Of course, when one says, “the trail” the question that should immediately come to mind is: “What trail?” For example, I’ve talked to people who’ve walked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail and said the only real cutting tool you might need is a pocketknife. It seems that all along the Appalachian there are places where people mail home items they brought and found they didn’t need. Things like hatchets and machetes and Bowie knives seem of little use along the Appalachian or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve never walked that trail but it sounds like a very long hike through a very long park. I have hiked in places in the Western Rocky Mountains, and unless you plan to build a wickiup or something along those lines the need for mega-steel like an axe or quarter-inch thick parang is not all that important. It seems most people do just fine with folders or perhaps a small hunting-type fixed blade. These days people carry ultra-light gear in big backpacks and the need to hunt for food along the way or build their own camps is less a necessity than an option…something folks do if they want to pretend or just goof off.
The need for a larger cutting tool becomes more of a necessity the farther one gets into true wilderness or as a working tool around the ranch or farm. The Lower Forty-Eight has few true wilderness locales and if we’re to be honest it seems that a small machete or hand axe is about the only large cutting implement one needs in most places more than twenty-miles from a paved highway. Honestly, there aren’t many places in the Lower Forty-Eight that are more than even ten miles from pavement of some sort. Still, it’s important to carry something that can cut a two-inch branch for an emergency shelter and the most energy efficient tool for that purpose is a small saw. The SAK saw works fine most of the time.
While butcher knives of various designs might have been the ticket a couple of hundred years ago they are not essential today. There are those who like to pretend at being mountain men or backwoodsmen and YouTube has some of those videos where people are dressed in period garb while all the while cars and trucks scream by at 70 mph a few hundred yards away. What the heck: It’s all fun and games and enjoying one’s leisure time is important as long as no one else is hurt in the process. But back to reality: The most important cutting tool you’ll carry will be in your pocket in the form of either a Leatherman multi-tool (or similar design) or my preferred implement a Swiss Army Knife with good pruning saw. Granted the steel on the SAK is somewhat soft but that is of no great problem since it’s easy to sharpen. The Leatherman’s knife is smallish and so is the saw and I find that tool less appealing than the SAK. I see the Leatherman as more appropriate for mountain bikers and that sort of thing who might need the pincers or pliers to replace a tube or fix the gears.
We all know, or at least should know, that the best tool is one’s brain filled with an array of survival skills. But then most of us are pretty proficient at surviving in the world we grew up in. The city fellow who lives surrounded by tens of thousands of people is just as much a survival expert as the guy who walks in the jungles and lives in a thatched hut. But the idea of survival and thus the appropriate cutting tools is always focused on those aspects of life that we know less about. Thus the multiplicity of survival shows and videos and blog posts on “cutting tools” for survival. Still, I’ve never seen a post or video that accurately portrays what “survivability,” or for that matter “sustainability,” is really all about and all of that despite hundreds of articles on the topic. So please allow me to bring a scientific perspective on the subject and to find a way to include cutting tools into the mix since there is a connection as you will see as this series of posts progresses.
In Part Two of this multiple post we’ll look at things like population density and population pressure at it relates to survivability and sustainability. Oh yes, and we’ll manage to bring cutting tools into the mix.