Axe vs. Large Knife for Backpacking

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gear, Survival Equipment & More' started by H0kieengineer, Jan 13, 2020.

Which would you take backpacking in the woods?

  1. Hatchet/smallish axe

    1 vote(s)
  2. Large(~6”) knife

    4 vote(s)
  3. Both

    5 vote(s)
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  1. H0kieengineer

    H0kieengineer Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 24, 2017
    I’m trying to build a good backpacking kit and have run into an issue: do I want a large knife or a smallish axe? I will have a small fixed blade for food prep and fine tasks, so I’m covered there. The knife/axe would be for getting fire wood mostly. The axe seems like the right choice but I want to hear from people with experience.
  2. Deinos

    Deinos Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 7, 2016
    What size/style/blade steel is the "small" fixed blade? Going light? Have a ton of other gear? Weight limit? etc.

    I like to carry small/large/and axe if I have the space/weight available... otherwise, I would go small axe if not and have a small blade that could handle some slightly bigger tasks.
  3. H0kieengineer

    H0kieengineer Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 24, 2017
    I have a BRK Mini Bush Seax, which is a wharncliff style blade, and a Spyderco Maxamet Mule Team. Their both light and easy to carry, so figured I would bring both.

    I don’t really have a weight limit, though I don’t want to carry extra stuff that I won’t use.

    What do you consider to be “slightly larger” tasks?
  4. Deinos

    Deinos Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 7, 2016
    When I mentioned slightly larger tasks, I was thinking about the Ultralite Bushcrafter from BRK. Small knife, thin stock, but it is able to do a lot of work you would typically want a longer, thicker blade for. It can do some light batoning for kindling, feathersticking, etc., but it is also good for non-woodworking tasks as well. Great all-arounder. Since it punches above its size, you can carry a hatchet or small axe and cover a lot of ground without the excess of weight of another knife... especially if that knife is pushing 5"+.
  5. bikerector

    bikerector KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Nov 16, 2016
    How big of a fire are you trying to make? A nice campfire for hanging around or just something for cooking? Is the area you are in full of stuff already on the ground that you can easily break?

    For backpacking with limited camping, I do care for much over a 4" knife. If it's something longer distance, a longer blade handles many more "what if" scenarios. I don't carry hatchets anymore but for a hike-to-camp or "rustic camping" (woodcrafting) I may carry a small axe like a forest axe. But, I generally prefer a large knife or shorter machete/parang/golok. A SAK with a saw has been pretty nice for versatility as well, or a multi-tool if I don't mind the extra weight.

    Most of my actual firewood batoning for me around a campsite is getting kindling split down to pencil sized pieces and I don't need much blade for that. But, big knives are more fun IMO, so there's that too. Something like an Esee 6, swamp rat ratweiler, or BK7 are pretty good for me. The new Busse team gemini ultra light brigade fits this role well too, IMO.
  6. lambertiana

    lambertiana Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    I vote for neither for backpacking. I may like a nice hatchet when car camping, but that is a lot of weight. A 4" blade fixed blade that can be batoned, coupled with a decent saw (Silky pocketboy, Opinel 12, Bahco, etc) would do everything I need and would weigh a lot less.
  7. MtnHawk1

    MtnHawk1 Gold Member Gold Member

    May 22, 2019
    I consider a 6" blade to be a medium size knife and not much use. Too small for big jobs, like chopping wood, and too large for small jobs, such as field dressing game and food prep. If I could only carry one edged tool in forest and mountain wilderness areas it would be a large, high quality knife with around a 10" blade and finger choil.

    A small axe, or hatchet, has its place, and I carry one in my truck, but for packing in I'll always take a large knife over an axe. A large knife is much more versatile, and has less weight and bulk. Since knives are such essential tools in the wilderness, I like to have a large knife as a backup for a small one.

    Of course, it all depends what kind of environment you are in, what you need and want to do, how much weight you want to, or can, carry, etc. There is no "one size fits all" since everyone's needs aren't the same.
  8. heat_treat

    heat_treat Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 25, 2015
    After having tried both over the years I have ended up the same place. Neither if backpacking. A medium size knife and a small saw is my preference. I use a small twig stove (firebox nano) for cooking so it is easy to feed with small wood. This does assume you are bringing a sleep system that is not dependent on an external heat source like a long fire.

    If car or canoe camping and I think I will need more wood (more for pleasure than necessity) I prefer a small axe over a large knife.
    kgd likes this.
  9. JJ_Colt45

    JJ_Colt45 Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 11, 2014
    I used to always carry an axe for any over night trip ... but after years of trial and error I find I much prefer a saw and a chopper of some sort in place of an axe ... I can split process plenty of wood much faster and safer with a good saw and large blade to get me through most anything.

    If you worry about weight ... it is extremely rare that I've ever been anywhere that I can't find enough downed wood to get me by with just a solid large knife ... even if wet I can baton the outermost wet parts away and get enough dry wood to get me through ... the saw just makes it less work and a bit faster so it's worth it for the small bit added to my pack.

    This is of course on top of my belt knife for all smaller chores.
  10. jmarston


    Dec 6, 2010
    For backpacking, leave it at home. There are wood processing techniques that require no blades. There are fire making techniques that require no processing.

    But I am a nut for sharp edges. A big knife if you must bring one. Maybe a 10" or 12" machete.
  11. kvaughn

    kvaughn Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    JoeTarget likes this.
  12. bemymonkey


    Nov 12, 2012
    That would not only be adequate but actually the superior solution, IMO. Unless you're really good with it, a light hatchet can barely be used for splitting and limbing small branches. Cutting actual branches (say 3-4" diameter) will be a pain with the hatchet. Just because it looks a bit like an axe it doesn't mean you can fell trees with it :D
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