Even if you’re doing some dispersed camping in a no-name neck of the woods and chopping down your own lumber, you’re still not using that hatchet to its full potential.
The following 10 methods of using a hand axe will turn you from a new, inexperienced camper into a seasoned survivalist who will begin to think outside the box in unique situations.
So you’ve got a high-quality camping hatchet (like the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet which comes with a sturdy wooden handle or the SOG Outdoor Survival Hatchet which comes with a glass-reinforced nylon handle, both of which are listed on Amazon), but you aren’t putting it to good use.
Let’s show you how to master the hatchet.
1. Building an Impromptu Shelter
Try as you might, your bare hands aren’t going to separate large sheets of bark from that old tree in front of you.
If you need to make an emergency shelter quickly, your camping hatchet is the ultimate cutting tool.
You can use it to cut open your paracord survival bracelet so you can tie branches together. This tool can help you acquire those branches in the first place and shape bark in order to create a roof.
If you’ve found a nice little nook in the middle of a forest, you can use the hatchet to pull debris and dead leaves out of it, so you won’t end up with critters climbing up your leg when you rest at night.
2. Hacking Ice
Let’s say you’re a winter camper and are in a situation where you’re trying to keep your freshly caught ice fishing haul chilled until you get back to your camp.
You don’t want to just leave the air to get at it; food oxidizes and can go bad, even in 20°F weather.
Hack up the ice from that ice fishing spot with the hatchet blade to create a makeshift cooler and tie two pieces of ice together with a paracord.
As a matter of fact, you can even use your hatchet to cut a hole in the ice in the first place, if you don’t have an auger with you.
3. Chopping good Campfire Wood
First things first — understand that there are different types of wood and some are better for campfires than others.
This won’t work on all types of lumber, but for the most part, you’ll be okay to create a better campfire.
Finding kindling in the forest is a good way to live off the land instead of buying new firewood.
That kindling can be improved by removing moist bark, scraping away rot, and exposing the drier, more flammable areas, all of which can be done with a good hatchet.
Here, you’re basically using your hatchet like a really aggressive knife, which brings us to the next use.
Fletching is an age-old art of making bows and arrows, but since we’re obviously not the same society that existed a millennium ago, we can use fletching in a much more creative way.
Your hand axe is designed to split and shave wood, so why not spend those last few hours of natural daylight working on a carving project and making something from scratch?
Find a good piece of wood in the forest, carve it into something, and improve your bushcraft skills with each camping trip.
Before long, you’ll be saying, “That’s not half-bad,” and whatever you end up creating can become a precious ornament in your RV or home office.
5. Using the Back End as a Hammer
When setting up a camping tent, you can drive tent stakes into the ground without a hammer; you can do it with your camping hatchet by using it as a striking tool.
Unless you have some medieval, Viking-era double-sided axe, you can use the back end of your hatchet as a hammerhead.
Most of these tools come with a sharp cutting edge, which is why you need to be careful and make sure not to split fragile ABS plastic tent pegs with the stainless steel axe head.
You can also use your hatchet to drive hammock stakes into a tree, under pots and pans that may have gotten damaged during the ride in your RV, and break open packages that just won’t budge.
6. Using the hatchet In Place of a Fire Starter
You’ve likely seen some hatchets with fire starters that come as a kit.
Even if you don’t have one of those, you can still use your hatchet with some nearby rocks to get a spark going.
The most efficient way to do this is by using the back end of your hatchet to split a rock in half and use the smooth interior side against the sharp blade edge.
Run it along the entire length so that, if you’re successful, the spark will sling from the end of the edge. This can take some practice, but it’s a lot faster than rubbing two sticks together.
7. Using the Hatchet for Self-Defense Against Predatory Animals
The goal here is to disengage and find safety but to do that, sometimes you need to show that you have more power than they do. Hence, the hatchet: a visible weapon of a decent size.
Every predatory animal is different and you should do whatever you can to rotate and evade them, but if one of them is coming at you and there’s no other option, you’ll feel safer (and defend yourself better) with a hatchet in your hands.
A quality hatchet is an amazing addition to both your camping and backpacking gear.
8. Reflecting Light for SOS
This one can be a bit tricky, but if your hatchet is fairly new or you polish it regularly, you can reflect sunlight to send an SOS signal to a helicopter or plane.
Stainless steel hatchet heads work best for this. If you keep a dry rag handy, wipe the hatchet clean on one side and begin angling it slowly in the direction of the sun.
There’s going to be a very thin line of light that you’ll see in a flash: that’s the sweet spot.
Continuously reposition the hatchet’s head in the direction of this light to create a strobe-like effect.
9. Cleaning Fish and Game
Keeping a good filet knife or your utility knife handy is good, but your hatchet can cover more ground because it has a wider blade.
Cleaning a fish is a difficult task; you’re not left with much to work with if you botch it. The curved sharp edge of a hatchet can contour to the shape of a fish better and make a quicker, cleaner cut.
When it comes to the game, just be sure you’re not hacking into the meat and ruining it.
10. Splitting Kindlings
This may seem like the most basic use, but it’s usually a job for an axe instead of a hatchet.
If you get the right angle and choose your kindling carefully, your hatchet can be a one-hit-wonder and split wood with half of the force you’d need from an axe.
It’s easier to maintain the sharp blade on a hatchet, which you’ll need when you’re forced to buy lackluster firewood from campground shops.
You can’t bring your own wood, but nobody said you can’t improve or split the firewood that you end up buying.
Keep Your Mind Sharp and Your Hatchet Sharper
You can use your hatchet to create emergency shelters, start a campfire, chop wood, and protect yourself against wildlife by using it as a tomahawk.
The most amazing thing about this tool is probably the fact that these are just a few of the many survival-based ways to take advantage of it.
However, if you plan on trying boondocking, you must keep in mind that although camping hatches and small axes are suitable for woodworking, they shouldn’t be used for tree felling.
There are specialized, heavy-duty axes for that particular purpose.
Let us end this article by reminding you to prepare for the unexpected and never forget that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
We also advise you to learn how pocket knives should be sharpened.
Other than properly using a sharpening stone, you could also master the rest of your camping tools and equipment; we have numerous guides that can help you transform into a camping connoisseur in no time.
Together, we’re going to get you prepped for anything and everything that could happen on your camping adventures.