My ultralight backpacking friends will roll their eyes in dismay when they hear I’ve started carrying a 9.4 ounce Silky GOMBOY 240 Pruning Saw on my shoulder season and winter hikes. But I believe that the gear you carry on a hike or a backpacking trip should meet your objectives and goals for the specific journey you’re taking, not the other way around.
Hiking during shoulder seasons or off-trail, on long winter hikes above treeline in the mountains, and winter backpacking trips requires a different set of skills and gear than the minimalist ultralight gear you can get away with on the Appalachian Trail during the summer. (See My Gear List Philosophy)
Silky saw blades have a well deserved reputation for being very sharp, and it’s true, they go through wood like butter. Made in Japan, the blade cuts on the pull stroke, not on the push, which requires less energy to saw and gives you more control over the blade.
The Silky GOMBOY 240 I’ve started carrying is nine and a half inches with a blade that opens and locks in place in use. I store mine folded in my pack without a scabbard because the blade locks into the handle. The blades are replaceable when they wear out and come in several grades of sharpness for cutting green wood, soft wood, or hard wood. Silky claims that the hardening process they use to manufacture their blades makes them impossible to sharpen with a file, although I’ve seen people claim that they have. Regardless, the replacement blades, like the saw, are relatively inexpensive and cost about $20.
I first became interested in carrying a saw last winter when I learned that my friend Craig carries one in winter so he can cut wood and start a fire in an emergency. A group of us were preparing for a winter Bonds Traverse, one of the longest and most remote hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and reviewing the survival gear that each of us would be carrying in our packs.
Since that hike, I’ve become increasingly interested in carrying a saw on those backpacking trips where I want to do a little bit more camping and hanging out, than just hiking all day. In addition to prepping wood for a shoulder season or winter campfire, since there’s little to do at night after the sun goes down at 4:3o pm, a lightweight saw is an especially good tool to carry in winter when most of the wood on the ground is wet or buried under a layer of snow.
If you can find a tree that’s been knocked over in a storm (a blow down) and not green, you can quickly trim off its branches with a Silky Saw and generate a fair amount of wood for a fire. If you have a small survival knife, like a Mora Bushcraft Black, you can split the wood you’ve cut into smaller pieces (called battoning, see video demonstration) to make kindling for a fire. All this is a heck of a lot easier than dragging branches through the woods or collecting little sticks for kindling, especially off-trail, in the dark, or when the ground is covered in snow.
While it is possible to collect wet wood you find on the ground and split it to get at the drier wood in the middle with a survival knife, trimming branches off dead trees is much faster and provides much higher quality fuel. Using a saw like the Silky, is also lighter weight than carrying an axe or hatchet and far easier to control.
While I’m admittedly still a relative novice at processing wood with a saw and a knife compared to my bushcrafting friends, I’ve been impressed with how easy it is to learn these basic bushcrafting skills and hunger to learn more. There’s an elegance to bushcraft, that of using the material that nature provides you rather than carrying everything on your back, that should appeal to hikers and backpackers interested in using lighter weight gear in more challenging conditions.
While I am diligent about packing and carrying extra insulation in case one of my companions is injured or I have to spend an unexpected night outdoors in colder weather, I think it’s also important not to underestimate just how wrong things can go when you’re hiking in the mountains. They can go really wrong and no one is going to come looking for you until morning.
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