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I was reading this article on axe or hatchet for camping and I am thinking on bringing a hatchet in my next trip.

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    What do you want to use it for? Do you already carry any other significant cutting tools (like a sturdy sheath knife)? As an example, I wouldn't want to make tent pegs using a large axe, but easily could use my knife or a hand axe/hatchet – Chris H Apr 24 at 10:15
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    A billhook :) If you think you need an axe then I assume you'll be doing some serious chopping so then an axe is the tool which makes ergonomic sense. If not, makes little sense bringing an axe but then the thing with hatchets is they are a bit limited when it comes to other uses. A good and sharp billhook on the other hand also cuts like a knife but can still do some chopping, works as drawing knife if needed, and then there's the uses it has as machete. But it doesn't have a very usable sharp point so then it's easy to arrive at cbeleites's answer.. – stijn Apr 25 at 14:38
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    @stijn: the billhook is also among the tools I usually leave at home (together with various hatchets, axes, splitting mauls and the machete) - it's not availability that deters me (and I'd grind it with sharp point if I thoght I'd need that - but I somehow think it's not that convenient for speading butter on my bread...) :-) – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 27 at 9:01
  • Thanks @ChrisH for the great suggestion. I would like to bring just one blade if possible that I can use. – Gchanger May 10 at 12:46
  • @stijn thanks for another recommendation. – Gchanger May 10 at 12:48
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Personally, I usually take neither. Instead, I bring a sturdy knife and a saw. The knife wouldn't be replaced by hatchet or axe: it is anyways needed for cooking and it is at least as good as a hatchet/axe to make kindling (if I cannot collect that directly, anyways). The saw weighs less than a hatchet and sawing is more efficient than cutting by axe for all but the comparably narrow range of diameters that is too thick to break but can be chopped off by a very few blows.

Hatchets and short handled axes such as in the linked post are rather accident prone as tools go: hatchets for the other hand (when splitting wood) and the legs, short axes such as discussed in the link more for the legs and possibly feet. These kinds of accidents are no good at any time, but they are among the really bad category in the outdoors.

Axes with a handle length above 90 cm (maybe already 80 cm?) or so are much less dangerous since you'll reliably hit the soil in front of your feet. They are also more efficient in what you can cut and split with them. But they are not the size one carries around on a camping tour unless the plan is to make a long-term camp in one spot.


For making shorter pieces of wood (which is the main "mode" of cutting wood I encounter during camping), the diameters suitable for efficient cutting by hatchet can usually also be broken. This requires finding/building a suitable leverage counterpoints whereas working with the hatchet or a short axe needs a suitable chopping block. Where I have been so far, the former is usually quite easy, the latter is doable as well if one considers working with the hatchet while sitting on your haunches.

For car camping, I've been using the bumper (used to have a light truck that had a square pipe of several mm wall thickness as rear bumper) and trailer hitches as leverage points.

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    Saws are for happy campers – user2497 Apr 26 at 7:31
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    Branches too thick to snap can be notched with a saw and then snapped so the saw may even be more flexible – Chris H Apr 27 at 11:51
  • Axes with a handle length above 90 cm (maybe already 80 cm?) or so are much less dangerous since you'll reliably hit the soil in front of your feet. @cbeleites unhappy with SX thanks for the this. – Gchanger May 10 at 12:53
  • Yes to all of the above, especially the saw. I used to work with a bunch of old forestry people, none of them carried an axe, all carried a small foldable saw and a large (~8-10") knife. – bob1 Jul 15 at 20:49
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The choice between ax and hatchet is a trade-off between weight and utility.

  • Axes are heavier to carry, but easier, safer and more efficient to use.
  • Hatchets are lighter-weight, but more dangerous and more tiring to use.

My advice is to make the decision based on how far you will have to carry the tool.

If you are car camping (IE camping within a short walking distance of your car so you can make multiple trips to bring in all your gear), either tool is reasonable. The ax is more functional, so choose the ax if you won't mind carrying it the distance from your car to your camp. When making the decision, keep in mind the amount of other gear you have to carry, and how many trips it will take. Also keep in mind your personal safety when carrying a sharp tool; make sure you can carry the tool in such a way that if you slip and fall you won't cut yourself. A sturdy blade cover/sheath is a good idea for longer hikes.

If you are backpacking, no amount of increased utility can justify the added weight of the ax. It's also quite difficult to strap such a long tool to a pack, so you might have to carry it in your hand the entire time. By the end of the day, you might not have the hand strength to wield the ax safely. If your ax doesn't have a sturdy blade cover, there's the added danger of carrying an exposed blade all day.

A hatchet can be a reasonable tool to bring on a backpacking trip if you plan to do a lot of wood chopping. If you're hiking in a group, it can be worthwhile for one person to carry a heavier tool for the benefit of the whole group. A blade cover is an extremely good idea, so you don't accidentally cut yourself or your gear. My partner used to carry a hatchet on our two-person backpacking trips. Eventually he decided that even though a hatchet is nice to have, it isn't worth the weight (about 2 pounds). Now he carries a substantial knife that can be used for splitting wood by the batoning method, while I carry a saw. He still says, "I wish I had my hatchet," at least once per trip. But he hasn't gone back to carrying it because it's not worth the weight.

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  • Just a note on carrying: if your backpack has extra straps on it (not uncommon) it's not really a problem to carry a smaller axe around strapped to the backpack; the ones which are typically used for limbing and felling smaller trees are much safer than hatchets and in the 1.2kg range they are still only like half the weight of a felling axe but they get a lot of work done if needed. – stijn Apr 25 at 18:09
  • Fair point. I was picturing a quite long ax. – csk Apr 25 at 18:18
  • Oh, yes. I admit to having a hatchet that lives in the bus together with the folding spade (and a whole lot of other tools). However, the origin of that habit is not needing it on car camping but rather living in a flat where I didn't have a better place to store it... – cbeleites unhappy with SX Apr 27 at 9:14

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