An ax, or better yet, a chainsaw, is an ideal tool for felling a tree or dicing up a log. Both tools are impractical, though, for clearing a fallen tree along a mountain-biking trail or cutting up a log for firewood during a backwoods camping trip. For these situations, one needs a pocket chainsaw. This handy survival tool consists of chainsaw blades up to 36 inches in length with two large nylon handles that allow the operator to cut through branches and medium-size trees. 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 transported in a pack or on a belt.
This guide examines the attributes to consider when shopping for the best pocket chainsaw and reviews some of the best models available.
- BEST OVERALL: Sportsman Industries Pocket Chainsaw 36 Inch
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: SUMPRI Pocket Chainsaw Survival Gear -36 Inch
- UPGRADE PICK: Nordic Pocket Saw Survival Chainsaw – 25.6″
- MOST COMFORTABLE: Skyocean Pocket Chainsaw with Paracord Handle
- ALSO CONSIDER: YOKEPO Survival Pocket Chainsaw Folding Hand Saw
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pocket Chainsaw
Blade length, the number of teeth in the blade, and the type of steel the teeth are made of—these are important factors to consider when selecting a pocket chainsaw. Ahead, learn more about these and other important attributes of these compact tools.
Although all pocket chainsaw blades are made from high-carbon steel, not all carbon steel is equal. High-carbon steel is a mix of carbon and steel. The higher the carbon content in the mix, the harder the blade. A blade with a high-carbon content will have a sharper edge and hold that edge longer than a softer blade.
Like kitchen knives and other types of blades, a chainsaw blade’s hardness is measured using the Rockwell scale. Softer blades register between 45 and 55 on the scale, while harder steel blades measure between 55 and 65. Premium chainsaw blades will measure around 65 on the hardness scale.
Keep in mind that although a harder blade will cut more efficiently than a softer blade and require sharpening less often, it’s also more brittle. Brittle blades are more susceptible to chipping or even breaking. This is why cutting tools such as axes and hatchets are made from softer metal that is less likely to chip on impact.
True to their name, pocket chainsaws have blades that link together to form a chain. Some pocket chainsaws function like a typical saw, cutting when they move in one direction. Higher-quality chainsaws have teeth that are bidirectional, which means they cut in both directions. Bidirectional teeth will cut more quickly through a tree’s limbs, making them the preferred style of the two teeth options.
It’s important to understand that not all of the links on a pocket chainsaw have blades. Some chainsaws have smooth links interspersed between the blade links. Unlike an electric or gas chainsaw, a pocket chainsaw operator supplies all the power to carry the edge through the wood. Chainsaws with links that alternate between cutting and smooth allow the blade to glide through the wood with less effort, requiring less strength. On some chainsaws, only 16 of 35 or so links may have cutting edges. While this may make it easier to use, it will also take more passes to cut through the wood.
Some pocket chainsaws have cutting edges on all of their links. While this type of chainsaw will cut through more wood with each pass, it also requires more force to make each cutting stroke.
Most pocket chainsaws are between 24 and 36 inches long. A 36-inch chainsaw allows for a longer pull stroke; because the chainsaw operator can make longer passes with each stroke, it’s easier to cut through thicker wood. Longer strokes also enable the operator to create more momentum with each pull, making it easier to cut.
A longer chain, however, does not equate to more cutting power. Many 36-inch hand chainsaws may only have 15 cutting links. In comparison, a 24-inch chainsaw can have twice as many cutting links, allowing it to cut more deeply with each pass than a longer model. While this makes the shorter model more efficient, it doesn’t require more strength to use than a longer model with fewer teeth to create friction.
Pocket chainsaws are designed to be brought into the backwoods on hiking trips, primitive camping expeditions, mountain biking, and other activities in which carrying a standard power chainsaw would be impractical. With that in mind, a pocket chainsaw needs to be lightweight. Most pocket chainsaws weigh around 6 or 7 ounces, including their carrying case. This light weight makes them ideal for carrying in a pack or even on a belt.
Handles are key components of a pocket chainsaw because they are the means for creating the sawing action through wood. These handles need to be strong enough to endure the tension placed on them during cutting, large enough to allow for a good grip, and comfortable enough that they won’t leave blisters on the user’s hands.
Most pocket chainsaw handles consist of large nylon loops that can slip over the hands and secure to the wrists. This design allows the operator to gain leverage by leaning back to apply tension on the chain as they pull it back and forth over the tree or branch. Pocket chainsaws usually have brightly colored handles, and for good reason: bright handles make the operator more visible and clearly differentiate the handle from the blade to prevent accidental cuts.
Some pocket chainsaws have features that improve their portability and make them even more useful survival tools. Most pocket chainsaws come with rugged nylon storage pouches that keep the chain compact and protected during transport. These pouches are small enough to throw in the side pocket of a pack. Many have loops that allow the user to carry them on their belt.
Select pocket chainsaws also integrate other survival tools into their design. Some include fire starter kits that allow the user to build a fire out of the wood once the cutting is done. Others have parachute-cord handles that can be unraveled and double as emergency rope.
Our Top Picks
The list below includes some of the best pocket chainsaws on the market. Considerations such as number of teeth on the blade, the saw’s length, and how sturdy the handles are all factored into the selections. Any of the products below can cut through branches and medium-sized trees.
Long, portable, and with formidable cutting power, this pocket chainsaw from Sportsman Industries is one of the best means of cutting firewood in the backwoods. It has a 36-inch chain that provides a significant step up in cutting power over a shorter 24-inch chain, even if it is a little bulkier to carry. High-carbon heat-treated steel, with a 65 rating on the Rockwell hardness scale, makes for sharp teeth that hold their edges.
The teeth also saw both ways, which reduces the time and effort it takes to cut wood in half because it cuts on both strokes instead of just one. The handles, made from thick nylon, are wide enough to wrap comfortably around the wrists, enabling the user to maintain a sturdy stance while leaning back to apply tension to the chain. The chainsaw, which weighs just 5 ounces, fits into a nylon storage pouch that closes with a snap front and features a convenient belt loop.
This pocket chainsaw’s affordable price makes it a worthy accessory to mountain bikers, backpackers, and survivalists on a budget. While it may not offer as high quality a blade as higher-priced models, its heat-treated steel and long chain offer plenty of cutting power. Its 36-inch length is easy to use, making this chainsaw an attractive option for those without lumberjack-like upper-body strength.
The SUMPRI chainsaw’s long straps wrap securely around the wrists, providing a secure fit when applying the tension needed for cutting. When the cutting job is complete, the chain fits into a handy nylon carrying bag with a clip that keeps it securely closed during transport. The carrying bag can also attach to a belt, making it easily accessible while hiking or mountain biking. An all-weather magnesium fire starter is included for burning the cut wood. Weighing in at about half a pound, fire starter included, this kit is barely noticeable in a pack or on a hip.
Some pocket chainsaws cut in only one direction or have cutting blades only on alternating links, requiring more passes to cut through a limb or tree. This model from Nordic Pocket Saw has a double-sided cutting edge on each link, making it one of the most efficient models on the market. It boasts 33 teeth, twice the number of other pocket chainsaws. Add to that its heat-treated high-carbon steel construction, and this 25.6-inch survival chainsaw has better cutting power than many longer 36-inch models.
Long nylon handles provide a secure hold while sawing, whether looping them around the wrist or gripping them as handles. The chainsaw, which weighs less than 5 ounces, fits into a rugged case that attaches to a belt for easy access while hiking, mountain biking, or snowmobiling. This chainsaw’s handles come in three bright colors: red, orange, and green.
Skyocean’s innovative chainsaw eschews the nylon handle that most pocket chainsaws have. Instead, it has a paracord handle that doubles as an emergency rope. The drab green handles are stylish and are comfortable to hold, and also make this one of the more versatile pocket chainsaws on the market. What makes this product unique is that the handle can be untied and unraveled into a 23-foot emergency rope, one that is strong enough to hold up to 220 pounds.
This pocket chainsaw has 36 inches of cutting length and 16 heat-treated steel cutting links that cut in both directions. A nylon carrying case keeps the tool secure during transport. At just over 5 ounces, this lightweight chainsaw is easily stowed in a backpack, or even in a cargo pocket.
At just 24 inches long, this hand chainsaw from YOKEPO may be shorter than most of its competitors, but it packs a lot more bite. It has 33 large, serrated cutting teeth, which is more than twice the number of cutting teeth that most longer models have. This chainsaw doesn’t just have a lot of teeth, it has strong teeth made of high-carbon steel that scores a 65 on the Rockwell hardness scale. This rating means the teeth are sharp and able to hold their edges.
Wide nylon handles can be looped around the wrists for added leverage or held in the hands for more control. This pocket chainsaw, which weighs about 7 ounces, comes with a paracord bracelet that has a built-in fire starter and emergency whistle. A convenient front-strap carrying case holds the pocket chainsaw secure until it’s needed.
FAQs About Pocket Chainsaws
For more about how a pocket chainsaw stacks up to other woodcutting tools or how to care for one of these survival tools, read on for answers to these and other common questions.
Q. How does a pocket chainsaw compare to a camping ax or hatchet?
Each has its pros and cons. A pocket chainsaw is much lighter than a hatchet or ax, and it cuts through trees and branches more quickly. Hatchets and axes, however, are more versatile. They can turn on their sides and hammer in tent stakes, for example. They can also split large tree stumps, turning them into useful firewood.
Q. How long should a good pocket chainsaw be?
A pocket chainsaw should be at least 24 inches long to be easy to use. Shorter models can offer more cutting power by having more cutting blades per inch; longer 36-inch models with fewer cutting blades require less strength to use.
Q. How do I sharpen a pocket chainsaw?
Use a round file to sharpen a pocket chainsaw. Extend the chainsaw over a hard surface, such as a metal vice, and sharpen each blade individually by running the file against the blade perpendicular to the chain and at a 45-degree angle to each tooth. Run the file over each side of the tooth to create a sharp edge.