Be prepared – why to take a hatchet with you
If you’re an outdoorsy person, you probably own a camp axe or hatchet already. If you’re only beginning to embrace an outdoor lifestyle and are slowly building up your arsenal of survival gear, the backpacking hatchet is something you definitely want to consider, not only because it’s small and portable, but also for its versatility.
With a hatchet, you can chop smaller trees with ease, you can split wood for kindle, you can effortlessly hammer on the pegs of your tent, and you can even chop food if cooking your meals from scratch. A hatchet is also a weapon in case you need to defend yourself when out in the woods. All valid reasons to have a hatchet and, more importantly, its usage isn’t limited to the woods. You can use the hatchet to split wood in your backyard and to accomplish other maintenance chores in your yard or farm.
Know your hatchet part by part
The hatchet is composed of two major parts: the head and the handle, and these have distinct identifying components as described below. The head and handle may be forged as one or kept detachable.
Cutting edge. This is the sharpened edge of the ax blade and is the part responsible for splitting wood.
Butt. This is the flattened edge of the ax blade and is located on the opposite end of the cutting edge. In most cases, the butt plays the role of a hammer.
Bit. This is the angled part of the head and largely refers to the ax blade.
Eye. This is a small opening at the top of the head where the handle sticks through. It’s commonly seen in designs where the head and handle are separate.
Haft. This refers to the entire length of the handle, from where the head joins the handle to the end knob. It’s where you place your hands when using the hatchet.
End knob. This is the curved end of the handle. It’s so designed to keep your hands from slipping and dropping the hatchet during use.
Take care of the hatchet – useful tips
Your hatchet blade will need sharpening every now and then to maintain the sharpness of the cutting edge. It’s only natural for the blade to become blunt with regular use, but you can restore its sharpness by sharpening it on an emery file or heavy duty sharpener. When filing the blade, take care not to overheat it as this can further damage the blade.
You should also use the same number of strokes on both sides of the edge so that one side doesn’t become more beveled than the other.
Begin by filing away on the coarse side of the sharpening puck. This will smooth any chips and scratches on the blade. Work on one side and then turn over to the other side. Once all chips are aligned, move to the smooth side of the puck and, working on one side of the blade first then the other, file away until it attains the desired sharpness.
Before storage, wipe the ax head with a little machine oil to protect it from the elements. You may also use gun oil. Choose an oil variant that is designed to dry after application so that it doesn’t leave an oily residue on the head.
To protect your wooden handle from moisture damage, wipe it with linseed oil regularly. Using boiled linseed oil instead of regular linseed oil will keep the handle dry and in this way will not attract dust.
Features to consider while buying the best backpacking hatchet
Let’s look at the individual features that matter in a backpacking hatchet and what to look for when buying one.
What type should you choose?
Backpacking hatchets come in a wide variety. Each type is better suited for some roles than others. Here are the most common types.
Survival hatchet. This is a small, single-handed use hatchet with a short shaft. It’s ideal for cutting small logs, splitting wood, and hammering, but because of its small handle, it doesn’t chop large logs well. An example of such a tool will be Schrade SCAXE2G.
Camping hatchet. This is a mid-sized hatchet with a long shaft, designed for two-handed use. It has a large blade for chopping or splitting wood and a wide-enough butt for easy hammering. It’s heavier than a survival hatchet and may not fit in tiny bags.
Tactical hatchet. This is a tomahawk-style hatchet that can be used as a weapon. It also does a fine wood chopping and splitting job.
Throwing hatchet. Another tomahawk-style hatchet that is superbly balanced. As the name implies, it is designed for throwing, and embeds itself on whatever object it’s thrown at. It has a small, dull blade and doesn’t chop wood well, but it’s great at hammering.
Look at the size
When looking at size, you have the blade and handle size to consider. The blade should be big enough for easy chopping and splitting of wood. If you choose a hatchet with a small blade, you may use more effort to split wood and the hatchet may not be useful at all in splitting large logs.
Hatchet handles range from 8-36 inches in length. Longer handles split wood better, are easier to handle when chopping big logs, and offer greater versatility in use. The downside is they’re heavier than hatchets with small handles. Smaller hatchets, while light, are limiting in that they may not chop large logs and, when they do, will require you to expend lots of energy. This type is best for occasional use. It’s safer to opt for a mid-length handle that will allow you to do everything and are not too heavy.
Examine the steel
Different types of steel are used to make hatchet blades. The type of steel used, because of its properties, can determine what the hatchet can be used for. Some types of steel are tougher, harder, or easier to sharpen than others. All these will have an impact on how you use the hatchet. Let’s address each type of steel.
Carbon steel. The hardiest steel variant, consisting only of carbon and iron. It comes in low, medium, and high-level carbon concentrations, and is heat-tempered to minimize risk of breakage. For hatchet blades, only medium and high-level carbon grades are used, and these are mostly graded 1065-1095.
Alloy steels. These are a combination of iron, carbon, chromium and other metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, sulfur, silicon, tungsten, or vanadium, among others. They have medium-level carbon and a significant amount of chromium, but not as much as in stainless steel. They’re tough, hardened, shock resistant, and impact enduring.
Stainless steel. A carbon and iron alloy that contains at least 10.5% chromium, stainless steel is fairly soft with a moderate edge retention compared to the other types of steel. It’s usually combined with metals like nickel to improve its hardness. The most common grade for hatchets is 420 Stainless Steel. It’s corrosion-resistant and stands up well to the elements.
What is a handle made of?
The handle of backpacking hatchets is generally made from fiberglass or wood. A few models may have a metal handle, but these tend to be quite heavy and are unsuitable for camping where you’d need to constantly take the hatchet with you.
Fiberglass offers numerous advantages over wood. It’s durable, lightweight, and doesn’t splinter easily. The disadvantage is that once it’s damaged, it cannot be repaired. You have to replace it.
Wooden handles can be repaired or replaced easily. They’re easy to carry if light. But they can also be heavy. They are also prone to splintering, overstrike damage, and can be slippery depending on the finishing done.
Feel the weight
The last thing you need when on a hiking adventure is a heavy backpack that bogs you down. And an unnecessarily heavy hatchet will do just that. Choose a hatchet that is light enough for you to run up the hills with. When considering the weight of the hatchet, factor in the weight of all the additional gear you’ll be carrying.
If you won’t be hiking much and only intend to use the hatchet near your house, you may compromise a little and go for a heavier hatchet such as the Hults Bruk Tarnaby Hatchet.
Go for a well-balanced hatchet like the Gränsfors Bruks Hand Hatchet, one where the weight is evenly distributed between the head and the handle. Such a hatchet will feel good in your hands and delivers the maximum force needed to split wood when you bring it down. A hatchet where the head is heavier than the handle and vice versa will be unwieldy and may not chop wood as well as you’d like.
It needs to be sharp
A good hatchet is out-of-the-factory sharp, but it stays sharp longer and is easy to sharpen when it becomes blunt. This has a lot to do with the type of steel used to make the blade so check the material before making a decision to buy.
Choose or buy the hatchet accessories that best match your needs. Some of the more common ones you’ll come across are:
A blade sheath to ensure you don’t injure yourself or accidentally cut objects during storage.
Overstrike protector to protect the haft in case of a missed target.
File or sharpening stone for easy blade sharpening on the go.
Extra wedges for easy repair work.
Multiple hammer faces to help with different hammering usages.
Check the price
If you’re looking for something you can use over the long term or one that’s ideal for heavy duty use, be prepared to pay more for the corresponding good quality. If you’ll be using the hatchet occasionally and for light work, go for the lower-priced models that can get the job done, like the CAMAQUI Hatchet or the Gerber Hatchet.
Ensure that you pick a hatchet with a warranty, especially if you’re spending a considerable amount on it. It will be good if the manufacturer can take care of any repairs that may be needed soon after you buy the hatchet.
How to be careful with a backpacking hatchet?
Always use the hatchet on a flat surface when chopping or splitting wood.
Place wood on a raised surface so that you don’t bend too low.
Always ensure you have enough clearance all around you before using the hatchet.
Don’t place your hands or feet on the log you’re chopping or splitting.