Hatchets

8:35 p.m. on March 8, 2014 (EST)
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I would like to know if anyone is using hatchets out on the trail.  I like to bushwhack a lot, and will not use this on live plants, but use it removing some dead plants and camping area.  I was looking at the gerber version.  Any input would be great or even if I wasting my time.  50% of my trail time is bushwhacking and 20% in the dark, I'm early riser.

Thanks everyone

10:35 a.m. on March 9, 2014 (EDT)
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Since we backpack in the SIerra Nevada, and LNT is not only good policy but also the law in many areas, we don't take a hatchet.  Too much weight for something that we would very rarely use.  Of course, open fires are also prohibited in most areas...so you can see how a hatchet would be dead weight.

11:25 a.m. on March 9, 2014 (EDT)
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It is easy to build a fire without one. I have seen two people put axes into their feet and met two guys with hacked fingers. I find that a machete is safer for bushwacking. Usually I carry neither.

11:53 a.m. on March 9, 2014 (EDT)
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Thank you, just thinking on the trail.  The laws have there place, out here if you don't have a small shovel in the wilderness area you can get fine of $3000.00.  Welcome to California.

2:33 p.m. on March 9, 2014 (EDT)
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I used to carry a trail or limbing axe with a 1.75# head and a long fawnfoot handle. This was only if I was intending to spend more than a single day in one place, far from roads in the northern backcountry. The tiny axe was great for getting, trimming, and splitting squaw wood; driving pegs, making tarp poles, cutting roots, and generally making a long-term camp more pleasant.

I never thought a hatchet was a good idea because the handles are too short, IMO.

3:22 p.m. on March 9, 2014 (EDT)
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Thank you, just thinking on the trail.  The laws have there place, out here if you don't have a small shovel in the wilderness area you can get fine of $3000.00.  Welcome to California.

 

I noticed recently, sometime last year, that some of our National Forests in Arizona are requiring anyone who has an open campfire to possess a shovel and an ax. I always keep those things anyway, along with other backcountry roads and travel tools wrapped up in a tarp under the back seat. But I have never taken a shovel or an ax backpacking.

If you are interested in the Gerber ax or hatchet (they make several sizes) they are made in Finland under the name Fiskars and distributed under both names here. They make a pretty good tool. I have one of the medium sized models in my vehicle. The head on my Granfors Bruks loosened up in the dry environment but the Gerber/Fiskars won't do that, you can throw it in and forget about it till you need it.

Yes you have to keep it real sharp for safety (I keep a sharpening stone with mine) and always use safety conscience procedures with an ax or you can really trash yourself out. But if I ever do make fire out there, it is with thumb and wrist sized wood, nothing I need a cutting tool for. I have had to use my ax and saw to clear blow-downs enough to get the vehicle through on remote back roads. I never take them out of my vehicle at home so they will always be there when needed.

10:53 a.m. on March 10, 2014 (EDT)
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For car camping I bring a pulaski but I never bring anything like that on the trail when I have to carry it myself.  If I need to break wood for a fire I can do pretty well without a hatchet. 

If I have to do trail work a pulaski, is the only way to go for me. Maybe its just the connection it gives me to my youth fighting fires for the USFS and state DNR.  A pilaski, with a blade cover also makes a decent walking stick, but heavy.

My two cents.

5:33 p.m. on March 10, 2014 (EDT)
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Hatchets are next to useless, and quite dangerous because of the short haft. For hiking, tools like this are too much weight, IMO. However, on my canoe trips where weight is less of a consideration, and clearing a portage is not unheard of, I use an HBC pattern axe. These are a design that has been around for perhaps 200 years. A 1.5 or 1.75 pound head with a long cutting edge(bit) and a broad back for driving stakes or nails. The neck is small so they aren't meant for heavy use. They end up being just a bit heavier than a hatchet, but are much safer. Haft length should be in the 26 to 28 inch range which keeps the cutting edge further away from your body. Mine is a Collins, circa 1950. Snow & Nealley make a good one. Granfors Bruk make one that is similar, but the haft is shorter and the head less useful, IMO. They use good quality steel. Try to find older heads as the steel is better.

6:22 p.m. on March 10, 2014 (EDT)
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Next to useless!?!

My wife and I must own six or seven hatchets and make great use of 'em.

Just not backpacking...

If I figured I'd need one backpacking I'd take one along, but I haven't needed one yet. Now on canoe trips I do sometimes take an ax.

Erich, I don't care for the 3/4 axes you speak of for the same reason you don't like hatchets - To short!

I think they are to dangerous if you don't know what yer doing or get careless or slip in the wet. Too easy fer a swing to hit a leg. The 3/4 length makes folks want to swing 'em as a full ax, but a missed stroke is to close to ya.

But of course in trained hands they are fantastic tools. 

I'd rather take a good head from a 3/4 ax and put it on a good slender 36" light sledge hammer handle.

Makes a fantastic canoe ax. Plenty of reach and light. Doesn't take much power to use yet bites deep. Makes a good battle ax too! :)

My favorite hatchet is the all steel Estwing.

It is a fantastic tool for saddle notching smaller logs, general bushcraft / survival use and what not.

 

 

  

12:28 a.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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To each their own, Bob. I just find that hatchets won't cut big wood. As far as the danger aspect, most would say, including much that has been published, that the hatchet being short, is too close to some vital parts. The HBC pattern is still a risk, but a cut on the foot is less risky than the thigh. Certainly a 36" handle makes for a better swing. However, that is too long for a canoe axe. The standard way to carry the latter is tucked under the tump on the wannigan where it is easily carried and accessible. Standard wannigans are roughly 28-30 inches, so a 36 would be too much.

1:56 a.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Camp saw that collapses to stow/pack.  Cuts larger logs MUCH faster than hatchet - less weight .  Sux as defense against marauding  bears, however.

12:36 p.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Camp saws work for cutting firewood. A Sawvivor is a great little saw and comes in 15" and 18" models.

The OP posted about carrying a hatchet while hiking for clearing a campsite. IMO, carrying a hatchet or an axe is overkill if you have to carry it on your back. A set of pruning shears can accomplish the same thing and are much lighter, if a bit more labor intensive. All this depends on how much clearing the OP typically has to do, and what kind of vegetation. I do not carry an axe or hatchet or saw on my hiking or back country ski trips. On my canoe trips, I carry an axe and a saw. But for specific reasons. My trips are often several weeks or more and in remote boreal forest. As these trips are sometimes in the shoulder season, a fire is often important to dry out gear and warm up. Some of the routes I travel have not been done in decades or even longer. One route I did recently, required three portages totaling perhaps 5 km. None of these were cleared. One was through an old burn with small black spruce logs fallen three or four deep. Another was through spruce forest where the trees were so close together in spots, a tree here and there needed to be felled to get the canoes through. 

Again, axes, saws and hatchet are fairly specific tools for felling trees, notching logs or bucking firewood. If you are not doing a lot of those things, and have to carry them on your back, they are excess weight, akin to carrying a hand sledge for driving in tent stakes.

Below is prior to a portage where an axe was necessary.
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4:53 p.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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To say hatchets are "next to useless" is an unfair generalization Erich.  Next to useless to you personally maybe.  They obviously have many uses and many people use them otherwise nobody would buy them.  I quit using them after I very stupidly stuck one of those fancy, lightweight gerber hatchets in my knee.  Haven't touched one since.  My light $15 saw from walmart serves me well enough when I need it.  I have a nice Wyoming saw that I use too.  

2:25 a.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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Jason, perhaps I was generalizing in an unfair way about hatchets, and I apologize. However, since you have had a negative experience with one, you have experienced one of the problems I have with hatchets. To be clear, I expect every tool to be used by someone with experience with that tool. A crooked knife is a great tool, as is a spokeshave. Both, because of the angle of the cut, are especially dangerous if used without skill and knowledge. And their limits are in the realm of bushcraft, which maybe outside the norm on TS. Building a cabin with notched logs, peeling logs, constructing a birch canoe, all require fairly specialized, if simple tools. A simple hatchet, rather than something like a broad axe, is less effective in notching logs. Peeling, there are other tools that are superior. I don't doubt that hatchets are sold in great numbers. A couple of swiss guys on the Big Salmon this summer, had Fiskars Hatchets on their belts. I can't say how much use they got, but they were impressive.

Again, I apologize for being dismissive of hatchets. Some have their uses, as I have mentioned. But I frequently encounter trippers in northern BC and the Yukon sporting hatchets, and other things(including reproduction tomahawks), that have their uses in Mountain Man Rendezvous, but have limited application today. Do you roll yourself in a wool blanket, and wear only oilskin to stop the rain? Do you carry a Bowie Knife as a generalist's tool? If you do, I applaud your use of such a tool. And there are hundreds, if not thousands of Bowie Knives or replicas sold each year. I'm not being dismissive. My own personal favorite knife is a Russell Green River Butcher knife I have had for 30 years.

I advocate a tool that has multiple uses, and is safe. A hatchet has limited use. It is a generalists tool. As I have said, find a tool that works well for your application. Carrying a hand cranked blender is overkill unless you like a margarita each night. I'm not being facetious. The great Sigurd Olson used one on one of his last expeditions. 

10:27 a.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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I couldn't agree with you more Erich!!  Thanks.

I am going to have to check into that hand cranked blender.  A snow made margarita sounds nice.  lol

11:42 a.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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I have to admit a certain predilection towards hatchets and axes of all types. The two in the photo are my favorites and have accompanied me on many a long trip. However, my way of camping is more along the lines of bushcraft as mentioned by Erich in the above post; there are no trails to hike and the wilderness up here is remote and all-encompassing. I use campfires regularly and prefer even a light hatchet to breaking kindling over my knee. With my hatchet I have whittled clothes pegs, carved a whistle out of a willow branch, gathered ice for the tea pot in the winter and performed a host of other duties around camp.  With the larger axe I have built a raft to ford rivers, cut poles for my canvas tarp-tent and brought in enough fire wood to keep me warm all night. Personally, I would not consider spending a night in the bush without at least the smaller of the two, and if I start to balk at adding a pound or two to my pack then maybe it’s time to stay home.

I added my German cross cut saw just to spruce up the picture.
Hatchet.png

2:23 p.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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Good points, North. Your area and type of camping suits the use of axes. The OP original past indicated that he would use a hatchet for bushwhacking and clearing wood or brush from a campsite. For the former, if he is afoot, a hatchet will be impractical and potentially dangerous. It isn't a brush cutter and his area appears to be the Sierra. As well, clearing a site for a tent shouldn't require a hatchet, given the extra two or three pounds. When I hike, I have no need of such a tool, even when I strike off cross country, even here in the particularly dense areas of the PNW rainforest.

3:51 p.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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I agree with both Erich and North. Can't beat such tools for woodcraft but they ain't needed for much of modern day backpacking. I've never taken one backpacking but I sure do use 'em fer other stuff.

But 'Ol Mike might want one anyway. If I lived in California I'd probably haul one around too.

Why?

Well, I have a dandy light tomahawk at home. It is OK for woodcraft, not as good as my trusty Estwing hatchet or certainly an ax, but it is longer, lighter and makes a great weapon!

Where I live I can carry a pistol every where I go. Don't need to conceal it, don't need no stinkin' permit. ( but the permit lets me carry it loaded in my car. Stupid Wa state law ).

Down there in California doin' this would be an automatic jail sentence. Seems they don't want citizens to posses the means of self defense. Screw that. When backpacking with my wife ( or out and about anywhere! ) her defense is my responsibility ( hers too of course, but I'm the knuckle dragging chauvinistic cave man that will protect her tooth and claw ).

While a real threat is certainly a remote possibility, self defense is none the less a real responsibility that I think should be taken seriously ( at least by knuckle dragging chauvinistic cave men like me ).  

Tools are also weapons. I know this aspect hasn't been mentioned in this thread yet, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who has thought of it. I typically carry a small pistol backpacking, but if I couldn't, I'd certainly carry something else.

Doesn't this little cute little ax look menacing?    
eng_pl_Tomahawk-United-Cutlery-M48-Tacti

 

 

  

 Cold Steel also makes some fine quality 'Hawks that don't break the bank. Doesn't their Trail Hawk look just dandy? It is reportedly 19 ounces.

Great for chopping ice, ponding in stubborn tent stakes, splitting kindling, clearing away a bush or two ( remember yer LNT principals tho ), and oh yeah, splitting open the melon of any rapist or rabid Rottweiler you should happen to meet.  

Dual use! isn't that great for backpacking?  


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4:01 p.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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'Ol Mike specifically asked about the Gerber offerings -

Perhaps we can focus on that fer a bit?

They have a plastic handle. I've seen some like this that hold a knife in the handle, and they have all different lengths. Fiskars and others make 'em as well.

I'd stay away from every single one.

First time I ever encountered such a hatchet was when I found  the busted remains of one deep in the north woods on a long canoe trip. Then my brother in law got one and busted it in short order. OK so he is indeed an ape and hard on things, but still, these are all light duty tools. Just get something with a solid handle!

I reckon a hatchet is kinda like an umbrella is kinda like a gun -

If yer gonna go through the hassle of carrying the dang thing, make sure it is big enough and sturdy enough fer the job, or leave it at home!


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Now the new little Gerber is full tang with a nice rubber grip -


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But sadly it is too short to be of much use ( in my mind ) as a hatchet. I'd rather take a 4" sheath knife.

11:03 a.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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As a timber beast, I have collected lots of felling, splitting, and all-around axes, adzes, broad axes, peaveys, pickaroons, and misery whips over the years. I used to be in the logging business for a few months at a time. I like falling trees.

But I would rarely carry any of them on a backpacking trip. I bring an axe on hunting trips. Sometimes on canoe trips. I like to use an old roofing hatchet for splitting kindling the rest of the time. This obviously is a subject with a lot of different personal choices. For brush an old cane-cutting type machete is best. I always carried a full size axe on the first pack mule or horse on pack trips. Once you get past the trail maintenance, there are always windthrown trees and some are too high for critters to jump over when they are loaded. Often there are dog-haired stands of lodgepole pine that you can't move around much in.

 

12:30 p.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I used to carry a Gerber Gator hatchet (plastic handle) for cutting up firewood and splitting. It did a pretty good job, but then again, it was mostly smaller stuff that I was using it on. I still have it, but I use it mostly out in the yard now.

I have since switched to a saw back machete, the Gerber Gator Junior for backpacking. Its more than enough to do what I need to, and actually is more useful than a hatchet, for me at least.

3:10 p.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I carry a Sog Fasthawk when backpacking, it is great for prepping wood for a campfire, I've hacked six inch hard wood logs with it and made some pretty nice campfires that last for days, also can cut one inch hardwood with one swing.  The balance is great, it's about 19oz, comes with a belt sheath, and has a handy spike at the end which is great for digging poop holes in hard soil and what not. Saws are great for straight up cutting wood for a fire, and they will save in weight, but they are a one trick pony, the hatchet has several uses for me, and carrying it at your waist makes the weight more manageable and saves space as opposed to carrying something in your backpack. 

http://www.sogknives.com/f06tn-cp.html


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1:14 p.m. on March 17, 2014 (EDT)
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I've used the Gerber small felling axe--also branded as Fiskars--for a few years now and I like it. I can think of at least two reasons why the plastic handles are better than wood ones:

1.) They are more forgiving on mishits or when you bury the axe head past the haft. They are more durable than hickory in this regard.

2.) They are lighter than their wood counterparts, allowing more of the weight of the tool to be concentrated in the head, making you more efficient.

Also, the poll on these Gerber/Fiskars tools protrudes about 1/2" further out from plane than most other axes, which makes it more difficult to knock your knuckles when hammering with it, and easier to hit when hammering on it.

If your technique is already dialed-in, however, then please support craftsman like those at Wetterlings, Gransfors Bruks, Ochsenkopf, or the like...as North does...

Were I in the market for a hatchet today, I'd buy a Husqvarna (Wetterlings-forged) hatchet for $43 from a number of vendors and be happy with it for the next decade or two.

August 1, 2014
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