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Do You Need A Saw For Backpacking?

One of my biggest pet peeves is watching people buy unnecessary camping gadgets that they’ll never actually carry. I’ve wasted lots of money over the years buying unnecessary junk, but do camping saws fall into that category? Do you need a saw for backpacking?

Most people don’t need a saw for backpacking. You can almost always break branches over your knee, stomp them, or use leverage points to snap large branches. There are a few situations where camping saws make sense that I’ll get into below.

Camping saws are easily one of the least used tools on the trail. Sometimes they make sense, but the vast majority of people will never actually need a camping saw. So that brings up a very important questions. When do you need a saw for backpacking?

When a Camping Saw Makes Sense

While most campers have absolutely no need for a camping saw, there are a few exceptions. It all depends on where you’re camping and general needs around camp. Here are a few times where a camping saw makes sense.

  • Large Fires For Big Groups: Larger groups require a bigger campfire. You just can’t do that by collecting tiny dead branches off the ground. In these cases a saw can be very useful for getting evenly sized pieces of wood for your fire. I would prefer a hatchet, but saws also work.
  • On Private Property: You typically have more freedom while camping on private property. A single camper cutting down a tree and processing limbs isn’t a big deal on private land. One guy with a saw won’t make a huge environmental impact.
  • Bushcraft Shelters: Saws are great in situations where you need long sturdy branches of equal size. This is rare for traditional tent campers, but bushcraft enthusiasts like to make remote primitive shelters. Abandoned shelters are a big problem on heavily populated trails. People like to build primitive shelters and abandon them.
  • Campfires With Kids: Kids are stupid! Playing around a fire with sticks extending outside the perimeter poses a serious tripping hazard. Saws make sense when you need to clean up large branches around the campfire.
  • Clearing Trails: If you want a chance to play with your new camping saw consider volunteering for a local conservancy group. They need lots of help keeping dead branches off trails. Saws are a heck of a lot better at clearing trails than a hatchet.

With That being said, the vast majority of backpackers will never need to carry a saw. Keep reading below to learn a few of the reasons why I think camping saws are unnecessary.

A Few Nice Camping Saws

Before you pick up a camping saw I recommend reading the rest of this post. Camping saws are handy, but you can almost always find another way to cut down large limbs. With that being said, I’ve tested lots of saws throughout the years and there are a few standouts.

Silky Gomboy Curve (Check Price On Amazon)

This is easily one of the best camping saws on the market. If you’re will to pay a bit more, the quality drastically improves. Silky makes a bunch of products in a wide range of sizes. So if you don’t like this one they probably have a style that better suits you.

You immediately notice the difference while cutting large logs. The alternating blade design cuts through wood like butter. You can even buy replacement blades unlike budget options. Silky saws are extremely durable and about 8″ long making it the perfect size to carry in your pack. At about 8oz it’s a lightweight option if you really need to carry a saw in your pack.

Primos Folding Saw (Check Price On Amazon)

The primos folding saw is a budget option that’s about the perfect size for backpacking. It’s well built and the perfect size, but there are shortfalls. The blade won’t hold up like a silky saw, but it should be perfectly usable in most situations.

With offset teeth the blade does a good job cutting through branches. It can cut through 3-4″ branches, but the blade isn’t all that strong so it may bend. My favorite thing about this blade is the rubberized handle. It gives you a really good grip on the blade and the push-button locks it in the open position.

Bahco Laplander Folding Saw (Check Price On Amazon)

Bahco’s folding saw does a lot right. It’s sturdy and works really well, but it falls in a weird price point. It’s a step above the Primos, but not quite as sturdy as the Silky. This is a great all around blade if you have a limited budget. You really can’t beat it for the price.

I really like the extra length you get with the 7″ Bahco Blade. It gives you more room to work with when cutting larger branches. The blade isn’t up there with Silky, but it’s a step above budget blades.

You Don’t Need a Camping Saw For Backpacking

What do you do in the camping offseason? If you’re anything like me, you probably buy a bunch of cool new gear. Some of that gear is useful, but you usually ditch half of it after a trip or two. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the appeal of cool new camping gadgets. It’s almost like picking out a new toy to play with, but some things aren’t worth the money.

Camping saws are one of the dumbest things a person can buy for backpacking. A foldable backpacking saw is completely unnecessary (even for firewood). There are lots of stupid gadgets you can buy and foldable camping saws are easily one of the worst.

Camping Saws Serve No Real Purpose For Most People

The main reason people bring along camping saws is to cut firewood down to size. I’ve been camping 100s of times and have never once needed a saw for firewood. Just break the branches over your knee, step on it with your boots, or use a tree as leverage to snap the branch. Camping saws just add unnecessary weight to your pack.

What about the large branches that you can’t break on your own? A camping saw is basically worthless for cutting large branches. You’re looking at 5 minutes of work to cut through a 4 inch branch. It’s so much easier to set the oversized branch over the fire and let it burn through the branch. Once the center burns through bend the branch in half and put the ends in.

You Don’t Want To Burn Sawed Wood Anyway

Think about this for a second. When you cut/split firewood it takes 4-6 months to season. Why would you think hand sawn wood is any different? Sawed wood is live “green” wood. It doesn’t matter if you’re sawing the limb off a tree or it’s laying on the ground. Wood needs to be split and exposed to air for it to go through the seasoning process.

Burning unseasoned wood creates a terrible fire. Sawed branches are still alive and they’re full of moisture. Burning off all that moisture produces insane amounts of smoke.

Saws Violate The Leave No Trace Principle

There’s no shortage of branches when you’re walking through an unkempt forest. Walk around for a few minutes and I guarantee you’ll find more dead wood than you could possibly burn. So why would you use a saw to cut live wood off a tree?

As part of the leave no trace principle, you should never remove wood from standing trees. Only take dead wood off the ground. Why is that? Dead tree branches on trees still serve as habitats for lots of animals. Plus nobody wants to look at a tree with a bunch of sawn off branches. Do everybody else a favor and leave your saw at home.

Saws Are Forbidden In Most Places

Saws are against the rules in most National and State parks. It may even be against the rules to burn dead wood in heavily trafficked parks. Dead wood needs to decompose to create nutrients in the forest floor. If campers burn it all up, there won’t be enough to support the local ecosystem.

You should be able to find enough dead wood to start a fire if gathering firewood is permitted. It doesn’t take much wood to keep a small fire going for 3-4 hours. If you need more than that, your fire is probably too big anyway.

Small Fires Are Safer

According to the national park service nearly 85 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans. Those fires have a wide range of causes, but campers leaving their fires unattended is one of the leading causes.

It can take a long time for a campfire to go out on its own. I’ve burned my hand trying to clean up beer cans that were tossed in my bonfire days after the party. A large campfire can smolder for days after you leave it.

As a general rule, you should only burn firewood that’s smaller than your wrist (2-3 inches). The smaller wood will be able to burn completely, so you won’t be left with a bunch of smoldering wood embers. These can be hard to put out without access to running water.

It’s One More Thing In Your Pack

Adding a saw to your pack is just one more thing you need to keep track of. It adds unnecessary weight to your pack and takes up a bunch of space. The added weight for backpacking just isn’t worth it.

I don’t even like carrying a saw when I’m car camping, because extra gear can get annoying. When I’m car camping I like to keep all my gear in a single plastic storage container. Digging through a bunch of unnecessary junk really gets on your nerves. Anything that you don’t regularly use needs to be left at home.

Obviously, there have been times where having a saw would have been helpful, but those are few and far between. Sure it can be fun to play with a camping saw, but breaking branches over your knee is just as fun.

Hatchets Are A Better Solution

If you really need to process wood on the trail a hatchet is almost always better than a saw. You’ll get way more use out of a hatchet than a saw. It can be used to hammer in tent stakes, split wood down into kindling, snow and ice removal, and even used for self defense in a survival scenerio.