The 6 Best Axes of 2024

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Easiest to Carry

Kershaw Deschutes Bearded Hatchet

Weight: 1.55 lbs | Dimensions: 3.5″ blade, 14″ handle

The Kershaw Deschutes Bearded Hatchet is one of the lightest and most compact options we’d use for anything more than a quick job or two, like getting a fire going or cutting down a few shrubs. The entire axe head is thin, keeping weight down while the mid-length handle still gives you the power to do the job. The axe head is 3Cr13 steel with a black oxide coating. It’s one of the sharper options in the test out of the box, and the rubber inserts on the glass-filled nylon handle are comfortable to hold. The construction seems solid, and we expect this axe to last. The plastic sheath is also surprisingly sturdy and handy, with an included nylon strap so you can sling it over your shoulder. We like this axe best for jobs like cutting down saplings, chopping up kindling, and carving off small limbs, though it also does a surprisingly good job cutting a log in half.

We wouldn’t want to cut log after log with this camping axe; it’s just too short to be efficient for jobs that call for more power. The nylon webbing sling on the sheath can be annoying if you don’t need it, but it’s easy enough to remove. This axe does the best job of balancing weight and power and is our favorite choice to toss in a backpack to keep trails clear or fire roaring.

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Why You Should Trust Us

Clark Tate, our lead tester, grew up in a house heated by wood. That meant spending weekends watching trees fall to the sound of a chainsaw, splitting rounds, and stacking wood. After grad school, she turned cutting trees into a living, controlling invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees on western rivers. And when you’re running rivers, you’re building fires. Clark’s no stranger to turning wood into kindling. In a two-generational effort, she also ran these axes by her Dad, Glen Tate, who was in charge of cutting down all those trees. He grew up cutting, bucking, and milling trees to build fences and barns on the family dairy farm.

Our two lead testers split rounds, chopped up logs, and went on an invasive autumn olive tree-chopping rampage (because old habits die hard). Switching back and forth between the axes and comparing notes made it clear which are well-balanced, which are built to split, which are sharp, and which are tiring.

Analysis and Test Results

Most of these options do a passable job of cutting up kindling. The limbing and splitting work elevates a handful above the rest. Keep reading to find out which axe is right for you.

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Value

We know how much your money means to you. After we compare these axes’ performance, we also rank their value. Models with high scores and low costs will always be a great buy. Our top choice, the Fiskars X11 is hard to beat, with top scores and a mid-range price tag. The Gerber Freescape costs about as much but is more compact. It’s a solid investment, but it is a branded Fiskars product, and they sell a similar version for less. Therefore, we’re not particularly impressed with Freescape’s value.

If you need a budget buy for chopping kindling and limbs, the MTech USA gives you a sharp blade and balanced performance with one of the lowest price tags in the test. The Fiskars Norden is one of the more expensive options. Still, if you need to chop any amount of firewood, its long handle and solid construction are worth it.

The Gransfors Bruk Small Forest axe is far more expensive than any other item in the test. It’s also meant to be an heirloom and is hand-forged using processes that are sustainable and treat workers fairly. If you share those values, the price and quality of the axe may be worth it to you.

Balance and Accuracy

Cutting wood is hard work. You want every swing to count. A well-balanced axe transfers power effectively from the handle through the blade, cutting into the wood efficiently. It also works with your body, making accuracy easier.

The Gransfors Bruks Small Forest offers outstanding balance and is our favorite option for precise tasks like limbing logs or cutting down saplings (of invasive species only, don’t worry). The Fiskars X11 is a close second. It’s a little less light and lively and more ruthlessly efficient, which we appreciate. The hollow orange handle also helps absorb vibrations, saving your forearms.

The shorter but very similar Gerber Freescape is also balanced and easy to put where you want, particularly given its compact size.

The Estwing and Kershaw options are also well-balanced axes, though they have very different designs. The Kershaw is incredibly light and straight. The Estwing balances its hefty weight with a power-transfer curve.

Unfortunately, the Estwing’s sanded and lacquered leather handle wrap is hard to hold onto, detracting from its efficiency and quickly tiring our hands and forearms. It’s less accurate, and we don’t reach for it often. In contrast, the Kershaw has a great grip. It’s light but still manages to make headway in a hurry.

Both make headway more quickly than the MTech and Schrade, which have similar and pleasant swings but less power. Of the two, the MTech is sharper and more effective.

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The Fiskars Norden N12 is more top-heavy than other top options, making it harder to swing with one hand. It’s not terrible, and we don’t have trouble with accuracy when splitting wood or choking up on the handle to hold it near the axe head. Still, for precision tasks, we’d choose a different axe.

The Gerber axe is more of a chopper than a swinger. There’s not much there to balance. It can be accurate if you use it more like a cross between a plane and a knife. The SOG is graceless but works.

Wood Splitting

Though all of these camping axes will shave kindling from ready-made firewood, only the three Fiskars options are proficient at splitting it in the first place. After all, the X11 and the Norden were made for it, with the cutting edge curving up to a convex wedge. They work exceedingly well and are a welcome break from our testing consultant’s normally massive splitting maul.

The Norden is better since it’s bigger and longer. However, we appreciate the X11’s hollow, impact-dampening handle, which kept our forearms and hands fresh. Unfortunately, they are both smaller than many full-size splitting axes, which means it may take longer to get through a full woodpile — but it also means they’re compact enough to work as camping axes. Our lead female tester particularly likes using them for daily chores and camping since she is smaller.

Due to its compact 14″ length, the Gerber Freescape is more of a purebred camping axe that can also chop wood when needed. It’s also made by Fiskars and sports a wedge-shaped head for splitting wood, but the cheeks aren’t concave to help you extract the blade from the wood between strikes. Its shorter length gives you less leverage but makes it very easy to wield.

The rest of the axes bite into the wood but don’t effectively wedge it apart. It’s not their main purpose. They can split kindling. The accuracy of the Fiskars, Gransfors, and Kershaw help again here. The sharpness and easy swing of the MTech also works, but we tire faster when using it. The Estwing offers a similar experience but with more power and, unfortunately, a slick handle.

Sharpness

We tested these axes right out of the box to compare their sharpness. We are most impressed by the razor edge of the Gransfors Bruk. The three Fiskars axes, including the Gerber branded Freescape, are nearly as good, as is the Kershaw Deschutes. All of them maintained a great edge throughout the weeks of testing.

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The Estwing Sportsman’s Axe is nearly as sharp as the category leaders, with the MTech following closely behind. All of these axes performed to our expectations. The performance of the remaining axes tended to suffer due to blunter blades.

The Schrade is very similar to the MTech but isn’t as effective. Its comparatively dull edge takes far longer to get anything done. The Gerber Pack Hatchet and SOG Axe are another step down from there, making them frustrating to work with. The Best Choice is comically blunt.

Ease of Carrying

Part of what makes an axe good for camping is that it’s easy to pack and carry. That means shortening the handle and making it less pleasant for large jobs or long periods. We’re impressed with the Fiskars X11, Fiskars Norden, Kershaw, Gransfors Bruk, and Gerber Freescape. All are relatively compact and offer excellent utility. They also come with the handiest carrying systems.

While most axes include a loop on their nylon sheath that you can run a belt through, you have to take off your belt to do so. These five axes take a different approach. The X11 and Freescape include a plastic handle on their sheathes, the Kershaw gives you a nylon sling that you can use or choose to tuck away, and the Gransfors and Norden will clip around your belt without the need to remove it. Easy indeed.

The MTech, Estwing, Schrade, and Gerber are small enough to toss in a pack or loop through your belt. The Gerber would be the most comfortable but the least useful once you get there.

Durability

This Gransfors Bruk is a beautiful little beast that should hold up over time. The three Fiskars axes (including the branded Gerber Freescape) also feature quality construction, leaving little cause for concern. The X11 and Freescape have plastic dials that lock them into their sheaths that seem easy to break. It’s not mission-critical, though.

The Estwing forges its axe from a single piece of steel in the U.S. We don’t see it failing anytime soon. The Kershaw and Gerber handles seem similarly well-anchored to their steel axe heads, but time shall tell. The streamlined MTech and Schrade axes leave little to break, while the multiple connection points on the SOG give us pause.

Conclusion

With any luck, we’ve answered your camping axe questions. Now you too can find the perfect option to strap on your favorite backpacking backpack, toss in your car camping rig, or strap to the outside of your camper van as you head out to the horizon.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>