Survival axes – what they are and what to look for?
When talking about the most important survival tools several main contenders usually come up. Knives, first aid kits, fire-starting kits, fishing kits, and – hatchets and axes. Especially when it comes to survival in the wilderness, be it short-term or long-term, axes are an absolute must.
Would any axe do, however? Can you just grab a regular wood-cutting axe from the shed in the yard and be done with it? Or is there anything specific about survival axes?
Below we’ll cover all the specifics about survival axes and hatches, and what distinguishes them from regular wood-cutting tools. We’ll discuss what you should be looking for in survival axes and what are the standard variations you should know.
What is a survival axe or hatchet?
As with all other survival tools, survival axes and hatchets are specifically designed to aid you in your survival needs. This means several things:
- They should be excellent at what they do. There’s no excuse for sub-par tools and designs when it comes to survival. Any survival tool you get, axe, hatchet, or otherwise, should be of the highest quality.
- They should be very durable. SHTF (shit hits the fan) and TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) situations can often take a lot of time. Weeks, months, and often years are needed for an SHTF situation to get resolved. This means that the tools you’re using should last that long and not a day less.
- Survival tools such as axes and hatchets should be easily portable and lightweight. Survival situations often require you to be on foot or to be ready for it. So, while your wood-cutter axe in the yard shed might be nice and useful, it’s not really lightweight or portable.
A good survival axe must match these three main criteria. We’ll discuss the key features of survival axes below in detail of course. But these three criteria should give you a clear picture of what a survival axe is. It’s durable, effective, and compact – an excellent companion for wilderness survival.
Of course, it’s better to have a standard wood-cutter axe with you than to not have an axe at all. However, nine times out of ten, a good survival axe will be a better inclusion to your survival kit than a big wood-cutter axe.
What’s the difference between a survival axe and a survival hatchet?
A lot of people use the terms “axe” and “hatchet” rather interchangeably. That’s not a big problem most of the time, especially when it comes to survival axes and hatchets. Still, the difference is clear and should be known.
A hatchet is generally an extra small and lightweight axe. Hatchets are easy to carry and handle, and are effective for many survival tasks. They are good for cutting fire kindling or saplings, for example. They are also very effective for cutting through animal bones and cartilage when working with game carcasses.
However, a hatchet usually won’t be big and strong enough to aid you in combat or to deal with forestry. Sure, in these cases it’s better to have a hatchet than to have nothing, but a bigger and stronger axe is preferable.
Because survival axes are, by definition, compact and lightweight, they are often very close to hatchets in size. That’s why, if you look at tools from different manufacturers you can see some confusingly named models. There are some brands’ hatchet models that are bigger than other brands’ axe designs – this is strictly a naming and terminology issue.
At the end of the day, you should get a tool that’s of the right size and design for your needs. As long as that’s the case, its name is irrelevant.
Why do you need a survival axe in your survival kit?
There are many reasons why you should never forget adding a survival axe to your wilderness survival kit. We won’t possibly be able to list them all but here are the main examples:
- Wood-cutting. Wood is one of the most useful building materials in the wilderness. And the axe is the most useful tool for working with wood. Surviving in the woods for any period of time without as axe is arguably even harder than doing so without a knife.
- Bush-hacking. When thinking about clearing brush and bushes, people usually imagine machetes. And, sure, the sharp, elongated but still top-heavy blade of the machete is better. But adding an entire machete to your survival kit just for bush-hacking is quite an overkill. Instead, a good survival axe can take care of that job as well. The length of the blade will matter here as some hatchets have very short blades. Everything longer than several inches should do the trick, however.
- Making a fire. From cutting and gathering the kindling, through digging the fire pit, to even starting the fire, a good axe can help with all of that.
- Building a lean-to shelter. Even if you have to spend just several days in the wilderness, you’re going to need a shelter. In fact, in many situations, even mere hours without shelter can be deadly. Survival axes and hatchets can be invaluable for that. They can help you cut and trim the right branches, as well as construct a shelter from them. Even if you have a survival tent with you (which is advisable), an axe can help setting it up. It can help to hammer the nails, even the ground, clear bushes and debris, and more. If need be, it can even act as a survival shovel.
- Building a whole survival cabin. Living in a lean-in shelter for several days or weeks is one thing. But if you have to spend months or years in the wilderness, you’ll need something more. And building a survival cabin without an axe is basically an impossibility.
Ideally, you’ll have other tools with you, of course. That’s why every good prepper knows to start prepping an off-the-grid cabin ahead of time. If that hasn’t been an option, however, with a trusty axe you can build an entire cabin if you have to.
- Self-defense. People rarely think about self-defense when it comes to wilderness survival but it’s a factor there as well. Whether it’s from wild animals or from ill-meaning people, you should always be able to defend yourself. Yes, tools such as survival knives, revolvers, and other firearms are preferable here but an axe can still be very useful as well.
- Setting up traps. A big part of hunting for game in the wild includes trapping. Especially if you don’t have your hunting gear and dogs with you, smart trapping can save your life. And a survival axe or hatchet can be invaluable when it comes to building and setting up traps.
- Hunting and carcass work. When we say “hunting” we don’t really mean killing elk or other big game with axes – that’s obviously impractical. However, like knives, axes can be very useful with the carcass work afterward. Especially with big game, working the bones and cartilage can be a nightmare with a proper metal tool.
- Making tools and weapons. Survival in the wilderness typically includes the crafting of many tools and weapons. Spears, bows and arrows, hammers, stone knives, and so on, can all be life-saving. And a good hatchet or axe can make it much easier to craft the best possible tools for any job.
- Hooking, grappling, and throwing a rope. A big extra benefit of axes is that they are a hafted tool that’s excellent for grappling. Very often you’ll need to toss ropes up branches or cliffs either for climbing or lifting things. Having an axe with a hole in its handle is great for such a task.
- Hammering and other blunt-tool uses. Even the simplest plain-design axe is essentially a multi-tool. The back of the axe-head can make for a great emergency hammer even if it doesn’t have a dedicated hammer head. Needless to say, multi-tools are precious in any survival situation.
- Additional hidden compartment for extra tools and gear. Survival axes are always sold with sheaths and often – with straps and bags. This is great both for the axe as well as for the extra tools you can fit with it.
Survival axes for urban survival
All of the above is strictly focused on wilderness survival as that’s where axes shine. They aren’t really a must-have for urban survival kits but their usefulness should be appreciated there as well. The “concrete jungle” also offers a lot of tasks for survival axes such as self-defense, shelter-building, creating emergency exits, repair work, and so on.
What are the main features of a great survival axe?
We mentioned the three main points that differentiate a survival axe from a regular axe above. However, when it comes the time for purchasing your survival axe, there are more things you should keep in mind. Here are some pointers:
- Quality, quality, quality. This cannot be understated. As with your survival knife, the quality of the survival axe shouldn’t be compromised with.
- A sharp blade of the right size and shape for your needs. If you’re sold a blunt axe you can always sharpen it yourself, yes. However, that does speak of the poor craftsmanship of the manufacturer. More to the point, it’s also important to pick the right axe-head for your needs. Generally speaking, a smaller axe-head means it’s a hatchet and isn’t for heavy-duty work. This isn’t always a negative, however. You should know the area you’ll have to survive in and what challenges it presents. If a smaller, lighter hatchet is better for your needs – that’s what you should go for.
- The durability of the materials of the axe-head, the handle, and the sheath. The axe’s overall design isn’t the only thing you should keep an eye for. Make sure the materials of both the head and the body, as well as the sheath, are as durable as possible. Stainless steel for the blade is ideal as well as titanium and fiberglass for the handle. For the sheath, thick and durable nylon is often best or nice, thick leather.
- Handle composition. Ideally, you’d want the handle and the axe to flush together. This means that they should be a part of the same building block and not two separate pieces attached together. This is very important for the axe’s durability and stability. Many axes are made with two-piece design and that’s not necessarily horrible if they’re of good quality. But in the long run, a flush single-piece design will last longer.
– Are there benefits to having separate axe-head and handle? In theory, being able to separate the head of the axe from the body has its advantages too. For one, it can make it easier to store. Additionally, it makes it easier to replace the handle if need be. But most of the time we’d recommend a single-piece design.
- Compact size and lightweight design. This is a must, otherwise, we’re talking about a regular wood-cutting axe and not a survival axe. As with any other piece of survival equipment, any extra inch or pound means less room in your backpack for other stuff.
– How about foldable designs? Foldable disassembling designs can be easier to store but, as we noted above, tend to be less durable.
- Ergonomic design. Whatever axe you go for, it should fit well in your hands. Some have added leather to the grip, others are just made in a nice curved design, and some are completely straight. Test which grip suits you best before you buy anything.
- Extra features to look for. The 6 points above are the must-haves of survival axes. Depending on your needs, however, a survival axe can offer other benefits and features as well.
– Rope hole. Roping is a vital extra-feature of survival axes and it’s made much easier if there’s a rope hole in the handle.
– Additional compartments. There are some survival axe designs that come with shallow handles. This is even more common in survival shovels and it can be useful. For one, it gives you extra storage space for stuff such as fishing or fire-starting gear. It also offers a more secretive hiding place for stuff. This tends to compromise the stability and durability of the axe, however, so we wouldn’t recommend it. If the sheath or carrying bag comes with extra pockets and compartments, however – that’s always great.
– Hammer backend of the axe-head. The back of an axe-head can act as a hammer even if it’s not specifically designed for that. However, if there’s a hammer-head added to the design – that’s even better.
– Waterproof. As with any other wilderness survival tool, you really want your axe to be waterproof. Rust can be annoying in the wilderness and even life-threatening at times. This also matters for the axe’s sheath.
– Sharpening tools. Good preppers and survivalists should always have sharpening tools with them. But if your axe comes with sharpening tools too, that’s always welcomed.