[You can also view Choosing An Axe For Winter Camping And Travel on YouTube].
An Axe Is Your Most Important Tool
In the Northern Forest, an axe is your most important cutting tool.
There is a general trend amongst outdoors people to carry quite small axes.
These small axes are very wieldy, yet you can apply to them to large jobs such as felling trees as well as quite fine jobs such as carving useful implements and splitting quite fine firewood.
They’ve got a half-length handle and a relatively light head. The handle only comes half the way from your fingers to your breastbone.
That makes them eminently portable. They’re easy to put into a rucksack, even a day-sack they’ll fit into quite nicely.
However, in the Northern Forest, it’s my view, that a larger axe than this has specific advantages. In winter, you need plenty of fuel, whether you’re bivvying out or sleeping in a heated tent with a stove, you need plenty of fuel. Obtaining firewood in the Northern Forest typically means felling dead standing trees and then, of course, you have to process them. You have to take the limbs off, you need to section the trunks and you need to split the wood into manageable sections that you can put into your stove.
The trees here grow more slowly than further south. The growing season is shorter. At a more northerly latitude, the summers are shorter, the trees have fewer days in which to grow. This makes the rings of the tree closer together, which makes the wood tougher. In turn this means you need more cutting power from you axe than you do further south.
In my opinion, a three-quarter length axe gives the extra cutting power you need for winter travel and winter camping in this environment. The additional handle length provides extra leverage. Also, it’s got a heavier head and a slightly larger cutting edge than the smaller axe. That gives it extra weight and extra cutting power as well.
So, all of those things combined deliver more efficiency when you’re using this axe. As I’ve already said, the wood here is tougher, it’s tighter grained, it’s more knotty, it’s harder to cut, it takes more effort with a small axe. So a large axe like this gives you an advantage in processing the firewood that you need, particularly in winter. In terms of felling, this is an excellent axe.
It’s also very good, very well suited to limbing and sectioning the trunk once you’ve brought it down. The extra length and extra weight of the head also means it’s very efficient in splitting firewood – yet you can still do the finer day-to-day jobs that you need to do, such as splitting down firewood to get your stove going.
Despite its extra weight and size, a three-quarter length axe is still very portable, particularly if you think about the means by which you’re going to be travelling in a winter environment.
You’re unlikely to be light-weight hiking. You’re much more likely to be travelling by snow-shoe with a toboggan or pulk, or maybe be skies with a pulk, or by snow-machine or by dog-sled. Taking an axe like this is not much of a problem when you’re travelling by those means. The benefits of carrying a tool such as this for winter travelling and winter camping far outweigh the downside of its extra size and extra weight.
The video and text above should give you an idea of the power and versatility of the three-quarter length axe.
I hope that it also demonstrates why this tool is my number one choice for winter camping and winter travel in the Northern Forest.
What are your preferences for an axe for winter camping? Let me and other readers know in the comments…
Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog: