These two little hatchets can be very appealing for a lightweight axe for backpacking, day hikes, or emergency kits. They are small and light enough to be carried without being a hassle.
The Fiskars X5 and Gerber Pack Axe are similar in size, weight, and price. However, they are very different designs. The Gerber is a slim uniform all-steel design, while only the Fiskars wedge-shaped head is steel. The Fiskars outperforms the Pack axe in chopping, splitting, and ergonomics.
|Gerber Pack Axe
This Gerber is one of the better slim-style pack axes, but I would still never choose it over an X5. Fiskars owns Gerber so these products are actually from the same company.
There is a black Gerber branded version that is identical to the X5 (made by Fiskars) which can sometimes be easier to find in USA/Canada.
The easiest way to find the X5 is on Amazon. It’s not carried in many hardware stores. I found this model to be harder to find in North America than many others.
There is a black Gerber branded version that is identical to the X5 (made by Fiskars) which can sometimes be easier to find in USA/Canada and sometimes be a better price.
Why the Fiskars is a better axe design
The Fiskars X5 is a true hand-hatchet, with the same wedge-shaped 1lb head as the larger X7. The X5 is only made smaller by having a shorter 9-inch composite handle, and a reduced flare at the base of the grip.
The FiberComp handles on Fiskars are very light, so when you are chopping or splitting 81% of the weight is concentrated in the head. Which helps this axe to perform above its size.
Truthfully, I don’t consider the Gerber Pack Axe an axe. It’s an axe-shaped knife. It is a single, slim piece of steel (5.5mm/0.2″ wide) with rubberized grips attached to the handle.
And even though it’s only 60g/2oz lighter than the Fiskars, most of the weight is in the handle. I tried to balance it where the head begins, and the handle side drops immediately. The slim profile and concentration of weight in the handle are both bad choices for an axe.
And while I consider this more like a knife, I would rather just take a big survival knife. A large traditional knife would be more versatile, and I have some that even have a wider spine than this “axe”.
Not to be too harsh, but they really managed to hit the worst of both worlds with this design
Smooth axe handles are better in hand
The one-piece smooth handle of the Fiskars is nicer in hand, and more comfortable in more positions. You can choke up and hold it right under the head, and move your hand down to the knob without interruption. To get more leverage, you can grip around the knob for a little more length.
You can do all the same holds with the Gerber, but all the bumps, knobs, and metal finger grooves are not as comfortable. The rubber part of the grip isn’t terrible, but metal grooves near the top are unpleasant.
The Fiskars sheath is much faster
The Fiskars sheath is a really smart design. The axe can be removed almost instantly with the flip of a switch, and it can be operated one-handed. The open design also allows for water and moisture to flow out and escape, to help reduce rust.
The Gerber Pack axe has a standard Nylon sheath, which is common for cheaper axes. These sheaths are a little trickier, as you need to work the whole axe through it. They require 2 hands to do this efficiently.
The Nylon is plastic lined so it shouldn’t hold too much water against the metal if it gets wet. But the Nylon will absorb it, and the closed design will retain more overall.
Both sheaths can be hung on a belt, strap, or hook.
The Fiskars X5 is better at chopping
Chopping is the main task you are likely to need in a pack axe. You likely need to break apart branches or small trees to make a fire, cooking tools, or maybe even shelter.
The 1lb wedge-shaped head of the Fiskars drives deeper and pops out chips well when chopping. You can see in the image below how much deeper the axe cut, and how much larger the chips are.
The flat head of the Gerber did cut into the wood, but it didn’t get very deep in harder wood. And once the top layer of wood had been removed it got progressively less effective on the flatter surface. It did better in wet softwood – but that’s not ideal for a fire, and it still didn’t pop chips at all.
In the images above you can see the small chips removed by the Gerber compared to the large ones removed by the Fiskars. The Fiskars made it through the 5″ log quite easily, whereas I gave up with Gerber.
The X5 is better at splitting
Splitting is probably less frequent a task for this size of an axe. But sometimes if you are backpacking you can end up on a campsite where it would be nice.
The Fiskars X5 delivers far more one-hit splits on firewood, as the wedge shape of the head spreads the wood apart quickly. The stout wedge shape also doesn’t get stuck if it can’t split the wood in one hit.
The Gerber Pack Axe split kindling better than I expected, but it’s still not as good a splitter as the Fiskars X5.
The thin blade was able to separate smaller seasoned, straight-grained firewood pretty cleanly. However, it would also bounce off or get stuck in larger pieces, and require a few more whacks.
The edges of the Gerber are chamfered so it’s less likely to chip if you need to batton it through (hit it). But unlike a survival knife, you can’t batton it through larger pieces because the head is too short. So it does fine with kindling but is less useful overall for splitting than a large knife.
Neither is great for carving
While neither is great for carving, I would still give the edge to the Fiskars.
The extra weight is very useful for larger shaping and removing more material. The only downside is the stout wedge (that makes it good at everything else) makes it harder to do fine detailing. However, you don’t usually need to do that, and you should have a knife with you as well.
The Gerber is better at the finer carving than the Fiskars, but I would still rather use a knife. And it’s not as good at the larger rough shaping for the same reasons it’s bad at chopping.
The finger grooves do add some control here, but they aren’t comfortable.
I would choose the Fiskars X5 over the Gerber Pack Axe every time. Even though it’s 2oz heavier. The little bit of extra weight is well worth it. The Fiskars will outperform a flat axe in every scenario.
Please comment below If I missed something or if you have any questions. I do my best to respond to everyone.