Preppers are ever and always debating which tool or tools are best for various situations, and the arguments surrounding survival knives and axes are no exception. Although each tool has their finer points and uses that the other doesn’t match making them an excellent matched pair of tools, when the time comes you may need to select one or the other for your pack or stockpile. In that case, which one should be included? We’re going to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each tool, both knife and axe, to determine which will be most useful for you.
What is a “Survival” knife or axe?
Although there are plenty of fine knives and axes available on the market, only a small subset of them are truly suitable to be called “survival” axes or knives. Generally speaking, a true survival tool has these qualities:
- Able to be carried long distances. A big splitting maul may technically qualify as an axe, but it is hardly a survival tool since it is much too heavy! This criteria is generally applied only to axes, since even heavy knives are plenty light for a person to carry. The best kinds of axes tend to resemble hatchets, being small enough for easy packing and light weight yet still substantial enough to take serious punishment.
- Durable. This is where many knives tend to fail. Although there are definitely uses for cheap pocket knives and the like in emergency situations, a true survival knife needs to be made of sterner stuff. Although axes will generally do better when subjected to a durability test, there is still a need to cull the cheap big box store brands made with low-quality steel. Both knives and axes need to be able to handle chopping wood, sharpening stakes, potential self-defense against people and animals, and the occasional accidental strike against rocks or soil over a long period of time.
- Able to be repaired/sharpened. The axe or knife needs steel of sufficient quality to be sharpened properly over the course of time. Ideally, a good survive knife blade or axehead will have a removable grips/handle in case they become damaged over time.
- Versatile in function. Some knives are designed primarily for combat or other uses and have special features that allow them to do this job better. Likewise, there are many axes designed primarily for carpentry work or only for splitting big thick logs. A survival tool needs to be a jack of all trades, not specifically good at any one thing but decent at a wide variety of common tasks. Lopping off limbs for a lean-to, skinning small game, splitting small logs, cutting through ice, and cutting notches for traps and snares are but a few of the many jobs your survival axe or knife will need to perform.
The strengths and weaknesses of survival knives
On the other hand, a survival knife’s performance can suffer when it comes to the larger jobs. If you should need to split small logs or lop limbs off of trees, you may find that although the knife can do the job it’s not nearly as easy as it would be with an axe. A particular area of weakness is in cutting limbs of the proper size for a shelter. Unless you have softer wood to craft into poles, you may find it difficult to get clean cuts through the limbs that are ideal for lean-to poles. Knives are also more difficult to keep properly sharpened in some cases, although with practice this issue is significantly diminished.
The pros and cons of a survival axe
However, axes do have some weaknesses to put against their strengths. For one thing, almost any axe is going to be larger and heavier than a survival knife and will reduce the overall amount of supplies you can carry. Furthermore, they’re also more awkward to use when trying to make delicate or tiny cuts such as those needed for cleaning an animal or preparing snares. They also lack additional features like serrated edges or a convenient folding action that covers the blade, meaning that they’re more limited in many ways. Furthermore, they’re also more dangerous to use as a single slipup can result in a deep and deadly wound to an arm or leg.
So, which to use?
The truth is, both have their uses depending on your situation. If you need to carry a lot of other heavy gear, a knife would probably suit you better than a weighty axe. If you are going into damp places where you’ll have to cut dry limbs off of trees instead of harvesting dry wood on the ground, an axe will make your work go faster. If you’ll be cutting ropes for snares and skinning the game you catch, a knife will make the work simpler than a big axeblade. It comes down to what you personally need: the smaller, lighter finesse of a survival knife or the thicker, heavier, blunt work of the survival axe. Choose wisely! – Prepared For That
Which suits you better? Would you carry both if you had the choice? Let us know in the comments!
- Know Your Knife (thesurvivalplaceblog.com)