Best Axes: Field Tested & Tough Enough For Survival

By Will Brendza | Updated: 07/18/2023

Skilled Survival’s Comprehensive Axe Guide

Survival Axe

Survival axes are a shining example of how a primitive tool can save a life.

If you’ve ever read Gary Paulson’s novel “Hatchet’, you understand this truth.

An 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 axe!

↓ How To Shave With An Axe ↓

Nowadays, the biggest hurdle for survivalists looking for the right axe is the number of options.

It used to be that axes 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 any end.

So it’s no longer an easy choice.

Especially considering choosing the wrong axe can become a burden and a liability.

It’s a strategic decision that requires forethought, planning, self-analysis, and research.

Luckily, we’ve already done the research (the hard part).

Today I’m going to utilize my vast survival research and outdoor experience to cover the following:


Best Survival Axes For Sale Today

What’s A “Survival” Axe?

The Basic Parts Of An Axe

Best Survival Axe Features

The Many Uses Of An Axe

How To Care For An Axe

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Best Survival Axes On The Market Today

1 Our Top Pick
Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe 19 Inch

If you are not afraid of investing a few dollars in an excellent survival axe, this option is for you.

These axes have been made in Sweden by the Gransfors Bruks company for over 100 years. And when it comes to axes and hatchets these guys are the luxury option.

Their axes are perfectly balanced, fit comfortably in your hands, and are forged using sophisticated techniques to ensure durability and longevity.

All their axes come with a hickory handle and leather blade sheath.

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↓ The Best Hatchet Axe? ↓

2 Our Budget Pick
Fiskars Chopping Axe 23.5 Inch

Fiskars makes one of the lightest weight, most durable, and cheapest options available.

The handle of this axe is made from “shock-absorbing FiberComp. This helps to make the axe lightweight, extremely durable, and very flexible.

At this reasonable price point, it's one of the most economical options you will find anywhere.

And on top of all that, it comes with a lifetime warranty. So if you ever do break it or damage it, you can send it back, and Fiskars will work with you to replace it.

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↓ Fiskars Lightweight Chopping Axe ↓

Campers Estwing Axe Special Edition

Estwing makes this lightweight axe has an axe head forged from steel.

Its blade is 4” long, making it better at cutting into things.

The axe has a rubber grip at the bottom of the handle to make it easier to hold and swing.

This axe also comes with an embossed leather sheath.

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↓ Estwing 26 Inch Camp Axe ↓

Cold Steel All-Purpose Axe with Hickory Handle

Basic, simple, cheap.

The Cold Steel Boss is forged with 1055 carbon steel and fixed with an American Hickory handle.

This is the axe you think of when someone talks about lumberjacking. This axe design has stood the test of time.

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↓ Testing The Cheapest Axe On Amazon ↓

Husqvarna A1400 23" Composite Multi-Purpose Axe

Yes, Husqvarna IS a very odd name for a company but who cares, they make a great axe.

Drop-forged blade & head geometry adapted to different applications for an easy entry into the wood & best splitting performance.

This is a universal axe made for different kinds of work (like construction or forest work).

Composite fibreglass handle with hammer axe head function.

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↓ Fiskars Husqvarna Pro Spitting Axe ↓

Fiskars IsoCore Maul, 36-Inch

This Maul Axe is ideal for splitting wood (or splitting faces) or driving wedges and stakes (driving face).

IsoCore Shock Control System absorbs strike shock and vibration to reduce the punishment your body takes, transferring 2X less shock and vibration than wood handles.

The insulation sleeve captures the initial strike shock before it can reach your hand.

Plus, it comes with a full lifetime warranty if you happen to damage this beast (which I doubt you will).

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↓ Fiskars 8 lb. Maul Splitting Firewood ↓

What’s A “Survival” Axe Anyway?

“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 overall length (with a short handle)
  • Axes are usually longer than 22 inches (with a longer handle length)

Simply put, axes are bigger and longer than hatchets.

That also means they are heavier and harder to transport.

I’ve never met a backpacker carrying an axe with them  – it’s big, heavy, and takes up too much pack space.

An 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, an axe is great for your vehicle, garage, tool shed, family cabin, or remote bug-out location.

No matter where you 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 an axe worthy of survival?

The honest answer…nothing.

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 axes; when you do, they tend to be gimmicky.

Instead, you want a solid, proven axe that will last years.

That, my friend, is a survival axe.

Survival Gear Checklist eBook Cover -with fire piston on a rock and campfire in the background

Want a free 54 item survival gear checklist?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

The Basic Parts Of An Axe

Hatchet Splitting Wood

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

The Blade

The best blades are forged with high-carbon steel construction, 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 axe.

The Handle

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

Today, many axe manufacturers have switched from a wooden handle to fiberglass, plastic, or metal one.

These materials help increase durability and usually make the axe lighter.

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 To Look For

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 feel it in your hands.

Swing it, balance it, get an idea of the weight distribution, etc.

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


I have mentioned this several times, but your axe must be 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, it will not 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 comprises, and a third is how you care for it.

The bottom line:

You want your high quality axe to be so strong it can be used as a pry bar.


If you plan on carrying your axe 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 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.

Survival Gear Checklist eBook Cover -with fire piston on a rock and campfire in the background

Want a free 54 item survival gear checklist?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

The Many Uses Of An Axe

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

First, use your axe safely.

This is a real weapon. It’s a dangerous tool that could cause lacerations, dismemberment, and death.

Treat the blade with respect, and if you have a sheath, always keep the blade inside of it unless you are using it.

This not only keeps 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 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 of the tool.

Chopping Firewood

Another classic job for an 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 will 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 a sharp enough axe, you can 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 like a razor shave from a tool meant to fall 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 problemo.’

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 many 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 dangerous sport, so don’t get careless or unsafe just because you are having fun.

Caring For Your Axe

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

If you leave it outside lodged in a stump, through rain and snow, without ever cleaning, 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 at it.

Sharpening Your 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 must 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.

↓ How To Sharpen Your New Axe ↓

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

Replacing the Head/Handle

If you use your axe regularly, 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 one.

Check if the manufacturer offers a warranty before buying a new one, though!

It could be the case that they will 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 made from wood.

Wood is particularly susceptible to breaking, splintering, and rotting.

But even plastic and fiberglass handles need to be replaced occasionally.

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 if you buy one that doesn’t fit your axe head’s eye.

rusty hammer and axe

Avoiding Rust

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

To avoid this with your axe, keep it inside, away from excessive moisture.

Many axes come with leather or nylon sheaths, which also help keep the blade fresh and rust-free.

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

↓ Polishing A Rusty Axe ↓

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 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 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 pose challenges to carrying them long distances.

Even so, having one is essential.

Keep it in your car, garage, or country cabin; 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 new axe, there are many factors to consider.

Choosing the right one comes down to knowing what you need and what will best serve you in an emergency.

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

Will Brendza

Will Brendza

  • Bachelor of Arts, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Member of The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association
  • Certifications: Avalanche 1, WFR (expired), CPR (expired)
  • 8+ Years Researching, Writing, About Survival and Preparedness
  • Awards from Society of Professional Journalists
  • Winner of Camp Cold’s “Happy Camper” award in 2020
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