Search and Rescue

SAR Cutting Tools

from Volume 7, Number 6 of Lost ... and Found

by Steve Buckley

As promised, this article will be about multi-tools and their SAR applications. I also want to expand the scope of this article to cover other tools that might be applicable to SAR operations. Let's start the discussion with multi-tools.

I remember when the original multi-tool hit the market. They cost about $25 dollars. I remember thinking that they were pretty hokey despite being a knife aficionado. A friend of my owned one and vowed that he would get me to buy one. Of course I resisted. Why buy a knife with set of pliers as an attachment for $25 when I could get a really nice folding knife for $15? Of course, many of you have already noticed the failure in logic of my argument. When I finally realized that a multi-tool was a pair of pliers with a knife attached to it and not the other way around I bought one. I immediately found myself grabbing stuff with the pliers, tightening small screws on light switches and stuff without having to go to the toolbox, and cutting the stuff that is really punishing to a knife (wire insulation, etc.) with the attached blade on the multi-tool, saving the blade on my fine pocket knife in the process. Since then I have rarely been without my multi-tool. I even carry one while dressed in "business attire" (boss hates jeans) since I work in a lab and find it handy for the minor tasks that don't require a formal run to the official toolbox.

I think multi-tools have great application for SAR operations. As noted above, the reason to carry one is for the "tool box on a belt" utility of the pliers and screwdrivers. The knife serves as a nice back-up to my pocket knife. Just think of the things that a multi-tool can do that a pocket knife can't, bend the crampon spike back in shape, snip and trim sharp wires off of the litter, pull that painful nail out of the sole of your boot, tighten a screw, pull out cactus spines, etc. etc. Sure that expensive single-bladed pocket knife can do some of that stuff but the multi-tool works better.

There are several other SAR tools worth mentioning here. At least one of our members carries a folding hunter's saw instead of the larger straight knife mentioned in last month's article. The saw is lighter, safer to carry, and can do all of the stuff you carry a larger straight knife for.

At least one member has a "pocket chainsaw." Think of a chainsaw chain with handles on both end. The chain is manually worked back and it works as good and almost as fast as a chainsaw. It's a little heavy but for under a pound you can handle really big (12" and larger) logs with a very durable tool.

The lightweight wire saws are useful only because they are small enough to carry "just in case" so long as your life doesn't depend on them. One hint with the wire saws is to keep them stretched in straight line while cutting. If you bend them around a branch the tension loads in the wire quickly exceed the strength of the wire. That's an engineer's way of saying...the wire breaks. Even when they are treated gently, they tend to break.

At least one member has been seen with a light hatchet strapped to his pack. His choice is a good one with a metal head and composite handle. It is one of the lightest hatchets that I have seen. On the other hand, a hatchet is like the larger straight knife mentioned last month. It is not really needed except in rare circumstances and should only be carried by those who don't mind a little extra weight to "be prepared." The same safety procedures for a larger straight knife (stout sheath, carried so a fall won't hurt people or things) apply.

The final type of SAR tools are specialized tools such as an ice axe. There are certainly times when an ice axe is a necessity. In fact, I pride myself on my skills with an ice axe, snowshoes, and crampons and my ability to use these specialized snow tools to serve our subjects. But, for the most part, the ice axe should stay home. To be honest, I carry an ice axe winter and summer on most of my hiking trips. It serves as a great cathole digger, walking stick, occasional skyhook, and is good for a laugh when someone from California asks you why you are taking "gardening tools" on a hike. The downside is an ice axe is dangerous and should not be carried by someone unschooled in its use. People have been killed accidentally by falling on the pick and Trotsky was murdered with one. If you are not an expert in its use and willing to accept the risk of getting hurt with it, leave it home.

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