Knives are great. So are axes. Shovels have their place, as well. Three great tools, all with their specific purpose. The problem is, how often do you have all three on your person when you need the services they provide. Unless you have the heaviest pack around, and you carry it everywhere you go, the answer is never.
That is why I love tactical hatchets. Small enough to be concealable if necessary, versatile enough to perform a wide variety of tasks, and affordable for any budget, these wonderful multi-tools are a must-have for any serious outdoorsman or survivalist. Plus, with a little training and the right mindset, these little guys are downright lethal. In this article, we will look at the best tactical hatchets available, and what makes each entry on our list so great.
What is a Tactical Hatchet?
Traditional axes and hatchets are designed for only one real purpose, chopping. Axes have heavy tapered heads to create enough force to split a stubborn log. They are good at what they do. But have you ever carried one on your belt? Not so comfortable.
So, the hatchet was born. A miniature version of an axe with the same blade design. For chopping, the best hatchet is the one with the longest handle, because of the force this length provides when swinging from the end. Again, for taking down a tree or making smaller pieces of wood out of large ones, these are great characteristics. But that is it. You get nothing more.
What if you wanted to split that wood into even finer bits for kindling? Maybe cut some line to tie off your shelter? The head shape does not lend well to slicing, carving or shaping, and the longer handle makes the tool awkward and unsafe to use.
So, clever folks started tinkering with the traditional design, borrowing heavily from ancient tools and modern technology. The blade was thinned down to create a smooth cutting edge, and the handle was redesigned to make it as light as possible while remaining long and strong enough to chop wood if necessary. The result is a tool which can do many things well.
Chopping, slicing, breaching, and digging are all part of the tactical hatchet’s arsenal. On top of this impressive list of functions, this implement is an efficient weapon if necessary, able to quickly and efficiently finish an opponent both in close quarter use and when thrown as a ballistic weapon. Impressive.
How to Select the Best Tool for You
Manufacturers use a variety of materials and designs in creating tactical axes and hatchets. Most designs accentuate one function over the others.
For example, some are built to throw and struggle to be used for any other purpose. Others stay more true to their wood chopping roots and differ very little from more traditional woodsman tools. When deciding which hatchet is ideal for you, it is important to understand which of the many purposes you will most likely to need. Here is a list of features to be aware of when you do your research.
Weight is an important feature to consider. Traditionally, axes, and hatchets have been measured by head weight, much like mauls and sledgehammers. In the tactical world, total weight is more commonly described.
A heavier implement will more easily chop wood, and embed in a target when thrown, but the extra weight will make the hatchet slower and more awkward if used as a weapon, or as a cutting tool. An additional pound will make a big difference when digging a hole. And a five pounder will wear you out if you are trimming small branches off of several lodge poles.
The total length will affect the velocity of the head when swung. This is simple physics. The longer the shaft, the more speed at impact. When used as a pry bar, more inches will give you more leverage, making breaching and emergency repairs much easier.
However, length is not always your friend. When thrown, the hatchet will travel end over end. The longer the tool, the less likely the head-end will be hitting the target on impact. To address this, competition throwers carefully measure the distance to their target and calculate the rotations needed for a perfect stick. In a tactical setting, you will not have this advantage.
A wide blade is useful to have around. It chops and hacks wood well. It can be used as a plane to shape lumber when building a shelter. It strips bark quickly. But it is also awkward to use and does not penetrate like a narrow blade when stabbing or throwing.
Broader edges make carving difficult, limiting the tool when needed for detailed woodwork such as making fishhooks or building small structures.
A quality blade will last, keep an edge, and be easy to sharpen when necessary. With blade material, as with most things, you get what you pay for.
Blades made from an assortment of materials are available, ranging from stainless steel to titanium. Each has their strengths, weaknesses, and price. Find the best quality product in your price range. Many of the more expensive options might offer benefits that you will not use, making the extra cost unnecessary.
From traditional tomahawks to art-deco zombie killers, designs exist to satisfy every enthusiast. A double-sided head will provide one extra sticking point when thrown and open up different parries and attacks when used as a weapon. It is also more dangerous to have around, requiring extra care when sheathing and unsheathing or swinging wildly in a melee.
As a tool, hatchets perform best when the side opposite the cutting edge is heavy. Many tactical hatchets feature a spike or pry bar instead of a flat head. They won’t drive nails or tent stakes, but they work great to pry doors open or stick in a target.
Do you prefer a spongy grip which feels comfortable in your hand and prevents blisters? How about something with plenty of purchase for when you get sweaty or need to make a quick lean-to in the rain? Grips exist to satisfy either need, and some will do both.
If you like to have extra cordage, many manufacturers simply wrap the handle with paracord to give you an emergency supply of a survival essential while still providing a reliable place to grasp the hatchet.
Your brand new, razor sharp tactical axe is not much use if you cannot carry it with you safely and securely. Many manufacturers include a sheath while others offer one sold separately, adding to the total cost of your purchase.
The quality of the blade cover varies considerably, utilizing materials ranging from cheap nylon to fine leather. It is possible to buy an aftermarket sheath for some models, but it will be hard to find if you have chosen a unique head design.
Full tang is often used to describe certain knives, axes, and hatchets. This refers to the construction of the tool and means it is made from one piece of metal from the base of the handle to the head.
Partial tang refers to devices which do not have this feature. Full tang implements are better than partial. They are stronger and allow the user to deliver more force at the point of impact, especially when the blade is dull.
Balance is a significant feature when researching these items. Balance refers to how well the weight of the tool is distributed. Yes, it is better to have a heavy head, but a light handle will result in a pendulum effect making control difficult to achieve. That is not safe.
Remember, there is a very sharp edge attached to the top of this thing, knowing where it is going to strike is pretty important. Many manufacturers use cut outs along the handle to take weight out while still using sturdy materials. When done well, this creates perfect balance while adding to the aesthetic of the weapon.
These are the considerations to take into account when choosing your perfect tool. Your trustworthy companion and potentially the most valuable addition to your bug out bag. Taking these features into account, here is our list of the top tactical hatchets available, and where you can buy them.
The Best Tactical Hatchets Available Today
Now that you are educated about the most versatile and valuable outdoor accessory available, we have done the legwork for you. Whether you are a backyard hobbyist, an occasional camper, or dedicated to survival preparation as a way of life, you will find what you need on our list.
M-TECH 9″ Black Tactical Survival Tomahawk
Dimensions: 9-inch overall length
Blade dimensions: 4.75 x 2.5 inches
Features: Full tang construction, 440 stainless steel with baked-on black finish, Pakkawood and cord-wrapped handle, sheath/blade cover included
Best use: Hobbyist target throwing, light chopping and cutting, light digging
This entry by M-Tech has a lot of great things going on. First, it is small and extremely light. The nine-inch overall length makes for easy concealment and smooth carry. Especially with the included nylon blade cover.
M-TECH 9″ Black Tactical Survival Tomahawk is made of 440 stainless steel, so you know it won’t rust, and the baked on black finish is durable, muting the weapon when hit with bright lights. Sleek and stealthy, this throwing axe by MTech sports a wide blade, useful for slicing and chopping wood if necessary.
In a fight? Flip it over, and you can present the dagger shaped secondary blade. The more narrow point will maximize the force of your blows and cause better penetration than the traditional broad head. This would be a useful digging tool and pry bar as well.
Overall, the Survival Tomahawk is a little on the small side for a serious self-defense tool. Unable to extend your reach very much at only 9 inches and a little light at well under a pound. However, the compact design and well-balanced layout make for an excellent throwing axe, perfect for a hobbyist or newcomer to target throwing.
Survivor Throwing Axe
Dimensions: 10.5-inch overall length
Blade dimensions: 5-inch long, 4 mm thick
Features: Stainless steel construction, black rough painted blade, cord-wrapped handle, sheath included
Best use: Light wood chopping and splitting, brush clearing, personal defense
This Survivor Throwing Axe is an impressive blade. At almost eleven inches long and five inches wide, this large knife is very versatile. Made of stainless steel, it will be tough enough for the abuse you put it through.
The huge blade can be used in number of ways, from digging a hole to chopping down a tree, you’ve got your tool. To achieve better balance, holes in the material were added down the length of the blade. This should aid in throwing but the shape of the tool will make any real accuracy difficult.
But let’s face it, this weapon is not about the throwing. This is something you use to hack, stab and slice. Its sheer size makes it a solid choice if attacked and the more utilitarian functions are just a side benefit. If you are in the market for a big, bad knife that can be used to occasionally chop down a tree or be thrown at a target, this is your choice.
Snow & Neally Penobscot Bay Kindling Axe
Dimensions: 17 inch overall length
Blade dimensions: 6 ¾ inches with 3¾ inch cutting edge
Features: Made in America, carbon steel, American Hickory handle, leather blade guard included
Best use: Making kindling, chopping down small trees and brush
The Penobscot Bay Kindling Axe is the longest hatchet on our list. It is also one of the most expensive. Why? Because it uses nothing but the best materials and relies on a timeless design. The blade is carbon steel. It will hold an edge and is far stronger than stainless steel. The hickory wood blade is sourced in America and has been the axe handle of choice for hundreds of years.
If you cut a lot of kindling, this choice if for you. Tactically, not so much. Too long to incorporate multiple movements, this weapon is a one and done option so you better make it count. As far as throwing, it is well balanced and will fly straight, but the odds of the sharp edge of the head landing on the target are low unless you are a very accomplished thrower who knows precisely how many revolutions your arm speed generates per feet. It is possible, just not for the absolute beginner, or intermediate either.
This is a fine piece of equipment, and if you prefer quality and single purpose over multi-functionality, this tool is for you.
Smith & Wesson E&E Tomahawk
Dimensions: 15.9 inch overall length
Blade dimensions: 3.9 inch primary edge
Features: Full tang construction, 1070 high carbon steel with black finish, TPE overlay handle slabs, black polyester belt sheath
Best use: Self defense, digging, breaching, throwing
The Smith and Wesson’s SW671 Extraction and Evasion Full Tang Tomahawk is a serious tool. Made of high-carbon steel, the blade is durable and sharp. Opposite the cutting edge is a wicked spike, capable of catching your target on a throw, impaling an adversary, breaching a stubborn door, or breaking rocks while digging a hole.
This tool can pretty much do it all. But all this function comes with a price. It is a pretty heavy piece of equipment which will slow you down when fighting for your life or repetitively swinging your way through a tree. Still, the clean lines and no frills approach have produced a solid, balanced tomahawk.
The E&E is on the expensive side, but it justifies the cost with the materials used and the build quality. Full tang construction and a high-carbon steel blade, coupled with the rugged TDE handle, speak to the quality of this implement. If you can manage something a little heavier, this is for you.
Dimensions: 3.75 overall length
Blade dimensions: –
Features: Axe and spike head, Kydex sheath with buckled strap, SK5 forged carbon-steel, glass reinforced nylon handle, Molle compatible
Best use: Tactical operations, close quarter combat, breaching, entrenching, moderate wood chopping
Simply put,the CRKT Kangee a great tactical tool. Seemingly, every feature and detail possible was packed into a little over one foot of forged carbon-steel. The handle has a slight bend to improve ergonomics and more cleanly present the face of the blade when swinging. Careful thought went into the weight, resulting in great balance for consistent strokes every time.
The materials are as tough as it gets. Glass-reinforced nylon handles, a Kydex sheath with sling strap to carry the weight, and high quality steel. I particularly appreciate the Molle compatibility. That’s right. This carrying system marries seamlessly to the rigs utilized by NATO forces and the British and US armies among others. That is about as tactical as it gets.
United Cutlery Black Ronin
Dimensions: 14 inches
Features: 420 stainless steel, multiple edge design, cord-wrapped handle, included nylon sheath
Best use: Throwing
The United Cutlery Black Ronin is high on design. Crafted out of stainless steel, the design has a medieval feel, with numerous spikes and curves. It is a sizable tomahawk at over 12 inches and around one pound in weight. The form of the implement seems better suited to throwing than heavy-duty hatchet chores, especially considering the narrow throat just below the head.
If you have a flair for the dramatic and want a piece that turns heads, the Ronin is for you.
Browning Shock N Awe
Dimensions: 10 inch overall length
Blade dimensions: 2.75 inch cutting edge, 6 inch head length
Features: High carbon 1055 tool steel, Kydex sheath with lock, black powder coated
Best use: Close quarter combat, breaching, moderate wood chopping and splitting
The Browning Shock N Awe is aptly named. This little killing machine is designed for a fight. Well-balanced and made of rugged tool steel the 2.75-inch cutting edge is more than adequate to do some major damage. On the reverse side of the head is a nasty spike. More of a hook, really, capable of deeply penetrating whatever it hits.
Some would say that at ten inches the Browning is a bit short for fighting. But what you lose in reach you gain in control, so it is really a matter of personal preference. The Shock N Awe is well constructed and includes a nice sheath with buckles to attach to any existing gear you may have.
Overall, the Browning Shock N Awe is a solid tactical hatchet. Capable of being used in a true tactical setting, or as a camp accessory, this little guy can do it all. It is reasonably priced considering the performance it gives and the quality of construction. Definitely a solid buy.
Zombie Throwing Hatchet
Dimensions: 11.5 inch overall length
Blade dimensions: 5 3/4 inch cutting edge
Features: Cord-wrapped handle, finger loop base, nylon sheath with zombie patch
Best use: Killing zombies
The Zombie Throwing Hatchet is a long, curved blade with a sturdy handle wrapped in paracord. Perfect for cleaving the heads of the undead. I am not sure I would chop wood with it, or rely on throwing it accurately if my life depended on it, but it is a large sharp blade, capable of doing some damage in the right hands.
Something for Everyone
As you can tell from this list, tactical hatchets come in all shapes and sizes, accommodating all skill levels and primary interests. From target throwing to survival readiness, these tools are a great addition to your gear, without breaking the bank.
Do you have a favorite hatchet? A brand or model that we left out? Let us and our readers know about it in the comments section.