. They make tools that are meant to be used at home.
- Chipping is an issue with most axes. You will probably miss your swing on a few occasions, and your blade edge is going to take the damage. You should know when a product is known for chipping, though.
- The reason that wood is my most preferred handle material is because ax heads are usually separate from the handle. The CRKT Kangee isn’t like that, though. The entire ax is shaped from one solid piece of SK5 carbon steel. The handle is simply screwed onto the sides. That makes this incredibly durable, and you can replace the handles in a pinch.
- I usually prefer a hammer on the back of my ax, but I can’t deny the utility of a spike. The spiked back of the ax head makes this a formidable self defense weapon, and it makes it a bit more useful for piercing. In a pinch, you can always use the flats of the ax head as a hammer.
- This is the first ax on our list with a carbon steel head. Carbon steel is a lot more durable than stainless, and it will hold an edge a lot longer.
- Since this ax is full tang, I don’t mind the glass-filled nylon handle scales. Nylon handles are known for their durability. In the case of the Kangee, the handle scales can fall off completely, and you can still have a quality tool. Whittle some new ones if you need to.
- I would have liked to have had a hammer on the back for pounding in tent stakes, but the spike is useful, too. If you’re in a tropical climate, the spike will easily pierce a coconut. Otherwise, it’ll make a great defensive tool during a really bad situation.
- Each Estwing ax is made by hand. Someone actually pounds each piece of steel into a usable ax. So, you know that you’re receiving something that a lot of care went into.
- Like the Kangee, this Estwing is one solid piece of steel. The handle grip is simply attached to the metal core. That makes it an extremely durable tool. If you manage to break this, you need help.
- The Kangee was a great full tang option, but it’s a tactical design that more traditional guys won’t like. Not everyone wants to look like G.I. Joe when they go into the woods. This Estwing model doesn’t look tactical, though. In fact, the handle is simply made from leather rings that are forced onto the steel shaft. That gives it a traditional look, and you won’t feel as if you bought it directly from the military.
- The Sportsman is a bit small. I prefer a 20 inch ax handle. The small size isn’t horrible. I just think it would be more flexible with a few additional inches added to the handle.
- Leather requires a decent amount of upkeep. The leather rings on the Sportsman are likely to outlive you, but you’ll need to care for them. If they do manage to get too worn out, you can replace them. However, that’s not an easy tasks, and it takes a lot of time.
- Like our previous Estwing suggestion, the Hunter is made from a single piece of steel. The handle is just molded around it. So, you shouldn’t break this, and I pity you if you manage to.
- The handle scales are made from a high-end polymer. This gave Estwing the ability to texture the handle in a way that makes it resistant to slipping out of your hand.
- One of the major downfalls of carbon steel is that it rusts very easily. The EOHA Hunter is coated, though. This will prevent any moisture from damaging your ax.
- Unlike most axes, the EOHA Hunter has a gut hook instead of a hammer. That makes this a little bit more aimed at people who want to take down big game. You can open a deer like its chest cavity has a zipper, but you won’t be pounding any stakes into the ground.
- The gut hook is a great feature for hunters. You can easily open a deer up with it. However, you lose a lot of versatility. I’d prefer a hammer, but this can be a great deal for some users.
This Fiskars offering is designed to be an excellent chopper, and it lives up to its name.
However, this is a mid-sized ax, and that gives it a bit more flexibility over its cousins the X7 and X27 models.
While those two axes cover the two extreme ends of the cutting spectrum, this model sticks to the middle.
Most of the pros and cons between the different Fiskars models are the same.
The main differences are typically just the handle lengths and head weight.
- This chopper weighs less than 4 pounds. When you’re talking about a tool that can be used for hours on end, that lighter weight can be a godsend.
- Fiskars designed the cutting edge on this ax specifically to bite deeper into wood. With this being a felling ax, that can speed up the chopping process exponentially.
- As with the X7 and X27, this chopper has been balanced in a way that makes the ax do most of the work. With this feature, you can expect to burn less calories, and you’ll get more work done.
- The manufacturer is known for making quality tools. They don’t target survivalists and bushcrafters with their tools, but they can be adapted very easily.
- An ax with a wooden handle can last a lifetime. You can always carve a new handle. With full tang hatchets, you most likely will never break the tool. Polymer handles aren’t like either of those. They will eventually break with hard use, and you can’t replace the handle if it does break. That’s not to say that you won’t get years of service from a polymer handle. You’re just screwed when it does break.
- There’s nothing new to say about chipping. If you slam this thing into the ground and hit a rock, you’re going to get a messed up edge.
- With traditional bushcraft axes, you’ll usually receive a leather sheath. Newer designs are typically shipped with ballistic nylon. However, Fiskars isn’t making axes for survivalists and woodsmen. These are made for the type of man that throws his ax in the shed after clearing out an annoying apple tree. So, the sheath is a simple piece of molded plastic that snaps on to protect the edge. It’s safe, but it doesn’t have attachment points for your gear, and it doesn’t have the charm of leather.
The Estwing Fireside Friend is a small hatchet.
It's only 14 inches in overall length, but it packs a hefty punch into its small frame.
It's made from one solid piece of steel, the hammer on the back is designed like the back of a large maul, and the wedge is specifically designed for splitting wood.
To top it all off, its grip is made from a handsome series of genuine leather rings.
- As with all Estwing products, the Fireside Friend is made to exceptionally high standards. This particular model is forged. So, you know that extra care was taken when it was constructed.
- The solid steel frame is unlikely to break under extreme abuse. I wouldn’t hesitate to slam this into the hardest piece of wood around.
- The downsized maul design makes this a great tool for pounding. You’ve got plenty of room on the back. So, misses shouldn’t be common. It also adds quite a bit of weight to the head. When you combine it with the exaggerated wedge on the cutting side, it should get through relatively large logs with ease.
- At 14 inches, you can easily throw this in your pack and forget about it. If you want it on your belt, it may be a bit heavy. It’s short length will stay out of the way, though.
- It’s a little more expensive than the other axes on this list. In fact, it weighs almost as much as our largest Fiskars options. That can be a huge turn off for some people. If you’re the type of person that likes a lightweight kit, you should try a different option.
- At this price range, you can get some great hunter or cruiser axes with a bit more length behind them. That’s not really a negative if you can afford a $100 hatchet. However, it’s nice to know what else the money can get you. That being said, you’ll have this hatchet for a lifetime if you buy it.
- The weight behind this hatchet is also an issue. It’s small, but the exaggerated hammer and wide wedge add a lot of steel to the ax. That can easily lead to your hand becoming fatigued while using it.
Are you tired of having to sharpen your edge every time it goes dull?
Are you tired of having to switch axes when you go from chopping to splitting?
That is okay. This Estwing offering is a lightweight tool that solves both of those problems.
If your edge runs dull, you can simple use the other side of the head.
You can also sharpen one edge to a finely honed chopping edge, and you can keep the other more dull and wide for splitting.
- A double bit ax is a lot more flexible when it comes to cutting tasks. You can put a different edge profile on each blade, and you can keep cutting if one goes dull.
- Like all of the other Estwings I’ve reviewed, this one is made from one piece of steel. You can expect to beat this thing up without worrying.
- The handle of this double bit ax is made to absorb any shock that travels up from the head. If you’ve ever tried to build a complicated shelter, you know how sore your hands can get because of the shock. Luckily, this handle mitigates that problem.
- Most double bits are large felling axes. So, it’s nice to see a smaller option. You can have the advantages of a double bit without the weight and size.
- A lot of caution has to be used when you use a double bit. Every time that you swing it, you have a sharp blade coming at you and every person behind you. This is not something that I’d recommend to children or clumsy people.
- You get to pick one of three color options when you order, but they’re all unnatural. I prefer a very natural looking ax. You can’t beat the charm of hickory, steel, and leather.
- Double bits are specifically designed for clearing a lot of wood out of the way without stopping. So, it’s odd to see a double bit that isn’t large enough to fell a tree. That being said, it’s still a great utility ax. It’s just an odd choice that’s not for everyone.
My Top Suggestion
If I could only pick one ax on this list, I'd pick the Estwing Sportsman.
It isn't as long as I typically prefer, but its other features more than make up for that.
The ax is made from one piece of steel.
So, you'll probably have it until you die.
The leather grip is not only comfortable, but it will only look better with age.
You don't get that kind of long lasting charm from nylon.
The head is easily able to be choked up on.
So, it can easily be used for fine cutting tasks if your knife breaks.
Overall, it's just a solid option at a great price point.
When you enter a survival situation, you don’t know how long it will last.
The polymer options are all great, but they’re useless if they break.
Wood can easily be replaced, but that’s just another chore on top of everything else you have to do.
For those reasons, I’d take the Estwing Sportsman with me.