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Axe vs. Knife: What is Better for Survival?

A knife is a recognized bushcraft tool and is popular among survivalists as a crucial part of their outdoor gear. The axe has similar standing and holds its own as an important addition to any outdoorsman’s gear. While there is no argument that both of these tools are great for the outdoors, which one is the better option to have in a survival situation?

Ideally, I prefer to have both of these survival tools with me when I am out and about in the wilderness. If we have to choose, however, we need to take a close look at the benefits and drawbacks of both the knife and the axe, and compare them head to head. I am sure we can then establish which one would be the better choice for a wilderness survival experience.

A good bushcraft knife, in my opinion, is better than an axe for survival purposes due to its superior versatility. It is also easier to carry due to being lightweight, easier to wield, and safer to use for certain tasks. However, this choice will mostly be decided by personal preference.

The right tool for the job of survival also requires a definition of wilderness survival. If it means an accidental stranding in the wilderness, or whether you got lost on an outing in the wilderness.

If it is an accidental stranding in the wilderness, the survival tool that people will most likely have with them is a knife, as most people don’t walk around with an axe or a tomahawk on their belt.

There also needs to be some clarification in the type of knife. If my choice of a survival tool is between a small folding knife and an axe, I will choose the axe. However, if the knife is a bushcraft knife, my choice would be in favor of the knife.

If the survival situation arises because you were out in the wilds intentionally, and you are prepared, then you will most likely be in the advantageous position of having both a knife and an axe in your gear. I would generally have an axe in my pack and a knife on my belt when walking or participating in wilderness outdoor activities.

But here, we are discussing which one will be better for survival, in other words, an unplanned, unprepared stranding, so we will compare the knife and the axe and draw a conclusion!

Axe vs Knife For Survival

To draw a comparison between the knife and the axe we will present their advantages and disadvantages n a survival situation. After our deliberations regarding their characteristic strengths and where they don’t match up to requirements, you can choose if you would prefer the axe of the knife to have with you in the event of a survival experience.

Advantages Of A Bushcraft Knife

As we have mentioned, the type of knife makes a difference so we are going to assume that the knife is a quality bushcraft knife as opposed to a little folding pocketknife.

The advantages of a bushcraft knife that makes it useful as a survival tool include the following.

  • Size. It is small and lightweight in comparison to an axe and therefore easier to carry
  • Easier to use. A knife is easier to use, manipulate, and maneuver than an axe, making it easier to use.
  • Useful for fire starting. The square edge on the back or spine of the knife is a great surface for striking a Ferro rod in order to get a survival fire going.
  • Good for making tools. The knife can be used to process raw materials such as branches and sticks to produce other tools such as an improvised hunting bow and arrows or stripping inner bark of trees to produce twine for traps.
  • Improvised hunting or fishing weapon. A knife can be bound to a stout stick to make a spear which can be used as an improvised tool to hunt small game or to spear fish.
  • Processing food. A knife is a much more versatile and easier to use tool for the processing of food, such as plants, small game, or fish.
  • Accidental injuries. Accidental injuries with a knife are usually less severe than with an axe. At most, you will suffer a deep cut as opposed to breaking a bone or losing a digit with an axe!
  • Easy to conceal. In defense against any human threat, a knife is easier to conceal on your person than an axe.

Disadvantages Of A Bushcraft Knife

The disadvantages of a bushcraft knife where an axe may perform better include the following.

  • Small size. For the bushcraft knife, size is both a pro and a con for survival purposes. Its small size makes it great for smaller tasks but less useful for more heavy-duty tasks.
  • Firewood preparation. Knives are no good for processing larger logs or trees for firewood. At most, it can be used to baton dry pieces of wood that are about as thick as your wrist. Trying to process thicker material may result in damaging the knife blade and rendering it useless for other survival tasks.
  • Hammering. Knives are a lightweight tool and as such their capacity as a tool to drive stakes or pegs into the ground is limited. It is often dangerous to use a knife for this task.

Advantages Of An Axe For Survival

Axes come in various sizes, but the axe people are most likely to carry with them in the wilderness is a camping axe or a tomahawk. The camping axe and the tomahawk are different tools so we will consider the axe in this section and give the tomahawk a section all of its own!

The advantages of an axe for survival include the following.

  • An axe can fell larger trees and handle larger logs for processing into firewood or for shelter building.
  • The heavy head of the axe makes it better for hammering tent pegs, wood stakes, and similar tasks.
  • A sharp axe can perform very well on some more delicate tasks such as making feather-sticks for fire-making. Even though an axe is a little more cumbersome to wield than a knife for this type of task, it can nevertheless be done.

Disadvantages Of An Axe For Survival

There is no doubt that a good axe is a great survival tool, but when we compare it to the bushcraft knife, it has some shortcomings that may cause you to view it differently in a survival situation.

Some of these disadvantages of an axe for survival may include the following.

  • The weight of the axe. An axe is heavy and cumbersome to carry. When you are in a survival situation and need to conserve your energy, an axe can be a heavy burden.
  • Less nimble than a knife. While an axe can perform some tasks that require a delicate touch, a knife is definitely more adept for these tasks.
  • Personal safety. An axe is wielded from a height and with much force. Should an accident happen, the injury could be life-threatening in a survival situation.
  • Unsuitable for some food preparation. Due to the size of an axe, it may be unsuitable for processing smaller game for food, such as rodents or birds.
  • Not suitable as a hunting tool. An axe is difficult to modify to create a hunting tool. Most people are unfamiliar with throwing an axe as a weapon and will not be able to perform his task with much accuracy. It could however be used to deliver a lethal blow at close quarters.

Axe vs Tomahawk vs Knife For Survival

We have discusses how an axe fares as a survival tool, and in our discussion, we concentrated on the camping axe. There are however different size axes, the smaller variations being the hatchet and the tomahawk.

Some survivalists swear by a tomahawk and like to carry one in their gear. While the tomahawk is also a good tool to have with you in a survival situation, it is too small to be able to do what an axe can do and therefore it’s application as a survival tool, in my opinion, is limited.

  • A tomahawk is too light to process heavy wood or trees and therefore will only be able to process firewood of a similar size to a bushcraft knife.
  • A tomahawk is more versatile for smaller, more delicate survival tasks but then again, s does the bushcraft knife.
  • For processing food and small game, the tomahawk will work better than an axe, but in my opinion, a knife would be more versatile than the tomahawk.
  • The tomahawk and the knife both are limited in their capacity for hammering and in this area, the axe comes out on top
  • The tomahawk may be more useful than the axe as a hunting tool as it is light enough to throw more accurately, but for me, the knife is still superior in this category.

Conclusion

From taking a look at these advantages and disadvantages of an axe, a bushcraft knife, and a tomahawk, my personal preference would be a good quality bushcraft knife every time!

Other survivalists may have a different opinion and would perhaps prefer the axe or the tomahawk. The selection of which tool is preferred is usually dependent on how proficient the person is with the tool.

Perhaps my bias towards the bushcraft knife is because the knife is the tool I am most familiar with in the wilderness and therefore the one tool I feel most comfortable with.

Frank Pearmain

As a homesteader, survivalist, and previously a safari guide in Africa, I have extensive bush and wilderness experience. I am passionate about living a self-sufficient, off-grid lifestyle and continuously learn and strive toward that goal!

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