The Top 5 Best Tomahawks On the Market: Tactical Tomahawks VS. Bush-Craft Tomahawks (reviewed & compared!)

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If you browse outdoor websites and forums, eventually you will see a recommendation to have a tomahawk on your pack before you hit the trail. And the recommendation comes with good reason too. People of been using tomahawks for hundreds of years, not only as hand to hand weapons, but also in a bush-craft capacity. From tending a camp and performing homestead chores to defending one’s life & tribe in the “olden days”, the tomahawk is a pretty versatile tool. You might even say it was the first American multi-tool. And while the modern ‘hawk (as some call it) dates back to the 17th century; U.S. Soldiers have used them in combat while serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

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You might also notice there are two distinct types of tomahawks out there: The tactical tomahawk and the bush-craft tomahawk.


Gerber Downrange Tactical/Survival/Camping Tomahawk

Quick Specs:

  • Overall Length: 19.27″ (48.9cm) Weight: 1.9 lb. (861.8 g) without Sheath, 2.5 lbs. (1133.9 g) with sheath Steel Type: 420HC Handle Material: G-10
  • Features Unique Gerber design axe head with integrated Prying Handle Hammer Head Pry Bar Desert Tan G-10 Scales on Handle 420HC Steel Body With Cerakote™ MOLLE- compatible Sheath Built in Portland, Oregon Backed by Gerber’s Lifetime Warranty
  • Triple-Purpose Ax Head, Serious Pry Bar,Packs Like a Pro

Tactical Tomahawks Compared To BushCraft Tomahawks:
Which Is Better?


The Tactical Tomahawk:

(RMJ Tactical – S13 Shrike Tomahawk pictured below)

Generally “tactical” tomahawks are marketed for use in military and rescue operations, but it seems they are very with civilian consumers as well. Tactical hawks may or may not have a blunt hammer opposite the chopping edge, but almost all have some sort of spike, claw or pry bar function. If you imagine a large scale natural disaster, the pry bar action of a modern tactical hawk could be an immensely helpful tool for a national guardsman or emergency services person tearing through debris while looking for survivors.


The Bush-Craft Tomahawk:

(Custom Bush-Craft Tomahawk pictured below):

Bush-Craft tomahawks have found quite a bit of popularity amongst outdoor adventurers and campers. They make tasks like building shelters, cutting firewood, and clearing a camp site much easier. The blunt end of bush-craft hawk acts like a hammer. I find having the blunt end of a tomahawk to be very useful for hammering stakes into the ground when building a shelter and fire reflecting wall. There are few bush-craft tasks that cannot be done with a tomahawk. If all you had was a tomahawk in the wild, you could build traps, field dress and process wild game. It’s no wonder these handy tools are so popular.

Both tomahawks have a chopping edge. But the RMJ Tactical “S13 Shrike” has a much more “aggressive” look to it. The custom bush-craft tomahawk has a more plain and “organic” look to it. Generally the aggressive looking hawk fits the tactical roll where the plain looking custom hawk is meant for bush-craft work.

In this article I’m going to compare some of the top tomahawks and measure the pros and cons of having a tactical hawk versus a bush-craft hawk. While some people might have hero fantasies of keeping zombies at bay with a tomahawk in a post-apocalyptic world, there are practical uses for both tactical and bush-craft hawks for the “average Joe”, and we’re going to look at them.


Tactical Vs. Bush-craft

The tomahawk seems to be more useful as a rescue and bush-craft tool than a combat weapon in the modern world, but it’s important to notice the differences in use and look between bush-craft tomahawks and tactical tomahawks.

While tactical tomahawks conjure thoughts of hand to hand combat, they’re actually very useful in prying and smashing debris or structures that get in one’s way on the battlefield. While you or I may not be on a battlefield, or have ever seen a battlefield for that matter, I’ll bet you’ve smashed or had to pry your way through debris on a clean-up job.

In the same way, bush-craft tomahawks make me think of chopping wood, but in reality they are useful for so much more. One can build shelters, build wild game traps as well as feed and tend a camp fire. The use of a bush-craft tomahawk doesn’t stop there. The tomahawk can be used to turn sinew or tree cambium into cordage or skin and quarter an elk.

It’s pretty obvious, whether you choose a tactical tomahawk or a bush-craft model, the many uses of said tool are only limited by your mind.


The Tomahawk as a Self-Defense Tool

There’s no doubt about it, the tomahawk is very useful tool, but it also accelerates one’s hand to hand combatives capabilities by 1000%. The tomahawk has at least 6 different striking and trapping capabilities so it’s no wonder it stood the test of time as a valuable weapon of war for native and early Americans. The head of a tomahawk usually weighs a little over a pound, making it very fast to swing when coupled with a short club handle.

The chopping edge of the hawk can be used a hooking device in trapping range combatives to control an opponent’s neck, arms and legs. If the hawk has a spike or hammer, there is a secondary hooking device on the rear of the hawk. Obviously the chopping edge, the top of the hawk and the rear of the hawk all can be used as striking devices. As a less-lethal self-defense tool, the hawk can be held upside down, just above the hawk head and used as a short club.

It’s no wonder that those who are trained in the Filipino art of stick fighting tend to excel in the use of the tomahawk as a combatives weapon. Here’s a short clip showing how fast and fluid the tomahawk can be when it’s in the hands a skilled individual.


Spike or Hammer?

All hawks have a chopping edge. But the opposite end of the tomahawk has either a spike or claw edge, or it has a blunt hammer end. You might be asking yourself which is more useful: the spike or the hammer? I would consider the following points before making a decision.

1. How cool a tomahawk looks is not a good reason for purchasing it, unless you’re going to display it in a case as a conversation piece. So whether the spike looks more “cool” than the hammer is irrelevant for people that need practical tools. It comes down to which has a better use for YOU.

2. Spikes are dangerous. Actually, any tool is dangerous if improperly used, but a spike on a hawk can pose other problems. Obviously spiked hawks have yet another sharp edge, and that edge must be respected at all times. It only takes a wrong step to tumble and fall stomach first onto that spike. If the chopping end is facing away from you, usually that means the spike is pointed right at you. A spike to the solar plexus or stomach that happens in the back country could mean “game over”.

Also, the backswing of a hawk mounted with a spike could be very dangerous. These types of dangers are completely avoidable when using good situational awareness, but I’m sure we’ve all witnessed folks do less than intelligent things with tools. If I felt I needed a spike for breaking up hard ground that I was trying to dig through or other things that require a pic type tool, I wouldn’t hesitate to add it to my gear though.

3. Hammer end hawks provide a more utilitarian service, (at least for me anyway). You have a cutting edge on one end, and a blunt end on the other. The bases are theoretically covered. Hammering a stake in the ground in the wilderness is generally more useful to me than the tasks I can complete with the spike end hawk.


Does (tomahawk) Size Matter?

As we compare the best tomahawks on the market, it seems they vary in weight and size, in some cases a half pound. A half-pound might matter if you have to carry your hawk on your belt or attached to your pack, opposed to throwing it in behind the seat of your truck. If you’ll end up carrying your hawk more than you transport it there’s a good chance that you’re probably concerned about dimension and mass. When I pack a hawk, whether tactical or bush-craft, it has to be heavy enough to be an effective “chopper”, but not so heavy that I notice it while I’m traveling. So it seems choosing a hawk is a balancing act between having enough weight to make chopping efficient and light enough to carry.

I’ve done well in survival training with a hawk that weighs a couple pounds and is no longer than 19” in over-all length. Whether you choose either a tactical or bush-craft type hawk, if the over-all length is kept around 22” or less, it’s easy to secure it to the outside of a pack. Some folks prefer to keep their hawk in a belt-sheath, but at any rate, a shorter hawk is the ticket for me. You might find that having a little longer tomahawk gives you the force needed for breaking through those big logs around the camp fire. While size and weight will matter more or less depending on the individual, I like to try and figure out where on my gear I will stow my tools. How and where you’re going to carry your tomahawk might help you make the decision as to which model to buy.


The Best 5 Tomahawks You Can Buy
(both tactical military grade & bush-craft)

The following tomahawk picks have been chosen as the best on the market considering quality, function and cost to the consumer.

1) Gerber – “Downrange” – Tactical Tomahawk

Gerber Downrange Tactical Tomahawk

Gerber hit the mark with the Downrange tomahawk. At only 19” overall length and weighing in at just over 30oz. this is a multi-function tool. It’s made of 420HC steel with a G10 handle. What I love about this tomahawk is that it has a chopping edge, hammer and works as a pry bar, while utilizing the hawk head as a support handle for leverage.

The Downrange is made to use a specific MOLLE compatible sheath that fits right on the side of your pack. That’s another thing I love about this hawk. While there are many great tomahawks on the market, there don’t seem to be very good carry options. This sheath protects both the chopping edge, the pry bar edge and it secures the shaft with two snaps.

Pictured – Gerber’s Downrange tomahawk in MOLLE compatible pack sheath.

While I mostly use bush-craft style hawks for camping, I see this tomahawk as a great tool to have around. It could in fact replace all of my hawks. I don’t see myself breaching too many doors, but I’ve used a pry bar before in both urban and rural settings. Having the use of a hatchet, hammer and pry bar in one makes me very happy. If you’re looking for a birthday gift for me this year, the Downrange wouldn’t be a bad idea.

This bad boy can be yours for under $250.00. And while $250.00 might seem like a lot of money, some of the high end tactical tomahawks come in just under $475.00. And besides, for the right tool, most folks are willing to spend a little more. The question is: Is the Gerber Down Range right for you? Given it’s slim, not all too heavy, very functional and comes with a very useful sheath; the Downrange makes the top five tactical and bush-craft tomahawk list.


2) 5.11 Tactical – “Operator Axe” – Tactical Tomahawk

Pictured above is the 5.11 Tactical “Operator Axe”

Next on the list is the 5.11 Tactical “Operator Axe”. At a mere 15”, it is a compact and slim tomahawk. It’s billed as a tactical tomahawk, fit for military and rescue operations. The hawk has been designed with Kyle Lamb (former US Navy SEAL) of VTAC. Not only do you have a compact, relatively light weight tomahawk, but it also has a hammer head, pry bar, slots for wrench use, ruler, but it can be used to cut sheet metal. Its sheath protects both the top and bottom of the hawk.

I have to be completely up front: this little hawk is a great addition to any rescue pack and I’m saving my pennies to put one in every vehicle I own. With the ability to rip through sheet metal and punch through a windshield, there’s not much that can stand in your way. What I love about this hawk is that you can wrap the handle with cordage or leave it plain and it still functions flawlessly because of the textured front edge of the handle.

At under $170.00 it’s not the most costly tactical hawk on the market, but it’s surely not the cheapest. This one is probably my favorite. It’s compact, utilitarian, can be carried on a belt, vest or pack and is virtually indestructible. Hopefully prices will drop on this one in the future, but never the less, it’s still a great piece of gear.


3) CRKT – “Woods Chogan” – Bush-craft Tomahawk

Pictured above is the Columbia River Knife & Tool – “Woods Chogan”

Another great tomahawk is the Woods Chogan by CRKT. It’s billed as a bush-craft tomahawk for outdoor enthusiasts and survival adventurers. It’s sleek, simple and ready to tackle the wild. Designed by Ryan Johnson of RMJ Tactical, the Woods Chogan is made from 1055 Carbon Steel and features a hard Tennessee Hickory Handle. The back end of the hawk head has a hammer function.

At a hair over 19” this tomahawk would fit perfect on the side of my hiking pack. The weight is a little over 33 oz. It’s definitely not the lightest hawk on the market, but at least when you hit something; you know it will have an effect.

The Woods Chogan is listed under $70.00, and in most places you can find it for well under that. CRCT also makes a belt sheath for this hawk that protects the edge and keeps your tool close at hand.


4) Cold Steel – “Pipehawk” – Bush-craft Tomahawk

Pictured above – Cold Steel Pipe Hawk

The Pipe Hawk is another 1055 Carbon Steel Tomahawk with an American hickory handle. The Pipe Hawk is a bit lighter than the CRKT Woods Chogan at 28 oz. The overall length is 22”. You can also pick up a separate snap closure Cordura sheath for under $10. This simple beauty features a hammer opposite the chopping edge and can be had for under $55.00.

Out of all the tomahawks, I’ve had the most practical experience with the Cold Steel Pipe Hawk. It has served me well. It’s affordable given almost any budget. It hammers nails with the power of a full size framing hammer. While it has enough mass to efficiently chop through wood, it is light enough to carry on a pack for miles on end.

I’ve wrapped my Pipe Hawk with paracord for better grip and chopped it down to a more compact 18” overall length. From hammering shelter stakes to tending a fire, this companion is a necessity for me when I hit the great outdoors.

Pictured above is a custom paracord wrapped Cold Steel Pipe Hawk next to my lean-to and pack. – Chris


5) Kershaw – “Siege” – Tactical Tomahawk

Pictured above is the Kershaw “Siege” Tomahawk

The last and certainly not the least of the top 5 tomahawks is the Kershaw Siege. It’s billed as a tactical tomahawk and definitely has that type of look. What I love about this tomahawk is that it’s only 16” overall and weighs 2 lbs. It’s compact, but has a good weight (but not too heavy), and it’s balanced.

It comes in 3Cr13 steel with black oxide coating. It also comes with a sheath, which is also a plus. The handle is riveted with glass filled nylon scales, and the bottom end of the shaft is a pry bar. To top it off, you have a sharp pic on the back end of the hawk head and a nail puller in the middle of the head.

You can get this model for under $80.00. It’s a great buy with lots of features and did I mention it balances really well?


The Tomahawk Sheath

Most models listed in the top 5 tomahawks come with sheaths. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a sheath to protect the blade of the hawk and yourself from the blade. Whether it comes with the hawk, is a custom find, or a self-made marvel, every chopper needs a safe home for its blade when being carried or not in use. I keep my bush-craft hawk sharp enough that I could field dress a medium to large animal with it if I had to, and the last thing I want to do is skin myself by accidentally brushing up against an unprotected blade.


Customizing Your Tomahawk

Regardless of which model you decide to go with, you should customize it, paint it, add tools, add grips and make it something unique to you. On absolutely all of my bush-craft hawks I add paracord for grip on the wood handle. I find that it helps my grip, but I like having extra cordage with me whenever possible. There are many different ways to wrap a handle with paracord, and some of them are very beautiful as well as functional.

Underneath the cordage one can add a layer of duct-tape, a very small ferro rod (for sparking a fire), fishing line/hooks and a few sewing needles and thread. While it’s not the most perfect survival kit, cord, tape, sewing thread, fishing line/small hooks, and a fire device can be very valuable. The space underneath a paracord wrap can be used to store lots of little things that get taken for granted.

I like to spray paint my tomahawk, especially on bare metal surfaces to prevent corrosion. Duracoat or Cerakote add a more permanent finish. Most tomahawks come with some sort of powder coating though. Perhaps you want your black tomahawk to be brown or green to better match the color of your backpack. Just be careful though, if you do too good of camo paint job; I’ve set down my tomahawk while working on a shelter only to turn back around and lose it for a second.

Related reading: The Top 10 Essential Winter Survival Items Every Snowmobiler Should Carry


How sharp should my tomahawk edge be?

Some prefer a razor sharp edge on their hawk; some prefer it the way it comes from the factory; sharp enough for chopping but definitely not as sharp as a knife. I like my hawk with sharper edge. If the hawk head is heat treated correctly it will hold that edge for an appropriate amount of time relative to the chopping task at hand.

I’ve found a sharp edge tends to stay quite a while on my Cold Steel Pipe Hawk, even after chopping lots of wood. The advantage of a sharper edge is that you can process wild game and cut things with more exact precision like a knife.

At any rate, I’ve found a tool that is very quick for sharpening a tomahawk and equally easy to use. I like the Worksharp Knife & Took Sharpener which can be had for under $100.00. You can use it for working grade edge tuning or really define the level of sharpness to that of a razor. It’s your call.

WorkSharp Knife & Tool Sharpener

Pictured above is the Original Worksharp Knife & Tool Sharpener.

The thing I like about tomahawks is that they don’t require a razor sharp edge to do most camp chores. Just because I like a razor sharp edge, doesn’t mean you have need it that way too. It’s only until you need to do intricate work that’s better suited for a knife, like processing wild game, that a fine edge becomes a requirement. What is important is to realize the versatility that a good tomahawk has as a tool when you put a good edge on it.


Tactical vs. Practical: A Buyer’s Guide To Picking A Tomahawk For Your Needs

Before purchasing one of these tomahawks, the first questions should be, “what am I going to use this for?” If you’re a tactical minded person, you probably want a useful tool for protection and rescue & recovery. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast you probably need a simple hawk for managing your camp site. If you’re a preparedness minded person, you probably envision using your hawk for all of the above.

If you’re really unsure which model to go with, I recommend purchasing one of the less expensive tomahawks. Beat it up, use it in the woods, and use it for outdoor tasks around the homestead. Get used to having the tomahawk around all the time. If you find it indispensable, I’d invest in one of the higher end models.

Personally I have several tomahawks. I use bush-craft tomahawks in the wild, but I won’t rule out having a compact tactical tomahawk with a pry bar function in the back of the truck for work around my home area.

The truth is, any one of these hawks would do fine in the wild, or in a tactical sense. There are plenty of hawks on the market, but the quality, price and utility put these five at the top of the pack. Hopefully you’ll find one you like and let it become an indispensable part of that tool box in your truck as well as a companion at your camp site.

Happy chopping!
Chris


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