Gerber Pack Hatchet Long-term Review: Wasted Effort
This is a very popular little “axe”, and there are a lot of great reviews written by people who have likely never seriously used it. As a backpacker, I appreciate lightweight gear, and strive to shave every ounce I can – but my tools still need to perform.
I have tried and tested this axe over multiple trips, plus spent deliberate testing time to see what it could do.
The Gerber Pack Hatchet is both lightweight and compact but performs significantly worse than other compact hatchets with a more traditional design. The limited weight reduction doesn’t justify the reduced performance.
My recommendation is the Fiskars X5. It’s a similar price, only weighs 2oz (60g) more, and performs better in basically every way. I have an in-depth comparison with pictures or you can see it on amazon.
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What the Gerber Pack Hatchet is Made For
This axe is designed to be tossed in a backpack, tackle box, hunting bag, or any other system that will take you out in the bush. Areas where you aren’t expecting to do axe work, but want one just in case things go south.
People get hurt or lost, and sometimes you need to be able to do things like get an unexpected fire going or do some makeshift crafting in the field.
It’s small and light enough to fit the role but has some major design issues that remove it from consideration in my books.
I now use mine for breaking down boxes in the garage – it’s great at that…
The Flawed design of Ultralight Pack Axes
Whether you are chopping or splitting wood an axe uses weight and a wedge-shaped head to work. This style of “pack axe” has neither. The truth is the Gerber Pack Axe is basically just an axe shape knife.
Slim Pack Axes Are Not Axes
The Pack Axe is made from a single piece of steel (5.5mm/0.2″ wide) with rubberized grips attached to the handle. So not only does this “axe” not have a wedge-shaped head, but most of the weight is concentrated in the handle. So while the axe (without sheath) still weighs over a pound, less than half of that is in the head.
So I consider this more like a knife – but you can’t even baton it through wood if needed because the short axe-shaped blade often isn’t long enough.
It’s Not Comfortable to Use
The middle of the grip is rubberized, but if you move your hand at all you will fine all kinds of knobs, edges, and grooves that make it look cool but a pain to use.
It’s like Gerber forgot this was a striking tool, not a knife. Whether it’s the metal finger grooves or the shape’s polymer handle, all nubby little details are uncomfortable and will hurt your hands if you don’t wear gloves.
The Sheath is Big and Annoying
Large nylon sheaths like this are heavy, and more importantly it’s really annoying to have to force the axe in and out of. It takes two hands and it only gets harder if you strap it to your pack by the sheath.
Performance in the Field
This isn’t theoretical criticism – I tested this axe over a year and compared it to all the other backpacking axes I own. I tested it by chopping wood, limbing branches, splitting kindling, and even a little carving.
Chopping & Limbing with the Pack Axe
The Gerber Pack Axe is okay for chopping or limbing through small sticks and twigs for tinder and kindling. Again, it acts much like a knife. But in my books that doesn’t cut it (pun intended).
If something goes sideways in the bush you want to be able to chop wood to make a strong fire for heat, comfort, or as a signal for help. Using larger pieces of wood will keep the fire going so you can take care of other tasks. If you only use small sticks from the ground, you’ll have to feed the fire constantly.
Anything 2″ or greater and the chopping became a noticeable problem compared to a more traditional hand hatchet like the Fiskars. You can see in the image above how small the chips were with the Gerber when chopping through a 5″ log. The axe is just too thin and too light to dig deep into denser wood.
Okay for Splitting Kindling
It actually did this better than I expected with seasoned firewood. The thin blade slid right rough the grain and was able to cut fibers. So for purchased campsite firewood, this axe did alright.
But it’s still not as effective as a hand hatchet with a heavier wedge-shaped head, and would bounce off or get stuck in larger pieces – requiring a few more whacks.
And I can’t think of a scenario where you have pre-cut firewood but don’t have the ability to bring a slightly larger/heavier hatchet.
This is not a Carving Axe
You do have decent control and a nice long edge for carving with this axe. But it’s uncomfortable to use, and the lack of weight in the head makes it really hard to use for anything more than small notches or shaping marshmallow sticks.
You aren’t going to use this to carve a spoon or anything substantial like that. You would be better suited with a normal pocket knife.
3 Better Options than the Gerber Pack Axe
There are 3 good options to consider in a similar price point and weight that blow the pack axe away.
1. The Fiskars X5
The X5 is the axe I have carried most while backpacking the last couple of years despite owning much more expensive options.
The Fiskars X5 has an efficient 1lb wedge-shaped head, but still only weighs a total of 1.35 lbs with the sheath. So most of the weight is smart “working weight” and it performs well for both chopping and splitting tasks despite its small size.
Plus it’s affordable to top it all off. I bought an aftermarket leather sheath, which reduces the footprint and weight even more.
I have a lot more info about Fiskars on the site if you want to do more research.
2. The Gerber 9 is just a Black Fiskars X5
I don’t know why Gerber bothers with the pack axe, because (fun fact) – Gerber is owned by Fiskars. And they already have a black version of the X5 that is Gerber branded.
So, if you don’t like orange the Gerber 9 is exactly the same as the X5, but it’s all black with a green sheath. Sometimes there are price differences so it’s worth checking.
Note: Gerber makes ANOTHER very similar-looking axe called the “Gerber Gator” which is made in Thailand and of lower quality.
3. The Lexivon V9 is a budget X5
I like this axe WAY more than I was expecting to. The compact Lexivon V9 is essentially a knock-off Fiskars X5 that is around half the price.
I was expecting this to be trash like most of the other axes at this price point – but it performs pretty darn well. It has a similar head shape and actually manages to weigh slightly less. I don’t think the steel is as good as Fiskars, and the finish is noticeably lower quality – but it works well.
It comes with a little “bag-clip” style plastic sheath that is odd – but really light and compact.
The larger models of Lexivon have issues – and I wouldn’t recommend them. But in this size and role, I think it could be considered (Although I would still take the Fiskars first).
If I missed something or you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below. I do my best to respond to everyone.
About the author:
I’m an amateur outdoorsman who loves axes – as a tool, the craft of restoring them, and the history. I got tired of only finding crap websites, so I set out to build a reliable one myself.
Jim B. – Owner, Creator