Naked and Afraid: Woodman’s Pal Review

June 16, 2016

When I travel in the tropics and expect to do a lot of rural and wilderness camping with a lot of off trail exploration, a machete type tool in addition to a smaller knife is my go-to loadout. Small knives excel at agile fine tasks while bigger heavier tools excel at chopping and heavier work.



For Naked and Afraid I was restricted to just one tool. My tool of choice would have to be able to do the work of both. I chose the Woodman’s Pal.

A standard Woodman’s Pal has a fairly broad blade angle, more like an ax then a machete.To make this tool more versatile I had a local knifesmith add a steeper blade bevel onto the Woodman’s Pal similar to a scandi grind bushcraft knife.




This would allow the front of the tool to be used for heavy chopping in the lower part of the edge to be used for fine  cutting.

13418428_875133583821_80982297660614067_o (1)


When it came to fine tasks such as sharpening fishing spear points, sharpening thorns as tools, carving, food processing and splitting nuts the Woodman’s Pal was a bit awkward in the hand because of its very front-heavy design and blocky un-ergonomic wood handle. Even so, it still performed the task it needed to. I’d give it a satisfactory rating for fine work.

The bill hook of the WP is one of it’s best features. It allowed Holly, Amber and I to easily collect large amounts of grass to build our nest, which completely protected us from mosquitoes at very little cost of energy. The hook is also excellent for reaching to grab things like high vines and dragging logs back into the fire.

The big flat spoon nose of the WP works well as a shovel, as advertised,, and does so without sacrificing the sharpness of the main edge. It was invaluable for digging foot-deep holes to cache my food supplies from the marauding vervet monkeys.

I felt the 1/8th inch thick blade was a good mid-range weight when it came to working with hardwoods and clearing grass and brush. I would rate the tool as fair for chopping the incredibly hard woods of Namibia.






Issues began to arise with my Woodman’s Pal when it was repeatedly submerged and dried in the marshes and rivers of Namibia. The wetted wood handle would expand and then contract when drying causing the upper rivet to loosen. Often halfway through chopping through a small tree I would have to pull out a baton and hammer the rivet back in before continuing work.

Upon finishing the 24 days of Naked and Afraid I went to a nearby workshop and added a nut and bolt to replace the defective rivet. This field repair would have to hold for the next 21 days of bushcrafting and learning from the Namibian Bushmen.



Another issue with the Woodman’s Pal was the “safety toe.” This is the inch of surface at the top of the tool that has no edge. Pro Tool says this is a “feature” to prevent deflective injuries; however, in my opinion, this is a design flaw and a hindrance for use in the field.


When chopping things at ground level the safety toe often bounces instead of cutting or chopping. This is a waste of precious calories and water requiring me to change the angle of my swing and actually get on my knees to perform the task. It is really counter intuitive.

My partner on Naked and Afraid, Amber, upon first seeing The Woodman’s Pal, noted that this tool could not be used to gut a fish (it does work, just not in a conventional way – the fish belly must be sliced open at an angle), pointing out its safety toe and lack of a defined point. She too found out that this tool is not very well suited for chopping brush at ground level.

Another issue is that without a point like a knife or kukri it is hard to bore into things when needing to create a hole or divot. It is also difficult to cross hatch and scratch on wood when needing to burn in a hand drill.

My partner on Naked and Afraid, Amber upon first seeing The Woodman’s Pal noted that this tool could not be used to gut a fish(it does work , just not in a conventional way, the fish belly is sliced open at an angle), pointing out its safety toe and lack of a defined point. She too found out that this tool is not very well suited for chopping brush from the ground up.

Another issue is with no point like a knife or kukri it is hard to bore into things when needing to create a hole or divot. It is also difficult to cross hatch and scratch on wood when needing to burn in a hand drill.

With the San People



Later on, when processing game meat with the Bushmen, the Bushmen found that the safety toe prevented the parting out of game in the manner they are accustomed too. The chief !Kung, tried to use the Woodman’s Pal to chop the rack of ribs out of a porcupine but soon found the tool was unsuited and switched back to his trusty axe.

As you can see tons of gore splattered but no meat could be cut with the safety toe.


Here is the right tool for the job- Another review coming soon.



After an incredibly demanding 6 week field test of the Woodman’s Pal on Naked and Afraid and with the Bushmen of Namibia, I give the WP pluses for the good steel, a good hook, and an adequate multi-purpose design. However, I have to give it marks down for the safety toe.That feature is not helpful bush clearing or butchering. I give additional marks down for the faulty rivet that could have compromised my Naked and Afraid challenge.


3 out of 5 



Due to rapidly changing personal circumstances I suddenly had an immediate demand for a tool ASAP, and not a lot of money or time. My Woodman’s Pal was rushed to have its handle replaced by Pro Tool Industries at no charge. It was sent to my knife maker for further modifications to alleviate the issues mentioned above.
_MG_6861_edited-1The safety toe was chopped right off at an angle and an edge was added. This simple change almost completely fixed the tool’s weaknesses when cutting near the ground. It now works much more intuitively like a conventional machete or hatchet. I call this my “XL” mod until a better name comes up.

-Don Nguyen

Naked and Afraid: A Prelude

June 3, 2016


I gasp for breath and jolt awake. It’s midnight in the bushveld, a thorny desert woodland typical of Southern Africa. !Tuka the old grey Bushman hunter was squatting by the fire.  He paid me no mind sitting up in the soft sand. The air was sharp cold but still my skin carried a sheen of sweat. The old man stared into the fire, stoking it brighter, his eyes like coals. He whispered softly in his own tonal language with clicks but his fellow hunters were asleep. In his wiry form was the last of the old ways, of a world I would never know.


My name is Don. I am a tourist and adventurer. Let’s flash back to 8 weeks prior. I am about to get in way over my head on Naked and Afraid.





Naked and Afraid production gave few details about Namibia. All I knew about Namibia was it was a desert country in the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. I hoped I would find a Coke bottle out there.


Contracts arrived by email. I breezed over them. “Death, disease, dismemberment, disfigurement.” I signed on the line. 

I Amazoned about 500$ of books, most of the cost being expedited shipping from London and South Africa and I began my research. I crammed all day and night because this was infact was the ultimate test, to be the the hardest of my life. I learned about hippo and cape buffalo behavior and their dangers. I engrossed myself in the plants that the many tribes of the many regions of Namibia utilized for medicine and for food.

File_000 (1)

Was I really going to go to a foreign land and try to live off bugs and plants based on some dusty writings of  long dead professors? Does that even seem at all reasonable?

Between reading I ran outside on the wet snowy sidewalk barefoot desperately trying to gain a few more callouses and quick footing.

I was dropped off in rainy Seattle with a kiss from my beloved Emily and awoke in sunny London. I read in pubs. Napping propped up against my rucksack as travelers from around the world blurred by.

The big 747 took off that night and I watched the lights of London and Paris, and Algiers blot out the night. As the last of the cities disappeared my plane crossed over the lightless Sahara. I dozed off and awoke, the map said we were over the mighty Congo River, but there was still darkness beneath the plane out the window. I made a point to check again as the plane crossed over the Caprivi the place I was to survive in, but again from port and starboard windows was black below our little plane.

africa at night

This was the dark continent that put fear into the bravest European explorers centuries past. In homage of those old imperialist, I dressed in khakis, with tall leather boots, and a well worn felt hat. Like Livingstone and other Western explorers I was going to trespass upon this continent maybe not as intentionally. Through Naked and Afraid I knew I would likely impose my own biases about how Namibia would  be perceived by those back at home just like those early missionaries and colonist did in their time.

Don Nguyen

Africa was dark in another way, not that it was undiscovered or lacking Christianity, What I saw below me was a vast continent lacking in neon cities instead possessing wide open spaces. It made up for the lack of infrastructure with abundant biology, the megafauna survivors of the last ice age.

Africa was never a blank place on a map. Humans came from here, It had always been known and charted in one way or another as long as there were men to do such exploring. It is instead an uncharted space in the imagination of outsiders, such an ancient place where so much had been discovered to be forgotten again into the night which lies beyond the light of the fire.

I was a healthy, middle class, American adventurer, about to go seeking this heart of darkness. To starve and hurt in a land where countless were poor, already starving and hurting. I snapped a selfie for Facebook.


Read more of our favorites

Naked and Afraid:
A Prelude

Mapping Out New
Adventures in 2016

Climbing to New Career Goals

Hunger Games

Camp Blades- A CUT Above the Rest

All rights reserved © We Do It Outside · Theme by Blogmilk + Coded by Brandi Bernoskie