In any survival situation, having a belated tool is a must. Almost everyone in the survival community prefers a knife. However, there are a few people who prefer hatchet or small axe. In this article, I’m going to give my take on this issue. Let’s get down to it.
Tree-felling and major woodwork
There’s no doubt that for large scale woodwork a hatchet or small axe is much more capable than a knife. Felling a small tree with a knife—no matter how beefy—is all but impossible. That’s not the case with a hatchet. Even a small hatchet makes it possible to feel trees and saplings quickly and efficiently. Chopping firewood and preparing wood for use in structures is also much easier with the leverage and reach provided by a hatchet.
Fine woodwork and carving
While a sharp hatchet makes it possible to do some fire woodwork, a knife is obviously better at these tasks. With a handle and overall shape designed for carving and intricate tasks, a knife provides a safer platform as well.
Skinning and cleaning game
For most small game tasks, the smaller blade and higher precision of a knife allows you to skin and clean faster and more easily. However, there are a few areas where the hatchet does come out ahead. This includes simple tasks like quartering, cutting through ribs, and removing the head. A hatchet makes it easy to chop through bone and sinew for these larger tasks.
As a weapon, a hatchet is usually going to be more effective than a knife. That’s because it has longer reach. In close combat, reach is incredibly important. The power of any individual strike is also going to be higher with a hatchet, since the handle and higher overall mass increases momentum. The haft of the hatchet also allows it be used as a hook and for blocking strikes.
In a survival situation, tools must be repurposed for a great many tasks. One of these might be hammering. Hammering could be important for driving stakes into the ground for shelter, to secure a handing animal, or to soften food. As many hatchets have a built-in flat-hammer on the rear of the blade, they have the clear advantage for this task.
Weight and portability
Any knife is likely to be smaller, lighter, and more easily concealed than a hatchet. Therefore, a knife is the clear winner in this category.
In most cases, a hatchet will be more durable than a knife, because a hatchet is designed to be swung around and bashed into wood. Knives are for the most part designed for more fine use. This is not true of all knives—some are truly strong and well-constructed—but in general a hatchet will last longer than a knife when put to hard use.
A knife has several advantages over a hatchet when it comes to fire starting. For one, it’s much easier to create wood shavings or a feather stick with a knife. Additionally, striking a fire steel on the back of a knife blade is much easier than using a hatchet. While the hatchet does make it easier to process and prepare larger firewood, the knife wins out here.
Misc. cutting, first aid, and camp chores
When it comes to cutting, there are numerous needs that come up in a wilderness or survival situation. These can include cutting holes in clothing or fabric, cutting bandages, piercing abscesses or blisters, cutting rope or twine, and many more. For these small camp chores a knife, with it’s small agile blade with a pointed tip), has a clear advantage over a hatchet.
Which is better?
So which is the better survival tool: hatchet or knife? The can be no definitive answer to this question. Any one person is likely to answer the same question differently depending on the situation they find themselves in. The knife may be better suited to many tasks, but the hatchet can adequately perform some of them—while performing others that are all but impossible with a knife.
In any survival or prepping scenario, you need to make a choice based on your terrain, likely tasks and obstacles you may face, the amount of gear you can carry or maintain access to, the size of your party, and so on.
Ideally, you should have both tools—and if you have a couple people, you can split the job of carrying these items are have the best of both worlds. If not, you may have to make a choice. But I can’t make it for you. Heck, if you live in the tropics you might dump both of these in favor of a machete! The lesson is simple: adapt to the circumstance. That’s how you survive.