Pocket Chainsaw Review: Quick Work


Pocket Chainsaw Review: Quick Work

Weighing in at a scant 6 oz and storing away at the size of your average nutrition bar, John’s been using his trusty 36″ pocket chainsaw to cut down lots of deadfall in Santa Fe this spring, prompting this review. Sparked by Travis’ Silky Pocketboy review earlier this month, these ubiquitous hand-operated chainsaws pack a mighty punch, so let’s look at his buddy Scott and him making quick work of some deadfall below…

A Chainsaw for Your Pocket

Saying that out loud, “pocket chainsaw,” will get quite the reaction from your riding mates. But when you pull this neat 3 x 4″ sleeve out from a frame or hip bag and unfurl the glistening chain, their eyes will light up.

As the name implies, these chainsaws are similar to those found on motor-operated chainsaws, but they run off burritos and gummy bears, not gas or a battery. While not as heavy-duty as the ones found on a 20″ or 24″ bar unit, they get the job done. The most common length is 36″, which is important for a few reasons. But first, let’s talk about trail clearing…

This 10″ round deadfall Aspen tree was blocking an acequia path… It took three minutes to cut with two people.

When to Cut

Disclosure: Trail work can be contentious, particularly in National Forests or public lands where entities mandate appropriate work behavior. For instance, in the Santa Fe National Forest, you cannot dig with a shovel without an archeological survey. Some regions limit “work” because of endangered species or fire damage. Needless to say, check your local restrictions before doing anything to a local trail.

When I say “deadfall,” I mean a dead tree that has fallen either on a trail or in such a way that it is impeding trail usage. The reason this is important to clear is summed up in a simple phrase: “Keep single track single!” Oftentimes, when a tree falls over a trail, users will walk around the tree, causing trail braiding to occur. This leads to an increase of trail erosion as plant matter is often trampled.

Scott going at it with a 16″ diameter Ponderosa that fell from beetle kill on an off-camber steep uphill trail…

Sometimes, a downed tree will be right around a blind turn or have branches protruding towards riders. In general, I try to weigh the nature of the trail against the inconvenience or impact a downed tree will have on it. I’ve encountered deadfall right at head level before that would surely knock a rider out or at the bottom of a loose and steep chute that could hurt someone as well.

So when a tree has fallen either across the trail on the ground or is impeding traffic, like the one above is, that’s when I’ll do my best to clear it. While the photos don’t look like it, this tree is halfway up a steep pitch–the kind where you are digging in hard–and it sucks having to dismount to go over it.

Eight minutes later, this tree was cleared!

Step by Step

Note: the act of removing dead trees is very dangerous. Never attempt to do so alone unless you have experience, and be mindful of others around you while you cut. It goes without saying, but if you’ve never been taught to do this stuff by professionals, it might be best to leave it to professionals.

Step one: Size it up! First, check to see if you and a buddy can move the deadfall without cutting. Sometimes, deadfall can be slid to the side or slide downhill safely without the need to cut anything. If not, to determine if the 36″ long pocket chainsaw can take down deadfall, I’ll do one simple thing: wrap the saw around the tree. If the ends can touch each other or if they overlap, there’s enough chain to cut the tree.



Step two: Make a plan! Is the deadfall laid in a way that, when you cut through it, could potentially harm you or your friend? Be careful cutting. Be mindful of where the two segments will fall. In general, I err away from any large deadfall suspended above ground for this reason. Sometimes, it’s straightforward; other times, the risk outweighs the reward. In the above video, we were mindful of how the tree would fall and took it slowly to ensure we wouldn’t get clobbered.



Step three: Cut! When a tree has fallen over a trail, it’s a simple game of cutting into two pieces and moving one of the segments after the cut. We took down this 16″ tree in roughly eight minutes. In this particular case, it was easier to move the thicker, lower tree segment than it was to move the longer, thinner upper segment after the cut. Scott and I cut it together and then went at it individually to even out the workout. The more people, the merrier!

Step four: Lubricate. I carry a small squirt bottle of chain lube (bicycle chain lube will work fine!) to reduce the friction from cutting. Most pocket chainsaws cool quickly but will be warm after a fresh cut.

Step five: Clean up! Remove any debris from the trail. Sticks, bark, anything that can get caught in the spokes of riders coming through the trail.

These saws make quick work of deadfall, store down to a manageable size, weigh next to nothing, and pack a punch. They’re ubiquitous, found in hardware stores and even gas stations in rural places. I’ve used this one in my car for years to clear roads or cut firewood at campsites.

Our forests have experienced a lot of beetle kill over the years, and paired with high spring winds, just about every ride has new downed trees. It’s easier to clear them as they fall rather than have one or two big work days where you clear dozens at a time.

You can get these things everywhere. From Big 5 sporting goods stores to ACE Hardware and hunting/fishing shops. They’re usually around $20. I’ve had this one for ten years and have never had to sharpen it.


  • Lightweight, compact. Stores in a bag easily.
  • Easy to use.
  • Cuts big ass trees.
  • Good workout. You’ll feel the burn!
  • Comes in camo. Yee-haw!


  • Better to use with two or more people (not a great solo saw for big jobs).
  • Difficult to use without solid footing.
  • Hurts–every ride is an “arm day” workout.