Many people have asked us over the years whether it is better to bring an axe or a saw on a camping trip. For obvious reasons, the intuitive answer is of course always going to be an axe (Axes = vikings, ergo, axes > saw). But if we take a closer look at our actual needs, we see that it isn’t so simple.
The pros and cons of Axes:
- Axes are extremely good at quickly cutting wood along the grain. For example, if you’re splitting a log vertically, an axe is a terrific tool. One swing, and you can easily cut through over 12 inches of wood. Something that would take a lot of energy using a saw.
- Axes are also amazingly fun to use. Not only do you get to feel like a Viking-lumberjack, there’s something great about splitting a piece of wood with a well-placed swing of an axe.
- On the con side, axes are pretty terrible at everything else. Cutting a log against the grain takes time and energy, and is often a messy ordeal. If you’re looking to cut a log into clean pieces, an axe is not going to cut it (pun intended). You’ll end up with something that looks like a beaver gnawed away at it.
- Axes are also very dangerous. I’ve seen people miss their swing and end up with an axe in their foot, which can ruin a camping trip (if you’re lucky), or end up with missing toes (if you’re less lucky). Axes are heavy and sharp, and tend to inspire stupid behavior.
The pros and cons of Saws:
- Saws are the less interesting, but far more functional and safe alternative to the axe. If an axe was a Ferrari, a saw would be a Corolla. Nothing wrong with a Corolla, but it’s just not a Ferrari. A saw takes a lot of energy to use, but can cut wood reliably and precisely in any direction – with or against the grain.
- Saws are also much safer to use, much lighter to pack, and much more compact, with some models folding into a single pole that can be transported without the sharp end exposed.
- When front-country camping where your main requirement is to split logs of firewood, an axe may actually be the better option, but for almost any backcountry trip, where you may need to split large fallen logs into manageable pieces, or remove branches to clear a portage, a saw is almost always a better choice. Even if it is kind of boring.