Here are 3 Types Of Ax Options (Plus Multiple Reviews) For Off-Roading and Overlanding
As Brenan mentioned in his Every Day Carry article way back in November of ’17, an ax is a great accessory for Overlanding and general camping use. Choosing an ax can be rather daunting. There are a wide variety of designs for both general and specialized purposes.
Much of the selection process comes down to what tasks you want the ax to help you accomplish, and your preferences in construction, quality, and feel. What follows are some quick reviews of axes I’ve used in over the past two decades, as well as some features that may be useful for vehicle-based camping.
What to Consider?
The first thing to consider is what size and type of ax you are looking for.
They come in many different lengths, styles, materials, and handles. Depending on how you travel, explore and carry your gear will contribute to what type of tool you need. By definition, a hatchet is really just a light-weight ax but then you have compact axes, compact hatchets, tomahawks, and many others.
Whether compact or full-size, an ax can and will come in handy for most of us off-roaders or overlanders out there. First, decide on how you intend on using the ax. Are you looking to split logs at camp or clear branches on the trail? Take a look at the list below and determine which style and material you relate with. Then check out our reviews below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
- Full-size Ax
- Tomahawk Ax
- Compact Ax
- Splitting Ax
- Hatchet Ax
- Compact Hatchet Ax
- Multi-Tool Axes
Option 1. Composite Handled Axes & Hatchets
Gerber is an American-based subsidiary of Fiskars, a Finnish company perhaps best known for their pruning shears and other cutting tools that boast orange handles.
As a side note, the popular Fiskars pruning shears are actually a great option throw in your overland gear bag as well. They are small, nimble and really get the job done when it comes to small brush branches.
In years past, Fiskars made composite handled axes under both nameplates in Finland. The handles wrap around, rather than pass through, the ax head. Fiskars advertising appears to be directed toward yard care, whereas Gerber leans more toward the outdoors.
The primary distinguishing feature, however, is handle color.
Gerber or Fiskar Hatchets?
The Fiskars hatchet in the photo above is now almost two decades old. Levy’s, a Canadian leathercraft manufacturer, made the sheath in the picture. It lives in a toolbox in my 4Runner now but has been a useful companion on many backpacking trips over the years. On a wilderness survival training experience for teachers near Alaska wherein it somehow was the only cutting tool to arrive in camp, the little Fiskars even held its own splitting driftwood.
For a few years, I used a Gerber Sport Ax, which featured a longer handle and heavier head than the Fiskars hatchet. Unfortunately, it disappeared during one of my moves between villages. The model has since been replaced in Gerber’s lineup by the Sport Ax II. If you are looking for an ultra-compact hatchet, take a look at the Gerber Pack Hatchet Camping Axe.
Even more aggressive in their lineup of composite axes is the Gerber Downrange Tomahawk. Although it is not an “axe” it sure is close. It packs a steel frame with a Cerakote coating and is finished with a composite handle. The multi-tool has three functions; Axe, Hammer Head, and Pry Bar with integrated prying handle. This is a robust and pricy option.
Gerber Hatchets and Axes
- Gerber Sport Axe II: Check Price
- Gerber Pack Hatchet Camping Axe: Check Price
- Gerber Downrange Tomahawk: Check Price
Both Fiskars and Gerber offer a variety of useful axes for overlanding use. My preferences lean strongly toward wood-handled axes, but the utility and durability of composite-handled axes are undeniable.
Browning’s Tomahawk-Like Axes for Limbing and Light Chopping
In contrast to the Finnish offerings mentioned above, Browning’s ax offerings are limited to the Outdoorsman’s Ax and Outdoorsman’s Compact Hatchet.
For all practical purposes, only the former has any real utility for overlanding. I’ve owned an older version of this ax for about a decade, but have used it sparingly. The 24” handle is of similar construction to the Finnish axes, but the tang of the handle passes through the ax head instead of wrapping around the head. Browning describes the head as a tomahawk design, and it does an exceptional job with limbing and light chopping duties.
Find It Online:
- Browning’s Outdoorsman’s Composite-Handled Ax: Check Price
- Browning’s Outdoorsman’s Compact Hatchet: Check Price
Overall, this is a lightweight, durable ax at a fair price – a worthy rival to the Fiskars/Gerber duo – so why don’t I use mine more often? The answer comes down to personal preference. To me, the Estwing – and especially the Helko Werk Black Forest Worker reviewed below – just feel better to use.
Option 2. All-Steel Axes
Providing perhaps the best value in a high quality, high utility camp ax, the Estwing Camper’s Ax from the Estwing All Steel Ax Lineup is positively boring in its durability.
The made in the USA Camper’s Ax is unique among the offerings in this review in being of all-steel construction. This means the head and handle are one solid forged piece. The Camper’s Ax comes with either an 18.75” or 26” handle and a shock-reducing rubber grip. A black powder-coated special edition is also available.
Find It Online:
- Estwing Made in the USA Camper’s All-Steel Ax (26″): Check Price
- Estwing Camper’s Axe – 16″ Hatchet: Check Price
Lightweight All-Steel Ax For Serious Wood Splitting
The Camper’s Ax has quite a following in Alaska among people who depend on their tools for more than recreational use. Well-used examples adorn boats, ATVs, and snowmobiles throughout the backcountry. My own example survived being run over by a snowmobile and thoroughly abused by students in a wilderness survival class. It could use a thorough cleaning and some love from a file, but I know it’s still good for decades of use.
The Camper’s Ax is on the light side for serious splitting but is an outstanding all-around choice for limbing and felling duties. If you want an ax that can take a lot of abuse and requires minimal care in return, the Camper’s Ax is an excellent choice.
Other useful offerings from Estwing include the Sportsman’s Ax and the Fireside Friend. The Sportsman’s Ax is essentially a hatchet-length version of the Camper’s Ax, while the Fireside Friend is a lightweight, short-handled splitter.
Option 3. Wood-Handled Axes
One of the premier names among ax aficionados, Gransfors Bruk has an impeccable reputation for quality.
These are heirloom-caliber gear. They offer a wide catalog of specialized axes and accessories. Master craftsmen in Sweden forge these axes and mark the one they produce with their initials.
Leather Sheath For Gransfors Bruk Axes
Each ax comes with a reference book, which allows the buyer to see which craftsman made their individual ax. A leather sheath is included, but buyers may want to consider upgrading to a Beneath the Stars sheath after their purchase, as it is a more durable design. The hickory handle features subtle finger grooves for maintaining grip in wet weather or while wearing gloves.
Find It Online:
- Beneath the Stars Sheath: Check Price
Gransfor Bruk Hunter’s Ax
The Hunter’s Ax has long been a personal favorite, but my much-used example lives in my hunting pack rather than my 4Runner. Its most unique feature, a flay poll that aids in skinning large ungulates, has limited utility for overlanding chores. The Hunter’s Ax is a highly capable work of art, but there are better choices for camping.
Find It Online:
- Gransfor Bruk Wood-Handled Hunter’s Ax: Check Price
Gransfor Bruk Splitting Hatchet
The Splitting Hatchet packs a lot of firewood splitting power in a compact package that fits readily in toolboxes or backpacks.
It features a 19” handle that can be wielded in one hand or both. The head weighs 3.3 pounds, with a thin face that broadens quickly to aid in forcing the wood apart. A protective steel collar at the base of the head guards against damage to the handle from overstrikes. This is an outstanding ax for splitting small quantities of firewood, especially for camp stoves.
Find It Online:
- Gransfor Bruk Wood-Handled Splitting Hatchet: Check Price
Hand-Crafted Helko Werk’s Wood-Handled Axes
Another high-quality European brand, Helko Werk’s axes are forged in Wuppertal, Germany.
Much like Gransfors Bruk, Helko Werk employs master smiths who handcraft each individual piece. While these craftsmen and women obviously take pride in their work, they do not press their initials are pressed into the ax heads.
Helk Werk’s Black Forest Woodworker Ax
The Black Forest Woodworker may be the most versatile ax I own. It certainly has seen the most use during my time in Alaska. The slightly exaggerated sweep of the blade face (a feature of Rheinland pattern ax heads) makes it ideal for limbing and falling smaller trees, and it is more than capable of light splitting duty.
Find It Online:
- Helk Werk’s Black Forest Woodworker Ax: Check Price
24″ American Hickory Handle Replacements
At 24”, the American hickory handle fits without complaint in a canoe or on an ATV rack. Mine is on its second handle after a certain dog thought it would make the perfect chew toy. Fortunately, replacement handles are available on the website. If you want an all-around ax that matches the Estwing Camp Ax in utility but has a bit more character, this may be the ax for you.
Helk Werk’s Spaltaxt Wood-Splitting Ax
The Spaltaxt is easier to use than it is to pronounce.
A mid-weight ax with a 4.5-pound dual-wedge head, the Spaltaxt is a wood splitting fiend. The extra wedge prevents the head from getting stuck, while the 28” handle yields enough leverage to get the job done without taking up excessive space. If your overlanding adventures require frequent splitting, this is one of the best tools for the job.
Find It Online:
- Helko Werk’s Spaltaxt Wood-Splitting Ax: Check Price
I must confess, I am a bit of a geek for axes, so choosing just one to recommend may be more difficult for me than for others.
Perhaps the best recommendation I can make is to visit hardware and sporting goods stores and see how the various offerings feel in your hands. This is one piece of equipment best purchased in person rather than online.