Before you spend the money burning a hole in your pocket on a hatchet that could cut a hole in your pocket, consider what you should look for in a compact ax. Weight, steel selection, overall design, spike versus hammer poll, and handle length and material are all important factors to evaluate.
You might be eager to practice all the cool skills shown in our Primer on Pocket Hatchets & Proper Technique, but that doesn’t mean you should rush into buying the first one-handed ax you come across. As we explain in that article, there are plenty of uses for this tool and many ways to carry it. Whether you’re headed into the woods for the weekend, loading out your car for an emergency, or strapping on some edged protection to your plate carrier, there’s always room in your kit for a pocket hatchet — but which one you buy will depend on your needs and circumstances.
Axes have a lot of character and — just like a good dog — the type should fit the owner’s lifestyle. Take a look at the models reviewed here; maybe one will give you the edge you’re looking for.
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Editor’s Note: For this story, we consider a hatchet any short ax that’s used easily with one hand. Naturally, a pocket hatchet is one that can be placed in your pocket or conveniently carried on the body. Also, for the purposes of this buyer’s guide, we refer to small tomahawks and pocket hatchets synonymously.
Chuck Cook Scout Axe
5 3/8 inches
Forged 1095 high-carbon steel
Varies with build
This Scout Axe is in a category of its own. Sold without a handle, this pocket ax is carried in a Kydex edge guard (its smaller brother fits inside an Altoids tin). Primitive man used flint-knapped hand axes before he learned to haft sharpened rocks to sticks. This tool works along the same lines. It can be used on its own as a cutting edge similar to an ulu, or it can be paired with a hardwood shaft harvested from the field.
The idea is to avoid consuming space in a loadout if an ax isn’t immediately needed. Additionally, sometimes you want a hatchet, sometimes a two-handed chopper, or something in between. During testing, we fashioned the Scout Axe with the blade in line with the handle and on a forked branch with the blade perpendicular to the handle to make a carving ax. Using a Swiss Army Knife saw and a length of paracord, we had a functional chopping tool in about 30 minutes.
Even if a large piece of hardwood isn’t available, multiple saplings can be lashed together in a bundle to serve the same purpose. For those who want to make this Scout Axe even more compact, Kevlar-braided thread can serve as a substitute for paracord.
- Easily packed inside the bottom of a mess kit
- Can be used as a hand ax or an ulu
- Requires cordage to construct
- Takes time to haft into a handle in the field
Gerber 9” Hatchet
1 pound, 3.4 ounces
As the least expensive model in this gear guide, it serves as an entry-level pocket hatchet.
The polymer handle is molded around the steel head and didn’t separate under hard use. Gerber axes are made by Fiskars, which was established in 1649 (yes, the 17th century) and is known for producing full-size axes tough enough to endure the needs of Scandinavian foresters. We didn’t run over it with a truck, but we did use it to split wood for a backpacking titanium stove. With the aid of a baton, the hatchet worked well as a splitting wedge.
With a durable black coating on the blade and no gap between it and the handle, this hatchet is a good all-weather tool. Unlike wood handles, the nylon handle won’t absorb water, swell, or shrink as conditions change. Small emergency gear can be stuffed inside the hollow handle (be sure to empty it before use). Re-sharpening isn’t difficult, and its flat grind is easy to maintain, following the angle with a bastard file or various-grit sandpaper backed up by a two-by-four.
This Gerber will work well as a starter tool and become a great loaner when you’re ready to upgrade later.
- With street prices closer to $30, this hatchet is less than the cost of ammo for your average range day.
- Lightweight handle will not loosen, shrink, or swell with changing weather.
- Thick edge geometry is similar to a sharpened wedge.
- Bulky carrying case isn’t as streamlined as other scabbards.
Gränsfors Bruk Small Hatchet
Gransfors Bruk wins the prize for the most refined and polished pocket hatchet. Among bushcrafters, these axes are the pedigree all others are judged by.
We got several “that’s cute” remarks from onlookers — until they got a chance to test out the blade; no one could deny its cutting potential. It has enough weight to substitute for a larger camp knife meant for chopping. It also comes with a highly polished convex edge that can shave your arm hair. No, really, it can.
With the leather edge guard, it fits perfectly in your back pocket. It’s ideal for anyone looking to retain the non-threatening looks of a traditional hatchet in places where carrying anything but a small knife is frowned upon.
The Small Hatchet — sometimes referred to as “the Mini” — feels like a toy in the hand, but don’t play with it. In a matter of minutes, you can transform rounds of wood into the basic outline of a spoon, bowl, or digging tool. The fine work can be done by choking up on its handle. In fact, it carves better than some knives thanks to its edge geometry. It can be used to clean fish and game and create splitting wedges to crack open significantly larger logs than expected.
The wooden handle is warm in hand and creates no blistering when used for extended periods of time. The oval shape also prevents the blade from rolling in the palm of your hand. Just two reasons why wooden handles are still relevant in a world of paracord-wrapped and full-tang tomahawks.
This baby hatchet is the perfect blend of performance and class — if that’s what you’re looking for.
- Factory edge sharp enough to shave with
- Look and feel of a traditional hatchet
- Two-piece design is inherently weaker than one-piece designs.
- Ground for European softwoods, not American hardwoods
RMJ Tactical Pathfinder
1 pound, 8 ounces
11 3⁄4 inches
4140 chrome-moly steel
What started out as a model called the Active Shooter Tomahawk for police has morphed into and been rebranded as the Pathfinder. Who knew a product for the streets would turn out to be one of the best tomahawks for the backcountry to date? On the larger side of pocket hatchets, but in the spirit of scaled-down choppers, this one still works as a one-handed ax.
The Pathfinder has an incredibly comfortable textured grip with several hand-placement options, depending on your task. The slightly longer handle length helps it limb downed trees more easily than other hatchets in this guide, not to mention generating more power behind your swing. Plus, the wide cutting surface coupled with long grind lines makes quick work of wood.
This ’hawk excels at snapping locks, too. Simply put the spike through the gate of a padlock and pry away. (Not that we’re encouraging illegal entries. Strictly for legal emergency use, of course.)
You probably won’t haul this one in a pants pocket, but the scabbard is heavy-duty Kydex with multiple lashing points and carry configurations. In fact, it was our primary off-grid chopping tool during a five-week Alaska trek last summer. RMJ ’hawks are legendary in their performance, and the Pathfinder doesn’t disappoint.
- One-piece, full-exposed tang construction
- Large cutting blade and “large enough” rear spike
- Outstanding performance
- Barely fits into the “pocket hatchets” category
- Multiple edges to accidentally self-cut under stress
Wenger Blades Wiglaf
80CrV2 high-carbon steel
10 feet of paracord and Micarta
If a Viking and MacGyver were to sit around a campfire, pass around a bottle of bourbon, and sketch a pocket tomahawk that’s equal parts multitool and fighter, the Wenger Blades Wiglaf is what they’d come up with.
This beautiful little mutt is capable of working well in a number of roles. Its design lends itself to fire-starting, foraging, shelter construction, and other bushcraft tasks. Its durability also makes it a great tactical tool for the armed professional who may need to construct hides, punch out shooting holes through walls, or deploy a backup weapon.
The Wiglaf’s unique head shape includes a bow-drill bearing block. Yes, it works. We made multiple coals while minding the sharpened edge. According to the maker, the production sheath will allow use of the bearing while the edge is covered.
The hammer poll is perfect for crushing. We used the top of the head like a potato masher to process wild harvested starches, including cattail. With 3/8-inch stock used in the full-tang construction, the Wiglaf has a significant amount of weight toward the head and great chopping balance. You’ll want a good forward lanyard on the handle, as this one is hungry for wood to cut.
From bushcraft to tactical operations, this tough-as-nails ’hawk is at home just about anywhere a chopping tool is needed.
- Highly versatile for a variety of tasks
- Strong cutting edge and hammer poll retain traditional hatchet look
- Paracord wrap reduces weight and is removable for emergency cordage.
- Conversely, the paracord wrap can cause blisters when gripped for extended carving sessions.
- Prototype scabbard covers bow-drill bearing while edge is protected.
Winkler Knives II/Sayoc Kali RnD Compact Hawk
1 pound, 3.5 ounces
10 3⁄4 inches
5160 spring steel
Master bladesmith Daniel Winkler collaborated with Sayoc Kali Tuhon (Master) Rafael Kayanan to create the RnD Hawk. This model is the baby brother version and has proven to be an excellent tomahawk for multiple applications.
Available with or without a front spike, this tomahawk draws inspiration from the headhunter tribes of the Philippines. “Wait, what? Front spike?” you might be asking with some confusion. This uncommon appendage is actually advanced technology with origins in the jungles and mountains. It helps guide the cutting edge into rounded objects and works like a shear. When the spike is placed on a piece of wood and the ax and wood is struck against a larger log simultaneously, the spike holds the wood being cut in place and the hard work is left up to gravity and inertia.
In our testing, the RnD Compact Hawk cleanly cut brown coconuts in half. Against tatami mats, it didn’t make cuts through and through. What it wasn’t able to cut cleanly, it ripped aggressively. The front spike also acted like a small blade of its own and was controllable for fine scoring, cutting, and scraping when using a choked-up grip directly under the head. The rear spike was as equally effective in penetration tests.
- Front spike designed for guiding cutting surface
- Comfortable in multiple grip positions
- Rubberized handle reduces vibration and provides traction in wet weather.
- On the flip side, rubberized handle tends to snag on clothing while concealed.
- Bungee cord retention on sheath can accidentally release.
- As a custom piece, it’s expensive.