Saturday, December 26, 2015

Review of the Gerber Bear Grylls Parang

One of the basic tools for wilderness survival is a good chopping tool. I received a Gerber Bear Grylls Parang for Christmas. According to Gerber, the Parang boasts a 13 inch long blade, with an overall length of 19.5 inches. Its weight is 19.4 ounces; 25.4 ounces with the sheath.
Parang - front side
Parang - back side
As you can see from the photographs above, the Parang comes with a padded nylon sheath. The Parang is secured with a nylon strap that fastens closed with velcro. The belt loop is right at the width of a typical belt. Like many other of the Gerber Bear Grylls products, it comes with a water resistant sheet of instructions on certain basic survival skills. On the back of the sheath (see second photograph above) there is a small label with emergency signaling instructions printed on it. I appreciated that it was only stitched on three sides, making a small pocket for the survival instructions to fit into it when folded. Finally, there is a lanyard that is intended to fit around the handle (see above)--you slide your fingers underneath the lanyard when gripping the handle.

I'm not someone in the financial position to torture test a tool to failure. Besides, it is not in my nature to abuse my tools. I thought, however, that a performance test was in order. I decided to compare the Parang to other chopping tools: a Gerber camp axe (essentially a hatchet), a Kukri, and Cold Steel's Kukri machete. (See below).

Cold Steel's Kukri Machete

Kukri and Gerber camp axe
The Kukri features a 12 inch blade, with a 1/4 inch thick spine. The Cold Steel Kukri machete has a 13 inch blade that is 2 mm thick. The Gerber camp axe is the original model, which has been discontinued. However, other than a slightly thicker head and polymer/fiberglass handle, I thought it would be representative of a traditional hatchet.

My test subject - a stand of poplar
I decided to test the various tools against a stand of poplar, featuring shoots/branches of between 1 and 2 inches in diameter. The first test would be to chop a free standing shoot down. The second test would be to chop through the shoot while resting on a stump. Obviously, such a test is inherently subjective since it depends on my ability with using the tool, and the fact that there will be some variance between the thickness of the poplar shoots. I decided on this test because this size of wood was a size that might be used as poles for building a shelter or spear, or for wood for a fire (keeping in mind that wood used for fueling a small fire should generally be no thicker than a man's wrist).

The Camp Axe/Hatchet

Axe - the wood after being chopped down

Cutting the wood on a stump
The poplar shoot I cut down with the axe ended up being two inches in diameter at the point it was cut down. It took 40 chops to cut through it, although I believe that part of this was because the wood split about half-way through the process, allowing it to flex more readily, absorbing the energy. Also, I didn't alternate directions like I should have, which probably slowed the process.

On the stump, it took 4 chops to cut through the wood. However, it measured as 1 inch in diameter at that point. I subsequently tried a different piece, which was about 1.5 inches in diameter, and it took 5 whacks to chop through it.

Traditional Kukri

Kukri -- after chopped down

Kukri--chopping through the wood on a stump
The shoot I used for the traditional Kukri was approximately 1.5 inches in diameter. Cutting it down took 42 chops. Cutting it on the stump into a shorter piece took 10 chops.

Cold Steel Kukri Machete

 Cold Steel Kukri machete -- after chopping down the shoot

Cold Steel Kukri machete -- chopping on the block
The Cold Steel Kukre machete has a much thinner blade than the traditional Kukri. It took 25 chops to cut down a shoot that measured 1.75 inches thick. When cutting it to a shorter length on the stump, it took 12 chops, and the wood measured about 1.5 inches thick at that point.

The Gerber Bear Grylls Parang

Parang -- after chopping down shoot

Parang -- after cutting the wood to a shorter length
The Parang performed much better than the other tools. It only took 8 chops to cut down a shoot that measured 1.5 inches in diameter. It took 5 chops to cut through the poplar shoot when placed on the stump. Obviously this was excellent performance. I would also note that I was very impressed with the handle on the Parang that allowed a good grip while wearing light-weight gloves, and seemed to absorb the shock of each blow better than the materials used on the other tools.

I must confess that I was surprised by the results. I already knew from prior use that the traditional Kukri was not as good of a chopper as other tools. I thought that the machete would be less effective than the axe, but seemed to work better for chopping down the free-standing shoots. I expected that the axe would have difficulty with chopping down the flexible shoots, but thought it would perform better than it did. I expected the Parang to perform about the same as the machete, but it actually worked much better and, overall, was the best of the tools on this particular test.


Traditional Hatchet and SOG Tomahawk
 I decided to add a couple other tools to the mix: a standard, traditional hatchet; and SOG's tactical Tomahawk (see photo above).

In my initial test, I was actually surprised and disappointed with the performance of my Gerber camp ax--essentially a lightweight hatchet. One of the distinctive characteristics of the Gerber axe is that the cutting edge is straight. I wondered if a typical hatchet, with a slight curvature to the blade, would work any better. Putting it to the test, it did indeed work better. Cutting a branch, this time, it took some 11 strikes to chop through an approximately 2-inch thick branch. For the test of chopping wood on the block, I used a segment from my earlier tests that was about 1.5 inches in diameter. It took 3 chops to cut through.

I borrowed the Tomahawk, just to see how it might compare since it has a shorter blade than the Gerber ax, but a longer handle. It made short work of taking a 1.5 inch diameter branch off of a poplar stand: 8 whacks. However, it took 15 chops to cut through the wood segment (again using one from my earlier tests) when placed on the block. Thinking that there was something wrong, I tried another section of the wood, which this time took 11 chops to get through. So, still somewhat surprising of a result since none of the other tools took more chops to get through the wood on a block than when chopping it down in the first instance. I can only surmise that the branch cut off the stand of poplar was softer than the wood used in the block test.

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