When we see a new piece of backpacking kit we’re often tempted to buy it first and then try to justify carrying it later. We’ve seen some really cool backpacking saws lately that had us reaching for our credit card and trying to come up with scenarios where we would be happy to have a saw in our pack.
It turns out that coming up with a good reason is easier than we thought.
Building a small fire is normally a pretty easy job. Gather some twigs and a few bigger pieces of wood lying around and make a fire, right? If there are a few slightly thicker pieces still attached to a tree you take out your hatchet. Easy.
But what if you want to build a fire that’ll burn slow and long. Now you’re going to need some pretty thick logs and that’s where a backpacking saw comes into its own.
Also, if you like to do a little impromptu trail maintenance or need to build an emergency shelter then these saws are great for sawing thicker logs.
We’ve reviewed a few of the best backpacking saws that’ll get the job done while still being light and compact enough to slip into your pack.
What You'll Learn
- Backpacking Saw Types
- Pocket chainsaws
- Folding Saws
- Bow Saws
- Backpacking Saw Buyers Guide
Backpacking Saw Types
If you’re looking to buy a backpacking saw then the first choice you’ll be making is which type of saw to go for. Backpacking saws come in three different form factors:
- Pocket chainsaws
- Folding Saws
- Bow Saws
If you took a regular chainsaw, threw out the engine, handle and everything else except the chain and then slapped some handles onto each end you’d be left with a pocket chainsaw. The idea is that you hold the loops or handles at each end and then pull the chain back and forth across a log to cut through it.
The chain folds up into pretty much any shape and is extremely easy to squeeze into that last spot in your pack. The best pocket chainsaws normally have aggressively angled bi-directional teeth. This means the saw cuts on both pull strokes making it really fast and efficient.
The teeth will eventually lose their edge but you can sharpen them with a standard chainsaw blade sharpener.
Pros of the Pocket Chainsaw:
- Extremely compact and light.
- Long cut length and bi-directional teeth means greater cutting efficiency
- Lack of frame means the thickest log you can cut is only limited by the chain length
- You can get your buddy to grab one handle while you grab the other
- A little tricky to get the initial cut going
- No single hand operation option
- Strap/loop handles can be a little awkward
With a framed saw the frame will eventually come up against the log and prevent you from moving the blade back and forth. You could turn the log and cut from the other side but that isn’t always an option. A chainsaw doesn’t have this problem as it’s really only limited by how long the chain is..
The other benefit of a chainsaw over a folding or framed saw is that you can be further away from where the cutting action is happening. If you’re using a 36” chain your hands and body can be well away from where the blade meets the wood.
This makes it great for sawing higher branches too. Throw the one end of the chain over the branch and get sawing at a comfortable height. With a framed or folding saw you’ll be working way up over your head and will get fatigued pretty quickly.
At a Glance:
- Great quality – Made in the USA
- Carbon steel diamond tip tooth chain cuts fast
- Bi-directional teeth – cuts on both strokes
- Comes with pouch and belt clip
- Wrist loops are big enough to use while wearing gloves
- Lightweight – 36” saw weighs 9.6 ounces
- Only has blades on one edge of the chain.
This is probably the best pocket chainsaw on the market. It’s made from high-quality carbon steel and has diamond-tipped teeth that will stay sharp for a lot longer than other saws.
Despite the high durability materials this chainsaw is still really light and folds up easily without kinking. The chain only has cutting teeth along one side of the chain so make sure you’ve got the right side up against the wood before cutting.
It comes in three different lengths (24”, 36”, 48”) with the 36” probably offering the best combination of having a good cutting range while remaining lightweight. The 36” chainsaw weighs only 9.6 ounces.
When deciding on which length to go for it’s worth noting that the quoted length includes the nylon wrist loops and not simply the length of the cutting chain.
We liked the oversized, heavy-duty strap handles. They’re fairly comfortable and big enough to use with gloves on if you’re heading out in winter. The chain comes pre-oiled and is supplied in a handy pouch with belt buckle.
At a Glance:
- Bi-directionally aligned teeth for good cutting efficiency
- Lightweight, compact design
- Too short for large diameter logs
Because it’s only 24” long it does mean that your strokes are going to be a little shorter so that’s going to affect your cutting efficiency a little. The real benefit of this reduced length is felt in your pack. At a lowly 4.8 ounces, you’re not going to mind throwing this in with the rest of your gear.
The self-cleaning teeth take a real beating before they need any maintenance and sharpen easily with a standard ⅛-inch saw blade sharpener when they do eventually get a little blunt. The straps are a little small if you have big hands so we’d probably just slip a stick in either side to use as a t-bar handle.
At a Glance:
- 36” chain has bi-directional, self-cleaning teeth for fast cutting
- Good quality wrist strap handles
- Supplied with pouch and fire starter
- Wrist straps are a little small if you have big hands
This blades on this pocket chainsaw are really sharp so it cuts fast and smooth. With a little effort, it cuts through a 10” log in a matter of minutes.
The 36” length means your strokes are longer so it offers good cutting efficiency. The longer length also means you don’t end up getting stuck in the wood as often as you do with a shorter chain.
The wrist strap loops are made from a decent quality material but they’re a little on the small. If you have big hands you’ll be better off using a stick as a handle either side or go for the Chainmate we reviewed above if you want larger loops.
It comes supplied with a half-decent pouch as well as a fire starter that actually works pretty well. It’s not the lightest 24” chainsaw we’ve seen but at only 12 ounces it’s by no means heavy. The low price point and decent performance make it well worth considering.
A folding saw is designed to give you the cutting ability of a regular saw blade but in a lightweight design that is safe to carry in your pack without ripping your gear. The blade typically has a fairly aggressive set of teeth that are safely out of harm’s way once folded into the sheath.
These saws are for when you need to cut through mid-thickness wood (6” or less) but still want a lightweight solution. The best folding saw blades have teeth aligned so the blade cuts on both the push and pull strokes for maximum efficiency.
Pros of Folding Saws:
- Compact design and shielded teeth means you can safely slip this inside your backpack.
- Large saw teeth make aggressive cuts – quick saw action
- Light and small enough for single handed operation
- Works well for precise, accurate cuts – easy to get first cut going
- No frame to get in way of surrounding obstacles – cut in tight spots
- Cuts more than just wood – great for hunting and fishing
- Not suited for very thick logs – blade length limits max thickness
- Single handed operation only – no co-operative cutting option
At a Glance:
- High quality materials and construction, great durability
- Awesome blade – XT toothing, hardened teeth, coated for rust prevention and low friction
- 7 teeth per inch offers smooth but efficient cutting action
- Cuts on both push and pull strokes – very fast
- Lightweight – 7 ounces
- The dark green handle isn’t easy to spot if you drop it
Bahco have a well-earned reputation for producing high-quality cutting tools. This general purpose folding saw works equally well cutting green and dry wood or even bone.
The blade has 7 teeth per inch and while the teeth aren’t the biggest we’ve seen the blade does cut really quickly. The cutting teeth are super sharp and angled to cut on both the push and pull strokes. This gives you double the cutting efficiency that you might get from some of the cheap folding saws.
The quality of the hardened steel the blade is made from keeps it rigid while sawing. No bending or sticking. This saw feels great in your hand and locks and unlocks easily into place.
For thicker logs you’ll need a slightly longer blade but for sawing logs in the 4” range this saw is hard to beat.
At a Glance:
- 10” curved blade is great for cutting thicker logs
- 3 sided cutting teeth offers fast, efficient cutting
- Comfortable handle
- Only cuts on the pull stroke
If you think you might need to cut wood in the 5” to 6” range then this 10” blade will do nicely. The curved blade and ergonomically shaped handle make this a very comfortable saw to use. The teeth have been impulse hardened so they keep their edge for ages.
It’s razor sharp out of the box and the aggressively angled teeth with 3 cutting sides means you get a fast, efficient cut. This blade only cuts on the pull stroke. The multi-edge teeth do compensate for this though by removing 3 times as much material as a regular blade would.
They’ve used good quality high carbon steel which gives you a strong blade that’s not prone to bending. It’s chrome plated which gives you reduced friction but it could do with being wiped with a little oil if you want it to stay rust free.
It doesn’t have quite the same build quality of the Bahco but it’s a great product at the price.
Bow saws are your more traditional backpacking saw made up of a frame with a blade spanning across its widest points. These are generally better suited for heavier duty sawing where you want to be able to apply more pressure to your cutting strokes.
If you’re going to do just a few cuts then the pocket chainsaw or folding saw are fine. If you’re going to be cutting up a bunch of logs then a bow saw is going to be a better bet.
The frame and angled handle allow you to apply a good amount of pressure to your strokes by getting your arm, wrist, and weight behind each stroke.
Pros of the Bow Saw:
- Comfortable, effective sawing action
- Blades have aggressive teeth and are long enough to offer efficient cutting strokes
- Cuts really fast
- Frame keeps blade from bending and makes it easier to remove if the blade binds
- Heavier and bulkier than pocket chainsaw or folding saw options
- Only suitable for storing inside your pack if it folds
- More expensive than pocket chainsaws or folding saws
- Frame can get in the way on deeper cuts or when cutting in a tight spot
At a Glance:
- Folds and unfolds easily and quickly
- Blade tensions automatically – no adjustment required
- 21” blade delivers fast, powerful cutting strokes
- Frame has high clearance, allowing for deeper cuts
A bow saw is always going to be a little bigger and heavier than you’d like. Although the Boreal 21 weighs 17 ounces it more than makes up for this with solid performance and great features.
The 21” blade is seriously sharp and the mean looking teeth power through dry wood. You could buy replacement blades from Agawa but the frame accommodates any standard 21” blade. The frame gives the saw a sturdy feel and we like how the high clearance allows for really deep cuts before it gets in the way.
What really impressed us is how easily and quickly the saw folds and unfolds. There’s no need to touch the blade and it is perfectly tensioned once the frame clicks into its open position. When it’s folded the blade is completely concealed with the saw packing away easily and safely in your pack.
If you want a high quality folding saw that’ll cut 10” logs with ease then this is a great choice. It costs a little more but we think it’s totally worth it.
At a Glance:
- Simple but solid construction
- High quality blade and all-metal frame
- Cuts extremely fast
- Blade folds completely into frame for safe storage
- Uses Sven specific blades and they’re not cheap
- Uses a wing nut and washer to tension blade once unfolded – don’t lose these!
This high-quality saw is made from a frame produced in the USA and a seriously sharp blade made in Sweden. The design looks so simple but it cuts wood really fast.
Even if you’re cutting really thick stuff you can grip it with two hands and the blade will go through it like butter. The frame is sturdy but still fairly lightweight with the whole saw weighing around 17 ounces.
It’s pretty easy to fold and unfold and the blade is kept completely hidden once folded. The one thing we didn’t like is that when you unfold it you’ll need to tension the blade with the supplied wing nut and washer. If you’re in the habit of dropping things (like me) then your saw could become useless unless you bring along some spares.
Also, while the blade is very high quality, if you want to replace it you’ll have to order the Sven specific blades. Sawing campfire wood doesn’t come much easier than this.
At a Glance:
- Folds and unfolds easily with no loose parts that can get lost
- Accepts standard 12” replacement blades
- Comfortable rubber grip
- Raised frame allows for deeper cuts
- Very compact, fold-flat design
- Lightweight – 14.8 ounces
- 12” blade is a little short for cutting thicker logs
This compact, lightweight bow saw is great if you’re looking for a bow saw that won’t take up too much space in your pack. The 12” blade isn’t long enough to cut really thick stuff like 10” logs but the sturdy frame and razor sharp blade make it easy to power through 6” logs.
The shorter blade also means you’ll be making shorter, less efficient cutting strokes. That being said, if you want your bow saw to be light and compact this saw is ideal. It folds flat to a total length of around 1 foot and weighs just 14.8 ounces.
We really liked how easily it folds open and closed with no little loose bits that could get lost. The handle is comfortable and the construction and feel of the frame has the quality you expect from Gerber products. This is the little saw that could.
For maximum cutting power in a compact form factor, our choice for best backpacking saw would have to go to the Agawa Canyon – BOREAL 21″. If you really want to cut up some decent firewood for your camp then this saw is just awesome.
Yes, it’s long but once folded up it’s easy to stash and weighs just over a pound. We’d rather carry a few ounces extra than have to struggle for an hour to cut up some decent logs for our fire.
Best For Budget
The Chainmate Pocket chainsaw
is going to give you the best bang for your buck if you don’t want to spend too much money. It’s highly effective and we like that the thickness of the log you can cut is pretty much only limited by how many calories you’re willing to burn. Being lightweight and compact makes it a good choice if you’re backpacking light too.
Backpacking Saw Buyers Guide
Is a Saw Really Worth Carrying?
Should a backpacking saw’s usefulness earn a spot in your pack? Well, it depends. It really comes down to the kind of campfire enthusiast you are. If you’re just looking to make a small fire to heat a cup of your MRE before bedding down then probably not.
But, if you want a fire that’s going to keep you company for a few hours without having to keep feeding it then a saw can’t be beaten.
If you’re already carrying a hatchet then the thickness of the logs you’re going to burn and the energy you’re willing to expend could have you decide either way. If you’re still not sure then just throw in a pocket chainsaw.
You may never use it but it’s not going to really dent your pack weight budget.
How Big Should My Saw Be?
Size matters. No really, it does. The maximum cut you can make with a saw depends on the length of the blade and how willing you are to keep turning the log to cut it from the other side.
Remember that for an efficient cutting action you want plenty of travel on each cutting stroke. In theory, a 10” blade can cut a 9” log but you’ll be making plenty of tiny push-pull movements and it’s going to take forever.
Besides the blade length, the distance between the top edge of the blade and the frame on a bow saw will also limit how deep you’re able to cut. As a guide, if you’re looking to cut up to 6” logs then a blade of 10” to 12” is fine.
For thinner logs a 7” blade like one of the folding saws above works well. If you’re going to be cutting 10” logs then a pocket chainsaw or a bow saw with a 21” blade is the way to go.
What Do I Want My Saw to Do?
A really good backpacking saw is not going to offer you much in the way of versatility. It’s going to saw through wood. That’s it. You do get some saws that are advertised as having multi-use bits and pieces to their design but that all comes at a cost to the performance of the tool.
If you’re into hunting and fishing and you want your saw to cut more than just wood the go for a folding saw. The aggressive teeth work well on both wood and bone.
Your choice between a pocket chainsaw, folding saw or bow saw comes down to how often you’re going to use it, how much wood you cut at a time and how thick it is. Do you want a “just in case” saw or do you just need a few medium thickness logs?
Go for the pocket chainsaw or a decent folding saw. If you like to make a serious fire and want to keep it going all night with plenty of thick logs then buy a bow saw.
What To Look Out For
Whichever type of backpacking saw you choose here are a few considerations worth noting:
- Sharpness – It doesn’t matter how awesome the rest of the saw is, if the blade isn’t sharp you’re going to have a tough time sawing. The best blades not only start out sharp but are tempered and coated so they stay sharp. In this aspect name brands are more than just marketing. Gerber, Bahco, Silky and similar brands all make really sharp blades.
- Cutting Efficiency – How much wood do you remove with each stroke? The cutting efficiency depends on your blade length, sharpness of blade and cutting teeth design elements.
Some blades only cut on the pull stroke while others cut on both. Some blades will have teeth that have multiple cutting edges or angles for improved efficiency.
Aim for more wood with less sweat.
- Safety – Sharp saw blades will cut more than just wood. Make sure you have a way of keeping the blade safe so it only cuts when you want it to.
- Lightweight – You want your saw to be lightweight but reduced weight sometimes means reduced overall structural integrity. Saws with shorter blades and polymer, rather than metal, handles and frames will save you a few ounces.
- Versatility – Don’t look for a “Swiss Army knife” type solution in a saw. Look for a saw that will cut wood and do it really well. If it works equally well on the trail and in the garden, great. Beyond that you want to keep it simple.
- Sharpening / Replacing Blades – Make sure that the saw you buy can either be sharpened or uses a blade that can be easily replaced. The cost of some replacement blades sometimes get pretty close to the cost of a new saw.
All saws are not created equal so it pays to spend a little extra to buy a well-made product. The best backpacking saw, regardless of type, will have a super sharp, quality blade.
Look for design elements that will improve the efficiency of your cutting strokes so you get more wood with less work. Weight is always a concern when you’re backpacking but don’t be too quick to discount the benefits of carrying that saw.
Afterall, sitting around a good fire under a starry sky is one of the reasons you were willing to cover those miles.