Wednesday, May 15, 2013

REVIEW: The Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet- Have hatchets gone wild?


Have hatchets gone wild? With the arrival of Gerber's new Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet, this just might be the case.

In a surprise turn in the market, hatchets are becoming hot again, after years of languishing in obscurity on dusty hardware store shelves and warehouse overstock sections.

Long passed over by the public who were more enamored of their flashier survival knife cousins, hatchets that used to be shunned as thick-edged and unhip are suddenly the hottest thing-- who da thunk it?

SPECS:

Overall length: 9.46“ (24cm)
Blade length: 3.5“ (8.9cm)
Weight without sheath: 18.6 ounces (as weighed on a digital postal scale)
Weight with sheath: 21.1 ounces (as weighed on a digital postal scale)
Steel Type: 3Cr13MoV
Handle Material: Polypropylene
Sheath Material: Cordura Nylon with velcro closure
Country of manufacture: China


The Hatchet

Milled from a solid bar of 3Cr13MoV Stainless Steel, reportedly in the same factory as the Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife, the Survival Hatchet is designed to be a simple, compact, yet indestructible survival tool.


Its one piece construction, reminescent of Estwing Hatchets, sports a handle made from a hard rubber grip material that's nearly identical to that used on the original Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife. There are finger grooves closer towards the head, which make for a more secure grip when choking up on it for detailed work.

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The Survival Hatchet next to its close cousin- the Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Knife (upper left) and the new Ultimate Pro Survival Knife (lower left):
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Note the similarity in overall construction and appearance between the Survival Hatchet and the original Ultimate Knife:

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SHEATH

The Survival Hatchet comes with a belt-wearable Cordura Nylon sheath, reminiscent of the sheath that came with Gerber's now defunct Sport Axe.

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Comparison/Profile Shots

Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet next to the recently discontinued Fiskars X5 Mini-Hatchet:
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Profile Comparison (BG Survival Hatchet on the left):


The Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet next to Estwing's 12" all steel Hatchet:


Profile Comparison (Survival Hatchet on the left):


Factory Edge

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Survival Hatchet came with a razor-sharp edge right out of the box. This makes it the only production hatchet under $40 that comes with this kind of edge. You generally have to spend two to three times more in order to get this kind of edge on a production hatchet.

Here's a comparison of the edge next to Gerber's Ultimate Survival Knife. Though most production axes come with a rounded, convex edge, the Survival Hatchet's edge comes with a standard v-grind that is typically used on knives:

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Hammer Poll

Due to its slender profile, the Survival Hatchet has a very thin hammer poll. (Check out the field testing section below to see how it performed)


FIELD TESTING!

The testing battery was simple -- I wanted to see how well the Survival Hatchet would do while performing common tasks that any hatchet worth its mettle should be able to handle. Things like chopping and splitting kindling, pounding tent stakes, and bucking small sub-4" logs should be second nature for a good hatchet. Also, in a bushcraft and wilderness survival role, having a sharp hatchet that can carve like a knife is a great asset. 

Chopping down a small, dead Aspen tree, bucking out a log, and splitting it into kindling

While wandering around the woods at one of my favorite bushcraft spots, I ran across a couple of small, dead Aspen trees that turned out to be great candidates for testing the Survival Hatchet's chopping and splitting ability. The one on the right had more of a clear space in which to fall, so I turned my attention to it and used the Survival Hatchet to chop it down.


Since the Survival Hatchet is so small and lightweight, it took some extra swings to bring down the tree, but it did get the job done.


I then selected a relatively straight area of the tree to buck out a log to split into dry kindling.


The Survival Hatchet handled this task reasonably well, but once again it took a few more swings to get the job done due to it's light weight.


The log measured roughly 3 1/8" wide.


I then laid the bucked log in a notch chopped out of a deadfall tree, in order to split it.


First Swing:


A few swings later and I was able to split the Aspen log clean in half. The thin profile of the Survival Hatchet won't win any awards for splitting, but as long as the logs are kept under 4", it still gets the job done.


Success! Despite the log being rather twisted and difficult to split, I was able to reduce it into a nice pile of campfire-ready kindling.


Fine Carving Test #1- Making a Featherstick

Using one of the pieces split from the Aspen log, I created a tiny featherstick. The Survival Hatchet turned out to be a very competent hatchet for fine carving work, owing to its thin profile and knife-style edge.


Fine Carving Test #2- Tent Stake

For the second carving test, I found a dead Fir tree branch that was a good size for converting into a tent stake.


Using just the hatchet, I carved out a rough, but usable stake and then drove it into the ground with the hammer poll.

The Survival Hatchet did an excellent job with carving out the tent stake, but driving the stake into the ground without destroying the top of it (due to the thin poll) proved a bit more challenging. As long as I took it easy, the Survival Hatchet got the job done, but it definitely lacks in this department compared to most traditional hatchets.

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Chopping Test #1- The Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet vs the Fiskars X5 Mini-Hatchet

For the first chopping test, I pitted the Survival Hatchet against the recently discontinued, but highly effective Fiskars X5 Mini-Hatchet. Each hatchet was used to chop 30 times into a dead Aspen tree.


Though the weight of the hatchets varies by less than two ounces (the X5 comes in at 1.8 ounces lighter), the X5 carries much more of its weight in the head. This gave it a definite advantage over the Survival Hatchet  in the chopping test.
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Chopping Test #2- The Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet vs the 12" Estwing Hatchet

For this test, I obtained a 12" Estwing Hatchet, and spent a few minutes sharpening the edge to bring it up to par with the Survival Hatchet. Though the latest Estwing Hatchets come with thin, Gransfors Bruks' style edges, they still require some hand sharpening before doing any serious chopping.

After 30 chops into a dead Lodgepole Pine, it was apparent that the Estwing dominated this test even more than the Fiskars X5 did the previous test.

Like the X5, the Estwing has more weight towards the head than the Survival Hatchet. It also has a length and weight advantage, coming in at roughly 2" longer in overall length and about 3/4 of an ounce heavier. These features definitely gave the Estwing a significant advantage (look for our upcoming review of Estwing's thinner-profiled hatchets by mid-summer).


Chopping Test #3- The Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet vs the Ontario 10.5" Bladed RTAK II Survival Knife

Sorry NutNFancy, but the mighty Ontario RTAK II, 10.5" blade and all, got bested by the 3.8 ounce lighter Survival Hatchet in the chopping test, which consisted of 40 chops into a dead Lodgepole Pine tree.

Though big survival knives like the Ontario RTAK II are well constructed and make excellent survival tools, they just can't overcome the Law of Physics when it comes to chopping performance, which favors weight-forward axes and hatchets. 
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I believe this chopping effectiveness over a big knife is one of the reasons hatchets are making a comeback. Many people are discovering just how effective a hatchet can be when properly sharpened and profiled, as evidenced by this test. Another reason is that unlike many survival knives, it's extremely rare to see a Youtube video where a hatchet "broke in half." 

Conclusion

Though it's not something I'd recommend to serious axe users, who would be better served with a more capable Estwing or traditional wood-handled hatchet, if you're new to the world of axes, and want to try a sharp, affordable, and easy to use hatchet to see why "hatchets have gone wild," the Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet just might be the ticket for your next wilderness adventure.

Pros

Factory-honed razor-sharp edge right out of the box. Unlike its competition, the Survival Hatchet doesn't require experience sharpening axes to make it optimal.

Great hatchet for fine carving, making it a good candidate for bushcrafting

Lightweight, easier for less experienced people to use.

Edge-holding is respectable for a soft steel. No edge degradation occurred during the tests, indicating good toughness and durability. 

One piece construction means no alignment issues or worrying about a wood handle breaking.

Comfortable, secure handle

Decent Cordura nylon belt carry sheath

Outchopped an RTAK II!

Cons

The thin hammer poll makes pounding in tent stakes more challenging than most hatchets

Overall length is a bit short, could really benefit from an extra 1-2"

Weight not distributed towards the head as much as most hatchets, making it less effective as a chopper

Not drop-forged like most hatchets

Experienced axe enthusiasts will probably enjoy the feel and performance of a traditional hatchet or Estwing better.

Made in China (the Estwing is made in the USA and Fiskars is made in Finland)

Overall Rating- 3.75 out of 5 Stars

The Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet is available at Lifeview Outdoors:

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