Published Apr 28, 2022 3:00 PM
Tomahawks are a traditional tool for outdoors folks. You might not need one for every trip into the field, but they sure make many chores a whole lot easier. Probably the most common use for a tomahawk is processing firewood. Many bushcrafters use them instead of a hatchet, as tomahawks are generally smaller and lighter. Beyond chopping wood, a tomahawk is used for carving, harvesting wild edibles, even self-defense.
With a good quality tomahawk, a great knife, and your favorite survival kit you’ll be ready to tackle any challenges that might crop up when you’re out in the wild. But how do you pick the right one? Using my years of experience as a survival teacher, I sifted through the market to find the best tomahawks that will stand up to repeated use and abuse out in the field.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Tomahawk
When you are shopping for the best tomahawk for your needs, there are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision.
While all tomahawks share a similar shape, a solidly constructed head with a sharp blade affixed to a sturdy handle, it is the profile of that blade as well as the overall design that indicates the best ways that model can be used in the field. The longer the handle, for example, the more suited it will be for chopping wood as the added length helps to add power to your swing. Some models have a wider blade that works well for carving as well as chopping. Select your tomahawk based on the features it has that match up with how you plan to use it.
This is always a concern for the vast majority of people. The best tomahawks aren’t cheap. While you don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get a good quality tomahawk, I’d caution you about taking the bottom dollar route just for the sake of buying something. A poorly built tomahawk can be dangerous, as it could break during use, putting you or others at risk. Not to mention that if it falls apart, you no longer have it as a tool to use. Strive for a good balance between price and quality.
Size and Weight
Because it is a tool that you’ll be carrying, whether in a pack or on your belt, you need to consider what it will be adding to your overall load. Ounces lead to pounds, which add up quickly on your feet. Some tomahawks look really cool and might even have some real use, but they weigh so much that you’ll feel like you added a boat anchor to your backpack. The length of the handle is also a factor when it comes to ease of carry and packability.
A tomahawk isn’t the only tool you should take with you into the wilderness. A knife, compass, first aid and survival kits should all have a place in your pack whenever you venture off into the unknown. We have done the hard work for you, and came up with recommendations for the best compasses, first aid kits, survival kits, and knives for you. And depending on how long you plan on staying there, consider taking one of the top water filters along. And keep these hiking safety tips in mind when you go. A GPS unit can also come in handy. You can find the best handheld GPS units in our roundup.
Why It Made the Cut
Small and easy to carry, the Jenny Wren will do all you need a tomahawk to do on short trips outdoors without being cumbersome or awkward.
- Overall Length: 10 inches
- Weight: 1.12 pounds
- Blade Length: 2.59 inches
- Great for carving as well as chopping
- Textured handle for positive grip
- Sheath has multiple carry options
- Too small for heavy-duty work
Ryan Johnson from RMJ Tactical has made a career out of designing and building tomahawks, as well as other bladed implements. His work is known throughout the world to be dependable and reliable, as well as practical. The Jenny Wren is just one of his collaborations with CRKT.
The Jenny Wren is small in stature but big in performance capability. It is a great addition to the camping loadout. At just over a pound, it won’t weigh you down too much. The grippy handle is comfortable and allows you to keep in your hand, even in challenging conditions. Its blade is wide enough to do real work without being clumsy for close up tasks like carving. You can use the top edge for scraping as well.
It comes complete with a durable sheath that is MOLLE-compatible, for those who prefer to carry their gear in that fashion. The Jenny Wren might not easily handle providing firewood for a multi-day campsite, but it’ll certainly do the job for short-term stays. If for some reason you’re unable to find a Jenny Wren, you might search for a Browning Tomahawk, as they have a model that’s similar in size, though styled a little different.
Best for Survival: Model 1
Why It Made the Cut
Modeled after the famed Vietnam Tomahawk, the Model 1 will do everything you need without being a burden in the pack or on the belt.
- Overall Length: 14.125 inches
- Weight: 20 ounces
- Blade Length: 2.375 inches
- Sturdy, robust construction that’s built to last
- Molded bottom-eject Kydex scabbard
- Has a forged 1060 steel head
- Might be too weapon-oriented for some users
The original Vietnam Tomahawk was produced by American Tactical Company back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The company folded shortly thereafter, but was revived in 2019. The Model 1 tomahawk is the modern version of the original design. Where the original had a wood handle, the Model 1 features a synthetic stock. With the texturing on the handle, there’s little worry about it slipping from your grip.
This is the best tomahawk for survival purposes due to its multi-use design. The blade is sharp and will easily provide firewood for the night. It is also easy to choke up on the handle and use the edge for carving or even some types of food prep. The spike that’s opposite the sharp edge works well for defense as well as smashing holes in, well, anything that needs holes.
The Model 1 comes with a scabbard that’s molded to fit perfectly. It is a bottom-eject design, meaning you remove the tomahawk from it by pulling down, rather than sliding it upwards and out. It can be carried on your belt or strapped to a pack.
Why It Made the Cut
Looking like it could have been purchased in any general store a couple hundred years ago, this tomahawk is ready for real work in today’s world.
- Overall Length: 22 inches
- Weight: 22.4 ounces
- Blade Length: 3.25 inches
- Design has stood the test of time
- Inexpensive without sacrificing quality
- Suitable for re-enactors as well as bushcrafters
- Does not come with a sheath or scabbard
Cold Steel has a full line of traditional tomahawks, and this Frontier Hawk is an excellent option. It has the look and feel of a tomahawk that could have been used during the French-Indian War, but manufactured with modern materials and techniques.
Cold Steel is well-known for producing high-quality tools that will easily stand up to anything you need them to do. This model has a durable Hickory handle combined with a 1055 carbon steel head. You’ll be hard-pressed to find the same or better quality at a cheaper price, that’s for sure.
The handle is almost two feet long, giving you plenty of leverage when chopping. Because it lacks a hammer or spike opposite the sharp edge, it is lighter than it might appear. But it still has enough heft to lend power to each swing.
For those looking for a tomahawk to practice throwing, many users report this Frontier Hawk to be well-balanced for that purpose. While throwing tomahawks isn’t recommended for hunting or defense, it can be an awful lot of fun and is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Why It Made the Cut
With aggressive lines and styling combined with high-quality materials and sturdy construction, the Kangee from CRKT is ready to tackle any tactical situation you might face.
- Overall Length: 13.75 inches
- Weight: 1.53 pounds
- Blade Length: 2.93 inches
- Glass reinforced nylon handle with textured grip
- MOLLE-compatible sheath that slips over the head
- Black powdered coated high carbon steel
- Might be a little bulky for some users
If it absolutely, positively must be destroyed overnight, send in the CRKT Kangee. Designed to do far more than just chop firewood, this tactical tomahawk has it where it counts. At a little more than a foot long, it won’t take up much space on your belt or in your pack, so you’ll not hesitate to bring it along on your adventures.
The blade is almost three inches across, giving you plenty of cutting power. The blade geometry is tapered to provide for fast and efficient chopping or splitting. The spike on the opposite end will tear through just about anything put in front of it. The handle has a slight curve, which serves to add control to each swing. There’s also a finger choil that’s makes the Kangee comfortable to hold up close to the head for finer work.
Truth be told, not everyone truly needs a tactical tomahawk. But, if you’re in the market for one, the Kangee is certainly a solid contender. I’d look at this tool as serving the urban and suburban survivalists in particular. Should there come a time when you need to break into or out of a structure, the Kangee will do well in that stead for sure.
How I Made My Picks
I’ve collected bladed implements for more than a couple of decades now. While I tend to concentrate on knives, I have numerous tomahawks, as well as hatchets, axes, and more. A sharp edge was one of mankind’s first tools, and arguably the most important one. It allowed people to more easily harvest food as well as prepare it. It also gave people the ability to create other tools from the natural resources around them. A stick could be given a sharp point, for example, and thus be all the better for digging.
I’ve used tomahawks in the field in a variety of capacities. They are a great multi-tool option, as they can do so much more than just chop wood. Personally, I prefer the ones that have a hammer end along with the sharp blade. But there are so many models and styles out there that finding the best tomahawk for each person might take a little trial and error.
As I put together this guide, I tried to focus on two primary factors for each selection:
- Value: Each tomahawk in this article has a high degree of value for the price. High quality components combined with proven designs equate to a tool that you’ll be able to use for a lifetime. One thing I’ve found is that for many people, the higher the price for the tool, the less eager they are to actually use it. They don’t want to see it scratched or marred in any way. To me, that defeats the purpose of buying a tool.
- Availability: There are numerous makers out there who specialize in custom-designed tomahawks that are incredibly well-made. However, they’re rather expensive as well as hard to obtain, due to very limited numbers of them being made at a time. It makes little sense for me to recommend a custom tomahawk that might take you a year or more to obtain, as well as cost you as much as car payment. Not when there are other, perfectly suitable, tomahawks readily available.
Q: How does a tomahawk differ from an axe or hatchet?
The tomahawk differs from the axe or hatchet in a number of ways. First, the traditionally styled tomahawk has a longer handle, typically around 24 inches or maybe a bit less, whereas the hatchet is typically much shorter. The handle is also usually straight, whereas with the axe or hatchet there’s some contouring to it.
Tomahawk heads are also usually friction fit. This means that the handle widens a bit as it reaches the top. The head is slipped onto the bottom and slides up to the top, where it wedges in place. Hatchets and axes have heads that are fitted from the top, with wedges driven in to keep them in place.
Q: Are tomahawks good for bushcraft?
Tomahawks are excellent bushcraft tools. To be clear, we’re defining bushcraft as the practice and use of skills to stay alive in the wild with a minimal amount of gear. While every self-respecting bushcrafter carries a knife, the tomahawk can be used for many chores that require a blade. This saves the knife’s edge for when it is truly needed.
Q: What are some practical uses for tomahawks?
There are many practical uses for a tomahawk. Historically, tomahawks were weapons of war and used for defensive purposes. Today, they’re seen more along the lines of woods tools than weaponry. They’re used for chopping wood for the fire, of course. But you can also use them for scraping animal hides, as well as carving wood into useful tools. In fact, most tasks that require a knife blade can be performed with a tomahawk.
As a bonus, if it is balanced properly, a tomahawk can also be thrown. This is a great way to spend an afternoon. Some models, such as the Gerber Downrange, also incorporate other features, like a prybar-styled handle, that provide additional uses.
A tomahawk isn’t necessarily a required component of every outdoor adventure packing list. If you’re just headed out for an evening in a campground, you probably won’t need one. However, if you’re venturing a bit beyond the established path and looking to do more actual bushcraft sort of activities, the tomahawk will be a valued addition. So make sure you have one of the best tomahawks in your pack when you hit the wilds.