Finding the right outdoor gear is important before any expedition. This is true whether you are camping, backpacking, or gearing up for a wilderness survival adventure to challenge your skills. Having the right gear is crucial, and that includes having versatile multi-tools that can help you out of a lot of situations in a pinch for an emergency or to help use the natural resources around you for a better experience, whatever form that might take.
A good backpacking saw is one of those tools I want when spending an extended amount of time in the wild and away from civilization (and marked trails).
There are several potential options when it comes to what type of folding saw works best when you find yourself ready to go on some backpacking adventures, and the environment you’ll be traveling through as well as the amount of versatility or pure cutting power you believe you’ll need.
I’m a big fan of knowing all my options when it comes to purchasing outdoor gear, and we are going to go in-depth about the various styles of backpacking saws, what the best brands of each are, and how to determine which portable survival saws are best for your specific needs.
Folding Hand Saws
The folding hand saw is one of the best options for a lightweight yet effective backpacking saw, and for most it will be the best option as long as you go with one of the top brands so you don’t have to worry about quality of construction.
I’m a huge fan because these are compact, work extremely well, and the good ones are relatively lightweight which makes them a viable option for backpacking and even thru hiking.
The best ones are going to be very durable as long as they are properly used and taken care of. It is worth noting that if you are going the ultralight backpacking route that there are some comparable options that are a little bit lighter, but when it comes to hiking out in the boonies I’m willing to carry some extra ounces to make sure my tools are going to last through long and heavy use.
Top Recommendation: Silky Professional BIGBOY 2000 Folding Saw XL Teeth Outback Edition (754-36)
This is a premium saw, meaning you are going to pay more, and possibly a lot more, for your saw. All the Silky brand saws have a reputation for being top of the line, although I personally prefer the handle grip of the Outback Edition, which also just looks a bit more like a woodsman’s saw than the yellow and orange handles of the other models.
However, if you use any of these saws you will do alright as their reputation for quality is well earned. The blades are solid, the hinges are very tight and the blade doesn’t wiggle. Basically all the major concerns you have about cheaper folding saws don’t apply to these models.
In my experience the handles are comfortable, you can get the blades in multiple sizes (including some saws that are surprisingly large considering the design)
There are plenty of decent options that you can find for under $30 in the forms of basic pruning saws that are decently made. While these will tend to be smaller than models designed for backpacking or survival, they are to be good for all the average needs of a person while also working as great pruning tools around the home property.
Some of the best models around that inexpensive $30ish mark that I’d be willing to vouch for are:
And for small bursts of use or for basic yard work there’s nothing wrong with those options. In fact, they have all treated me well and I’m sure there are other similar saws out there that are
Why a Folding Hand Saw?
There are a lot of great benefits to going with a folding hand saw.
- Much less bulky and lightweight compared to folding bow saws
- Easy to carry on your pack or on your person
- Much easier to use than hand chain saws – good for energy preservation
- Can be effective as a long-term bush camp tool
- For long-term use in the bush this is more likely to get dull or wear down over time
- Doesn’t have quite the base stability a folding saw will have (because of design)
- The brand matters a LOT as to quality
Folding Bow Saws
Personally I prefer a good folding bow saw to a folding hand saw. The blade is often longer for a smoother cut, and I’ve used bow saws a lot in Scouts so I’m extremely familiar with how to use them. That said, they are not as compact as folding hand saws and depending on the situation that can be a very big deal.
Top Recommendation: AGAWA Boreal21 Folding Saw
If you are thru hiking backpacking, every single ounce in your pack matters, and that is the reason why some might prefer a folding hand saw versus a folding bow saw. However, I’m of the opinion that when you compare them directly, it’s hard to argue with the extra support, leverage, and cutting power that the bow saw design has to offer.
There are several things that you will still want to keep in mind, because I can tell you from years of Scouting, backpacking, and working on very isolated full-time campsites, quality mattes. There are things you want to look for including:
- The way the teeth are designed (certain designs are optimal for hard use or smooth cutting)
- The quality of brand
- Quality of construction – special attention to the joints
- Ease of carrying
- Ease of use
Why a Folding Bow Saw?
Folding bow saws just give a more heavy duty tool. I understand why minimalists prefer to go with a pocket saw (aka glorified pruning saws) however for many camp uses and outdoor use that doesn’t involve backpacking through areas in the middle of nowhere, this is a better option as the blade is much less likely to break, and a longer blade with extra structural security means better cutting ability.
If you’re looking for the best tool to simply get the job done then you will want to go with the folding bow saw. This is also the type of tool if you’re coming in and out of a more long-term camp or semi-permanent cabin project.
- Bigger cutting ability
- Exceptional speed and control
- Less chance of catastrophic failure (blade snapping)
- Even cheaper folding saws tend to have a higher minimum level of usefulness compared to pocket chain saws or folding pocket saws
- More weight and bulk than the other options
- More points of failure than a full-sized bow saw that is not built for portability
Pocket Chain Saws
These are a slightly more advanced version of hand wire saws, and while I definitely approved of the pocket chain saw versus a pocket wire saw, because while the pocket wire saw is certainly a clever design, I dread the idea of cutting through and even moderately sized branch
Top Recommendation: The Nordic Pocket Chain Saw
While there is less of a difference between average and great pocket chain saws when it comes to use in a survival situation (with one or two notable exceptions, one of which I recommend) you can really tell the difference between a good pocket saw and a bad one. This is because this evolution of a wire saw makes sense and when sharpened can do some good work, but having teeth versus a smooth metal wire also means that if a few of the teeth get dull or one or two get out of place this can make the entire saw harder to use effectively.
Why a Pocket Chain Saw?
There are multiple reasons for liking a pocket chain saw. They are extremely compact and lightweight, which does make it very easy to carry whether via pocket, stuffed into a pack, or even in a small container or bag pouch.
While they need to be taken care of, they are an exceptional tool that travel with you anywhere. I’m a big fan of these, especially as emergency backups that can be put on a belt loop or tossed in a back before heading deep into the wilderness. My recommendation is also going to be the Nordic Pocket Saw because even though they don’t have the history of some of the other models, I like their grips much better.
Some handles are made of paracord or rope which sounds good in theory…but in practice they don’t give the reliability or grip that I want. If I want a pocket saw, I don’t want handles that come apart into something else, I want a very reliable saw.
While some people might disagree, to me the heavy duty nylon handles are definitely the way to go, and the fact this is designed for use in the outdoors during less than ideal conditions makes it my choice if I’m going with this instead of (or as a backup to) a folding bow saw.
- Extremely lightweight and compact
- Generally the cheapest option available for people on a budget
- Top models are very well made (carbon steel waterproofed)
- Blade can’t “snap”
- Takes much more energy/effort to work (not the most energy efficient option)
- Does realistically limit the size of branches or logs that can be safely and effectively cut
- Harder to maintain the blade over a long period of time
So What’s The Verdict?
In my hand very good arguments can be made for both the Folding Bow Saw as well as the Folding Hand Saw as being the best options for backpackers. While I appreciate the light weight and low pack space from a pocket chain saw, it’s just not as effective, reliable, or useful as the other options.
So when it comes to the best saws for backpackers, I can’t justify having those types of saws in the running, though there might be some out there who disagree.
Most backpackers will find the pocket folding saw as the best option as it is lightweight, relatively unobtrusive, and a good one can do some serious work. I tend to prefer folding bow saws when I can because I like that extra support, the extra force, however there’s no denying that the folding hand saws, sometimes referred to as pocket saws, are much easier to carry around and add fewer ounces to the pack.
When you’re thru hiking or going very long distances, every once on that pack matters.
In my mind if I have space or am spending some time in a camping area, I might go with something heavier like the folding saw. The pocket chain saw, which is clearly superior to the wire saw design that it’s based on, is third for me but I would take it in a heart beat before I’d go out into the woods with nothing.
In a vacuum I’d ranking the overall best backpacking saw designs as:
- Folding Bow Saw
- Folding Hand Saw – Premium Brands
- Folding Hand Saws
- Folding Chain Saw
In the most common uses and reality I’d rank the designs as:
- Folding Hand Saw (assuming premium brand)
- Folding Bow Saw
- Folding Hand Saw (average or lower tier)
- Folding Chain Saw
Remember, whatever my experience says about these amazing options for survival saws, it’s important for you to get familiar with each type, practice with them, and realize which you prefer. Not to mention the ability to cut with whatever saws you are going to have on you when you need to use them.
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