Tracing the history of axes would be tracing the history of modern man. They have been around for centuries and have been used as both tools and weapons. Cultures like the Vikings commonly used their axes for both chopping wood and splitting heads depending on the season. Axes come in a multitude of shapes and sizes and each axe has it’s own niche.
Axes are the ultimate chopping hand tools, their heavy weight and straight handles allow them to split thick wood and fell trees. Their chopping ability makes them fearsome close range weapons. Their lethal aspects are obvious, but when the side or blunt end is swung they are also a close range devastating less than lethal weapon.
As tools they are much better for chopping hard materials than any machete. When shopping for a good survival axe there a few features you should look for. First off is price, there are a lot of replicas and fantasy ‘axes’ out there. These are often very cheap, and look like they came out of a fantasy movie. They will also most likely break as soon as metal hits wood. Always look at the company who makes the axe, and the warranty they provide. There are plenty of people who make quality outdoors equipment who make axes.
First off you need to gauge the size you are looking for. How will you carry it? And what will it be used for? Now a large full sized axe is good for splitting logs rapidly and chopping down trees, but the weight and length make it difficult to use for small tasks and not very comfortable to carry. As a weapon when you miss with a larger axe you will have a longer recovery time, not so much with a short axe.
I suggest a small hand axe, which is easier to carry and more realistic to use. Most include a belt pouch, and it not they can be placed in a pack easily enough. It’s unlikely you’ll have to chop down a full sized tree, so the need for a full sized axe is slim. A hand axe can still split wood and cut down smaller trees, which is a more likely objective. Smaller axes are much easier to use for smaller tasks like breaking locks, opening doors, and destroying barricades. When you find yourself in close quarters, like a building, using a full size axe is impossible.
Next you need to look for a solid grip. Without a solid grip you run the risk of the axe slipping and the possibility of seriously hurting yourself. An axe with an aggressive checkering pattern and a rubber that molds to your hand works well. Take into account your hands being wet with sweat and how that will affect your grip, or the wearing of gloves while swinging the axe.
Here are a few axes to give you an example of what makes a quality survival axe.
First Gerber is one of my favorite companies for outdoor equipment, and they have a long history of creating quality tools for use in the outdoors. The Downrange was created with the military in mind, but it’s uses easily translate to use for survival. The Downrange is a one piece design, meaning the handle and axe head are all one solid piece of metal. This increases overall strength of the tool.
The Downrange feature more than just an axe head. The head features an axe on one side and a hammer on the other. The bottom of the grip is a hefty pry bar. The multiple uses this tool offers are good for both urban and rural areas. This is both a make due woods axe and a great breaching tool. The axe is made from high quality 420 HC steel to guarantee strength and durability.
Ontario is another blade maker who has made high quality tools for military, rescue and outdoor use. The SPAX is no different. It’s an oddly named tool with an odd appearance. The Spax is a hybrid of a knife, an axe and a pick axe. The Spax 16 features a round axe head with a pick formed out of the back of the axe head.
The axe head is light, but capable of cutting through thickets and chopping wood. The pick is strong enough to be used as a pry bar. The axe was designed for search and rescue and is capable of chopping through thin metals found in cars and aircraft.
The grip is reminiscent of the grip on the Ka Bar knife. It’s a rubber grip that is comfortable while offering a strong gripping surface. The handle and unique design of the axe head allows it to be used as a make shift machete. This won’t replace a machete’s effectiveness though. The Spax 16 is even found on Marine 1, the President’s helicopter.
SOG was one of the first companies to bring the modern tomahawk back to the spotlight. Prior to SOG’s revival there was a distinct lack of modern survival axes. There were plenty of camping hatchets, but none dedicated to survival with a tactical aspect to them.
The tactical Tomahawk is SOG’s revival of the classic Vietnam tomahawk. The Tactical Tomahawk is a lightweight, yet strong and proven design. The dual headed design features a normal tomahawk blade and a heavy pick end. The heavy 420HC steel is like the Gerber and very strong. The glass reinforced nylon handle is light weight and tough. The handle is long enough to use two hands if the necessary leverage is needed. If you’re looking for a simple hand axe the SOG tactical tomahawk is a great choice.
The example I used were some very well respected axes, but they may not be the best for everyone. Different people have different needs and different budgets and that will dictate their perfect axe. You can’t go wrong with these examples though. When shopping for your own survival axe remember to keep your own objectives in mind and don’t be sold on appearances.