Axe or Saw For Survival – Which is Better?

Over the last several years I have seen a discussion kicked around the survival and outdoor forums surrounding two pieces of gear. The discussion has to do with whether it is better to carry an axe or a saw. When I first came across this question the answer seemed rather straightforward. For me, the answer is an axe. However, the more I got to thinking about it the more unsure I was (maybe I am thinking too much on it and should go with my initial instincts) Either way I wanted to bring this question to this site to see what all of you thought and what you carried.

By Tinderwolf, contributing author to SHTFblog and Survival Cache

But before we get to that let me outline my thought process regarding these two pieces of gear. Let me preface this with I know that the word “axe” is sometimes used loosely and that there are number of variations of it. An axe, hatchet, tomahawks, etc. This can also apply to saws as there are wire saws, fixed frame saws, saws that can be broken down, smaller handheld saws the size of a fixed blade knife, etc. For this article and simplicity, lets talk about a full size axe and a saw similar to a Sven saw or a Silky saw.

Axe Pros:

  • Easier to sharpen without a proper sharpener
  • Difficult to break
  • If the handle breaks a new one can be fashioned
  • Process larger pieces of wood
  • Can be used for various cutting tasks
  • Can be used to defend yourself
  • Can be used for digging
  • Helps in processing larger game
  • Can be used to create sparks for fire starting
  • The back side can be used for hammering purposes
  • If the broad side of it is reflective it can be used as a signaling device

Axe Cons:

  • Can be difficult to use one handed if you are injured
  • Heavy
  • Increased chance of injuring yourself when using it
  • More difficult to carry
  • Requires more energy to use when processing wood
  • Generally speaking, more expensive

Also Read: Survival Gear Review: Gransfors Bruk Small Forest Axe

Saw Pros:

  • Cheaper to buy
  • Requires much less energy to use when processing wood
  • Can easily be used one handed if you are injured
  • Compact and easy to carry
  • Lightweight
  • If the handle breaks a new one can be fashioned
  • Easier to make straight, precise cuts
  • Can be used for processing larger game
  • Safer to use

Saw Cons:

  • Difficult to sharpen without the proper tools
  • If blade or teeth break, it is not very useful
  • Mainly has a singular function which is processing wood

When comparing the positives between the two tools they both do pretty well. If you compare the negatives it would seem that the saw is a better choice. An axe though is much more versatile, tougher and long lasting, at least in my opinion. One of the golden rules for us when it comes to gear is to have items with multiple functions in order to reduce weight or to compensate for the loss of another tool.

Related: Survival Gear Review: Milwaukee Sawzall

I think when trying to answer the question of which is better to carry, it comes more down to the situation in which you are in. And there are really only two scenarios, a survival situation and a non-survival situation. For me, in a survival situation I think an axe and its variations would be more valuable because it can be used for so many things. Its biggest downfall is weight and the safety concern. The saw seems to be a better fit for non-survival situations such as hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, bush crafting, etc. When doing these activities you will most likely only have the need for processing wood. To play the devil’s advocate I realize that non-survival situations can easily turn into survival situations, so therein lies the rub.

So which is better to carry? I am not trying to persuade anyone to carry one over the other, that is not the intention of this article, but if I could only carry one I would choose an axe. Modern saws are lightweight and can be extremely compact, so if the option is available a person could easily carry both. Now I realize I most likely missed some points that could go in the lists for each item but that is why I wrote this article, I need more input from you good people. What are your thoughts?

Photos by Doc Montana, Drew, and Jarhead Survivor.

29 comments… add one
  • Galen January 17, 2019, 5:45 pm

    For me it is a Bob Dustrude folding bucksaw. It is a great for firewood. I had mine bout 10 yrs. Seen alot of use and holds up well. I can see the debate though,jus two inportant tools. Maybe the folding saw,and heavy duty knife for batoning. Ah,choices we have to make! Anyway i’ve read this for years and still like it. Thanks for all the articles,Galen

    • Tinderwolf January 18, 2019, 1:14 pm

      Thanks Galen.

  • Pineslayer January 17, 2019, 11:25 pm

    Almost a 9mm vs 45 debate. I love my Laplander’s. Quiet, light, inexpensive and efficient. That being said my ax collection is out of control. I’m going with option ‘c’, both.

    • Tinderwolf January 18, 2019, 1:15 pm

      9mm vs 45 debate? I think there is a clear choice! I agree, if you have the option both would be the best choice

  • Bill January 18, 2019, 10:00 am

    Pineslayer, there is no such thing as an axe collection getting out of control. If it wasn’t for the weight my Black Raven double bit cruiser would go every where I go.

    • Tinderwolf January 18, 2019, 1:16 pm

      Agreed! No collection is ever complete!

      • Pineslayer January 18, 2019, 9:21 pm

        My wife says I can’t talk to you guys anymore, something about bad influences :)

        • Tinderwolf January 19, 2019, 8:49 am

          Tough choices!

  • Rich January 19, 2019, 3:42 am

    The correct answer for a survival situation is the saw. Using an axe will give your position away, given all the noise it generates during use.

    • Tinderwolf January 19, 2019, 8:49 am

      In a shtf situation I agree. But what about a survival situation where you are lost or something happens during a hunting trip?

  • sirlncelot January 19, 2019, 9:08 am

    Hmmmmmmm . . . . .

    Been watching a lot of “Survival Russia ” videos lately and he was a big proponent of the folding saw. Then again he doesn’t have any use for debris shelters or even tents .
    Seems prefer simple tarp shelter and a “Siberian log fire”

    For that application you need a really good folding saw to process large timber. I like the axe for camping. It’s good for pounding tent stakes or even making your own. Funny thing is he also shows making an improvised tree stand by carrying some nails with you. Obviously he must carry an axe as well to pound in those nails.

    So guess the right answer is if you can do it have both. But if was forced to pick between the two would have to go with the saw.

    P,S. PS I like one of the pros for the axe as a improvised weapon. Spent a couple hours one afternoon throwing a Fiskars axe into a dead tree. Because of its lightweight handle it took some practice but could definitely put a hurting on somebody or something.

    • Tinderwolf January 19, 2019, 10:13 am

      Will have to check out survival Russia, hadn’t heard of that. I have done some knife and Axe throwing for fun in the past but I don’t think I would ever use it in that manner in a real situation. Good chance of losing your tool or missing the target. I wouldn’t want to be empty handed in that situation.

  • Mechanic January 19, 2019, 6:57 pm

    I’ve carried both an axe and a folding saw. The axe always got the most use.

    • Tinderwolf January 19, 2019, 9:13 pm

      Out of curiosity what would you use the saw for instead of the axe?

      • Galen January 20, 2019, 8:38 am

        Cuttin the line here,but the saw is just gonna give you more firewood and be faster at it. Long term bad survival,or some long trip in backcountry(say a month) then both. Again a heavy duty knife and baton can pound stakes,or other chores. Just 2 great tools needed for long term. By the way my bob dustrude saw is on the noisy side,but i would not trade it. Best saw for lots of wood,and really holds up. I see they have liked doubled in price since i bought mine.

        • Tinderwolf January 20, 2019, 8:43 am

          Thanks for the input!

  • Mechanic January 19, 2019, 7:02 pm

    Been using a Parang mechett lately. Got a heavy duty one from Condor. Lighter than the axe, sharpens easier than the saw and better for self defense than either one

    • Tinderwolf January 19, 2019, 9:14 pm

      Love condor products.

    • sirlancelot January 26, 2019, 8:31 pm

      Checked out that machete. Is it this one ?

      Got great reviews and the price is very reasonable.

      • Tinderwolf January 29, 2019, 11:59 am

        I’m not sure if that is the one he is talking about but you can’t go wrong with condor

        • Mechanic January 29, 2019, 11:18 pm

          Yup, that’s the exact one. Sheath is OK. Blade is excellent. One thing to keep in mind is it’s much heavier than a normal machete. No problem for woods type use. Not sure I would want to bushwhack my way through a jungle with it. The extra weight would get old fast. Strongly recommend this tool.

      • Mechanic January 29, 2019, 11:17 pm

        Yup, that’s the exact one. Sheath is OK. Blade is excellent. One thing to keep in mind is it’s much heavier than a normal machete. No problem for woods type use. Not sure I would want to bushwhack my way through a jungle with it. The extra weight would get old fast. Strongly recommend this tool.

        • Tinderwolf February 7, 2019, 7:29 pm

          Thanks mechanic for letting us know! Also good to know about the weight

  • JDC February 24, 2019, 10:21 pm

    You can make a pretty decent emergency saw from a piece of chainsaw chain, and a couple of carabiner clips or steel rings if you have them. I had a commercially made one that I carried in my airplane survival vest for years. Gave it to my daughter when she started flying helicopters.

    You can roll it up and takes up almost no space in a pack, pocket or car survival kit.

    The little wire saws are pretty much useless, and axes and fold up saws take up a lot more space.

    OBTW, you can use the chainsaw chain as a bow saw by adding a suitable sized stout stick as the bow.

    • Tinderwolf March 8, 2019, 1:15 pm

      Thanks for the tips!

  • headhunter June 12, 2019, 2:45 pm

    The Swen Saw was invented by a gent who watched a guy come out of the BWCA after misusing with an axe. A saw is lighter ,however, eventually it will get pinched so a plastic wedge is a good thing to have. Usually you can find a rock to strike the wedge freeing your saw A saw makes a lot of sense if indeed survival uses a “yardstick” and you measure energy put in for what you get out (batoning is despiration!). An axe, too few actually know how to use it and the BSA no longer teaches its use. What is the difference between a felling axe and a splitting axe, if you’re chopping branches off a felled tree (called lopping)- what side do you stand on and in which direction do you cut? You stand on the opposite side and cut towards the top. Chopping a downed log in two, how wide should your cut be? At least as wide as the tree is thick. If you’re clearing younger trees , if you bend them and cut across the grain your work will go faster. If you’re splitting wood, a foot log piece will split easier than a 16″ piece. If you see a crack. aim for the crack on your down stroke. if your chopping wood sand with your feet equal distant from your chopping block,take a slow motion swing at the piece you want to split, BEND AT THE WAIST and you’ll be less likely to “over shoot” and break a handle or “under shoot” and endanger your legs. Bending lets you know where your bit will strike. Always grab one hand up near the head and he other the end of the handle, as you reach the apex (top) slide your top hand down to your bottom hand. This will give your downward stroke its power. Asyou get more experienced, keep your feet spread on the ground , but your pelvis and shoulders should in a circular motion towards your top hand. It seems that a 3/4 axe is the most practical for all kinds of work. If you’re cutting kindling, put the bit of the axe on the far end of the wood you’re splitting and when you bring them up and down together-PLEASE, strike the far edge of your cutting block! I will really hurt your knuckles on the hand holding the wood id you don’t.

  • old soldier June 16, 2019, 9:20 pm

    I would go with the axe,but specifically a bearded viking type axe the blade can be used like knife when you shorten up on the handle,yet it can still be used as an axe, if you drop your grip to the end of the handle.

  • old soldier June 16, 2019, 9:23 pm

    I would go with the axe,but specifically a bearded viking type axe the blade can be used like knife when you shorten up on the handle,yet it can still be used as an axe, if you drop your grip to the end of the far as machetes,Iwould prefer a well made kukri, in d2 steel,pretty much indestructable.

  • old soldier June 16, 2019, 9:29 pm

    inmho, most saw blades are too flimsy,once it binds or breaks, you’re pretty much hosed,unless you carry a spare blade,saw is pretty much useless for self-defense.IMHO axe is the way to go.


Leave a Comment