Skills & Techniques

Axes, Hatchets and Leave No Trace

Susy Alkaitis - October 4, 2018

Can you use a camp hatchet and Leave No Trace?

We think so, as long as you practice safe and ecologically responsible hatchet use. What exactly does that entail? Watch this video to find out!

Irresponsible use of hatchets, axes, and other similar woods tools can create incredible ecological damage. (Read this for more information!) Never use a hatchet to chop any standing wood, living or dead. Hatchet scars on live trees can allow disease to infiltrate their protective bark, which can damage or kill trees. Even dead branches and trees are vital for wildlife. Owls, woodpeckers and squirrels, along with numerous other animals, use snags (dead trees) to build nests and dens, find food, raise young, and hide from predators.

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Downed wood provides food and habitat for all sorts of critters. 

Most importantly, use your ax or hatchet carefully and always supervise those less familiar with safe and appropriate use of such tools. Keep your tools in good working order by sharpening the blade and inspecting it before use, wear gloves and eye protection, and create a “safety zone” around the area where you’re splitting wood.


Protective eyewear prevents wood chips from damaging your eyes. 

With that in mind, when you use your hatchet to split wood that you’ve bought at or near your campsite, you Leave No Trace in the following ways:
Downed wood decomposes and helps healthy forests grow. 
  • You prevent campsites from being “mined” of firewood. Many campgrounds do not allow firewood collection. Here’s why: When campers collect all the downed sticks, branches and logs in a campsite for firewood, local ecologies can suffer. Downed wood provides vital food and habitat for wildlife, and, as it decomposes, it creates healthy soil where new plants can grow.


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Small fires are great for cooking. 

  • You build more manageable fires with smaller pieces of wood. Burning wood that is smaller than your wrist helps keep fire rings clean because wood burns down completely and makes it easier to totally put out your fire to reduce the risk of wildfires. Did you know that nearly 90% of wildfires are human-caused?


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 Efforts to eradicate invasive species are time consuming and costly. 

  •  When buying local firewood, and chopping it at your campsite, you prevent the spread of invasive species, such as the Emerald Ash Borer and Bark Beetles, who can hitch a ride on firewood. These pests, and others, can introduce disease and kill trees in your campground.

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Why struggle with packing wood? Buy and split wood on site, then enjoy your fire!

Want more motivation? When you buy firewood at or near your campground and split it on site, you save space in your car and time spent preparing for your trip!

Enjoy Your World. Leave No Trace.

Leave No Trace’s Jessie Johnson and Matt Schneider are part of the 2018 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Deuter, Thule, and Klean Kanteen.

Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together

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