9 Best Backpacking Saws for 2017

When we’re heading into the wilderness for a backpacking trip, it’s critical that our gear is light weight, compact, and durable.

And these qualities are especially important when selecting the best backpacking saw to take into the backcountry with you. Not only must the saw meet these criteria, we also need specific types of saws meant for survival and bushwhacking – not the old ripping saw from grandpa’s workbench.

So when figuring out which saw to buy, first consider these three main categories:

Pocket chain saws

Folding saws

Bow saws

Each of these saws has its own pros and cons and choosing the best one isn’t always easy. That’s why we’re going to take an in-depth look at exactly which saw is right for you and up to the task of bucking limbs in the wilderness.

Pocket Chain Saws

No, we’re not talking about a two-stroke, oil-hungry machine.

These are based on the same concept as the modern gas engine chainsaw but instead they operate by hand-power and can be packed down into a tiny, lightweight package.

One major factor to watch out for when purchasing a pocket chain saw is the longevity and durability of the product. Be sure to analyze carefully how well constructed the pocket saw is. As Les Stroud found out on an episode of the popular show “Survivorman”, many pocket chainsaws are cheap gimmicks and will leave you stranded after they break.

Sportsman Pocket Chainsaw 36″

Ideal for: Lightweight hikers who want a quality saw!

This pocket chainsaw goes above and beyond the call of duty with a reputation for durability, ergonomics, and sharp cutting teeth.

Essentially this is a small caliber modern chainsaw blade attached to two webbing handles for easy grip and long use. Why does this stand out?

  • Webbing handles are easy to use by providing a large area to grip
  • Riveted chain saw blade is solid steel and sturdy!
  • Can be sharpened with any 5/32″ chainsaw file for continued use
  • Lifetime guarantee

Really, the only weak point of the Sportsman Pocket Chainsaw is the webbing strap handles which can be easily replaced in the metal anchors if ever they wear out in the field. I really like the longer 36″ length which allows for more efficient stroke lengths as you can draw the saw across the wood in longer strokes before having to switch direction when compared to shorter saws.

Survival Pocket Hand Chainsaw

Ideal for: Sensitive or arthritic hands.

One of the best aspects of a pocket chainsaw is that they’re small, flexible, and lightweight. This means you can carry these saws in your backpack without having to strap them to the outside, or worry about the teeth chewing up other items in your pack. Compared to folding saws and bow saws, pocket chainsaws are much more efficient to carry into the backcountry.

With the Survival Pocket Hand Chainsaw, you’re going to get a different set of saw teeth than the Sportsman Pocket (styled after a gas chainsaw blade). In my experience these smaller and more aggressive teeth are great for cutting across the grain especially on green wood – an area where other types of saws often fall short.

  • Smaller teeth – usually more effective on green wood
  • T-shaped handle for improved ergonomics
  • May not pack as small as the Sportsman Pocket due to larger handles

This is a great tool to compare with the Sportsman Pocket and probably has a leg-up for extended use though the Sportsman Pocket may pack down smaller.

Ultimate Survival Sabercut Saw 20 – [Best Budget Buy]

Ideal for: Survivalists on a shoestring budget.

Effectively the same design as the Sportsman Pocket, this saw is quite a bit shorter at only 20″. This means you’ll have to make more strokes per cut, however, you’ll have the advantage of a lighter overall saw due to the reduced length. For those looking to minimize on weight – this is an excellent option with all the reliability of the Sportsman Pocket. Like the Sportsman Pocket, this saw is highly efficient as the teeth are aligned bi-directionally to cut on both the forward and back strokes.

Here’s why you might consider the Sabercut instead of the Sportsman Pocket:

  • You prefer a lighter design
  • You want to save money (half the price)
  • You love the design

For these reasons, however, you might consider the Sportsman Pocket a winner:

  • You plan to cut often or larger diameter limbs
  • You prefer a longer cut length
  • You prefer the manufacturer warranty

This might be a good option for those looking to save money, weight, or space.

Folding Saws

These seemingly tiny saws can really pack a punch!

I have always been impressed by the reliability and efficiency of folding saws and their diamond-sharp blades.

Generally, a double row of razor sharp teeth act to cut in both direction on the forward and back stroke of the saw. These saws are usually quite lightweight and seem to hold their performance forever!

Because these saws have a dedicated handle and a more robust design than pocket chain saws, you can use them for more delicate tasks such as ripping a board, cutting joints, or other straight-edge tasks that a rounded saw can’t handle.

Bahco 396-LAP Laplander Folding Saw

Ideal for: Experienced shelter builders and woodworkers.

Many folding saws are meant for limb-cutting only and feature a recurved blade. Bahco decided to accommodate those of us with a little woodworking knowledge and instead they created the Laplander Folding Saw with a straight edge blade. This is an awesome feature for cutting joints, tenons, and any fine cutting that might be needed for advanced shelter building.

Streamlined and featuring a safety lock so the saw doesn’t fold in on your hand (ouch), the blade is affixed to a dual-component plastic handle with excellent grip. The tooth setting is meant to be able to handle green and dry wood, bone, and plastic for any situation you might find yourself in. It’s even coated to prevent rust over the long term which will help extend the life of the saw, although the coating will eventually rub off with tons of cutting.

  • 7 TPI blade is meant to cut multiple materials
  • Safety lock on the blade
  • Dual component handle for great grip


Silky Professional Series BIGBOY 2000 – [Best Multi-use Saw]

Ideal for:
 Around the yard and in the woods!

If you’ve got room in your pack to make your saw a priority, then this is the saw that belongs on the trail with you. For those of us who may be heading into the wood specifically to make sawdust, this 14″ behemoth of a folding saw is guaranteed to chuck all the wood that you can throw at it.

With 5.5 teeth per inch and a 16oz weight, you’re going to get a serious amount of performance for what you’re carrying. This saw will save you tons of time over more compact saws as the aggressive teeth and longer stroke length should make quick work out of whatever you’re bucking.

One major consideration is that the saw has a curved blade so it won’t be appropriate for cutting fine lines and joinery. However, if you need to cut down large diameter trees and limbs, this is your choice.

  • Aggressive tooth set
  • Large handle and blade mean more leverage
  • Longer stroke length will help to make quick work out of large tasks

This might be a good choice for around the house as well!

Silky Folding Landscaping Hand Saw POCKETBOY 130

Ideal for:
 Lightweight hikers or survivalists with tiny kits.

On the other end of the spectrum from the 14″ monster we just took a look at, this tiny little pocket saw is a great choice for occasional small use and lightweight.

Weighing less than 6oz, you’ll have the same double row of sharp teeth with a compact form factor of 5″ on the saw length. For those with large hands, this saw will be difficult in the hands but should make quick work out of the occasional task.

You’ll have the benefit of lighter weight, smaller size, and less space taken up in the pack.

  • Great for occasional use and lightweight
  • Not meant to take care of large or frequent cutting tasks


Bow Saws

Bow saws take it a step above folding saws by providing a more durable frame for the saw to allow better efficiency and control of the cut. Most bow saws can fold and disassemble for transport and then be put together to get the best of both worlds – portability and performance. Though they’re more efficient, they’re generally larger and heavier than other options.

Gerber Freescape Camp Saw

Ideal for: Saving pack space and keeping weight to a minimum.

Gerber has always been one of my favorite blade-makers for their balance of quality and price. This folding bow saw is meant to pack down flat without having to disassemble any parts of the saw. This means lightweight, portable, and convenient – hard to find in a bow saw.

Compared to many in this category, the Gerber Freescape Camp Saw is relatively light and packable thanks to the design. It’s also easy to replace with any 12″ saw blade. Major drawback? 12″  blade means you’ll be taking a lot of stroked to make a cut.

  • Great for compact and light users
  • Easily replaceable blade
  • Gerber name


Zippo 4-In-1 Woodsman

Ideal for:
 The gadget junkie!

This is an interesting multi-use take on a classic piece of woodsman gear: the axe. Combine axe, hammer, saw, and tent stake puller and what do you get? This mashup.

Make no mistake, this tool is going to perform four jobs in place of one – but it’s not going to do any of them as well as a dedicated saw or axe would. Why? Because the added weight of the axe will make sawing inefficient and the saw components will make chopping a pain in the butt.

However, this saw might be your choice if:

  • You demand multi-use items and don’t want to carry both a saw and an axe
  • You really feel the need for a tent stake hammer and puller

Bahco 30-Inch Ergo Bow Saw – [Best Overall Performance]

Ideal for:
 Serious cutting with great efficiency and precision!

Are you the woodchuck that could chuck wood? If so, this is the tool for your chucking.

With a full 30″ of blade length and both dry and green wood variations, the Bacho Ergo Bow Saw really is designed to destroy some wood! Buy the saw once and just swap blades for the most effective blade type based on the wood you’ll be cutting. It’s a great tool for both around the house and in the woods.

This may not be the best tool, however, for those seeking to keep pack space to a minimum or cut down on weight. Full steel tube construction won’t pack well and weighs quite a bit for extended carrying.

  • Ideal for trail crews or dedicated cutting work
  • Multiple blade types for different jobs
  • Long stroke length for great efficiency


If you’re serious about cutting around the house and in the woods, then you’ll need to consider a dedicated bow saw like the Bahco 30-Inch Ergo Bow Saw. While it won’t save weight or space in the pack, no other saw on our list is going to cut with its ease of use.

For the lightweight and compact type of hiker and survivalist, there’s nothing that will beat the performance of the Sportsman Pocket Chainsaw 36″ with its long stroke and bi-directional teeth. This little saw is a huge performer with one drawback: no flat cuts.

Remember to consider exactly what type of work you’ll need to do with your saw before making a purchase. Each type has advantages and disadvantages that must be carefully considered in order to make the best purchase for your needs!

About the author

Casey Fiedler

Professional ski instructor and backpacking guide, Casey Fiedler went to school with CWC and NOLS for Outdoor Education and Leadership. Want to read more about what it takes to lead great adventure trips? Casey writes about outdoor education at caseyfiedler.wordpress.com


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