Best Survival Axes For Both Splitting & Defending

By Will Brendza | Last Updated: July 13, 2022

Survival Axe

A strong survival axe can split wood but it can also be a self-defense weapon in a pinch.

That’s why survival axes are awesome.

They are a shining example of how a single primitive tool can serve a wide variety of survival functions.

If you’ve ever read Gary Paulson’s novel “Hatchet’, you understand how a good bladed tool can make the difference between life and death.

A survival axe allows you to:

  • defend yourself
  • fashion new tools and weapons
  • start fires
  • build shelters
  • process game
  • fell trees

Heck, you can even shave with a sharp survival axe!

The only real problem for survivalists looking for a survival axe is the number of options. It used to be that an axe was an axe. They only came in a couple of sizes and shapes.

The choice was straightforward.

Today with the number of companies manufacturing their own version of a survival ax it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Some are built to be insanely light. Others are made to serve multiple functions – different tools in one. Some are simple while others are complex.

There is an axe style, type, shape, weight, and design to achieve just about any end.

So it’s no longer an easy choice. Especially considering choosing the wrong survival axe can become a burden and a liability.

It’s a strategic decision that requires forethought, planning, self-analysis, and research. Lucky for you, we’ve already done the research (the hard part).

Below you will find our list of the best survival axes the market has to offer. You’ll find detailed specs and descriptions of each, how to use a survival axe, and how to care for one.

This article is your comprehensive guide to finding, buying and owning the best survival axe.

  • Best Survival Axes On The Market Today

  • What’s A Survival Axe?

  • The Basic Parts Of An Axe

  • Best Survival Axe Features

  • The Many Uses of a Survival Axe

  • Caring For Your Axe

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Best Survival Axes On The Market Today

1 Our Top Pick
Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe 19 Inch
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2 Our Budget Pick
Fiskars Chopping Axe 23.5 Inch
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Campers Estwing Axe Special Edition
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Cold Steel All-Purpose Axe with Hickory Handle
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Husqvarna A1400 23" Composite Multi-Purpose Axe
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Fiskars IsoCore Maul, 36-Inch
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What’s A Survival Axe?

“An axe cuts through a forest, not because of its size, but its endurance.” – Motshona Dhliwayo

A lot of people get axes, tomahawks, and hatchets confused. So let’s clear the air before we get started.

Hatchets and tomahawks are less than 12” in length. Axes are usually longer than 22 inches.

Simply put, axes are both bigger and longer than hatchets.

That also means they are heavier and harder to transport. I’ve never met a single backpacker who carries an axe with them  – it’s big, heavy and takes up too much pack space.

A survival axe is a terrible addition to your bug-out bag. Instead, consider a lightweight survival hatchet for bugging out.

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For the rest of us, a survival axe is great for your survival vehicle, your garage, your tool shed, the family cabin, or at your remote bug-out location.

No matter where you decide to store it, make sure it’s somewhere you won’t have to carry it far to use it. Full-sized axes should be considered stationary tools. They make terrible travel companions.

So what makes an axe a “survival axe”? Nothing really.

A survival axe is an axe you buy for survival purposes. Most axes don’t have any extra frills. You won’t find many multi-tool survival axes and when you do, they tend to be gimmicky.

Instead, you want a solid, proven axe that will last you years to come. That my friend is a survival axe.

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Hatchet Splitting Wood

The Basic Parts Of An Axe

Every axe (including hatchets and tomahawks) is comprised of only a few main features:

The Blade

The best blades are forged with high carbon steel, so they keep their edge for the longest time possible.

The blade is the soul of your axe, and should your blade ever chip or crack; it’s time to invest in a new survival axe.

The Handle

This long piece of straight-grained wood (usually hickory) is the part of the survival axe you will hold.

Today, though, many axe manufacturers have switched from wood to fiberglass, plastic, or metal. These materials help to increase the durability, and usually, make the axe lighter as well.

The Head

The Vikings used to forge their axe heads with low carbon steel while using high carbon steel for the blades.

This gives the axe head more flex and increases the durability and longevity of the tool.

The Eye

The eye is the hole in your axes head, where the handle attaches.

The Lug

This is the part of the axe head on either side of the handle at the bottom of the head. This protrusion fastens the head to the handle.

The Butt

The hammer-like flat surface of the back of the axe head.

Best Survival Axe Features

Some important factors you want to check when getting an axe are as follows:


An unbalanced axe will not swing properly and is more liable to break. When you are in the market for an axe it’s important to be able to feel it in your hands. Swing it, balance it, get an idea of the weight distribution and so on.

You will be able to feel the difference between a balanced axe and an unbalanced one, just make sure you test out a few.


I have mentioned this a few times already, but it’s vital that your axe is durable. These things are built to be swung with a large force at hard objects.

If your axe can not handle the stress of its own job, then it is not going to work.

There are a lot of factors that go into understanding the durability of an axe.

One is the type of metal it was forged from (high or low carbon steel), another is the material the axe handle is comprised of, and a third is how you care for it.


If you plan on carrying your axe with you all over the place, it might be better to invest in a hatchet.

Axes are almost always too heavy for long-distance travel (without a vehicle).

That being said, some axes are a lot heavier than others, and that makes a difference. Now you don’t want something that’s light as a feather and won’t generate momentum when swung. But you also do not want an axe that is bulky and cumbersome.

Finding a balance between the two is important. It’s another one of those things you have to test out with your own hands. Feel the swing for yourself and decide which you like best.

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The Many Uses of a Survival Axe

So, now you have a survival axe. What do you do with it?

First, use your axe safely. This is a real weapon. It’s a dangerous tool that could easily cause lacerations, dismemberment, and death.

Treat the blade with respect, and if you have a sheath, keep the blade inside of it always, unless you are using it. This not only serves to keep you and others safe, but it preserves the sharpness of the blade.

As I mentioned earlier, the genius of the axe is its simplicity. It’s a tool that can be used to achieve almost any number of ends.

Its versatility is a factor of your imagination. If you can think of it, you can do it with an axe.

Cutting Trees

Axes are good for bringing down trees and chopping them into segments for lumber. It’s one of the original purposes the tool was designed.

Chopping Firewood

Another classic job for a survival axe. Chopping wood is not only a useful activity, but it is therapeutic and is proven to increase testosterone levels in men.

Self Defense Weapon

There is a substantial difference between a battle axe and a utility axe. But that does not mean a utility axe can not still be used for fighting purposes.

Axes are a weapon even older than the sword, and if you need to swing that thing at an attacker, it is going to do damage.

Collecting Wood

Axes allow users a significant amount of blunt force, which can be used to break dead branches off of trees.

Processing Game

Sharpen your axe enough, and it can be used to clean and skin game in preparation for cooking. Decapitate your prey, slice it open, gut it and skin it with your trusty axe.

Shaping Pine Boughs

This is an important ability for making bows. If you have an axe that is sharp enough, you can use it to shave and shape pine boughs for a bow and arrow.

For an in-depth guide on how to do this check out this article, which goes into the minute details of building a longbow from scratch.


Develop a razor edge, and you can shave like a real man: with the blade of your axe.

This task takes precision, and if you are trying it for the first time, you should probably expect to take a couple of gashes to the face. But there is nothing quite like a razor shave from a tool meant to fell trees.

Opening Bottles

Yes, you can smash bottles with an axe to get them open, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If you wedge the blade or butt under the bottle cap and add leverage, the bottle will pop open no problem.

Making Fire

Find yourself a piece of flint, or a real spark-generating rock and start striking.

Be careful not to hit directly down upon the rock, or you’ll blunt your axe’s blade, and risk fracturing or chipping it irreparably.

Instead, strike your flint/rock at an angle until sparks start flying.


This could fall under self-defense, but a lot of people throw axes for no other reason than for fun. It’s a hobby!

And one that requires a lot of practice and a close relationship with your axe. It is also a pretty dangerous sport, so don’t get careless or unsafe just because you are having fun.

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Caring For Your Axe

Just like any tool, an axe requires that you maintain it.

If you just leave it outside lodged in a stump, through rain and snow, without ever cleaning or sharpening or caring for it, your tool won’t last.

If you care about your axe (which you should if you’ve read this far), you should be good to it.

Sharpening Your Survival Axe

As with knives and swords, sharpening your axe’s blade is essential to its usefulness. A dull axe blade won’t do you much good against a tree you need to bring down.

For on-the-go sharpening, here’s a special axe Whetstone you can buy.

The biggest difference between whetstones for knives vs. an axe is they are puck-shaped. So in a pinch, a regular, rectangular Whetstone will work fine too.

Here is a video detailing your options to sharpen your axe blade.

You want to massage the blade like how the dentist tells you to brush your teeth: gently and in small circles.

Replacing the Head/Handle

If you use your survival axe on a regular basis, then at some point, you will have to replace the head. Sad as it may be, this is just a fact of life and part of owning and using a survival axe.

Check and see if the manufacturer offers a warranty before you buy a new one, though! It could be the case that they will just send you a new one if you send them the busted one.

A lot of times though, if you have to pay for a new axe head, you might as well buy a new axe (unless you’re attached to your axe handle).

Similarly, handles don’t last forever – especially if they’re made from wood.

Wood is particularly susceptible to breaking, splintering, and rotting. But even plastic and fiberglass handles need to be replaced once in a while.

Simply hammer the old handle through the eye of the axe head, and thread the new one. Axe handles are available at most hardware stores, or you can shop on Amazon for them.

It’s better to test out in person with your axe head, though, in case you buy one that doesn’t fit in the eye of your axe head.

rusty hammer and axe

Avoiding Rust

Rust is the enemy of all blades. It undermines the structural integrity of the metal and dulls the sharpness.

To avoid this with your own axe, keep it stored inside away from excessive moisture. A lot of axes come with leather or nylon sheaths, which also helps to maintain the blade fresh and rust-free.

If, however, you do run into some rust there’s a quick fix: Vapor Rust.

Also, some WD-40 on a rag, wipe your blade down, and watch the rust disappear. You can even treat your leather sheath with a little bit of WD-40, which will re-oil the blade every time you put it away.

The Final Word

Any tool as versatile and useful as an axe should be a part of your survival. It’s a single tool that can be used to do a million different tasks.

It’s like having a complete survival kit built into a single badass survival tool. But are NOT compact. They aren’t great companions, and they pose challenges to carrying them long distances.

Even so, having one is essential. Keep it in your car or your garage or at your country cabin, hell, even put one at your Bug Out Location, so you don’t have to lug one all the way there.

There are ways around the encumbrance of carrying an axe.

When shopping for a survival axe there are a lot of factors to take into account. Choosing the right one comes down to knowing what you need, and what will best serve you in the event of an emergency.

But when the shit hits the fan, and you find yourself in a survival situation, having a trusty survival axe at your side is smart.

Will Brendza

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Click on the image above to find out where you need to take shelter.

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