Types of Axes: What to Look for in A Survival Axe

Survival axes
Written by Dennis Owens

As a survivalist, it is important to have the tools necessary to save your life and to survive without modern necessities. And, one of the most important tools to bring with you out in the wilderness is an axe. However, not all axes are created the same, and there are certain types of axes that will serve you better than others.

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How about the knife? While a survival knife is an important tool for survivalists, there are simply some tasks a knife cannot do. You also want to have a survival axe with you as well, as a backup to your knife and for those certain tasks. To help you decide what survival axe to choose, here is a list of types of axes, features to look for, and things to consider when making your decision.

Types of Axe

In your search for the perfect axe to use in the wilderness or in a survival situation, you are going to encounter a wide range of types. It is important to understand the differences and the uses of each kind.


These are smaller versions of a typical axe and they are typically around 18 inches long. Hatchets usually weigh around 1.5 to 2 pounds. In order to chop wood, you use one hand to swing the axe while the other hand holds the wood in place. However, you probably won’t be able to chop huge logs with a hatchet. They can only cut through a few inches.


One of the best ways to use a hatchet is for cutting branches for firewood or chopping down small sized trees in your camping area. The blade on hatchets is double-edged and weigh about a pound. They are versatile and perfect for your bug out bag. Hatchets are a multi-functional axe and a popular choice for survival axes. Check out our guide on how to choose the best hatchets for your survival needs.

Pocket Size

These are the smallest version of an axe. Pocket axes are even smaller than hatchets! They are typically 12 inches long and can weigh as little as 1 pound!

Pocket Size axe

Despite their small size, they are strong, sturdy, and can be used to split logs around 6 inches wide. If you want an axe that is compact but can cut firewood or clear branches, a pocket size axe would be perfect.

Felling Axe

This is the typical axe you may think about when envisioning chopping logs. A felling axe is what you want for cutting down a tree if you don’t have a chainsaw handy. The handle of a felling axe is typically around 24 inches long and the blade weighs four pounds.

Felling Axe

The additional weight of the blade and the longer handle project more power behind your swing. This allows you to chop larger items as you can put more force behind this axe. The blade will be thin and sharpened on both sides. Typically, you would swing the axe sideways – they are designed to cut through the grain.

A felling axe is also referred to as a cutting axe. When you make your selection, it should have a sharp blade, with a tapered head. This allows you to chop a variety of wood, even the toughest bark.

Splitting Maul

To survive in the wilderness, you will need to have a ready supply of firewood for heat, protection and cooking. A splitting maul is an axe designed for firewood. The head is thick and heavy and it can weigh up to 12 pounds. This additional weight puts some serious force into your swing.

Splitting Maul

When you use a splitting maul, you should swing downwards; this is the direction of the grain. The long handle and heavy blade provide enough power to split a log in two. They also are referred to as a splitting axe. Keep in mind though, they are not for beginners! You should experience in handling an axe before taking your try with a splitting maul.

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A great splitting axe is going to have a heavy blade, weighing at least 7 pounds. The head will be shaped like a wedge, and the handle is straight. The features of a splitting axe allow you to have a stronger strike and prevent the axe from getting stuck in the wood. The strikes are typically deeper than with any other axe and you can also use it as a hammer.


If you are concerned with personal safety, a tomahawk is a way to go. While it can be used for traditional tasks like chopping firewood, it excels as a personal weapon. The lightweight design allows for it to be thrown at great speeds and accuracy. Most people think of classic Native American tales when they hear the word tomahawks. They were known as a formidable weapon at one point in history.


The disadvantage of tomahawks is they do take more skill to be able to use these to their full potential. However, a survivalist can truly find uses for a tomahawk due to its versatility. Everyone knows how important tools are when they can be used for multiple tasks.

Limbing Axe

These are very similar to a felling axe. Limbing axes are around 24 inches long and 2 pounds so they are a medium sized axe. As you can guess from the name, they are best for cutting limbs from a tree. If you have to clear paths or a camping area, a limbing axe can be beneficial.

Limbing Axes

You can use limbing axes with one hand, due to the smaller poundage. However, due to the design, you can also use both handles and get a strong swing. If you want a sort of in between axe, this may be a great compromise.

What You Should Look for in An Axe

Two of the most important characteristics of your axe are the handle and blade.

Survival Axe handle

First, you want to make sure the handle is made out of a nice material. Second, there are two types of blades: single and double blades.


One of the most important parts of the axe is the handle itself. Axes can have fibreglass, metal or wood handles and here’s why you should consider each type:

  • Metal handles are durable and the strongest out of the 3 options. However, they are also the heaviest. This is why they aren’t often selected for survival scenarios. But, metal handles are nearly impossible to damage.
  • Wood handles are the classic choice and the most common option in stores. They are durable, but you may have trouble getting a good grip during wet weather. Wood handles are more lightweight than metal but heavier than fiberglass They absorb the shock well from chopping and they are easy to replace. Still, they can break or be damaged easily.
  • Fibreglass handles are popular because they are strong but lightweight. Fiberglass handles are stronger than wood handles, but harder to replace if damage would occur. The lightweight feature makes them ideal for survivalists because they won’t make a bag any heavier. Most have a rubber grip, which lets you hold on tightly during wet weather.

You also should pay attention to the length of the handle. A longer handle increases your chances of getting a great swing which makes chopping wood easier and faster. The problem with longer handles is the weight. Additional weight makes it harder to fit into your bug out bag or for you to carry it long distances.


If you want a good survival axe, the head is going to be an important feature and it should be high-quality. Otherwise, the cutting ability is going to be poor sand this is the worst case scenario for any survivalist.

Single Blade Axe

You want to look at the thickness of the blade as well as the sharpness. It’s also important that the area directly behind the blade doesn’t widen too quickly. This prevents the axe from penetrating far and will make falling wood more difficult for you.

The best metal for survival axes is carbon steel. While stainless steel may seem great, it isn’t going to be as strong as needed for chopping wood. Carbon steel is very strong, but it does require some care to prevent rusting. However, if you do decide to select an axe with stainless steel, make sure it has a protective outer core.

See also: How to Sharpen An Axe: Improvise for A Sharp Edge

Now, let’s discuss the shape of the blade. Some axes have single and some axes have double blades. There are benefits and uses for each type:

  • Single Blade Axe: this is the most common and versatile of all as you only have one sharp bit. Typically, you swing the single blade axe over your shoulder, so you can gather the most force. These are typically used for splitting wood and hammering.
  • Double Bladed Axe: These axes have two sharp They are symmetric and easier to balance than the single blade axes. Typically, you would use each blade for a specific task, like splitting and cutting wood. And finally, since you will have two blades to deal with, it is best to have a cover for the blade you aren’t using.

How to Decide Which Survival Axe Is for You

As you can tell, there are plenty of options available when you decide to purchase a survival axe.

Double Bladed Axe

So, to choose a useful tool, the axe needs to perform the functions you believe will be important in a survival scenario. Here are some things to think about when you make your decision:

  • Size: The first thing to decide is how large of an axe you want. If you believe you are going to be bugging out and walking a lot, you may want to opt for a very lightweight axe. Survival scenarios that allow you to bug in or stay in a small range allow you to have a bigger axe, such as a felling or splitting axe.
  • Balance: When you are holding the axe in your hand, it is best to make sure the axe is well-balanced. Place the head of the axe between your forefingers and thumb. The handle should be straight in this position. The head has to be aligned with the handle in order to cut well.
  • Purpose: This is the most important thing to think about when you decide which axe is perfect for you. Let’s take a look at what each axe is suited for best.
    • Felling and Splitting Axes are best for scenarios where you need to cut a lot of logs down. If you plan to live in the wilderness, this is an absolute must. You can build a log house or cut down trees to clear the area for a camp. To gather enough firewood for a winter, you need one of these axes.
    • A Hatchet is an all-around great survival axe. They are strong and lightweight. If you are heading out into the woods, a hatchet is a perfect companion. While it can chop wood, you will struggle to fall multiple trees.
    • A Limbing Axe is ideal for survival conditions. You can cut down smaller sized trees, as well as clearing branches from camping areas. It is in between the sizes of a hatchet and a felling axe. Because they are more lightweight, you can even use these in self-defense scenarios. They are an all-around great axe.
  • Weight: If you are carrying a bug out bag, an extra pound can feel like a lot of weight after a day of hiking. Even if you aren’t carrying a bag, a heavy axe will be cumbersome to carry long distances. Think about your survival plan and the area you live when making the decision.
  • Blade Material: Stainless steel generally isn’t going to be what you want for a blade because it will require too much sharpening. A strong metal, such as carbon steel, is needed.

What to Take Away

Now that we are through with all the important information, you are no doubt wondering what you should remember and take away with you. First, you should think about your scenario or survival plan. Maybe you love to camp and want to take this axe out in the wilderness with you.

Maybe you plan to bug in at your house during a crisis. Maybe you plan to bug out with your family during a disaster. Knowing your scenario is going to help you decide.

What axe to bring

Then, think about the most important purpose you want the axe for. If you already have a great survival knife, you may not be too concerned with clearing away limbs because a great survival knife can do this as well. Each of your tools should complement each other.

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After these considerations, you should consider the size and weight. The type of handle matters as well; wood and fiberglass are the most common types of handles. Look for strong metals for the blade, such as carbon steel. Our must-read article review of the top survival axe can give you more options so check it out!

And now, at the very end, we have a question for fellow survivalists: are there features you enjoy in your survival axes? Let us know in the comments.


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.