Best Survival Axe: Where to Look for It

Survival axe review
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

When you think of the best survival axes, you try to picture that horrible surprise situation when you’re stuck in the woods at night and moreover, it’s also pouring rain. Thankfully it’s the woods so you can cut some wood and make a shelter if the bad luck is truly bad and you’re caught without a tent, or at least you can put on a fire, get some warmth, some comfort and confidence.

If only you took the perfect axe with you, it would be almost like your life was saved. But which axe would make the perfect tool for this type of wilderness experience?

The stores are filled with tools that have all sorts of branding typology, starting with the familiar traditional type all the way to the cool-looking, almost science fiction design, made of new sophisticated components, improved strength and endurance, styled and constructed as if it’s the ‘universal soldier tool’, that is there to save you, reliable in any situation.

But beware of the convincing power of appearance, sometimes it is expressing sincerely the nature and qualities of the product, other times its only purpose is to mesmerize, to take your eyes and your mind out of focus.

Survival axe old and new

Back in the days of our grand grandfathers, this was all such an easy task – there were probably just a few individual craftsmen that were renowned in the community for creating trustworthy axes.

Actually the axe was more popular and more frequently met in households – it was an ordinary tool like the hammer, the clippers or the scissors; almost wherever they may have lived, there must have been some wood for grand grandpa to work out into a nice piece of furniture or a stubborn old chicken that’s supposed to make one delicious soup, but one that grand grandma couldn’t manage to cut unless she used the good old axe that her husband bought in a fair truly a lifetime ago.

Because usually that was the case, one axe per man life – yes, from time to time there was the inconvenience of changing the tail because after all it was made of wood, forgetting about it just a few times in the rain would trigger the wood to work, to dilate and swallow the iron and then maybe retract too much, thus turning too small, loosening the grip and in the end losing the head).

And of course, there was also the necessary sharpening of the blade. But this is more of a ritual for men; chorus they most likely take time for and engage naturally, as it has strong roots in the history of mankind, ever since the first fellow started sharpening its rock.

Axe in the wild

Nowadays the simple task of picking a simple tool has become a complex hunt, as the ordinary axe has been refined and segmented for numerous specific utilities, for which it was perfected to essentially respond a very particular need on the market, or to fit a specific budget scheme. That is why you have to be yourself very specific.

And we return to the dreadful night in the wilderness and look at how it can be transformed into a wonderful night in the bosom of nature, under a full sky that hopefully will stop pouring rain and clear out to uncover the stars. So let’s find that star of hope and chop some wood:

  • it’s raining, you’re stressed out, you need an axe with a good grip: one that you can handle well, one that seems to stuck on your hand like a natural extension, so as not to lose easily when waving it under pressure. One that can resist heavy watering without slipping from your hands. Of course, if you’re a professionally equipped wilderness enthusiast, you probably have also a pair of special waterproof gloves designed for this type of conditions that can ensure a perfect grip, case in which you can do very well with any type of axe handle. But otherwise, may be wise to at least consider it to made from rubber and then you can also consider the imprinted pattern, that responds to the same good-grabbing necessity;
  • check its sharpness: if not in the store, you have one more chance on your way out to the exciting wilderness trip. You need to rely on your axe. A sharp efficient axe would, in this context, make the difference between useless junk and life savior. There are axes that can shave your body hair, not to mention cutting strong-fibered wood and there are ones that can only chop, and thus you have to rely more on your force and precision;
  • a good structure design and balance between the tail and the head: of course, if it’s the first time you hold an axe in your hands you might not even notice the difference. But once you’ve handled it and chopped only a few chunks, it will start to become remarkable. There are axes so intelligently constructed, so user-friendly, small but compact, that even a child can use, though of course, it would be completely unwise to let this happen. Beginner, impaired or just purely panicked, an easily handled axe would be a bless so remember to grab it, feel it, slowly swing it, try to find its center of balance and your receptivity to its form, weight, and typical motion through the air;
  • durability: it worked the few times you needed it for barbecue wood chop but it must work the one time you need it to guaranty your life safety. One of the most important aspects to look after, with this consideration, is the type of material used for the tail, the head and the blade. Traditional wood tailed axes are perfect when you’re the conscious tool preserver that checks the overall condition of its instrument regularly and repairs or replaces its damaged parts. Otherwise, a version that ensures use and time resistance through its one single-element structure would make a better option;
  • regarding the body material and structure: in one case, check the way the parts are attached one to another, if they’re well fixed and if it’s not a superficial catchment. Check the quality of the tail not to be too fragile and easily breakable and the quality of the metal head and blade so as not chip when bumped into a hard fibered piece of wood. In the other case, the single structure axes are usually made out of carbon on a steel-reinforced

In the end the whole issue can be reduced to two typologies of users: the methodic, very careful if not extremely passionate that take pleasure in polishing, fixing, improving their tools; and the more reckless, hazardous, rough or less frequent users, that want to rely on tools that have been intended as self-sustainable, as to resist long and hard use without it being pampered too much.

This is a good first category splitter to use for starters when engaging in a look out.

Survival axe in action

So here is a list of selected survival axes, that covers diverse types of functionalities and user preferences, starting with the lowest demands reflected in the lowest prices and gradually growing, in terms of product refinement as well as expensiveness.

Top Survival Axe of 2017

Kershaw Camp Ax

Kershaw Camp Ax

Weight: 14.5 ounces

Size: overall length 11 inches / blade length 3.5 inches

Body material: steel; high-carbon steel handle

Specific features:

  • steel drop forged in one single piece
  • non-slip Krayton handle
  • blade protection sheath

Best use: camping

Description: The Kershaw axe’s most practical feature is its light weight, which makes it a perfect tool to take with when going camping – easy and compact, fitting perfectly in your backpack, as well as easy to handle when you need to chop up a few small branches to set the fire.

The handle is made of good gripping non-lip Krayton and it has an over-all well balance of its elements, therefor it makes the perfect choice for a novice or for light users.

Given its small weight, it could be more difficult to use it for splitting big chunks, cutting thicker branches, not to mention getting down even a small tree.

But even so, it has a solid structure and does its job good enough, that you can rely on this hatchet for more complex work, such as building a shelter, if you trust your muscles and overall physical force that would be necessary to counter-balance the tools inherently low-level of force.

The actual handle design is so practical that it remains comfortable even after hours of using it. Being drop forged ensures a very sturdy structure with perfectly symmetrical aligned components, providing also high endurance on rough maneuvering and durability in time for multiple uses, though for maximum performance it will need the blade sharpened from time to time.

The protective sheath is from plastic, it covers the hatchet’s top and blade so it secures for protection, but it’s not for heavy use. As appearance, this axe is the classical, simple instrument that honestly reinstates its title designation – a good-old camp ax.

Related: New Kershaw 1018 Camp Axe Large Fixed Blade Camp Axe Knife and Sheath Sale

Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet

Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet

Weight: 1.5 pounds

Size: 13.5 inches tail / 3 inches head

Body material: steel head and blade, hickory wood tail

Special features:

  • improved design update – steel wedge on top of tail removed for better practicality, lower weight
  • leather protection sheath

Best use: general use, camping, hiking

Description: The original steel wedge on the top of the hatchet’s tail, which was usually adopted for this type of hatchets in order to better fix the head to the handle, is no longer a standard for some models, including this one.

The technology of its construction and part catchment has evolved enough to ensure reliability and sturdiness while discarding the unnecessary extra metal can better portability by lowering the weight as well as better practicality that comes with the simplest most efficient design.

The Granfors Bruck Wildlife Hatchet is assuring users of a multifunctional axe experience – small and compact enough to carry in your backpack but even hanged from your belt; intended for varied choruses: chopping, splitting and even sharp and strong enough to cut thicker branches; it promises to be the all-in-one survival tool that a wilderness kit has to contain.

It looks rough, just as you’d need it to be, its 1 pound head is very well balanced and it has a smooth tail design that makes handling this hatchet a very easy-to-do job even for a novice.

The manufacturer alerts customers of the incredible sharpness of the blade and indeed if you the product reviews, users are mentioning slicing tomatoes as easily as a knife as well as test shaving body hair with the same precision. This general use camp hatchet is impressive when size features are compared to its performance in the hardest more complex wood cutting practice.

The item comes with a traditional leather sheath that provides extensive protection and, compared with other included covers, this one also ensures extensive resistance in time and rough  handling habits.

Related: Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe, Gransfors Bruks Hand Hatchet, Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe #430

Cold Steel Trail Boss Hickory Handle

Cold Steel Trail Boss Hickory Handle

Weight: 2.7 pounds

Size: 26 inches overall length, 6.5 hawk length

Body material: drop forged 1055 Carbon steel, handle from American Hickory

Best use: camping

Description:  Cold Steel Trail Boss Hickory Handle is recommended by the manufacturer as a versatile instrument, efficient in various situations, for chopping small wood for making a fire to more complex choruses as clearing roads and trails, action which implies a very effective sharp blade and a good maneuverability when handling it in a wide swing-type motion.

And the claim is that the European style top that’s equipped with a 4 inches blade on a 4.5 inch cutting edge, can ensure precision and force, enough to cut through thick logs, even through the hardest densest wood fibers.

The tail is made of American Hickory and it presents a simple classic form, mostly addressed to the more experienced users that know are familiar with working diverse jobs with an axe, being accustomed to hold it steady in their hands without the need of an extra rubber grip for anti-slip insurance – the tail is long enough though to provide an easy two-hand handling of the tool, thus facilitating more forceful hits and more precision.

Its slim structure and type of head/ blade do not recommend it for hard use, extensive thick hard-fibred wood cutting and splitting, but its efficiency is highlighted in terms of practicality in everyday camp works and also portability.

Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Axe

Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Axe

Weight: 2.4 ounces

Size: 13 inches overall length, 6 inches head length, 2 inches blade length

Body material: high carbon steel construction, rubber grip

Special features:

  • non-slip waterproof rubber grip
  • nylon sheath resistant at mildly rough conditions
  • belt loops
  • Bear Grills approved

Best use: all camping, wilderness hiking

Description: This hatchet is designed by Gerber, which assures particular knowledge from many years of experience in manufacturing quality axes, backed-up by the Bear Grills signature, a serious and well-renowned survival brand.

If this is not enough performance insurance, then its top-notch construction features and the latest body materials used to reinforce the structure should provide confidence to both experienced users and novices alike.

Its full-tang profile is a mark of endurance – the body of Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Axe present no welts whatsoever so each part is perfectly flowing from the other one, with tail and head in balance forming an integral unity, while its weight and size make it user-friendly and easy to carry on, by even attaching it to your belt.

Being intended for survival contexts, this hatchet is the kind of multi-tool serving all sorts of purposes: it’s small but sturdy – being capable of chopping but also to split and cut thick hard wood, thanks to its sharp razor blade; also the back of the hatchet’s head presents a grilled crosshatched pattern that permits it to be used as a hammer as well as for tendering your barbecue meat.

This exquisite blade is protected by a mildew cover sheath that is military-grade certified, offering safe carrying also on bad weather conditions and rough wilderness walks. The product comes with an included Bear Grills guide about the “Priorities of survival”, in which the author points out the most important things to look after, when in a dangerous wilderness situation.

Estwing Mfg E24A Sportsman’s Axe

Estwing Mfg E24A Sportsman’s Axe

Weight: 14.9 ounces

Size: 13 inches overall length / 5 inches head length / 1 inch blade

Body material: steel forged in one piece

Special features:

  • Leather handle grip
  • Nylon sheath

Best use: camping, hiking

Description: The Sportsman’s Axe presents an elegant classical style, embedded also in the preferred leather handle, a natural material to provide a good grip and a comfortable hand feel, suitable for many hours of intense work, ensuring a non-slip security in cases of wet hands.

The grip is sanded and lacquered for this exquisite appearance, but professional users draw attention on its non-water-resistance, thus the whole axe and especially the leather grip should be kept safe of humidity in order to foresee water absorption and molding.

The steel used is not stainless, but still it can resist corrosion to a high degree. Drop-forging the entire structure, provides durability in terms of any utilization conditions and also time resistance – this is the kind of tool that would never lose its head, won’t bend or chip.

Thea head and handle of this particular axe are narrower than the standard hatchet on the market and this feature allows the users to cut deeper into the wood.  It’s a good survival option, as it does the whole package of wood cutting jobs, it can even be used as a machete, clearing roads and trails.

Moreover, it has the dually functional head, with its back apt to be used as a hammer. Provided that it’s also light so easy to carry on wherever you go and also well-balanced, thus easy to handle, this type of axe is recommendable for first-time, low users alike.

Related: Estwing E45A 26-Inch Camper’s Axe-All Steel with Shock Reduction Grip, Estwing E44A 16-Inch Camper’s Axe-All Steel with Shock Reduction Grip

Snow and Nealley Hudson Bay Axe

Snow and Nealley Hudson Bay Axe

Weight: 2.8 pounds

Size: 23 inches overall length, 8 inches head length, 1.5 inches blade

Body material: steel head and blade, wood tail

Special features:

  • Hand worked
  • Leather blade cover

Best use: camping

Description: The Snow and Nealley Hudson Bay Axe is the type of traditional instrument, provided by looks as well as structure, elements catchment and materials. It’s head and blade is forged from grain steel and even hand worked afterwards to ensure the type of old-school appearance and performance quality. Its plain simple statement resonates better either with users that know precisely what they need this axe for.

Along with the traditional features, come included the original wood handle which doesn’t provide much of grip in inexperienced hands, neither in sweaty or wet ones, but does induce the ancestral feeling of holding a true old-fashioned axe.

The overall form and roughness complete this picture, affirming the Snow and Nealley Hudson Bay Axe as the one piece of tool that draws its performance abilities from the years of typical American manufacturing experience. It’s not the small compact style of a regular hatchet, but it’s light enough to make it a good camp tool.

Related: Snow and Nealley Penobscot Bay Kindling Axe 011S

SOG Specialty Knives & Tools BadAxe Base Camp Axe

SOG Specialty Knives & Tools BadAxe Base Camp Axe

Weight: 33 ounces

Size: 16 inches overall length / 3.4 inches blade length

Body material: 1005C forged steel with rubber mold for gripping

Special features:

  • Thermal-molded rubber handle
  • Molded nylon blade protection sheath
  • SOG Limited Lifetime Guaranteed

Best use: all camping use

Description: The SOG Specialty Knives & Tools F16N-CP BadAxe Base Camp Axe is a multifunctional camping tool. It presents a simple elegant design, that’s been intelligently projected to ensure endurance as well as maneuverability.

Given its one piece steel forged structure, it’s one axe that you can try to destroy, bend or make it lose its good balance and still couldn’t manage to do so. Its slightly twisted tail provides a better efficiency when splitting logs or cutting into denser wood fabric, making it easier for the user to strike more forcefully and more precisely.

The back of the head is provided to be used as a hammer. And the rubber molded grip makes it anti-slip safe in all weather and work conditions. It’s a well-chosen axe for a professional woodworker as well as a once-in-a-while camper, for someone that has knowledge on using this type of tool, but for novices alike – it’s an instrument that’s going to pass the test of time and also the recurrent harsh working conditions.

The cutting-edge design features make it effective even if it’s been left behind in the storage for longer periods, as the blade’s inherent erosion is of a low degree and the materials ensure against corrosive agents as humidity.

Related: SOG Specialty Knives & Tools F17N-CP BadAxe BackCountry 2-In-1 Axe with #-Inch Straight Edge


Of course, the bluntest, uneven blade, fixed with wire onto a rough wooden stick would be an effective tool in the hands of an experienced woodcutter, but a smartly designed with perfected constructing materials axe can make wonders in the hands of a novice.

Though after all, even the top of the top, cannot make any difference if you don’t focus your hit, have a precise swing, a good flow and give your attention to the whole process.

Survival axe for the real world

It’s you who have to do the job in any way, so don’t lose yourself in the searching stage, or it might trick you into attributing your tool too much responsibility, alongside with credit. Follow the basic guidelines and look sincerely into your needs and capabilities, you don’t buy this type of axe to look cool and colorful on your gadget belt, this feature won’t make any branch rip itself apart for you.

That is why ultimately if you don’t trust the brand, the product description, the store seller, your own knowledge, instinct and respectively your judgement, it’s advisable to ponder your choices by reviewing what previous users had to say about the specific axe. It’s true, the campaigners have infiltrated this section also, but mostly it’s reputable buyers that share their honest experience.

Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • timothy smith

    Gerber Bear Grylls Survival looks interesting. I like that this model doesn’t have any welds, so it means it would last long. The size and weight are small, comfortable for taking on the hunt or fishing. By the way, mine was VERY sharp, I found it near the lake, when decided to chop some wood. Thanks to the case everybody is ok. The axe is stylish, has a soft handle, nice colors.
    It will be a good assistant for you in the wild.

    • Dennis Owens

      I agree, Timothy. The less moving parts you have, the less prone that thing is when it comes to wear and tear. It is durable, reliable, and really sharp with a comfortable and soft grip.

  • brian richardson

    The ax should be comfortable and compact for a number of simple tasks:
    – to chop firewood, which will help to keep warm or cook food;
    – to cut sticks for installing and fixing the tents;
    – build a raft;
    – to pave the way through thickets of prickly bushes;
    – chop the staves that can be used for the construction of the tent or for stretching the ropes.

    It is better in advance to hold it in the hand. We all have different hands, so each fits a different model. Personally, I prefer to work with the Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet.

    • Dennis Owens

      You just identified the basics of what we can do with our axes, and so much more. The Bruk Hatchet is a nice choice actually. This is one of the main reasons where, as much as possible, the user should get a hold of the axe he’s planning to buy to make sure the grip is compatible with his hands.