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What is a Hatchet Used For? 10 Survival Uses Explained

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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.

These hatchet uses will transform you from a novice camper into a seasoned survivalist who will start to think creatively in novel situations.

So you’ve got a high-quality camping hatchet with a sturdy wooden handle or with a glass-reinforced nylon handle, but you aren’t putting it to its best use.

10 Hatchet Uses Explained

Let’s demonstrate how to master the hatchet for your survival needs.

1. Building an Improvised Shelter

building a 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 and tie branches together. This tool can help you acquire those branches in the first place and shape bark to create a roof.

If you’ve found a cozy 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 assume you’re a winter camper and are 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.

If you don’t have an auger with you, you can even use your hatchet to cut a hole in the ice in the first place.

3. Chopping a Campfire Wood

chopping a 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 with creating a better campfire.

Finding kindling in the forest is a beneficial way to live off the land instead of buying new firewood.

A good hatchet can enhance the quality of the kindling by eliminating damp bark, eliminating decay, and revealing the drier, more combustible regions.

Here, you’re basically using your hatchet like a really aggressive knife, which brings us to the next use.

4. Fletching

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 it in a much more creative way.

Why not use your hand axe to split and shave wood during the last few hours of daylight to work on a carving project and create something from scratch?

Find a useful 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

using a hatchet to pitch a tent

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 a medieval or 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.

Use your hatchet to drive hammock stakes into trees, under pots and pans that may have sustained damage during your RV ride, and to pry open stubborn packages.

6. Self-Defense Against Predatory Animals

While we’ve discussed EDC and survival knives, they won’t be effective against a grizzly or a tomcat.

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. Therefore, the hatchet serves as a visible weapon of a reasonable 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.

7. Hatchet as a Fire Starter

hatchet next to a campfire

You’ve likely seen some hatchets that come in kits with fire starters. Even if you don’t have one of those, you can still use your hatchet and some nearby rocks to get a spark going.

The most efficient way to do this is to split a rock in half with the back end of your hatchet and use the smooth interior side against the sharp blade edge.

Run it the whole length so the spark will sling from the edge if possible. This can take some practice, but it’s a lot faster than rubbing two sticks together.

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.

You’ll notice a slender streak of light in an instant; this represents the optimal location. Continuously reposition the hatchet’s head in the direction of this light to create a strobe-like effect.

9. Splitting Kindlings

hatchet for outdoors use

This may seem like the most basic use, but it’s usually a job for an axe instead of a hatchet.

If you carefully choose your kindling and get the right angle, your hatchet can split wood with half the force of an axe in just one hit.

Maintaining the sharp blade of a hatchet is easier, especially when purchasing subpar firewood from campground shops.

You can’t bring your own wood, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve or split the firewood you end up buying.

10. Cleaning Fish and Game

Keeping a helpful filet knife or your utility knife handy is helpful, but your hatchet can cover more ground because it has a wider blade.

Cleaning a fish is a challenging task that leaves little room for error. The curved, sharp edge of a hatchet can better contour to a fish’s shape and make a quicker, cleaner cut.

In the game, avoid hacking the meat and ruining it.


You can use your hatchet as a tomahawk to create emergency shelters, start a campfire, chop wood, and protect yourself from wildlife.

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 intend to try boondocking, remember that while camping hatches and small axes are useful for woodworking, you shouldn’t use them for felling trees.

There are specialized, heavy-duty axes for that particular purpose. We hope this gets you prepped for anything and everything that could happen on your camping adventures.