The Best Pack Axes to go Backpacking
If the thought of packing up the bare essentials into a trusty backpack, and hiking it through the woods in search of solitude and tranquility excites you, then you’ve come to the right place.
You’ve packed all the prerequisites for surviving in the great outdoors, you just need to pack that one essential tool that will perform a multitude of tasks, the trusted backpacking axe.
There are many camp pack axes suitable for outdoor activities, but with a backpack full of gear, you need to pick the one pack axe that will get the job done, effectively while being a trusty companion in your wilderness adventure.
First, we should identify key tasks you may need to perform while backpacking in the wild, and how an axe can accomplish even the most simplest tasks, while reducing your need for other burdensome tools and extra weight to your back pack.
Axes Uses While Backpacking:
– Starting a fire (striking axe against rock to make sparks)
– Chopping wood, kindling needed for fire starting
– Splitting logs
– Shaving fine kindling
– Wood carving
– Driving tent spikes into the ground
– Dig holes, break up dirt
– Breaking ice & snow (winter backpacking)
– Making ideal wood splints for broken bones/fractures
– As a weapon against predators
– Use the metal to reflect light for a signal
– As a means to hunt/kill animals for food
– Preparing food
These are some of the many tasks to factor in and consider when selecting the perfect pack axe to hike into the deep woods with.
If you’re carrying a lot of gear already in your back pack, you may want to go for an axe that is lightweight, something made from fiberglass or steel like one of these tactical axes, in lieu of a wood handle axe. At the same time, you know you must have something durable and strong to perform a wide array of tasks including – chopping or splitting wood and kindling, clearing a camp site or even skinning and preparing food.
The classic wooden handle axe is a solid go to choice for performing these tasks and still maintaining an easy to carry pack. How do you balance weight and space, without sacrificing performance? We’ve highlighted a couple strong and durable pack axes that would make an exceptional choice to just about any backpack kit you may need.
The Modern Pack Axe: Tactical Survival Hatchet
If you want an axe that will survive the tests of time and elements, you should go for a fiberglass handle with a steel axe head. These axes are strong and won’t break as easily as a wooden handled axe.
They are often very lightweight with a thin profile, great for stuffing in an already overcrowded back pack. This will enable you to carry more in your back pack overall, while keeping the overall weight down that you’ll be carrying long distances.
Speaking of long distances, you want to try and minimize the weight of your pack if you’re travelling long distances and worried about your back giving out.
One advantage of a lightweight metal axe handle, is if the axe gets buried into wood while splitting but the wood doesn’t split, one can just pound on the handle with another chunk of wood until the axe goes right on through and fully splits the wood. No need to worry if the handle will break, as it’s often well constructed to withstand such abuse.
It’s a heavy duty tool great for camping, hiking, hunting, self-defense or good old fashioned adventure. It’s described as being “Ultralight” & “Ultrasharp”, two essentials needs in a solid pack axe. It features a durable and long lasting blade, that can hold an edge for an extended period of time with little maintenance needed.
It won’t rust on you as easy as a traditional axe would, and if it’s just a short trek, you can leave the sharpening stone at home, and lighten your load even more, as the edge will maintain it’s sharpness with use.
This axe can easily be dropped in your backpack, but it does have a sharp blade using high quality steel, so it comes with an ergonomically designed handle & plastic sheath with non-skid materials, great for use in wet conditions.This would be suitable for strapping to the outside of your pack, or stuffing it inside and not worrying about the sharp edge tearing a hole in the fabric.
The stainless steel head has more carbon, which means it will have excellent edge retention and hardness, making it rust free with minimal damage to the axe bit (the sharp edge). Some of the tasks you can perform with this axe, includes chopping wood, shaving kindling and creating smaller wood in preparation for fire starting.
This particular axe, also includes a fire starter striker, something to allow you to make sparks and start a fire during less than ideal conditions. This might just be the make or break decision that ensures you survive in the wilderness while backpacking. Otherwise, you may have to pick up a free flashlight (I just paid shipping) just to see your way around at night when you can’t start a bright fire for your campsite.
While this axe looks slick with the all black finish, it is worthwhile to mention it may be difficult to find on a forest floor when you put it down. You could easily fashion some bright colored rope to the handle, to aid in locating it amongst some bush. Alternatively, you may want a lightweight axe that is bright and easy to see if you need to throw it or leave it on the floor for whatever reason.
Check out this bright red pack axe (this thing’s awesome) that’s also lightweight and durable with mostly steel construction featuring a full tang build. This colored steel camp axe would be perfect if you tend to be clumsy with your tools or just want the ease of locating your trusty axe quickly when needed.
The more modern backpacking axes being produced today tend to be mass manufactured, while still being built to last. There is still a vast amount of backpackers that prefer the more hand crafted wooden handle axes, often of Swedish or Scandinavian origin. While these wood crafted axes are prone to break a bit more easily with repeated use, and require more maintenance overall, the extra work results in a most excellent tool for a wide array of tasks in the wild. They also have superb quality axe heads, often forged by expert makers with professional heat treatment, to ensure strength and performance over time.
The Classic Camp Axe: Wood & Steel (Our Top Choice)
The wood handled axe has been a tried and tested tool for generations. While they often require more maintenance, the extra work is fun and ensures a superior blade. You may have to re-handle a well used and abused wooden handled axe, or constantly sharpen a heavily used forged axe head, but the results allow you to customize your axe and get to know the most trusted tool in your pack.
When it comes to the best camp axe with a wooden handle on the market, axe junkies will swear by what they know is a trusted tool from years of use, originally hand made by a trusted axe maker. One axe that we know fits this bill, is the German made Helko Werk Traditional Rheinland Pack Axe found here. This is an axe that is as durable as it is strong, and has several features built into the overall construction and design of the axe, right down to the wood handle and steel used to make the axe head.
This Traditional German Rheinland Pack Axe was hand made in Wuppertal, Germany. It features German C50 high grade carbon steel, with a Hardness Rockwell scale of 53-56 HRC.
The blade bit (edge) has been hardened and tempered, as well as the butt (back) of the axe, which allows for a hardened surface suitable to use as a hammer or striker. The Grade A American hickory handled was fashioned in Switzerland, making this axe a true testament of excellent craftsmanship.
We chose an axe handle that is 19” overall length. While this does weigh more overall (the head is still only 1.5lbs, with 2 lbs overall weight), the extra length gives us an advantage over a smaller modern axe. The longer handle and blade edge allows us to chop bigger wood logs.
This is an axe that would be more suited strapped to the outside of your pack, opposed to packed inside. The long handle will allow you to get a better grip, and perform more heavy duty tasks such as chopping large logs, clearing higher branches and hard hammering when needed.
One use that may be considered in emergency survival situations, such as trying to start an immediate fire in wet conditions, would be to snap the wooden axe handle in half, to use as kindling to start a fire. We chose the longer handle to always have this as a back up.
Simply snap the axe 3/4 the way down the handle, and use the extra wood to get some dry wood to start a fire. Your axe will be shorter, about the size of a smaller pack axe would be anyways.
What we really love about this hand made pack axe, is the steel head that will perform long and keep a sharp blade edge while using it. While it would be beneficial to bring a sharpening puck or stone, you could always use your jeans or a smooth rock to hone the edge of your axe, keeping it sharp for immediate use.
The hand forged nature of this axe head ensures it will last a lifetime, while always returning to a usable state after some hard hitting abuse and chips in the edge.
These steel heads are great for rehanging a new handle years down the road, and they will last you longer than a modern axe typically would. The leather sheath is also a nice addition to keep the edge sharp and safe while packed in your back pack, but it may hold moisture if it gets wet, leading to rust. Just keep in mind, you may need to pick up a multi-tool if you go with the classic wooden handle axe, as it may not have certain features of a multi-tool built in.
Modern VS Classic Axes
While the choice is narrowed down depending on the excursion, both modern & classic pack axes have their pros and cons. A lightweight modern pack axe may be easier to carry, but it can’t perform the heavy duty tasks of chopping large logs or using it as a glorified hammer in survival situations.
On the other hand, you may not want to be weighed down with a larger wooden pack axe with higher overall weight.
Some tasks require a smaller axe with easier handling, especially for the more intricate tasks such as shaving kindling or carving tools out of branches and limbs. A worthwhile compromise, might just be a smaller classic wooden handled pack axe, such as the Gransfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet.
Designed to be lightweight & built to last, this axe is the perfect middle ground for carrying something ultralight (only 1.3lbs overall weight) and something handmade built to last. This is a good compromise if you want to maintain a handmade, quality axe, without sacrificing pack space and adding weight to the pack itself. Check out our Wildlife Hatchet review to take a closer look at this tool.
What NOT To Do With A Pack Axe:
Make sure when using your axe, that you don’t over use it. For example, don’t always use your axe to cut or chop wood, when using simple mechanics would work instead. Instead of chopping sticks or branches with an axe, try wedging them in between two trees, and breaking them in half that way. This allows your axe to maintain it’s razor sharp edge, longer. Using it only when necessary will ensure it lasts longer, stays sharper longer and requires you to burn less energy overall.
If you do go for the darker colored modern axes, make sure you can find it easily and quickly when you put it down. Many skilled and knowledgeable backpackers simply put their tools down beside them, and when they look back, can’t find the tool among all the bush and foliage. Tie a bright color string, or paint your axe a vibrant color, so you can find it quickly when needed. Utilize these tips, and the pack axe will be your most trusted tool while backpacking through the great outdoors.
ClutchAxes' Top 5 Axes of the Month:
[products limit="5" columns="5" visibility="featured" ]