Survival Hatchet: Should You Be Carrying One?

Survival Hatchet: Should You Be Carrying One?
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Survival Hatchet (c)Do you own a survival hatchet?

Or maybe a better question to ask is…should you carry a survival hatchet?

And what qualities does a good one have?

As with most survival gear related discussions…there’s the good and bad qualities to consider, but mostly there are tradeoffs.

Today I’m going to talk about the following survival hatchet topics:

  • The Difference Between A Survival Axe And A Hatchet
  • Basic Parts Of A Hatchet
  • 3 Survival Hatchet Techniques
  • The Many Uses Of A Survival Hatchet
  • Pros And Cons Of Carrying A Hatchet
  • New Innovated Hatchet Designs
  • Should You Be Carrying One?
  • The Hatchet I Carry
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The Difference Between a Survival Axe and A Hatchet

The survival hatchet is a type of survival axe. It’s the smallest version of an axe with a hammer on the back side.

For example, Survival Cache shows that there are several categories of axes, such as Felling Axe, Forest Axe, Small Forest Axe and Hatchet. The hatchet is the axe in the smallest group.

A hatchet head weighs in the 1 to 3 lbs range; it has a 3 to 5-inch blade and a 10 to 16-inch overall length.

These measurements are just rough estimates since there are not exact standards for an axe to be considered a hatchet, but hatchets are lightest, shortest and smallest axes available.

Basic Parts of A Survival Hatchet

There are two essential parts of an axe or hatchet. The blade and the handle. It’s really all there is to any axe or hatchet. However, there are many facets within these 2 basic parts, such as:

  1. Basic Parts Of A HatchetHeel of Bit
  2. Bit/Blade
  3. Toe Of Bit
  4. Axe-Side/Cheek
  5. Poll/Butt
  6. Handle Belly
  7. Handle Shoulder
  8. Handle Back
  9. Handle Throat
  10. Grip
  11. End Knob

The Head

If you want a good hatchet then the head is going to be the most important part, so make sure it’s quality is high. The head of your hatchet must cut…and cut well.

Not only is this determined by sharpness (duh!) but also the bit thickness. If the area immediately behind the blade edge widens quickly, then it will have a tough time getting good penetration, no matter how sharp the blade it happens to be.

Plus it will tend to glance off a tree when swinging at a sharp angle instead of biting into the wood.

You also want to make certain to keep the head of your hatchet nice and smooth. Any unnecessary abrasions or dings in the head (or cutting edge) will reduce its penetration efficiency.

The Handle

The two primary aspect of a survival hatchet handle are the overall length and material.

The longer the handle, the better your ability to generate swing speed and force. However, longer handles tend to weigh more and don’t fit in packs or bug out bags as easy.

Handle materials typically come in one of three options: metal, wood or fiberglass.

Metal handles are strong and durable but are also the heaviest of the three material options.

Wood handles are a decent choice since they are also rugged, but they can get slick if they get any oil or lubricant on them. You don’t want your hatchet slipping out of your grip mid-swing (that would be bad).

My favorite is the fiberglass handle. Especially a hollowed out fiberglass handle with a nice rubber grip.

Why? Because fiberglass is reasonably strong but light. If it’s hollowed out, you’ll reduce weight significantly, and as long as it has a nice rubber grip it won’t accidentally slip out of your hands.

Of course, I’m biased to carrying my survival hatchet in my bug out bag, so this type of handle might not the optimal choice for someone who isn’t planning on carrying it on a hike, backpacking or bugging out.

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It’s always good to ensure your survival hatchet has good balance. It is preferable to have the balance point of any axe or hatchet be located on the handle right up against the head.

This balance location offers the best control for both swinging and carving tasks.

The 3 Survival Hatchet Techniques

There are three basic methods for using a hatchet: chopping, splitting, and carving.


A hatchet is an excellent tool for chopping smaller trees. The larger a tree’s trunk size, the longer you will be chopping at it. Larger axes make large tree chopping easier, so just keep this fact in mind when choosing which trunk to attack with a hatchet.

Correct chopping technique is a vast topic, and I won’t be covering it in the article, however, I will say that you should plan your top and bottom attack angles to equal the diameter of the trunk.

So if the trunk is 4 inches thick, then your total top and bottom cut gap should also be about 4 inches.

Check out this video for even more hatchet chopping techniques and advice.


Splitting wood is necessary to make kindling fire. It’s relatively straightforward skill, but there are a couple of things to note when doing this with a hatchet as opposed to a full sized axe.

First, I recommend you split wood from your knees and not standing up. Hatchets are much shorter than standard length axes so if you try splitting a chunk of wood standing up and miss…the hatchet is going into your leg.

Also, don’t split wood on the ground. This will prevent your hatchet from hitting the ground. Hitting the ground with your hatchet will ding the blade and damage your cutting edge…making it less effective.


To carve properly, slide your hand all the way up to the head of your hatchet. Now, slide the head of your hatchet down a piece of wood. With this grip, you can control your bite angle pretty well, and you’ll also have a lot of leverage to power through sections as needed.

I find it easier to do rough wood carving with a hatchet than with a survival knife. However, I do prefer a sharp survival knife over a hatchet to do any detailed carving.

Maintaining Your Hatchet

Just a quick note on the maintenance of your hatchet…it’s very straight forward.  Maintain the blade sharpness the same way you would a knife by touching up the edge with a sharpening stone.  Keep it dry, so it doesn’t rust and that’s about it.

Also, you should learn how to sharpen you hatchet properly.  Another fantastic in-depth video from Wranglerstar.

Here’s a solid Beginners Guide To Hatchets by Ross Gilmore, that goes into even more detail of choosing and using a hatchet.

Here’s a more in-depth guide to axe use.

The Many Possible Uses Of A High-Quality Hatchet In Survival

Making a Fire – The hatchet is a much more efficient tool than a survival knife for chopping and splitting wood for making kindling. Plus, you can use the blade of the hatchet to strike a piece of flint to throw some sparks onto fine tinder.

Sounds easy right? Not so fast…it won’t be easy the first time, but if you follow this video by IA Woodsman, you’ll soon be a pro.

He makes it look easy…

Making a Feather Sticks – Feather sticks help to create the fine kindling you need to help start a fire using sparks. This is a must-learn skill for anyone who lives in a wet weather climate such as the Pacific Northwest. Why?

Because creating a feather stick allows you to get to the dry portion of a limb. Have you ever tried to light wet wood? Not smart. Instead create a feather stick with fine, dry feathers and it will catch on fire with much less effort.

Instead create a feather stick with fine, dry feathers and it will catch on fire with much less effort.

Building A Shelter – You don’t have to have a hatchet to build a survival shelter, but it does make it a whole heck of a lot easier and gives you more options.

With just a just a survival knife (and no hatchet) you will have to either limit the size of your shelters support branches or waste a ton of time and energy using a knife to cut your limbs to size.

Bottom line: A survival hatchet will slash your shelter build time significantly.

Self Defense – Hatchet or Tomahawk throwing is an art but if learned it can be deadly. Just another survival self-defense tool to add to your arsenal.

You can never have too many self-defense skills.

Make A Splint – You don’t necessarily need a hatchet to split a couple of pieces of wood for a makeshift splint, but it can do it…and quickly at that.

Chop Foods – Grip way down on just the head of the hatchet blade to make a nice chopping knife.

As long as your hatchet blade is sharp, it will slice through even soft foods such as tomatoes. It will do fantastic on hardy foods such as chopping potatoes, onions or carrots, etc.

Make A Spear – You can quickly take a solid limb and make it into a sharp spear. Just point the end of the limb you intend to add a point to and chop at an angle, swinging away from you. Within minutes, you’ll have a very sharp, very effective spear or jabbing stick.

Within minutes, you’ll have a very sharp, very effective spear or jabbing stick.

Hammering Stakes – You can use the backside side of your hatchet as a hammer, which is perfect for hammering in shelter stakes or trap stakes.

New Innovative Hatchet Designs

I’ve recently noticed this innovated survival hatchet on the market.

While it might not be for everyone, I felt it was worth sharing as another option and an innovative design to appreciate in the hatchet market.

Pros and Cons of Carrying a Survival Hatchet

Pros – Well this one is easy…we just covered all the uses of a hatchet above, so obviously those are all pros.

To add to the pros discussion, I would say the carrying a survival hatchet gives you more versatility and options than a survival knife alone and weights much less than a full out axe.

However, we just touched on the one big con to carrying a survival hatchet: weight.

Anytime were talking about hiking, backpacking or bugging out we have to consider weight.  3lbs might not seem like a lot but when you add up all the other gear you are considering carrying…it all adds up.

Should You Be Carrying One?

The controversial Survival Hatchet…to carry one or leave it behind.

We only have so much room in our bug out bags…so we must justify every single piece of survival gear we own..especially when we’re talking up to 3+ extra lbs.

However, after weight all the pros and cons, I believe the answer is yes if you are backpacking, hiking or bugging out and that is why I added one to my bug out bag checklist.

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Survival Hatchet vs Knife – There are just some things you won’t be able to do efficiently enough with a survival knife alone. Yes…you can do most things with a survival knife that a hatchet is designed for, but as Rocky Mountain Bushcraft states in their thorough hatchet vs knife article:

One thing is certain though, when it comes to pure chopping power, hatchets are clearly the undisputed “king.”

If you have a well-designed hatchet with a sharp blade (and have the room in your pack) then I would suggest you go ahead and add it.  I wouldn’t necessarily replace a survival knife with a survival hatchet, but I would prefer to carry both if at all possible.

My Gerber Survival HatchetThe Hatchet I Carry In My Bug Out Bag

I carry the Gerber 31-000913 Sport Axe II High-Performance Axe.

Why? Mainly because it only weighs 22.57 oz (1.4 lbs).  If you’ve read much of my blog posts then you probably know how much I focus on weight and keeping it reasonable.

So of course, I’m always looking for high quality, rugged, proven gear that holds up over time but is also light weight.

That’s exactly what my survival hatchet is: high quality, rugged and light weight.

So did I convince you to add one to your bug out bag? Is a light-weight hatchet going to find some room in your pack? Give me some feedback in the comments below.

As A Way To Introduce You To Skilled Survival We’re Giving Away Our #104 Item Bug Out Checklist. Click Here To Get Your FREE Copy Of It.

Remember: Prepare, Adapt and Overcome

“Just In Case” Jack

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  1. says

    You should absolutely be carrying a survival hatchet. In my opinion, it’s more important than a survival knife because it is more versatile. If you do end up in the woods for whatever reason, a hatchet will help you process wood much faster than a knife. A hatchet also has intimidation factor. Think of the Vikings or an “axe wielding maniac”.

    • Just In Case Jack says

      I agree Survival Man – Survival Hatchets rock!

      The biggest issue with a Survival Hatchet vs a Survival Knife is weight and size. That’s why I shared my personal survival hatchet that I carry since it’s one of the lightest ones I found at the time of purchase.

  2. says

    The ironic thing about a hatchet is that it’s more dangerous than a longer handled axe. You’re right, getting on your knees to split wood and take as much risk out of the equation is really important.

  3. Gordon says

    Ok, after years of my experience, there is a place for survival hatchet, but also a set of good knives with different blade sizes. I disagree that a hatchet is more versatile than a knife.

  4. Gordon says

    I forgot to mention that a hatchet is more controllable than a longer handle axe because of it short handle.

  5. Spatial says

    I disagree – no hatchet or fixed blade knife for me. , I have taken to carrying a heavy machete (1/4″ golok), saw and a multi tool.. A saw processes wood much faster, safer, better cut, less fatigue and weights less.
    The only advantage of a axe is it is good to hammer is stakes and possibly security, but there are plenty of other options.

  6. Walter Ronten says

    If weight is a factor (when isn’t it?) a good folding bow saw may be a better option. It weighs less than a pound. It will cut wood faster and with less effort than a hatchet. Only disadvantages are that it cannot split wood and makes a poor weapon.

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