If there is a single tool that meets all of a survival blade needs, it unfortunately hasn’t been invented yet.
That’s why I’m one of the many staunch advocates that believes it’s best to carry a system of several blades. There are a few unique options out there — such as the kukri or the tomahawk — that might come close to a one-tool-option in a pinch. But I’ve learned that it’s just best to keep a bunch o’ blades tucked away until their specific and various needs arise.
There’s one particular bladed tool which I feel is absolutely necessary for making life in the wild possible: an ax. It’s simply the key to providing a night-long campfire and shelter.
What’s In an Ax?
A good bushcraft ax (or hatchet) should have a few important qualities:
- The head of the ax should be made of good-quality steel that will withstand its birthright to take a royal beating.
- A primary ax should have a long enough handle to provide leverage and be small enough that it can be kept handy.
- An ax should provide an additional means of fire-making. Not only should it be able to split logs, but it should also be made of high-carbon steel to use as a replacement flint striker.
- The ax’s bit should maintain its edge long enough to be used all day, only requiring its daily honing by the light of each evening campfire.
I also should say that, because we are afforded the benefit of watching and reading reviews online, the ax should possess a healthy reputation for bush-tested quality. Here are three particular axes that have met this criteria.
No. 3 – Gransfors Bruks
First off, it should be known that the Gransfors Bruks brand is practically the Aston Martin of the ax world. It’s simply an incredibly fine-tuned camp tool, and one that’s forged using traditional methods that date back to when blacksmithing was a common trade.
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Through using the old ways of welding and hammering, the ax is made “softer” (in metallurgical terms) in the parts that must absorb shock. And it is made harder at the bit. Thus, you get an ax that is both strong enough to give with repeated shocks – yet maintains shaving sharpness.
In addition, the GB Small Forest ax offers a very portable weight of 1.5 pounds and is still long enough at 19 inches to add the “umphh” when leverage is needed from its hickory handle. In terms of its high-carbon steel composition, that’s actually a closely guarded secret.
The only significant drawback to this particular ax is the fact that it’s $135.
No. 2 – Wetterlings Backcountry
The Wetterlings Backcountry ax is essentially the same thing as a Gransfors Bruks, except without the secrecy, Swedish prestige, and the super-slick finish. It also happens to be about $15 cheaper. In addition, it’s not made via the old ways of blacksmithing, but the new ways seem to keep a formidable pace with GB axes.
This ax model also boasts a similar length of 20 inches, weighs in at 1.5 pounds and has a head that’s composed of high-carbon steel. Where the GB brand gets all fancy with its axes, Wetterlings opt to provide bushcrafters with a grittier, slightly cheaper alternative. The Rocky Mountain Bushcraft website says: “This slightly lower standard of fit and finish usually means that a Wetterlings can be had for roughly $20 to $50 cheaper than an equivalent Gransfors axe, yet, performs as well as its more expensive cousin. This has led many to refer to Wetterlings as a “working man’s Gransfors axe.”
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I do believe that this particular ax might make sense for most folks in search of a true piece of bushcraft gear and willing to pay the extra dollar to get it. In fact, RMB’s testing even indicated that Wetterlings’ performance was superior to that of its similar GB model.
No. 1 – Condor Greenland Pattern
Believe it or not, after having to choose my favorite from among the three axes mentioned on this post, I actually picked the MUCH cheaper $50 option. It might seem as though my decision was influenced entirely by price; but I’m happy to say that it wasn’t. And no, I still don’t regret my purchase of the other two ax beauties, because one can never have too many gorgeously crafted bushcrafter blades.
The Condor Greenland Pattern ax weighs in at 2.25 pounds, but it still ranks in the same size class as the other two axes above. After experiencing this ax firsthand, I couldn’t help but notice how it was able to drive through wood – dare I say it – almost better than the GB and Wetterlings. I believe that this actually has more to do with physics than the quality of its steel. The GPA weighs more than the others, which helps each stroke’s inertia.
By the way, I also should mention that the Greenland Pattern’s sheath is LEGENDARY (even in comparison to the Wetterlings). When I got my first GPA years ago, I only paid about $30 and was convinced that the sheath was worth as much as the ax!
At today’s average price of $50, you just can’t beat the ax that’s gone toe-to-toe with those at double its price.
It’s important to sit down and get a mental picture of exactly how an ax is going to serve you in the field. Remember it’s not a precision instrument (even though you could practically shave with a Gransfors Bruks). Your ax was created for the purpose of reducing the sheer amount of effort and number of blisters that so often come with camp tasks.
It’s important to treat yourself with good gear because it doesn’t get much more fundamental than building fire and shelter. A good ax will make these tough tasks a great deal easier.
What ax would you add to the list? Share your advice in the section below:
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