Saw on the Trail

Saw on the Trail

Trees happen and they occasionally fall down. It’s better to have a saw than to have to turn around.

Often you can simply step over or ride around fallen limbs and downed trunks. Just as often it’s not safe to do so. When windfall blocks the trail not only is it sometimes not possible to ride around the obstacle, it’s also not a good habit to get into. Riding around a barrier, instead of removing it, leads to multiple user paths weaving through an area causing further erosion, mud, and other issues. It’s better to simply clear the trail. You wanted to stretch, and your horse wants a quick break too. Clearing trails is a good practice to foster. You’re helping your fellow trail users and land managers, as well as promoting riders as responsible trail users.

What Type of Saw?

There are a number of types of saws readily available. We’re going to stick with the following manual types. Pocket chainsaws, Folding, and Fixed blades.

Pocket chainsaws

This handy survival tool consists of chainsaw blades with handles at both ends that allow the operator to cut through branches. Unlike their much heavier battery– and gas-powered cousins, a pocket chainsaw weighs less than half a pound and fits in a small case that can easily be carried in your saddle bags. Click the image for more info on pocket chainsaws.


Folding saws

Folding saws are designed to give you the cutting ability of a fixed blade saw but in a lightweight design that is safe to carry in your saddle bags. Blades of these saws typically have an aggressive set of teeth that are safely out of harm’s way once folded into the built-in sheath. Click the image for more info on folding saws.

Fixed blade saws

Fixed blade, or rigid handle, saws are heavier and slightly harder to pack than the types previously mentioned. But they work better and are much sturdier. Cutting downfall is work, why make it any harder? A fixed blade saw in a sturdy sheath will ride nearly unnoticed under your riding saddle’s fenders. Click the image for more info on fixed blade saws.


How Big?

Size matters. Yes, it does. The maximum cut you can make with a saw depends on the length of the blade. For an efficient cutting action, you want plenty of travel on each stroke. In theory, an 18” blade can get through a 17” log but you’ll be making plenty of tiny push-pull movements and it’s going to take forever. As a guide, if you’re looking to cut up to 6” logs then a blade of 10” to 12” is fine.

For most of us, your choice between a pocket chainsaw, folding saw or fixed blade will come down to how often you’re going to use it. Do you want a “just in case” saw or do you want to be prepared for whatever nature throws at you?

I don’t know about in your part of the world, but in the Pacific Northwest riders can always find blow down across the trail and the next time the wind blows there will be even more. I don’t leave the trail head without a sturdy fixed blade saw. Often it’s “Little Joe” a 20” saddle saw. If I’m going on a longer pack trip “Stella” my 40” crosscut will ride under my fenders.

What To Look For:

Whichever type of saw you choose here are a few considerations worth noting:

  • Sharpness – It doesn’t matter how great the rest of the saw is, if the blade isn’t sharp, you’re going to have a tough time. 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. Silky and similar brands all make really sharp blades.
  • Cutting Efficiency – How much wood is removed with each stroke? Cutting efficiency depends on a combination of elements such as blade length, sharpness, and cutting teeth design. Some blades only cut on the pull stroke while others cut on both.
  • Handle: you want an ergonomic handle design that sits comfortably in the hand, including when you are wearing gloves
  • 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 easy to carry but reduced weight sometimes means reduced overall structural integrity. Saws with shorter blades and polymer, rather than metal, handles and frames may 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 well.
  • Sharpening / Replacing Blades – Make sure that the saw you buy can be sharpened or uses a blade that can be easily replaced. The cost of some replacement blades sometimes gets close to the cost of a new saw.

Not all saws are created equal. It pays to spend a little extra to buy a well-made product. The best saw, regardless of type, will have a sharp, quality blade.

Wrap up

Look for design features that will improve the efficiency of your cuts so you go through more wood with less work. Weight is always a concern but don’t be too quick to discount the benefits of carrying that saw.

Some type of saw is a must have for every serious trail rider. I carry one and just about everyone that I know does so as well.

At some point you’re going to encounter a log, a blow down, or a tree with branches pointing in every direction that you cannot easily go over or around. By carrying a saw you’ll be able to clear the path and be back on your way in short order.

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