Axe, hatchet, or saw: Which one is best to bring backpacking?

by | Nov 28, 2023 | Backpacking

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Are you gearing up for an epic backpacking adventure but finding it tough to pick the perfect tool?

Well, fret not!

Choosing between an axe, hatchet, or saw can be a real challenge for many backpackers, as each has its own unique advantages and limitations.

We’ll explore the pros and cons of each tool, arming you with the knowledge to make the ultimate choice for your trip.

The dilemma of bringing tools backpacking

A backpack with an axe firewood and cooking gear

Each tool serves a different function when you’re out on the trails.

Axes are great for chopping firewood but can be heavy. Hatchets offer a good balance for smaller tasks like splitting kindling.

Saws are ideal for precision cutting, like sawing through branches to clear a path or prepare firewood.

Weight vs. utility

The tool’s weight is a major consideration because every ounce counts on the trail.

A lightweight hatchet might be perfect for short trips.

For longer excursions, or where you won’t need to process a lot of wood, a compact folding saw could be the better choice.

Material and durability

Tools made from high-quality steel last longer and perform better.

Your tool should have a sturdy handle that can withstand the rigours of backpacking.

Selecting a tool with a good balance between being lightweight and durable ensures it won’t let you down in the wilderness.

An axe: A backpacker’s companion

An axe in firewood at a campsite

When you’re trekking through the wilderness, an axe can be a multifunctional tool that proves its worth in various scenarios.

Pros of carrying an axe

An axe is invaluable for splitting wood and making fires to keep you warm. It’s also handy for trail maintenance or clearing space for your campsite.

With a good quality axe like the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife hatchet, you’ll have a durable, reliable companion on your adventures.

Cons of carrying an axe

However, an axe does add weight to your pack, which may slow you down.

You must remember to safely store it to avoid accidents, as it’s sharp and potentially dangerous.

Ideal situations for an axe

You’ll find an axe most useful in wooded areas where you might need to gather and process firewood.

It’s also great if you’re camping for multiple nights in the same spot and have the time to invest in building a solid campsite.

A hatchet: The compact choice

A hatchet with split firewood

When you’re backpacking, space is at a premium, and a hatchet can be the perfect woodcutting tool due to its size and versatility.

Benefits of bringing a hatchet

Hatchets are known for their portability and ease of use.

They’re significantly lighter and smaller than traditional axes, making them ideal for packing in a backpack.

A hatchet’s design allows for effective chopping, splitting small logs, and even carving tasks.

You can rely on a quality hatchet to help with making kindling or clearing a campsite.

Drawbacks of a hatchet

The shorter handle of a hatchet can mean less force when chopping compared to a full-sized axe.

Precision and care are needed since the smaller size can lead to a higher risk of injury if used improperly.

A hatchet might not be as efficient for larger tasks, like cutting down big trees or splitting large rounds of wood.

When to prefer a hatchet

Choose a hatchet if you’re planning a trip where space is tight and you anticipate basic chopping needs.

It’s great for short overnight trips or for those who prioritize lightweight gear.

If breaking down small pieces of wood for fires is your main need, then a hatchet could be your go-to tool.

A saw: Great for precision and efficiency

A folding bow saw on top of a pile of wood

When you’re out backpacking, a saw can be your go-to tool for cutting with precision and efficiency.

Advantages of a saw

Saws are loved for their clean cuts and little effort needed.

They’re especially handy when you need to trim branches or cut firewood to exact lengths.

With saws, you also reduce the chance of splitting wood compared to axes or hatchets.

Disadvantages of a saw

The downside is they’re a bit bulky and not as versatile.

Carrying a saw might mean sacrificing extra pack space for other essentials. If the saw’s blade isn’t maintained, it can become dull and inefficient.

Optimal conditions for saw use

Bring a saw along when you know you’ll be cutting a lot of wood.

It’s great for established camps where you’ll be sawing rather than chopping.

A folding saw can be even more convenient, offering a good balance between size and functionality.

Comparative analysis

When considering what to bring on a backpacking trip, you’ll want to think about weight, size, and functionality.

Axe vs. hatchet

An axe is larger and heftier, designed for felling trees and chopping large amounts of wood.

It’s perfect if you’re establishing a campsite for a while and need lots of firewood.

However, it’s on the heavier side for a backpacking trip.

Hatchets are the smaller, lighter counterpart to the axe.

They’re easy to carry and manage tasks like splitting kindling or light chopping.

Hatchet vs. saw

If you’re after portability, a saw might be better than a hatchet.

Saws, especially folding ones, typically take up less space and can be lighter.

They are ideal for cutting through branches and logs smoothly.

Compared to a hatchet, a saw is less about chopping and more about precise cuts.

Saw vs. axe

A saw’s precision is great for a clean cut, where an axe is about raw chopping power.

An axe will tire you out faster than a saw.

But in situations where you might need to split logs, an axe is your go-to tool.

Saws require less exertion and are great for cutting firewood, but they aren’t suitable for splitting.

Practical skills and safety

Using a hatchet to split firewood

When you’re out backpacking, the right skills and safety measures with your tools can make all the difference.

Using tools safely

You’ve got your axe, hatchet, or saw packed and ready to go.

Remember, each tool demands respect to prevent accidents.

Axe and Hatchet: Keep your swing zone clear.

When you’re chopping wood, make sure no one is within range—about two times the length of the tool.

Saw: Use steady, even strokes.

Let the saw do the work; don’t force it, or you might bend the blade or slip.

Maintenance and care

A dull tool isn’t just ineffective—it’s dangerous.

Cleaning: After every use, clean off dirt and sap. It prevents rust and keeps the tool in good condition.

Sharpening: A well-sharpened blade reduces the effort you need to cut. Check the blade before each trip, and sharpen it if necessary.

Skill development

The best tool in the world won’t help if you don’t know how to use it.

Practice: If you’re new to using outdoor tools, practise at home before the trip.

You’ll feel more confident when it’s time to set up camp.

Techniques: Learn the right techniques.

This includes the correct way to grip, swing, and strike with an axe or hatchet, and how to saw branches without squashing them.

Personal preference and experience

When choosing between an axe, hatchet, or saw for backpacking, your personal preference plays a significant role.

You might prefer a hatchet for its versatility and lightweight design, making it easier to carry on long treks.

Some backpackers favour an axe when they expect to encounter larger logs or need to do more extensive campsite preparations.

If you’re planning to cut through smaller branches and want precision, you might lean towards bringing a saw.

Remember, the experience you’ve had with each tool will influence your decision.

You’ll likely pick the tool you’re most comfortable and efficient with, which can only come from practice.

Don’t overlook the type of environment you’ll be in; this can dictate which tool will serve you best.

You might find the Gränsfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet perfect for your style of backpacking because of its balance between weight and functionality.

A backpacker with a focus on minimal impact might pick a saw to cleanly cut wood without splitting or damaging what’s left behind.

The best way to identify your personal preference is through experience; try each tool on different trips to gauge which works best for you.

Keep in mind, what works well for one person might not be the best for another; it’s all about finding what’s right for you.

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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