Old Spears for Today's Trails
Becoming Pointy -- OK, call me crazy, I just
feel like backpacking into the boonies unarmed is
stupid. I do understand that the chances of running
into a hungry mountain lion are very slim, and I don't
expect it to happen, but I don't feel right wandering
around unarmed. Possibly it's because of where I
grew up and when—in that culture and that time, not
too many decades ago, nobody where I lived went
into the woods without a gun. As soon as I was old
enough to not shoot out the garage windows with
one, I always had one with me. It was just something
we did, and we were less likely to actually hurt
anybody than most of the people wandering the
Lion Spears of Venice
Today it's kind of awkward to carry rifles or handguns on the
backpacking trails, even though weapons have been recently legalized in
some national parks (before you go, check regulations). I don't
particularly like firearms now, even though I grew up with them. Before
firearms were invented, people carried spears because it made good
sense, and for some of us it still does. Survival tools are of no use unless
you have them with you.
I have four top picks, all of them from Hanwei Forge, also known as CAS
Iberia. The Viking throwing spear, Cavalry lance, Viking short spear and
Hanwei yari are all excellent spears. The yari is a little heavy and a little
too fancy for the trail, much more a weapon than a staff or survival spear.
Though it's beautiful, I wouldn't take it anywhere but grizzly country,
where it might actually inspire false confidence. It's also much more
expensive, because shaft and fitting and polish are part of the deal.
Cane Swords and Cold Steel -- Cold
Steel also makes a few spears—a boar spear,
samburu and two styles of Zulu spears—but the
quality is low, both in the steel and the wooden
shaft. They're functional but not pretty and too
heavy to double as a hiking staff. The Cold Steel
cane swords are a design that is more easily
produced by modern processes. Consider that
legally these sword canes are concealed
weapons before you decide they'd be handy on
the bus. On the trail you get away with a lot, but
it's still a very serious issue to consider.
Of the sword cane lot, the Zatoichi style
certainly suits me the best, but I'd worry about
the durability of the cane sheath if I had it out in
the weather much. Cold Steel products are less
traditional but definitely built tough. It's just
hard to love plastic or carbon fiber.
What I want is a spear that doesn't attract too much
attention but is ready to use. I've written about the
Crawford survival spears here, and even though the
Crawford has a lot of good qualities, I don't want a spear I
have to take apart and reassemble before using it. The
Crawford design is too complicated for me. All I is a light
version of the old traditional sidearm that people would
have carried in open country ten thousand years ago.
Combat quality weapons in those old styles are rare today.
Only a few makers of old weapons do any real testing. Paul
Chen of Hanwei Forge makes good weapons built to match
or exceed the quality of the original items and are the best
you'll find in an affordable price range. CAS Hanwei checks
to make sure they hold up to real use.
Of those sold as spear heads, with
shaft selection and fitting left up to the
owners, the Paul Chen Viking Throwing
Spear is the heaviest of the three I consider practical for trail use. For
a trail spear I'm assuming people are thinking about weight as well as
function. Apparently in the old days, Viking warriors tucked a few of
these under an armpit and tossed them at the enemy as they were
closing the gap. The spear is fairly lightweight but more than most
people will want to carry.
My favorite is the Viking Short Spear, even though it will likely draw
some suspicious glances and require occasional explanation.
Best choice by far--the Cavalry Lance by Paul Chen. This is a
reproduction of a British cavalry lance still used as part of the dress
uniform of Canadian Mounties. The narrow blade could be easily
sheathed. It's the lightest of all the Chen spear heads, and it includes
a matching fitting for the butt of the shaf. That's a handy addition that
Alpine climbers added to walking staves in the old days, and it gives
this spear a bit of balance the others don't have.
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