While the pocket knife is probably the essential tool, the axe is a close second. It can chop, hammer, cut, and be used as a weapon. But there's a lot of options so we talked with Troop Brenegar, the buyer for Mountain Man Toy Shop and New West Knifeworks, in Jackson, Wyoming, about what you should look for when buying an axe.
"Recently, we’ve seen a move away from the tactical, and toward more hand-made tools with a focus on aesthetics," Brenegar says. "Axes today are like functional art; They’re easy to look at, but they're also very functional." This can make buying an axe or hatchet more difficult as you now have to think as much about craftsmanship as utility.
His single most important piece of advice for those looking for an axe? Pay attention to how the head was made.
“You want a head with a quality steel of course, but it also needs to be forged, rather than cast,” Brenegar says. “Casted steel is cheaper and weakens over time. Forging puts more layers into the steel and makes it stronger.”
Here are Brenegar's top picks.
Council Tool Wood-Craft Pack Axe ($140)
Council is one of the oldest axe makers in the US and this axe is really innovative— there’s nothing else like it on the market right now. While most axes are designed for one specific purpose, this one really versatile. It can split, chop, or carve equally well.
Gransfors Bruks Splitting Axe ($170)
The quality and design of the Granfors Bruks is impeccable. Built for splitting firewood, it features a big, five-pound head made of forged steel with a protective steel collar that guards the handle against errant strikes. They make a smaller size for tinier firewood too.
Hults Bruk Motala $380
If you think of a Viking battle axe, this is it. It’s a double bit throwing axe, and it’s terrifyingly sharp. It would look absolutely amazing on your mantle.
Council Tool Hudson Bay Hatchet ($35)
This is a versatile hatchet that’s made to be worn on your belt as an everyday carry for when you’re camping. The two-pound head is perfect for chores around camp, from splitting logs or clearing brush to hammering tent stakes.
New West Throwing Tomahawk ($110)
Handmade in Idaho, this tomahawk is a functional style made with forged carbon steel head and a strong hickory handle. The head isn't fixed so it can slip off if there’s a bad throw.