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$20 Folding Saw Shootout

I consider a lightweight folding saw to be baseline gear. In my area of the world, we can see overnight temps in the low 50s Fahrenheit in the summer and with temps dipping even lower in the mountains. Those kinds of conditions are a recipe for disaster for the unprepared. A good saw and a sturdy fixed blade knife will go a long way toward making tasks like emergency fire prep and shelter building easier.

There are a lot of saws on the market but I have zeroed in on what I consider the 3 main contenders: the Bahco Laplander, Corona RazorTOOTH 7″, and the Silky F180. All three of these saws have a lot in common like a price tag around $20, similar weights and sizes, and a solid track record.

Top to bottom: Bahco Laplander, Silky F180 (Large Tooth), Corona RazorTOOTH

Which one is best for you? I’m not sure there is an easy answer to that as I can’t even really decide myself but I aim to lay out some information that might make your choice easier.

Comparison Table

F180LaplanderRazorTOOTH
Locks ClosedNoYesYes
Locks OpenYes (2 positions)YesYes
Blade Length7″7.5″7″
Length Closed8.75″8.75″8.75″
Cutting StrokePullPush and pullPull
Price$21.25$21.50$17.39
HandlePlastic w/
Rubber Accent
Plastic w/
Rubber Accent
Plastic w/
Rubber Accent
Metal ReinforcedPivot areaMinimalPivot Area
Teeth Per Inch6.576
Weight6.3 oz6.6 oz6.8 oz
SteelSK4 w/ Chrome“Swedish” w/
Coating
SK5 w/ Chrome
Made inJapanSwedenMexico

Cutting Performance

If you are going to major on cutting performance, the Silky F180 is the winner with the Corona RazorTOOTH as a close second. The Laplander is a distant third place. While the Laplander does cut on the push and pull stroke, it’s smaller 7 TPI cutters seem to clog more quickly and just do not cut as fast as the other saws. However, the Laplander is no slouch especially if you don’t have context for what a good hand saw can do.

The following image shows three cutting strokes from each saw. The kerf on the left is 1 pull stroke, 1 push stroke, and 1 pull stroke from the Bahco. It is the shallowest cut. The bark tear out makes the kerf look deeper than it is – pay attention to the square bottom of the kerf. The center kerf is 3 pull strokes from the Corona. It is the second deepest cut. The kerf on the right is the Silky. It likely could have been through the branch in 4 more strokes. It clearly outclasses the other saws.

Left to right: Bahco, Corona, Silky

Comfort and Ergonomics

The winner is not as clear here but the Silky F180 is clearly the loser. The F180 has wide finger grooves that won’t really fit anyone. It gets some points for the two-position lock that allows you to lock the blade in a position that is more appropriate for cutting on the ground but it still isn’t the best in hand. It isn’t uncomfortable to use but it isn’t as comfortable as the others.

The Bahco has a very neutral handle that is grippy and feels good in several positions. The Corona is probably the nicest to use over a long period of time thanks to the more vertical hand position provided by the pistol grip shape. I’ll give the win to the Corona.

Durability

This is going to be a fly in the ointment for some, especially the rabid Silky fanboys. In spite of the fact that the Laplander has very little metal reinforcement in the handle, it has a reputation as the most durable and I am inclined to agree. Bahco has clearly favored flexibility over hardness in the heat treatment of their steel. You would have to be the sloppiest saw user on the planet to break one of these blades as they can typically be bent to 90 degrees or more without snapping.

The Silk7 F180, on the other hand, seems to go all-in on cutting performance. The blade is hard and they have a reputation for snapping when misused. I’ve snapped one before and I know many others who have as well. There is a technique to using a pull cut saw. Avoid putting to much pressure on the saw during the push stroke, especially if you are cutting a round large enough that the tip is buried in the diameter of said round. The chrome-plated blade adds points here as these saws tend to be extremely rust-resistant.

The Corona RazorTOOTH seems to split the difference on blade durability but there have been some reports of the handle being a little more brittle. The chrome-plated blade does ad some points here but Corona’s blade are not as rust-resistant as Silky’s in my experience.

Price and Availability

The Corona wins on both price and availability. You can often find these in home improvement or farm supply stores so there is a good chance you can pick one up locally. It is usually going to be the most affordable of all three options.

If you have an arborist supply store near you, there is a chance you could find Silky saws in stock but expect to pay a premium in shops like this. I’ve never seen the Bahco Laplander in a brick and mortar store.

Overall Impression of Quality

The Silky wins here. The plastic used in the handle feels solid. The rubber over-mold is clearly the best quality. The finishing on the blade is notably better. It doesn’t flex, bind on opening/closing, or creak like the others.

The Bahco and Corona are both well-made, premium saws that are definitely in a class above big box store saws. They just don’t show the same attention to detail shown by Silky saws.

How to Choose

If you need the most efficient cutter and you can be somewhat careful with your tools, the Silky F180 is the top choice. If you need the most durable saw because you are going to throw it an emergency kit and forget about it, you are probably looking at the Bahco Laplander. If you want a saw that seems to do everything well, the Corona RazorTOOTH seems to split the difference nicely.

If you stop me on the trail, you will likely find the Corona or Silky in my pack. However, if it is really cold, you are more likely to find a larger bow saw.

Where to Buy

I have purchased all of these saws on Amazon except the Corona which I purchased at a local farm store (Amazon would have been cheaper). You might consider watching the prices on Amazon before you buy as the Silky, for instance, has been as low as $15 recently. The following URLs are all affiliate links that support JTT.

Bahco Laplander

Silky F180

Corona RazorTOOTH

The Buff – Swiss Army Knife of Headwear

What if there was one piece of gear that could serve as a scarf, a knit hat, a gaiter, a pot cozy, a handkerchief, a sleep hat and more? What if it also weighed very little and folded almost completely flat? Well, such an item exists. It’s called a Buff and it’s as amazing as it sounds.

What Is It?

It’s simple – really, really simple. A Buff is basically just a fabric tube. It is usually made from a material with some stretch like Merino Wool, polyester, and synthetic fleece. The tube shape is the key to its versatility.

Original Buff is, as far as I can tell, the originator of the Buff. The name “Buff” is a brand name but it has become somewhat of a genericized trademark that refers to similar headwraps from other manufacturers. My first experience with something similar was the Spec Ops Brand Recon Wrap about 15 years ago. Mil-Spec Monkey, OR, and others all make versions of this useful item. Now I own several including some from Original Buff which I prefer.

What’s the Big Deal?

The Buff’s versatility is off the charts and if you enjoy spending time outside, you’ll likely never stop finding uses for them. They are an incredible addition to a cold-weather EDC. I don’t leave home without one when the temperatures start dropping and I camp/hike with one year-round.

Here are some of the ways I have used mine:

  1. knit cap (great for cool summer nights above treeline)
  2. sun protection
  3. sweatband
  4. ear warmer
  5. helmet liner
  6. pot cozy/holder (great for insulating rehydrating camp meals or holding hot pot handles as long as you have a non-melting material)
  7. scarf
  8. gaiter
  9. balaclava
  10. handkerchief
  11. hand towel
  12. pillowcase (wrapped around a stuff sack that was stuffed with clothes)
  13. More ways to wear a buff

My first Buffs were all made from synthetic materials. They were fairly thin and served me well in all 4 seasons. However, last year a friend mentioned that Buff Headwear now offered 100% Merino Wool Buffs which opened up a whole new world of functionality since Merino won’t melt. I am more comfortable using the wool version handling hot pots in camp. It also seems to stave off stink longer than the polyester versions. If I could only have one, it would be one of the lightweight Merino Wool Buffs.

My Buff is usually working for me even when I am not wearing one. I typically fold one flat and tuck it into the front pocket of my Hill People Gear Kit Bag to pad items like my compass and phone. This protects my gear just a bit and keeps the Buff in an easy to access location.

Wrap Up

Buffs are as multifunctional as a Swiss Army Knife and useful in all 4 seasons. They are one of my all-time favorite pieces of gear.

You may have a source for them locally so check your local outdoor stores. I have a local source but they don’t carry the Merino Wool versions that I prefer so I have purchased mine on Amazon.

Buff Headware on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Review: Fenix E30R

Earlier this year, I bought a Fenix E30R in the hopes that it would work well as a lightweight, bright, compact, 18650 powered flashlight, for outdoor use. I was basically buying the form-factor as the E30R is just about as small as you can make a 18650 powered light. Unfortunately, the light hasn’t quite worked out like I hoped. It works to be sure but it could be better with some seemingly simple additions.

Overview

The E30R is a compact, USB rechargable flashlight that is powered by a single 18650 or 2 CR123A batteries. It boasts 1600 lumens pushed through a TIR optic to shape the beam.

Size:
Length: 3.9” (99mm)
Body: 0.8” (21.5mm)
Head: 1.0” (25.4mm)

Weight: 1.8 oz. (51g) excluding battery

Battery: One 18650 rechargeable Li-ion battery (included) or two CR123A Lithium batteries can be used in an emergency

Included: Fenix ARB-L18-3500 rechargeable Li-ion battery, magnetic charging cable, body clip, lanyard, spare O-ring

Observations from Use

I’ve owned many Fenix lights over the years. In fact, I owned one of the first Fenix lights imported via a group buy on Candlepower forums back in the day. They have always served me well and I have come to trust and even prefer them in many cases. This is the first one that has disappointed me. It looks amazing. It is extremely bright. The form-factor is amazing. The clip is excellent. The output levels are nicely spaced. Fenix got so much right but their user interface design let them down in a big way.

The light can be turned on by a half-second long press on the switch. That means that when you need light, you push the switch and wait. That is annoying. When I push the switch, I want light right then. On top of that, the light always turns on in low mode which can be a good thing unless you want most or even all of the lumens right away. You have to long press to turn the light on and then click to cycle through each of the 5 modes. For example, accessing the Turbo setting from off requires a half-second long press followed by 4 clicks. There is no way to access Turbo or High from off and no mode memory. Either or both of those options would make this light 10 times easier to live with.

I realize that I can’t hold too much of this against the light because I read about the user interface before I bought the light and it is marketed as an EDC light (which is often code for a fiddly user interface in flashlight marketing terms). Still, I was hoping it wouldn’t be as annoying as it seemed… but it is. The user interface is just not well suited to outdoor (and obviously “tactical”) use.

With all that out of the way, I can report that this light is great in other ways. It makes use of a SST40 LED behind a lens and the beam is EXCELLENT. It’s bright, white, and well balanced in terms of throw and spill. The E30R puts all that SST40 efficiency to good use with great mode spacing. In most outdoor use cases, the 350 lumen medium setting is more than enough light and it will give you over 5 hours of runtime in that setting!

In terms of appearance and other physical attributes, the light is a joy. The copper-colored accents look great. The magnetic charging and battery charge indicator are easy to use and functional. The deep carry clip is strong and well designed. The light is easy to hold and operate in spite of its small size.

Wrap Up

This light could have been great as it combines so many great features and attributes in such a small, 18650 powered package. If it just had some sort of output mode memory or a way to go directly to High or Turbo setting, it would be a far more useful light for outdoor use. As it is now, it feels like a light with a lot of unrealized potential. If you are looking for a light for something like EDC in an office, this might work.

I purchased my E30R from FenixLighting.com. It is also available elsewhere including Amazon.com.

On Foot, Off Grid: Suntactics sCharger-14

I’ll just say up front that this sCharger-14 is easily the best portable solar charger that I have used and then I’ll spend the rest of this article telling you why. The bottom line is that the quality is excellent, they are assembled and supported here in the USA, and they have a feature that is an absolute game-changer (more on this later).

sCharger-14 Specifications:

  • Output: 2800mA, 5.1V, 14Watts
  • Circuitry: 2-USB Ports, Patented Auto-Retry (Auto-Reset)
  • Weight: ~21oz (596 Grams)
  • Water Resistant: 40 Feet, Corrosion Resistant, IPX7 Rated
  • Dimensions: 11.6″ x 7.25″ x .25″in (closed) / 11.6″ x 14.5″ x .125″ in (open)
  • Solar Cell Efficiency: ~20%, Mono-Crystalline
Suntactics sCharger-14 (upper right) shown with another panel during testing. There will be a review available on the other panel soon.

Observations from Use

To understand what makes the Suntactics panels so great, it helps to have some context for the state of the solar charger market and some experience with the challenges of solar charging devices in the field. I’ll try to provide that context before explaining how Suntactics addresses both.

Regarding the state of the market – It only takes a quick search on Amazon to see solar chargers from a variety of names you don’t recognize and a few that you might. Many of these brands are based in China and appear to exist solely for the purpose of selling inexpensive electronics on Amazon. In my experience, their quality is often dubious and their specifications aren’t trustworthy.

Suntactics, however, has been making excellent portable solar panels since 2009 and their panels have been very well vetted by several demanding user groups including the through-hiking community and military personnel They work. Their panels have no moving parts. They are laminated in such a way that they submersible and they shrug off poor weather conditions. I have used a USB voltmeter to verify their output claims and this panel will often deliver a charge in conditions where my other panel gives up the ghost which speaks to its efficiency. On top of that, their electronic design is superior to anything I have tried… which brings us to the game-changing feature.

Regarding the challenges of solar charging in the field – You may be aware of the fact that the sun’s position in the sky changes throughout the day. You may also be aware that things occlude the sun, like clouds, exist in significant numbers. What you may not know is that many devices like battery chargers and cell phones just aren’t built to handle the realities of solar charging and the voltage changes that come with it.

In many cases, a cloud passing in front of your solar panel will cause the output of the panel to drop which induces a charge error and the device stops charging. Many cell phones are also a little picky about their charge level and will simply not adjust as the panel output changes with the solar conditions. This can lead to more charge errors or slower charging than is necessary. Basically, all of this means you have to babysit your solar charger at all times so that you can unplug and replace the USB device as necessary to reset any potential charge errors.

All Suntactics panels have a feature that addresses this issue very elegantly. They call it “Auto-Retry” and it basically means that the panel automatically restarts the charge every 5 minutes. It is as if you are standing there unplugging the device and then plugging it back in every 5 minutes. You can leave Suntactics panels unattended with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that charge errors will be dealt with automatically. It’s basically magic.

This photo was taken during testing to illustrate some very challenging conditions. See the next image for actual multimeter readings during these conditions.
In this real-world test, the sCharger-14 was still putting out 4.59 volts at .44 amps with the sun occluded by clouds. The other panel tested during this time was producing charge errors.

I originally purchased my sCharger-14 as more of a preparedness item than a backcountry item. It is the largest panel that Suntactics makes in the sCharger line but I still find it to be quite portable and lightweight compared to many panels so it has seen time in the mountains. That said, I would like to pick up one of their smaller and lighter panels eventually for backcountry use with my preferred power banks (see previous article regarding power banks).

I’ve done things like charge 2 cell phones at once (though only one USB socket will have the Auto-Retry feature). I have charged 18650 batteries in the field at 2 amps (the panel will do it if the charger and solar conditions allow)! I can’t do either of those with the other chargers I have tried. I should also note that this particular panel tops off my battery banks relatively quickly which I appreciate.

Wrap Up

I am not an electrical engineer so I likely won’t dive that much deeper into the stats or tech for this panel. I’m just a guy who has spent too much time screwing with other solar chargers before stumbling on a brand that works. The Suntactics panels are efficient, exhibit great quality and efficiency, and that is all great but… What really sets these apart is that they have obviously been designed to address the challenges of solar use in the field.

Suntactics makes a number of sizes and configurations in the sCharger line. They seem to be made in batches and their website is kept up to date with only the particular panels that are available at that time. Suntactics.com

They also sell direct via Amazon with Prime shipping which is where I purchased my panel: Suntactics on Amazon.com.

How (and Why) to Ditch Hydration Bladders

I remember when I purchased my first hydration bladder. It felt like a superpower. I could basically just conjure water like a wizard. Abrakadabra… Hydration. Several years, experiences, and broken hydration bladders later, I now question whether they are even a good idea.

Why…

A list of grievances:

Hydration bladders are more fragile than almost any bottle. I have broken at least 6 hydration bladders from a wide variety of manufacturers including your favorite. In the best case, your stuff gets wet. In the worst case, you lose your most vital resource.

They don’t handle the cold as well as a bottle that is built for cold. Granted, the bladder itself is usually well insulated enough inside your pack to prevent freezing but your mouthpiece and hose will likely freeze. This can happen even if you are careful about blowing out the hose if it is cold enough.

They are more expensive especially compared to free bottles. That’s right. There are some really good bottles that are basically free with the purchase of something like Smartwater, Gatorade, or maybe those tradeshow freebie sports bottles. Even if you have to buy some bottles for specific purposes, they are less expensive than a bladder (and they lost longer with less maintenance).

They are terrible to clean. If something requires tablets, special brushes, and weird expanding drying rack to clean, it kind of sucks. Those bladders and hoses get really, really nasty if you don’t clean them well.

They make it easy to over-utilize your resources. “Gee whiz, this climb is kicking my tail. I’ll just take a quick swig.” Do that a few times and before you know it, you’ve knocked back all 3 liters and you’re looking for a place to refill. You need to hydrate but hydration bladders make it easy to take in more than you need.

They have the word “bladder” in their name. That’s a little weird, right?

I will grant you that they do have some advantages. The convenience can’t be beat but, again, this is a double-edged sword. They are also often lighter in weight than the bottles required to carry the same volume of water.

This pack in this photo (HPG Ute) has 6 liters of water on board. 5 liters are in bottles on the outside of the pack and an extra liter is tucked inside in preparation for an overnight trip with no water access.

How…

The “how” basically boils down to a few key factors. The first is having the right gear. You need to make sure you have the bottles you need to carry a sufficient amount of water and then you have a pack that will support your new hydration bladder-less existence.

The bottle part is easy. Just find bottles that will let you carry as much water as you would have with a hydration bladder. I like to use the big Nalgene 48-ounce bottles. They are the same diameter as the typical 32-ounce bottles so they fit all the same pouches. Two of them will carry roughly the same amount of water as a 3L bladder. Alternately, the 1-liter Smartwater bottles are a great shape for packing in a backpack.

Speaking of backpacks, I like Hill People Gear packs for carrying a lot of water since they typically have ample bottle pockets and provisions for attaching bottles to your pack belt. I can easily and comfortably carry 5 liters of water on my Umlindi or Ute without even having to stash any water inside the pack. I can place additional bottles in the pack as necessary.

This Hill People Gear Umlindi has almost 5 liters of water on board in preparation for a day far from any water source.

Once you have the gear sorted out, you can address the convenience aspect. This is important because, while hydration bladders can lead to over-hydration, you still don’t want to make it hard to take a drink. My standard is that I must have at least once bottle that can I drink from without having to stop to access it, drink from it, or stow it again. I like to use a sports bottle as you might use on a bike but really, almost any bottle will work. The key is to make sure this bottle is easy to access like on your waist belt or lashed to your pack strap. I just rotate water to the easy access bottle from other bottles when I get a chance.

Don’t submit to the tyranny of hydration bladders any longer. Save money, save headaches, and save water by switching to bottles.

Attaching a bike bottle to your pack strap is easy. Photo Credit: Hill People Gear

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