What is the Difference Between a Camping Axe and a Hatchet?

axe blade resting in a piece of firewood

It may be hard for the untrained eye to notice the difference between a camping axe and a hatchet. However, these differences are important to know so you can choose the correct tool to use in various situations.

The main difference between a camping axe and a hatchet is size and weight. A camping axe, although smaller than the traditional axe, is large and heavy. However, a hatchet is light and much smaller. They differ in purpose too as an axe is better suited to chop firewood and a hatchet kindling.

As we dive deeper into these differences, we will not only discuss the tools themselves but how and in what situations they would be best used.

What is a Camping Axe?

Axes were one of the first tools developed by humans during the Stone Age. Throughout time, axes evolved to be sleeker, thinner, and have a more developed and pronounced blade. They not only became more physically attractive, but safer and easier to use. Now, axes have evolved even more to make them useful in different situations like camping, hiking, or backpacking. One example of that is the camping axe.

A camping axe or a hand axe is the smaller and more compact version of a regular axe. This makes them easier to transport but makes them less powerful than a normal axe. An axe, even the smaller camping one, has a longer handle. This provides more leverage so you can fell small trees or chop firewood. An axe also has a larger, heavier head which helps you chop larger pieces of wood with more ease. However, the heavier head makes even a camping axe almost two times as heavy as a hatchet. Two hands are required to use a hand axe.

Portrait of an attractive young lumberjack who chopping wood with an ax

What is a Hatchet?

The hatchet was developed from the axe. In history, we most commonly hear of hatchets, otherwise known as tomahawks, being used by the indigenous people of the Americas. They were introduced to the natives by European explorers and immigrants and were quickly adapted to their daily life. The uses of tomahawks varied from hunting, chores in daily life and even battle. Hatchets were an important trade item between natives and newcomers. Currently, hatchets are used by many, but still represent the wild history of the American West.

A hatchet is a small tool. Compact and light, a hatchet is a bit easier to use than an axe. The shorter shaft only requires the use of one hand and made it more popular in combat. However, the shorter shaft also means you don’t have as much leverage when wielding a hatchet so you can’t fell a tree or split large pieces of wood.

Hatchets also have smaller, lighter heads and large blades. Another aspect that sets hatchets and axes apart is that a hatchet often comes with a hammerhead. This means it can be used as a hammer or mallet, making it a multi-use tool.

When to Use a Camping Axe?

Many factors contribute to when you should use a camping axe. Because of its large size and weight, it is best used to cut down smaller trees and split smaller rounds for firewood. A camping axe’s shorter shaft prevents you from felling larger trees or splitting larger rounds as you lack that extra leverage.

When to Use a Hatchet?

A hatchet’s small size makes it a better fit for smaller tasks. Trimming or cutting small branches and cutting kindling are some of the main tasks suited for a hatchet. The unique hammer-like side of a hatchet is useful for driving in stakes.

Close up view of man chopping wood chips for kindling of fireplace.

Which is Best for Camping?

Now the answer to that question depends entirely on what type of camping you plan on doing and how long you plan on camping for. It is completely possible and sometimes safer even to camp without a sharp tool like an axe or hatchet. However, if you feel it necessary it is important to know which one to bring on your excursion. Different camping trips and styles have different wood requirements which change which splitting tool you should use.

Many times, if you camp at a more developed campsite, they have wood available for you to use, usually with a fee. This means you wouldn’t be felling trees or splitting wood which means you wouldn’t have a need for a heavy-duty tool like a camping axe. In this situation, a hatchet would suffice as your responsibilities would only require chopping kindling.

However, if there is no wood readily available to you, taking a camping axe may be a better option. Especially when camping long term or backpacking, you could be in need of an axe to fell trees and split wood for the duration of your trip.

“A camp axe would be ideal for a long term camping trip as it is light enough to pack and carry”

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One thing to consider when packing a camp axe for a long term camping or backpacking trip is the size. The larger shaft on a camping axe makes it a little awkward and annoying to carry on your belt, so it would be best to put it in your pack. When in your pack, it is important to put a cover on the blade as well as to face the blade towards the center of the pack. These precautions will ensure your safety while transporting the axe.

Fireplace in forest at dusk the evening

Responsible Use of Sharp Tools

As with all weapons and sharp tools, it is essential that you know not only how to use them, but how to use them responsibly. When camping or backpacking with axes and hatchets, you still need to practice the leave no trace principles, taking as little wood as possible and only chopping when it is necessary. Instead of trimming branches for kindling, opt for collecting dead sticks and branches in the area.

In any camping situation, it is unnecessary and oftentimes illegal to clear brush for a site or to put up a hammock. Ensuring you are respectful and responsible in your use of sharp tools in nature will ensure that you and others long after will be able to enjoy the great outdoors.

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