A snow saw doesn’t sound like the most necessary of tools. Why would you ever need a massive serrated blade to cut through snow? Wouldn’t a shovel or even your hands work fine? Is it worth spending the money and carrying around the extra weight?

The truth is – it depends. What exactly are you going to be using it for? If you’re up high in avalanche territory, a snow saw can be a useful tool in digging quick and easy snow pits for analyzing the snow pack and ensuring safety on the slopes. You could easily use a shovel, but a snow saw can help create a much cleaner, more-even pit for better evaluation.

Snow saws can also come in handy for building snow shelters; the ability to cut perfect, even blocks of snow can help you create all sorts of structures and shelters that aren’t always possible with just a shovel and your own two hands; think building an igloo vs digging a pile of snow. You could even build separate “rooms” or sections of the snow shelter.

And saws are useful in a variety of other situations, too – such as cutting wood for fires or when building a tree shelter.

But do you need one? No – especially if you like to travel as light as possible. A large snow saw can take up a decent amount of room in your pack, and it’s usually better to strap it to the outside of your bag. Most lightweight snow saws do weigh less than a pound, however.

Still, if you want the function and versatility of a snow saw, they can make a good addition to your kit. If you’re already carrying an avalanche shovel, for example, you might as well take a snow saw too – for a complete package. Many avalanche shovels include snow saws anyway – stashed away inside the shovel handle.

Best Snow Saws For Backcountry Use

For a standalone snow saw, we recommend the Black Diamond Snow Saw Pro. It’s got a lightweight aluminum build paired with a serrated, 35cm-long stainless blade, tipping the scales at a barely-there 9 ounces. It folds up for stashing in or on your pack, but – even cooler – also attaches to almost all Black Diamond ski poles (except their Compact series), using interchangeable connection pegs. For lightweight versatility in any snowy situation, grab the Snow Saw Pro.

For a versatile avalanche shovel/snow saw combo, we you want the Backcountry Access A2-EXT. This 6061-T aluminum shovel folds down to a compact 25”, has an oval shaft, ergo grip, and T6 heat-treatment for strength. But best of all is the 28cm snow saw that slides out of the shaft when needed, so you can build a snow shelter on the fly and cut down some wood when needed. It clocks in at less than 2 pounds, too.