Which is the best compact wood processing tool for your bug-out bag – a kukri knife or folding saw? Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
One of the points to consider is always the weight, of course, and here a folding saw will almost always win. The majority of folding saws will be much lighter than a kukri. A kukri with, say, a 12” blade will likely weigh in at around a pound and a quarter (at least) – heavier than a folding saw. Small folding saws are generally about the size of an oversized pocket knife and function in the same manner.
There are also larger triangular models that have 15″ to 20″ or longer saw blades. This type of folding saw resembles a metal baton in compact form and they fold out into a very sturdy triangle shaped saw. They are stronger, come with larger blades, are capable of heaver cutting and still collapse into a very compact form factor. Plus, even these enlarged collapsible/folding saws are still more lightweight than a standard kukri knife. I prefer triangle shaped folding saws myself (for example, the 21″ Sven), so that is this type I will be contrasting with the kukri.
Of course, one of the tasks that you can’t do with a folding saw is quickly hack your way through brush, limbs and undergrowth, which a kukri will do very swiftly with ease. It will chop through 1” to 2” limbs like butter and make short work of felling a tree of say 6” to 8” in diameter. They’re also great for splitting wood for the fire and useful for building impromptu survival shelters. Just a very solid tool for a variety of uses, though they are best suited for chopping and splitting wood.
Another advantage of a kukri is that you are extremely unlikely to break the blade. Certainly you could damage it if you hit rock or metal with it, but you are not very likely to break it. Furthermore, the kukri can also be used extremely effectively as a weapon for attack or defense, which, after all, is what it was originally designed and built for. It can be used to chop and skin meat or as a priest to kill fish. All in all the kukri is a pretty versatile knife. When you’re considering what tool to have in your bug-out bag versatility is key.
On the other hand, a folding saw is also a very useful piece of kit and will make short work of cutting down medium sized (8″ to 10″) or possibly larger trees (depending on the blade length of the saw) for shelter or firewood. Whether you are building a small survival shelter or log cabin it will cut boards to a desired length easily with excellent precision, which a kukri won’t. For felling trees and cutting wood the folding saw takes a lot less effort than using a kukri. Definitely the better tool for sustained use if you have a considerable amount of trees that need to be downed and wood to convert to boards.
However, what do you do if the saw blade breaks or becomes blunt? Better make sure that you have a spare or two in your BOB. Not only that, but if/when it becomes blunt with use, it’s not the easiest of things to sharpen out in the field. Do you have the tools (or skills) to sharpen saw teeth? Sharpening the blade of a kukri or your survival knife is pretty straightforward, but not the saw.
Of course, one thing about a saw is that it makes a lot less noise out in the woods than does a kukri, and if you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, the folding saw has to be the better tool in that light. You can use a saw to process meat, of course, but it has a great tendency to catch on the flesh and rip it, whereas the chopping action of a kukri will give cleaner cuts. I wouldn’t want to use the saw as an instrument of defense and if you are clearing brush it will take a very long time. Much more effort and precious calories burned in the process.
Looking at it from the point of view of safety, there is far less risk of injury to yourself or any bystanders when using the folding saw; it’s not likely to slip out of your hand when it’s wet or sweaty, whereas a heavy kukri flying through the air can do serious damage if it hits someone.
When considering survival equipment of any sort, the main questions should be whether the item has multiple uses and what is the likelihood of it failing? If it’s simply a question of what is the best compact wood processing tool, the folding saw is probably the better option for that one singular use. However, the saw blade may break or become dull and if you have no spare, where does that leave you? And even if you do ultimately choose the folding saw you will still need some other type of bladed tool with a plain edge for normal cutting and carving jobs.
A high quality kukri is the better all-round tool with far more uses than the folding saw. If it was a question of one or the other then I would personally opt for the kukri every time. But the folding saw is quite lightweight and wouldn’t add a lot to your BOB, so why not have the best of both worlds and bring one of each?