Mom Goes Camping

9 Reasons You DON’T Need a Camping Saw

camping saw

One of my big pet peeves when camping is watching people take out all of their “toys.”  Don’t get me wrong – I can understand the appeal of cool camping gadgets like solar showers, coffee makers, and solar panels.  But a camping saw isn’t just unnecessary (even for firewood!), it’s often incredibly stupid to bring along.  Don’t believe me? Here are 9 reasons you should NOT bring a saw camping, and the only situations where it actually might make sense to pack a saw.

 

Why You Don’t Need a Saw Camping

1. You Don’t Need a Saw to Process Firewood

The main reason people bring a saw camping is because they think they will need it for sawing firewood to size.  I’ve been camping dozens of times and I have never once needed a saw for firewood.  I simply break branches over my knee or by stepping on it with my boots and pulling upwards.

What about when I find a large branch that I can’t break on my own?  I let the fire break it for me.

Just place the entire branch over the fire. The fire will burn through the branch.  Then you can push the ends in.  You can also use long pieces of wood to create a “star fire”.  See that and other fire lays here.

These branches were too thick to break by hand, so I placed them over the fire. Once the center is burnt through, I’ll push them further into the fire. No saw needed!

 

2. If You Are Sawing Firewood, Your Fire Is Too Big

In the image below, I’m not sure why the guys bothered to saw the tree.  There seems to be plenty of dead wood around them so sawing is unnecessary.  And wood that thick is going to make a crazy big fire.

Remember,

There are those who get warm gathering wood for a large campfire and those who warm themselves next to a small fire.”

using a camping saw on large fallen trees

 

3. Sawed Wood Is Live Wood

Once I was wild camping at a beautiful spot near a glacier lake.  Some other campers arrived and they had brought a saw.  They starting sawing limbs off of trees.  Well, surprise surprise – they could barely get their campfire going and it produced an insane amount of smoke when it did.  The branches they sawed down were still alive, and thus full of moisture.

But you will only saw dead wood from trees, you say? See number 4.

 

4. Saws Are Counter to the Principle of Leave No Trace

As part of Leave No Trace, you should never remove wood – dead or alive – from standing trees.  Only take dead wood from the ground.  Why?

Dead tree branches serve as habitats to numerous animals and are vital for the ecosystem.  On top of that, looking at trees with sawed-off branches is straight-up ugly.

 

5. Saws Are Forbidden In Many Places

In many National and State Parks, it is completely forbidden to use saws.  In many cases, it’s even forbidden to burn dead wood you find within the park; dead wood needs to decompose to create nutrients for the forest floor.  If too many campers burn it up, there won’t be enough for the forest floor.

If gathering firewood is permitted, you should be able to find enough dead wood on the ground for your fire without having to saw anything.

 

6. Smaller Firewood Is Safer

Nearly 90% of wildfires are caused by humans, including many from unsafe campfires.  As a general rule, only burn firewood that is smaller than your wrist.

The smaller wood will be able to burn more completely, meaning that you aren’t left with a bunch of large, smoldering wood embers which are difficult to properly put out.

 

7. Is the Saw Just for Ego?

In one camping forum, a member wrote, “Nothing like pulling out a massive Axe from your car boot and start hacking away wood like our pioneers used to.”

Okay, he’s talking about axes and not saws, but the idea is the same.  People feel like badasses when they’ve got big, sharp tools to play with.

Using a camping saw won’t make you badass.  It will just make knowledgeable campers think you are an inconsiderate dick. If you really want to feel like a badass, then do it by being a good camper and respecting nature.

 

8. It’s One More Thing to Keep Track Of

I generally go backpacking and not camping, so the weight of a camping saw is definitely not worth it.  But, even when car camping, I find extra gear to be annoying.  You end up spending so much time dealing with gear that you don’t actually have time to enjoy nature.  Sure, it can be fun to play with a camping saw, but it’s also fun to gather firewood and break it over your knee.

 

9. A Hatchet Is Probably Better than a Saw

Granted, there are some situations where you may need to process wood while camping.  In these situations, a hatchet is almost always better than a saw.

Specifically, in campgrounds where it is illegal to gather wood or bring your own (because bringing wood from home can introduce invasive species), you can buy pre-cut wood.  A saw is useless but a hatchet can be used to chop logs into kindling.

*See these picks for best camping hatchets.

 

When a Camping Saw Makes Sense to Bring

While most campers have absolutely no need for a saw, there are a few exceptions for when you might actually need one.

1. You are in remote wilderness or on private property

On private property, you have more freedon to saw up trees if you wish.  In remote wilderness, you still shouldn’t saw wood off of standing trees but it won’t make a huge environmental impact if you saw fallen trees.

 

2. You are making a permanent bushcraft shelter

Saws are great for situations where you need long, sturdy branches of equal-length for making primitive shelters.

Note I saw “permanent” shelters.  A big problem in many areas like the PCT are that hobbyists make shelters and just leave them there.  If you are going to make a shelter, never hammer nails into trees (that’s a dumb way to make a shelter anyway).   Dismantle your shelter when you leave, taking with you any rope you used to make the shelter.

 

3. You’re making a large fire for many people

As mentioned before, I just let the campfire cut branches for me.  The downside is that the ends of the branch will be sticking out of the fire, which can be a tripping hazard – especially if there are a lot of people or kids around.  In these cases, a saw can be very useful to get evenly-sized pieces of fuel wood for your fire.

 

4. You are clearing trails

Saws are a heck of a lot better at clearing trails than a big ol’ axe or hatchet.  You still need to be allowed to clear the trails though.  If you want a chance to play with saws and other sharp “toys,” then consider volunteering with your local conservancy group and helping to clear trails.

 

 

Best Camping Saws

You’ve read all of this and still think you need a camping saw? In my experience, those small wire saws are pretty useless.  Large saws are also generally not necessary for camping needs.  The best camping saws are the ones which are designed for wrist-sized branches, such as a good pruning saw.The ones below are good picks.

 

1. Primos Folding Saw

This is a cheap camping saw.  The blade has offset teeth which do a pretty decent job of cutting through small branches.  It can still cut through branches larger than your wrist, but the blade isn’t the strongest and might bend.

There’s a rubberized handle for good grip and a push-button locks the blade in open position.  It’s very compact and the pouch has a loop so you can carry it on your belt.

  • Type: Folding
  • Blade length: 6”
  • Extended size: 8 3/8”
  • Weight: 6.8oz (without pouch)
  • Price: Cheap
  • Buy here

2. Bahco Laplander Folding Saw

Here’s another cheap camping saw which does a good job of cutting through small branches.  The blade length is roughly the same as the Primus saw above but the Bahco is longer when folded.  The extra length and plastic sheath make it a bit more cumbersome to carry on your belt, but it makes up for this by having a higher-quality blade with 7 teeth per inch.   The handle is also comfortable.

  • Type: Folding
  • Blade length: 7”
  • Extended size: 9”
  • Weight: 7oz (without sheath)
  • Price: Cheap
  • Buy here

3. Silky GomBoy Curve Camping Saw

If you are willing to pay just a bit more for a camping saw, the quality immediately improves.  That’s the case with this Silky saw.  It has a longer, curved blade with 6.8 teeth per inch.  The curved shape makes it easier to saw into branches.  It will perform very well for cutting branches up to 4 inches in diameter.

  • Type: Folding
  • Blade length: 8.3”
  • Extended size: 17.32”
  • Weight: 8.2oz (without sheath)
  • Price: Mid
  • Buy here

4. Sven 15 Inch Collapsing Saw

Sven is a really reputable brand of saws, both for camping and professional use.  If you need to cut through larger branches (up to 6 inches in diameter), this one does the job well.  The triangle construction is stronger and makes it easier to saw without having to apply a lot of force.  Even though the blade is so long, it collapses to be nearly flat so is easy to transport.  The saw is made in the USA.

  • Type: Collapsible
  • Blade length: 15”
  • Closed size: 17”
  • Weight: 11.1oz (without sheath)
  • Price: Mid
  • Buy here

5. Zippo Axe/Saw

Most 2-in-1 tools are gimmicks which don’t work well.  However, the Zippo axe-saw combo tool actually performs really well.  It is an axe (actually, more like a hatchet) which has a saw blade that can come out of its handle. The tool comes with an additional saw blade, both of which can fit in the handle. The axe can handle branches up to 4 inches in diameter.

As an axe, the tool doesn’t function as well as a stand-alone axe does.  However, it can still split smaller logs fairly well.  I actually find the hammer on the back of the axe head most useful for camping, such as when you need to hammer down tent stakes.  In any case, this one tool beats carrying around three separate camping tools.

  • Type: Multi-tool
  • Blade length: 15”
  • 5” axe head
  • Hammer on back of axe head
  • Weight: 42oz
  • Price: Upper-mid
  • Buy here

Sources:
https://lnt.org/axes-hatchets-and-leave-no-trace/
https://goalloutdoors.com/hike/leave-no-trace-best-hiking-principles/
http://bushwalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=8490%20
http://www.canoetripping.net/forums/forum/gear/miscellaneous/203-camp-saw
https://www.reddit.com/r/CampingGear/comments/cq0id4/axes_versus_saws_and_leave_no_trace/
https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/backcountry-basics/leave-no-trace/axes-hatchets-saws/
Image credits:
Sawing firewood” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by AlexiUeltzen
Ominousity” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Martin Cathrae
2017 Interagency Wilderness Ranger Acade” (CC BY 2.0) by Region 5 Photography

About the author /


Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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