How To Choose a Pack Axe - Gray Bearded Green Beret

How To Choose a Pack Axe

Choosing an axe can be a daunting task for anyone. The variety of styles, weights, and handle lengths are at least as variable as the knives one has to sort through to decide on that one perfect blade they need for adventures in the wilderness. While many larger axes are best reserved for the homestead, many pack axes and hatchets are ideally suited for the backpack and backcountry trips. Let’s focus on those for this particular article.

Many of you have heard me say, “a knife is nothing more than a sharp edge with a handle,” about knife selection. I like to keep it simple that way. You need a sharp edge for slicing and a handle to keep from cutting yourself on the blade. With proper knife safety and handling, any sharp edge with a handle will do. In other words, knife skills are more important than the knife you choose. Having a fancy knife with a particular profile and steel does not make the user any better or safer than anyone else. 

The same holds for axes. Proper safety, handling, technique, and basic axe skills will set one user apart from the other. After all, an axe is also nothing more than a sharp edge with a handle on it, except that this sharp edge has a considerable amount of weight behind it. The handle is fashioned so that it is meant to swing into the material, adding momentum to the cutting edge to achieve the desired result. It is a chopper, not a slicer. 

Weight is certainly a factor in the efficiency of an axe: the more weight, the more momentum behind the cut. However, the weight you choose does need to be one that can be managed for the duration of the work you need to accomplish, and with pack axes, you have to consider that you will likely be carrying the axe a lot more than you will be swinging it. A good pack axe is heavy enough to do the work needed fairly efficiently while being light enough (and small enough) to carry in or on your pack day in and day out. 

Handle lengths are another critical consideration when choosing an axe for your pack. The more the handle sticks out from your pack, the more you will get caught up on in the forest. However, the longer the handle length, the easier it is to use, particularly with both hands. It is a delicate balance between efficiency and packability.

I have personally found that I prefer an 18”-24” handle length, with a 2lb-2.25lb head. In my opinion, this is the perfect balance between efficiency and packability. Let’s take a look at some great choices for a pack axe. All of my personal choices are from Council Tools which are made in the USA.

This particular axe comes with a “Sport Utility” finish. This means that it is finished to be a utility workhorse and not meant to be a “Safe Queen” or wall hanger. It is intended to work and work it does. The 2lb head with the 18” handle is a good balance between efficient use and packability. This model also happens to have a hardened hammer poll which is unique. It allows you to use this workhorse to pound in steel stakes, etc., without worrying about damaging the poll over time. 

Another thing to note about this handle size is that it is long enough to use with two hands and short enough to get away with one-handed use. The amount of momentum you can get with a one-handed swing on a 2lb head with an 18” handle is an incredible amount of force behind the cut. 

This is a very inexpensive choice for such a tremendous packable axe.

The “boys’ axe” was meant for youth due to its smaller size and weight. However, those same characteristics make it perfect for a pack axe. 

This is another axe from the Sport Utility line that offers the user more weight and handle length. This allows for a little more “oomph” behind each swing, making cuts more efficient. Of course, this costs a little more weight on the back with more handle sticking out to catch on things, so it returns to that balance thing again. The question to ask yourself is how much chopping vs. how much walking are you planning to do for your trip?

This model does not have a hardened hammer poll, so using it to hammer in metal stakes will eventually damage and “mushroom” the poll. It is not meant for that type of use. 

This is the least expensive of all three choices. 

The Wood Craft series are premium quality axes with better fit and finish than the Sport Utility line. Still meant for work, and these are absolute workhorses, just better-looking workhorses. So good that it would be a tragedy to hide this in a safe or hang it on a wall and not use it. This is my personal favorite pack axe. 

The Wood Craft series has more carefully selected handles, and the finish of which is much more extensive. The Sport Utility line is finished with a coat of wax on the handles, whereas the Wood Craft Series gets treated with a coat of Boiled Linseed Oil prior to a light waxing before shipping out. They also feature a premium leather mask. All Wood Craft axes come with a hardened hammer poll on them. 

The Wood Craft series also features innovative Phantom Bevels that prevent the axe from sticking and allow for cleaner, faster cutting, splitting, carving, and hewing vs. the more expensive Scandinavian models, which are made more for the evergreen forests. The Wood Craft are better suited for the deciduous and mixed woodlands in the US. 

I have found the 2lb head with the 19” handle to be the best balance between usability and packability. I can use it with one or two hands effectively and carry it all day without noticing it on my pack. 

For similar info see my downloadable content here. Train with us at a Live Event here!

I hope to see you around our campfire soon!


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