Best Tomahawks: Our Top Hawks For Backwoods To Battlefields (2024)

Best Tomahawks: Our Top Hawks For Backwoods To Battlefields (2024)
Hot spike tomahawks, from right: Browning Shock ‘N Awe, Cold Steel War Hawk, RMJ Tactical Knight Hawk and SOG Survival Hawk.

The tomahawk has been used for centuries as a hand weapon in battle and a tool for everything from chopping wood to processing animals. In modern times, it has evolved into an all-around survival tool used by military and civilians alike.

The parallels between the use of the tomahawk in the 18th century and that of the modern battlefield are numerous and worth consideration. It turns out the reasons behind the tomahawk’s popularity in the woods of Colonial America are often the same reasons they are popular with U.S. troops and backwoodsmen today.

Tomahawk History

The word tomahawk is a variation of the Algonquian word tomahac (also spelled in English multiple ways), which means “to strike.” It was a term that was used originally for any striking weapon, from wooden clubs to axes made of stone.

In 1608, Capt. John Smith of Jamestown, Virginiawas the first person to record the word in English, mentioning it was used to describe the hatchets carried by his men. Axes and clubs were symbols of power and status for native cultures going back centuries.

This, combined with the numerous advantages held by the metal tomahawk over its stone predecessors, made the European-fashioned metal tomahawks popular trade items with the local tribes. As trade increased, new forms evolved to meet the demands of the market, and tomahawks with pipes, spikes and hammers were traded by the thousands.

Carl Russell, author of Firearms, Traps & Tools of the Mountain Men, speculates that, as the classic trade ‘hawk’ became the norm with Native tribes, newer, less pragmatic forms evolved to fill the warrior status niche.

Tomahawk Uses

Dragon Tomahawk
The Dragon Tomahawk is 20.5 inches overall, with a 4-inch cutting surface of damascus and a curly maple handle. The head is wrought iron and 1018 mild steel forged into a “W’s” pattern, and the blade steel is 1080, 15N20 and 201 series nickel forged together to create Bill’s Dragon’s Breath pattern. (SharpByCoop image)

The tomahawk is a true multi-purpose tool. With it one can dress game, chop wood, and clear brush. Choking up on the handle, the user can use it much like a knife. The length of the handle gives the blade tremendous velocity and force as well, making it a formidable weapon. These attributes were not lost on the Western frontiersmen who often adopted the tools and lifestyles of the Native tribes.

This adoption became even more apparent as the frontiersmen went to war. They employed the same guerrilla warfare tactics used by the Native tribes, and they carried the tomahawks so prized by them. One equipment list for volunteers into the American militias mentions “a sword or tomahawk” as a required item right along with a rifle, powder, and lead.

Tomahawk In The 21st Century

This rich history would be enough to secure the tomahawk’s place among the iconic tools and weapons of American history, but the story does not stop there. 

Peter LaGana, founder of the American Tomahawk Company, was famous for his tomahawk made popular during the Vietnam War. Also privately purchased by soldiers, it proved a valuable tool and weapon in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

The true rebirth of the tomahawk, however, would be brought about by the Global War on Terrorism after the attacks on 9/11. Some members of the Special Operations community began carrying tomahawks as part of Col. John Mulholland’s Joint Special Operations Task Force, also known as Task Force Dagger, when only 300 Americans were in Afghanistan on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

The number of soldiers carrying tomahawks increased throughout the next decade of war, but why? The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were asymmetric wars that had more in common with the guerrilla fighting of frontier America. The tomahawk once again served as a valuable tool and weapon in this environment.

Our 12 Best Tomahawks For 2023

The modern tomahawk comes in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of uses and included features. These are a dozen across a variety of price points that show what the modern hawk is designed to do and how companies are getting creative with them.

Browning Shock’ N Awe

Browning Shock n Awe
The Browning Shock ‘N Awe is a compact tomahawk that packs a big punch. Despite its small size, it still has the heft to be a very effective chopper.

The Shock ‘N Awe is 10.5 inches overall. The head is 2.75 inches and offers a curved penetration spike for light breaching. The head, spike, and handle are forged from one piece of 1055 high carbon steel and covered in a black epoxy coating for corrosion resistance and  low glare.

The handle is in a traditional Japanese style with a hand-wrapped overlapping cord. It looks great and it seems a perfect match for this size of hawk. The 3D nature of the wrap segments creates alternating ridges that help provide an ultra-secure grip in all conditions. The exposed pommel terminates in a skull-crusher shape.

The Shock ’N Awe comes with a molded polymer sheath with MOLLE-compatible attachment provisions. The sheath encases the entire head and spike which  pivots into and out of the sheath. A locking tab that pivots down over the spike end of the sheath prevents the sheath halves from separating, effectively locking the hawk into the sheath.

The hawk gets into tight places easier and is more maneuverable than larger models. It’s easier to carry as well. It easily takes down small saplings and de-limbs them as well. The Shock ’N Awe would be great for splitting kindling, including via a baton.

The spike is pointy but not so much that it can break off. It penetrates wood and other materials effectively, and can be used for digging as well. It opened up a good-sized hole in plywood when used in a rocking motion after penetration. 

Shock’ N Awe Specs
Blade Material:
1055 Tool Steel
Overall Length: 10.5 inches
Edge Length: 2.75 inches
Weight: 23.6 ounces
Handle Material: Hand-Wrapped Nylon Paracord
MSRP: $127.49

RMJ Tactical Knight Hawk

RMJ Tactical Knight Hawk
The RMJ Tactical Knight Hawk is an excellent chopper.

ABS master smith Jason Knight and RMJ Tactical co-designed the Tactical Knight Hawk to handle a variety of jobs, not just chopping. It’s 14.5 inches long and feels agile in the hand with a weight of 23 ounces. The cutting edge is 2.875 inches, and the blade is made from 80CRV2. Blade thickness: .275 inch. The handle is 3D-machined black G-10 riveted/permanently attached to the tang.

There is a slight downward turn to the cutting edge that accentuates power, which is in contrast to most hawks where the edge is parallel to the handle. As a result, the cutting edge engages and shears more effectively after impact. This is one reason why the Knight Hawk isn’t head heavy like many hawks, yet can outchop many of them. 

This translates to extended use without wearing you out. By the same token, being agile in hand suits it for tasks few hawks are adept at, such as whittling and making fuzz sticks.

The spike is the shortest one of all the hawks tested, though that does not mean it is the least effective. Resembling a fat knife blade rather than a true spike, it sports a semi-sharpened edge at the bottom. The spine tapers down slightly but leaves more than enough material for tip strength and to withstand heavy penetration strikes. 

The Knight Hawk is practically bulletproof, devastatingly effective, and a pleasure to use. It comes in a choice of three Cerakote® color options: Savage Steel , OD Green, and Desert Tan. 

Tactical Knight Hawk Specs
Blade Material
: 80CRV2
Overall Length: 14.5 inches
Edge Length: 2.875 inches
Weight: 23 ounces
Handle Material: G-10
MSRP: $525

Cold Steel War Hawk

Measuring 19 inches overall, the Cold Steel War Hawk features a head of drop-forged 1055 carbon steel for toughness and a textured polypropylene handle. The partial tang is inset into the handle and secured by two large bolts, and you can replace it easily should it break. 

The wide, bearded axe head excels at chopping and cutting. The tang area just behind the head has a few finger grooves for choking up for whittling or more precise cuts. The double-ground spike has a distinctive tanto-ish shape for maximum penetration and power. The spike is ground on top and bottom to remove material for enhanced penetration.

The handle is comfortable, and the texturing promotes good grip traction in various conditions. The sheath is a clever double-articulated design that encases most of the head. The sheath has two pivots—one at the spike end, the other at the beard end. The sheath is secure and doesn’t fall off. The only negative is there is no belt-attachment provision. Consequently, the War Hawk is ideal for storing in your truck for camping expeditions.

With the tanto-tip-beveled spike, the War Hawk had great penetration through plywood. In order for it to be an effective chopping/breaching tool, there must be zero flex in the handle. If Cold Steel went to a hickory wood handle it would improve the War Hawk’s performance. As is, it might make a great throwing tomahawk. 

War Hawk Specs
Blade Material: 1055 Carbon Steel
Overall Length: 19 inches
Edge Length: 3 inches
Weight: 29.5 ounces
Handle Material: Polypropylene
MSRP: $71.99

SOG Survival Hawk

SOG Survival Hawk
The spike of the SOG Survival Hawk works well and achieved good penetration into plywood.

 A little over a foot long, the Survival Hawk is compact enough to tote around while camping. The head is cast from 2Cr carbon steel with a cutting edge of 3 inches and a distinctive spike on the opposite end. The spike is not only designed for penetration, but the slot can be used to pull nails or bend wire. When held in the icepick grip with the head pointed toward the ground, the Survival Hawk can be employed as a hammer.

For added versatility, a fire-starting ferrocerium rod screws into the handle butt. The glass-reinforced-nylon-handle material is lightweight while the full-tang design promotes strength and superb balance. The gripping area of the handle is wrapped with paracord for comfort. The exposed portion of the tang in between the paracord handle and the head has a series of traction notches.  Grip the area tightly up against the head to carve or whittle with extra control.

The head is all black but the grind bevels are satin finished, creating a striking visual contrast. At 19.5 ounces the Survival Hawk has the weight it needs to deal effective chopping blows. Given its light weight and compact length, don’t expect it to tackle heavy/extended chopping tasks, as you’ll end up having to use more arm power. It actually works pretty well and bit hard into saplings. If you need a hawk for chopping on an as-needed basis, then this is an ideal one to consider. 

The Survival Hawk comes with a sturdy ballistic nylon sheath with a stiff inner liner and sports sewn and riveted construction. A button-snap flap closure secures the sheath around the head. A large nylon webbing loop provides easy belt attachment.

The spike works well, and the notch in the center serves as a nail puller. However, the spike might penetrate better without it. Nonetheless, it achieved decent penetration into plywood. However, just like with the head, the spike would also be more effective if the handle were longer for extra leverage for a more powerful swing. Conversely, the Survival Hawk is still loaded with useful features.

Survival Hawk Specs
Blade Material: 2Cr
Overall Length: 12.1 inches
Edge Length: 3 inches
Weight: 19.5 ounces
Handle Material: Glass-Reinforced Nylon
MSRP: $69.95

Spyderco Warrior Hawk

Spyderco Warrior Hawk
The holes are not just for aesthetics on the Spyderco Warrior Hawk. Designer Laci Szabo indicated the top hole can be used to create a leash similar to that used on ice axes, and a chain can be attached to the hole at the end of the handle so the hawk can double as a hook.

Laci Szabo, United States Marine Corps veteran and New Mexico police officer who served as a breacher on SWAT teams, designed an urban multi-tool to fill the bill. The result is the Spyderco Warrior Hawk, a striking modern design with an angular blade and Spyderco’s signature cutout holes.

The Warrior Hawk is designed to punch out tires, break vehicle windows, cut cables, and handle prying tasks. The apex of the angle ground into the cutting edge of the head concentrates the power of the swing while preventing the material from binding up on the edge.

The holes are not just for aesthetics. Szabo indicated that the top hole can be used to create a leash similar to that used on ice axes, and a chain can be attached to the bottom hole so the hawk can double as a hook.

Szabo wanted a handle different from existing tomahawk designs, so he configured the G-10 handle to resemble that of a conventional hammer. He said the overbuilt design consists of D2 tool steel that’s .3 inches thick, a material that can be heat treated to a high Rockwell hardness yet still has “wear resistance and pry ability,” according to Spyderco.

Warrior Hawk Specs
Blade Material
: D2
Overall Length: 13.68 inches
Edge Length: 2.17 inches/.79 inches for top edge
Weight: 28.5 ounces
Handle Material: G-10
: $550

CRKT Jenny Wren Compact

The challenge for Ryan Johnson in designing the Jenny Wren for CRKT was to make a pint-sized version of a tomahawk. The original version made by Johnson’s RMJ Tactical saw use by special operations forces starting in 2010. Meanwhile, the design also makes for a great outdoor tool.

When CRKT began offering its version of the Jenny Wren, the idea was to fill a need for people heading outdoors that were looking for durable and innovative axe designs.

One of the most notable features is the sharpened edge running across the top of the head. While it was originally designed to maximize slicing cuts, the edge also reduces drag. “It’s the material that is not in the way that makes a difference with this design,” Johnson said.

The ambidextrous sheath allows multiple modes of carry, including a belt, sling or attachment to a MOLLE system. “Everyone tends to forget the importance of the scabbard,” Johnson observed. “If you can’t carry it, you can’t use it. In the case of a tomahawk it’s important to have a safe way to carry it multiple ways.”

Jenny Wren Compact Specs
Blade Material
: SK-5; D2
Overall Length: 10.06 inches; 13.68 inches
Edge Length: 2.5 inches; 2.17 inches
Weight: 17.92 ounces; 28.5 ounces
Handle Material: Glass-Reinforced Nylon; G-10
: $119; $550

Browning Wihongi Signature Series Tomahawk

Designed by Jared Wihongi, this hawk features a Maori-inspired tribal motif on the head. The tomahawk-like patiti was a weapon of choice for Maori warriors in New Zealand shortly after they first began arming themselves with metal tools long ago, and the head design harkens back to that time.

The satin-finished 420 stainless head showcases the design well. At .25 inches thick, and coming it at 26.4 ounces, the hawk has the heft and size to make quick work chopping through most material. A semi-sharpened edge on the spike end allows for a moderately precise puncturing tool as well.

At 13 inches in length, it’s long enough to get a good whack without exerting your arm too much. The hawk features a paracord-wrapped polymer/composite handle, and where the head meets the handle is reinforced for sturdiness.

Wihongi Signature Series Specs
Blade Material
: 420 Stainless Steel
Overall Length: 13 inches
Edge Length: 2.875 inches
Weight: 26.4 ounces
Handle Material: Cord-wrapped composite
: $69.99

Winkler Wild Bill Axe

Winkler Wild Bill Axe

Daniel Winkler is tight-lipped when it comes to the teams and units he works with. His Winkler Knives Wild Bill tomahawk was designed with the help of Kevin Holland, Navy SEAL and U.S. Army Special Operations veteran

The axe was named after William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was head of the precursor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services, during World War II. 

The hawk is both a tool and art considering the craftsmanship that went into it. It starts with the flat-ground 80CrV2 blade with a black Caswell finish for improved corrosion resistance. The tapered-tang design ends at the integral spike at the butt of the axe, which works well to crush and pry. It’s not the best puncturing tool as it is unsharpened.

The 13.25-inch maple wood handle is wrapped in black cord for most of the top half of the handle for better grip, especially when choking up on the axe for precise slicing. The 22.2 ounces are distributed well, making for a great swing every time.

Wild Bill Axe Specs
Blade Material
: 80CrV2 with black Caswell finish
Overall Length: 13.25 inches
Edge Length: 2.25 inches
Weight: 22.2 ounces
Handle Material: Maple Wood with Black Cord
: $600

Estwing Black Eagle Tomahawk

Estwing Black Eagle Tomahawk

The Estwing Black Eagle Tomahawk feels much more like a tool than a hawk. The rubberized grip absorbs shock and is very comfortable. You can’t choke up on the head like you can some other hawks, though you could add some paracord for the purpose. 

The Black Eagle is the epitome of durability. It’s not flashy and has the company’s logo deeply embossed on the tang. The balance is incorrect for throwing but that’s not really the Black Eagle’s role. It is a demolition tool, plain and simple. The head is dimensioned correctly for the same feel as swinging a hammer. 

It has a raised equator from its high points, can be used to punch into various materials, and is very easy to withdraw. It can go through just about anything despite the fact it is not sharp on the corners and the tip is more or less rounded off.

In wet, grimy conditions it performed extremely well and goes through wood easily, both in destroying wood structures and splitting firewood. The hawk punches through sheet metal with ease. If you’re looking for a hawk that is less showpiece and more hard-working tool, this is your best bet. 

Black Eagle
Blade Material
: Drop-Forged Tool Steel
Overall Length: 16 inches
Edge Length: 2.5 inches
Weight: 24 ounces
Handle Material: Rubber
: $49.99

Winkler Combat Axe

Winkler Combat Axe

At $600 the Winkler Combat Axe is not just a big chunk of change, it’s also an incredibly strong, rugged chunk of 80CrV2 carbon steel. Not only is it functional, it’s also forged at the company started by the individual largely responsible for the popularity of the modern tomahawk, Daniel Winkler.

The Combat Axe is easy to draw from the belt. The sheath is extremely functional and allows you to remove the Combat Axe one-handed with little effort. The handle runs all the way up to the head and provides an excellent grip at any point along its length.

Of note is the shape of the spike. It is reminiscent of a flat-end bayonet point commonly seen on Russian rifles like the SKS and Mosin-Nagant. Its shape allows it to be used as both a prybar and lever, and it can be swung into material with great force and then used to pull it apart. 

The Combat Axe’s edge profile did just fine splitting light amounts of firewood. It also removes branches quite easily in one swing. Because the handle extends right up to the head, there is a risk of damage should you try to split large pieces of wood. The sheath is a major selling point. 

The Combat Axe is definitely worth the price, though for the same amount you can buy numerous other hawks multiple times over. 

Combat Axe Specs
Blade Material
: 80CrV2
Overall Length: 13.75 inches
Edge Length: 2.5 inches
Weight: 24 ounces
Handle Material: Black Canvas Laminate
: $600

Cold Steel Trench Hawk

Cold Steel Trench Hawk

When it comes to durability, the Cold Steel Trench Hawk is quite similar to many of the company’s edged tools. While none of Cold Steel’s functional cutters would win a beauty contest, they certainly have it where it counts when being used. The blade arrived razor sharp, almost too sharp for its own good. Likewise, the spike is substantially longer and much sharper than those of the other test models.

The Trench Hawk is a favorite for throwing.. The company sells replacement handles for around $7 should you break one. It severs branches with extreme ease, though such a task is more of a problem than you might think. The polypropylene handle doesn’t just go up to the head, it terminates right in the middle of it. If you strike too hard, it inevitably will drive the blade in up to the handle, which can cause damage. 

The longest of the test hawks, it gains excellent velocity when swung. The handle shape, while correct for a tomahawk, is a bit too smooth and slippery when wet. Another issue is the spike’s length and profile. It’s simply so large that it borders on being unusable for standard chores. It punches through just about anything, from metal to wood, but tends to get stuck easily. Getting it dislodged can be somewhat dangerous

Trench Hawk
Blade Material
: 1055 Carbon Steel
Overall Length: 19 inches
Edge Length: 3.75 inches
Weight: 29 ounces
Handle Material: Polypropylene
: $67.99

SOG Pro Tactical Tomahawk

SOG Pro Tactical Tomahawk

The SOG Pro Tactical Tomahawk is about as barebones as you can get while still being functional. Upon arrival it had a very sharp edge with a blunted, angular spike. The edge was covered in a transparent coating that flaked off during use. The balance of the hawk is excellent and, like the Estwing, has a modern, swept head with an upturned edge. It cuts deep, easily chops firewood, and is excellent for taking down branches. The overall shape and profile are quite minimal, a big plus across the board.

A major downside is the handle. While very strong, it’s rounded and the textured finger grooves don’t provide much extra grip. Because conditions were wet during most of the testing, it was difficult holding onto the handle if the swing wasn’t spot perfect. It wants to rotate in the hand and, while wearing a glove does fix some of that, it’s not an all-around solution. 

The spike was functional but had a similar issue to the Cold Steel Trench Hawk in that once it punched through a material, it was hard to remove. For the price, it is an excellent working hawk. It could stand some improvement but should hold up quite well.

Pro Tactical Tomahawk Specs
Blade Material
: 420 HC Stainless
Overall Length: 15.75 inches
Edge Length: 2.75 inches
Weight: 24 ounces
Handle Material: Black Glass-Reinforced Nylon
: $47.99

Editor’s Note: Dexter Ewing, Daniel Jackson, Josh Wayner, and Ryan M. Johnson contributed to this piece.

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