When away from civilization, be it in the woods or on the trail, the outdoorsman’s trusted companion is the campside axe or hatchet. In your choice of this tool, you must weight capability against form and function, keeping in mind that fine balance between a bringing enough blade and the fact that every extra ounce of weight has to be carried not only in, but back out again.
Typically, with a camp axe you want it to be packable, be it in a rucksack, jeep back, saddlebag, or canoe. This means a handle under 20 inches. For maximum versatility, you also want to keep with single bit heads, meaning designed with only one cutting edge to be used for felling and limbing. This will give you a wide and flat poll on the reverse that can be used to pound tent pegs or as a hammer point in log splitting. Here are five good ones that won’t leave you hanging.
Estwing Sportsman’s AxeKnown by contractors and craftsmen alike from coast to coast, Estwing makes some of the best hammers and hand tools in the country and has been doing so since 1923. With this legacy behind them, they have produced one of the most classically-styled yet functional small axes on the globe. Their Sportsman’s Axe, available in both a 12 and 14-inch length, is forged one-piece impact rated steel with a traditional leather ring grip. It not only works well but it looks great while doing it.
Plumb Rigster HatchetWith a name that goes back to the 1850s, Plumb is one of the oldest players in the hand tool game. Sold side by side with Estwing in the better hammer section, it is a recognized household name among woodworkers. Besides their hammers, the company, now under the Apex Tools banner, also makes a serious line of hatchets. Not typically marketed to outdoorsmen, make no mistake that these roofer’s dreams, also commonly seen in the tool belts of those who handcraft log cabins, make great camp axes. The 28-ounce Rigster, with its 18-inch long hickory shaft, hammerhead poll and bevel curve nail puller can help you build your own camp with equal ease.
Gränsfors Bruks Small Forest AxeWhat do you think of when Sweden pops into mind? Ever heard bad things about it? There is a reason for that. With more than two thirds of the Scandinavian country covered in some of the thickest old growth forests remaining in Europe, it is a natural paradise for outdoor recreation. With that in mind you would expect hunting and camping axes there to be a chop above the rest and those by Gränsfors Bruks certainly aim to live up to that expectation. One of the most capable of their more than 40 axe choices for the foot-borne camper is their Small Forest Axe. Coming in at two-pounds, this 19-inch long chopper can fell a tree and help build a campsite all while still fitting in a rucksack. Labeled by GB as an axe it’s still considered a hatchet on this side of the pond since its overall length is under 20-inches. No matter how you define it, this offering is a great all-round camp tool.
Zippo WoodsmanYou came. You sawed. You’ll conquer. Or so says Pennsylvania-based Zippo when it comes to their Woodsman camp tool. Part bow saw, part mallet, all axe, this packable multi-tool can do everything from pound tent stakes, to fell trees and saw logs for your fire pit. We are only surprised that it doesn’t have a lighter included.
Wetterling Belt AxeAnother great Swedish camping tool company is Wetterling and perhaps one of their best offerings for sportsmen is their small belt axe. Handmade with a forged carbon steel head and a 10-inch hickory handle, it tips the scales at just 1.25 pounds and is one of the smaller offerings out there. However, its bit face, with a nice wide heel and toe, is easy to sharpen to near-razor quality which makes this European import capable of fine carpentry work around camp if you get bored—or even a morning shave if careful enough.
Each of the above tackle your camping needs differently with their own list of qualities. With that said, any of them stand ready to give you a good chop along the trail.