If you are building a bug out bag or even a general camping and bushcraft kit is it worth considering adding a survival tomahawk to your gear. The tomahawk has a storied history as a reliable tool and the modern day survival tomahawk has evolved rapidly to meet today’s needs. In this article we will discuss this history as well as teach you how to pick the best tomahawk for your own requirements. To kick things off here is a list of the best survival tomahawks currently out there:
What Can I Use My Survival Tomahawk For?
Given the vast utility of a survival tomahawk this is really a tool that any serious prepper should be looking at. A survival tomahawk is one of the best multipurpose items you can have with you and can effectively carry out a great many tasks including:
- Chopping wood
- Kinetic building entry
- Glass breaking
- Vehicle rescue
- Self defense
- Piercing/cutting sheet metal
- Opening of metal, wood, and plastic containers
Few survival tools can offer as many practical uses in such a compact, simple package. One can see why a survival tomahawk is a popular tool among hunters, police, firefighters, park rangers, farmers, and servicemen.
History of The Survival Tomahawk
The history of the tomahawk is as old as human civilization. They have been constructed from materials as diverse as bone, stone, wood, seashells, and animal horns. Although hand axes have been around since the beginning of human civilization the tomahawk we know today is based on an everyday tool used by Native Americans. These Native Americans did not have a mastery of metal working and thus used stone or bone as the heads of their hawks. The metal head of the survival tomahawk commonly known today was based on a boarding axe design used by the Royal Navy. This metal head combined with the knowledge of the Native Americans melded to become the traditional tomahawk that gained widespread use along the American frontier. Usage of the tomahawk is closely intertwined with American history as US servicemen have carried them into battle for every major war they have fought in.
The original design has been modified and improved over time to incorporate better materials to reduce weight and add strength and reliability. The modern tomahawk is about as far removed from its humble beginnings as the space shuttle is from an ox drawn cart.
Best Survival Tomahawk: CRKT Kangee
The CRKT Kangee gets our pick for Best Survival Tomahawk because it is an excellent melding of the best elements of a great hawk. It is a compact tool that does not sacrifice cutting power due to its forward weighting and multiple grip options. The fact that it weighs 1.5 lbs means that it will not cause undue fatigue if carried in a bug out bag and can still be swung with ease after a day’s travelling. The G-10 handle scales come off for cleaning and will last several lifetimes. The cutting edge design of the CRKT Kangee screams practicality. The sharpened spine is great for pushing cuts and the sharp beard makes it ideal for hooking anything just out of reach or for use as a climbing aid. The tapered spike on the rear side of the Kangee is perfect for piercing tough materials and makes it an even more formidable self defense tool. Overall the CRKT Kangee is a durable, well-made modern tomahawk that would be a welcome addition to any survival kit or bug out bag.
Best Tactical Tomahawk: Smith and Wesson Extraction and Evasion Tomahawk
The tactical tomahawk space has become crowded as of late and finding the best tactical tomahawk from this crop can be a challenge. You could surely seek a more expensive, flashier option than the S&W Extraction and Evasion Tomahawk but you really should not let that distract you. This tactical tomahawk can be thought of like a tough old grandfather: It will simply get the job done every time. It won’t complain, or give up on you half way. It will do what you ask of it, full stop.
The Extraction and Evasion Tomahawk is extremely well built and makes for an intimidating self defense option. Its hefty weight of 2.7 lbs and longer than average length (15.9″) will provide the leverage and force required to destroy a lock or silence an enemy’s weapon in a heartbeat. The thick, full tang construction of the S&W Tomahawk makes this a great tool that can be applied to any hands-on tactical situation. The fact that it retails around the $50 price point makes it a no-brainer for anyone looking for a reliable tactical tomahawk. There are many other tactical tomahawks out there that deliver far less for 5 and 6 times the price. Save your money and go with the Smith and Wesson Extraction and Evasion Tomahawk, it is our pick for the Best Tactical Tomahawk.
Best Breaching and Rescue Tomahawk: Gerber Downrange Tomahawk
The Gerber Downrange Tomahawk is the multitool of breaching tools. It ingeniously combines the cutting power of an axe with the sheer force of a hammer and the leverage of a pry bar. It is an all-in-one solution for anyone looking for a compact option for defeating building doors and windows or a fast reaction vehicle extraction tool.
Gerber is renowned for making high quality gear with the practical user in mind. This is clearly a tool that is built to last and the all-in-one design makes it the most versatile breaching tomahawk on the market. The Gerber Downrange would be a great addition to an urban bug out bag and would be an immense aid in scavenging or rescue efforts. Solid build quality coupled with extreme versatility earns the Gerber Downrange our pick for Best Breaching and Rescue Tomahawk.
How do I pick the best tomahawk for my kit?
The first thing to consider when looking for the best tomahawk is what you intend to primarily use it for. A survival tomahawk that will be used mainly for chopping and breaching should have different features than one that will be a primary self defense tool. Let’s look at the parts of a survival tomahawk and examine what styles are best for which tasks.
Tomahawks range in length from 8-20 inches. Determining how long your tomahawk should be will depend on your intended usage. A longer handle will provide greater leverage when prying and increased force when swinging but will be less compact and heavier. A smaller handle will enable more effective usage in close quarters and add less volume and weight to a pack. Here are some applications that are ideally suited for each type of handle:
Long Handle Tomahawk
- Splitting wood
- Chopping trees
- Opening doors
- Breaking locks
- Butchering large game
- Forceful opening of vehicles for rescue
- Piercing tough materials – kevlar, sheet metal, wood, heavy plastic
Short Handle Tomahawk
- Long hikes (lightweight and compact)
- Close quarters self defense
- Precision chopping
- Evacuating vehicles
- Butchering small game
The rear of the tomahawk, also called the poll or butt is traditionally flat or rounded. However many modern tomahawks offer the option of a spike on the back. Once again choosing what type of poll your tomahawk has will depend on what problems you intend to solve with it. A bushcraft tomahawk will typically have a flat butt for hammering. If you are looking for the best tactical tomahawk for your kit you are probably going to be seeking a spiked back for effective piercing. It is worth noting that both a flat but or a spike will effectively break glass. Here are some advantages of each option:
- Forcefully opening doors
- Defeating locks
- Easier to carry and deploy
- Self defence
There are many options for the business end of your survival tomahawk. As with every element choosing the best tomahawk for your kit will depend on your intended usage.
Cutting Edge Length
A longer cutting edge will require a larger and heavier axe head. This added weight and edge length will however allow for greater force in your swings. This will make splitting wood and chopping doors easier. Many of the best tactical tomahawks have circular cutouts in their cheeks to save weight without sacrificing the cutting edge size. This may be a good option if you want the largest cutting edge without the added fatigue of a big, heavy tomahawk.
A narrower cutting edge will typically be able to pierce deeper with each strike as it will encounter less resistance. This will make a narrower cutting edge better for emergency vehicle extraction and piercing heavy duty materials.
Spine and Beard Options
If you are looking for the best tactical tomahawk for your kit it is worth mentioning that modern tomahawks come with additional sharp edges beyond the traditional cutting edge. This is thought to provide a tactical advantage as it opens up additional options for attack and defense when using a tactical tomahawk. Many modern tomahawk makers have started including these options and it is worth considering when finding the best hawk to meet your needs.
Choosing The Best Tomahawk
As you can see there are many factors to consider when choosing the best tomahawk for your kit. As with any survival tool you should consider what you are most likely to use your tomahawk for. A survival tomahawk is a great all around choice with their high versatility and compact designs. If you have more specialized tasks in mind like breaching doors, extracting people from vehicles, or serious self defense you may want to consider a more specialized tool such as a breaching or tactical tomahawk. Hopefully our guide here has helped you understand the many qualities that make a good tomahawk such a valuable addition to a bug out bag or survival kit.
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This article first appeared at The Bug Out Bag Guide: How To Choose The Best Survival Tomahawk For Your Bug Out Bag