Tomahawk vs. Survival knife: Which is best?

Tomahawk versus survival knife. Ah, the age old question that gets asked over and over in the survivalist camp with no clear definite winner. This is the Batman vs. Superman debate that went on for years. 

Yeah, not quite


I say, why not both? It’s just as easy to carry both a big knife and a tomahawk. You’ll barely notice the extra weight in your gear and the benefits are astounding! Each has advantages and weaknesses over the other and both can be used in varying ways towards accomplishing the same goal. It depends on the user and what they expect from each tool. Which tool would you rather have if you were to be thrust into a survival situation and only had one? I ask this question often and have gotten some heated responses back. Both camps argue vehemently that each is right and they give examples of what one can do that the other cannot.

Now, there are numerous types of axes and knives, but for argument sake, we’re talking about tomahawk and survival knife. Not a full sized axe or even a hatchet, but a lightweight tomahawk. There’s a huge difference and I believe many people base their responses to this question while thinking of an axe or hatchet and not a tomahawk. There’s not only a big weight difference, but it would be crazy to assume you’re comparing a knife to a full sized axe. That would be hell to carry around. The knife in this discussion needs to be a large fixed blade like a Gerber Strong Arm, full sized Ka-Bar Becker BK2 or even an Esee 6P-B Plain Edge. Something with some heft to it.

Gerber Strong Arm

Esee survival knife

esee 6p-b fixed blade

Versus something like this:

Those that know me are well aware that I’m big into all types of blades, but have a passion for tomahawks. I just love their utility, the weight and the way they feel in your hands. I fell for them the moment I first purchased my first Cold Steel hawk. I know, I know, you can throw a survival knife as well, and I do on occasion. But there’s something about carrying a tomahawk that I just enjoy.

However, a good survival knife is hard to beat! You can do most tasks with them and even some that are difficult with a tomahawk due to the extra weight. That’s why I use tomahawks with wood handles. You can easily remove the head. This is also good if you break the handle, you can make a replacement.

The choice between the two really depends on what tasks you will be doing. For example, if you get lost in the wilderness and end up spending weeks alone; then you will be processing a LOT of firewood. You’ll be chopping every day to provide for your fire. A difficult task with a survival knife. It could be done, but you would have to split the wood by hammering the knife. A tomahawk can make quick work of small limbs.  

You can do more intricate work with a knife. Skinning game is easier and they’re good for self-defense. However, on the tomahawk side, you can also skin game, although much more difficult. I would rather have a hawk for personal defense, but that’s just me. They have better reach and more power in the swing. 

If you could choose one, which would it be? This is a discussion that comes up by the campfire fairly often. My answer would be, it depends. It depends on how long I plan on being in the woods. A short hike; big survival knife. Longer than that; I’ll be packing my trusty tomahawk. (Truth be told, I’ll be packing both, but that wasn’t the call of the question).

I carry a cheap Cold Steel TrailHawk on my belt. These things look horrible when you first purchase them, but can easily be modified. There’s a whole group of people that buy them just for the purpose of modifying them by staining the handles, removing the paint from the head and cutting designs into them. There are tons of videos on that subject, so I won’t go over the details in this article.


These things look like hell straight out of the box, but I promise they’re great for learning how to throw and familiarizing yourself with a tomahawk. You can mod them incredibly fast and cheap to make a work of art, or just keep them as is. You will want to remove the pin in the head though at a minimum before using it. I removed the paint from the head and sanded the handle and left it at that, but you may want to do more with yours.


Which camp are you in? Big survival knife or tomahawk? Let us know in the comments.

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