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Machetes are versatile chopping and cutting tools that have been used for centuries as effective bush and plant clearing implements, as well as brutal weapons in combat. There is no single origin story for the machete, given the many diverse varieties they come in around the world. Furthermore, even within a specific type of machete, there are many variations in terms of their construction, features and applications – this can make it tough to single out the best machete for personal use, even for someone with considerable experience in knives and swords.
Outdoor survival being my hobby, I’ve assembled a guide that will teach you all about the different machetes available today, along with reviews to illustrate what to look for in machetes for various applications.
Condor Tool and Knife
1075 high carbon steel
Replacement/refund policy after inspection
High carbon steel
1055 carbon steel
30 day repair / replacement policy
SOG Specialty Knives & Tools
3CR13 stainless steel
Limited lifetime warranty
Genuine Gurkha Kukri
What is a machete – is it a really large knife, or a really small sword? This question, often asked by those who see this tool for the first time, has no concrete answer.
Larger machetes (18’’ or more) can definitely classify as proper swords, and then there are those as small as 10’’ too – they can comfortably fit into the knife category. However, most machetes tread a middle ground between these extreme lengths, hence their unique designation.
Perhaps another reason for machetes being regarded as different from knifes and swords is their functionality: they are primarily designed to chop and slash through thick, tough material – whereas knives and swords are used for cutting / slicing / piercing purposes. In this regard, a machete resembles a hatchet (a small ax)!
Suffice to say, a machete is a unique tool in its own right, and does not need to be called a sword or a knife to complete its identity.
You may wonder why you need a machete to cut through plant growth when a hatchet fits the bill just fine: the answer lies in the machete’s ability to clear bush and branches with lesser effort. Sure, a hatchet will allow you to deliver more powerful strokes, but it will also get you tired a lot quicker. A machete is designed for continuous, (relatively) low power strokes, so it will serve you better for trailblazing / bush clearing purposes.
As an analogy, think of how modern bikes have gears that make it easy for you to ride uphill – you shift to a higher gear, sure you need to pedal a lot more, but the effort required for each pedal is greatly reduced, so you don’t tire out half way up the slope!
Machetes are extremely versatile tools, here are their most prominent uses:
The relatively thick, long blades of most machete models lend themselves to bush clearing / wood cutting applications remarkably well.
Machetes have a long history of combat use – their blade strength and thickness is designed to chop through tough materials – which can and have included human and animal flesh and bone. Some even have pointed tips for piercing and stabbing! Machetes have been preferred melee weapons of primitive tribesmen, revolutionaries and even modern soldiers on today’s frontlines. Perhaps the most famous application of the machete in combat is that of the kukri in Nepal, by Gurkha troops.
When you’re out in the woods, gadgets won’t get you far – but a sturdy, reliable blade will, and the machete fits the bill perfectly, whether you use it to cut your way through bush and tree growth, cut up pieces of rope, or chop up firewood.
To sum up, the machete is a multi-purpose tool that any serious outdoor adventurer won’t be caught dead without: hatchets, daggers, axes and swords may be good, but they can’t serve all of your survival needs simultaneously the way a correctly selected machete can.
As I’ve already stated, machetes come in dozens of types – each has evolved in a different region and/or for a different purpose. The good thing is that most machetes will fit other uses besides the one they are intended for, but some situations require the touch of an ace, as opposed to a jack of all trades, so it’s better to know your types:
Depending on the type of applications you want a machete for, you’ll need to consider certain features:
Now that you’re schooled in the applications, types and features of machetes, it’s time to tell you the big secret (which you may already have figured out): there is no single best machete in the world that suits everyone.
To answer the question of what is the best machete for you, you need to consider the following things:
I’ve described the applications of a machete above, and based on which of those you intend, you’ll have to pick the correct type of machete, with suitable features. For instance, if you plan to cut large expanses of grass / bush, a thinner machete with a longer blade will do you just fine – but if you want to chop up some wood / bone, you’ll probably need one with a forward weighted blade designed for chopping.
Depending on whether you’re in a dense jungle, or a barren desert, or somewhere in between, you’ll need a machete that can easily deal with the type of vegetation that grows there – for instance, the billhook machete would be a great tool in a rain forest. In combat scenarios, you’d want a kukri machete if it was heavy, hand-to-hand sparring, or a tanto machete if it was tactical self-defense. For survival situations, an excellent candidate would be the Bowie machete, with its skinner tip, that’ll aid you in skinning the game you hunted.
Machetes are bulky tools – even if you’re used to carrying and using knives in the field, a kukri or cane machete can still tire you out if used continuously. Based on the strength of your wielding arm, you’ll need to decide upon the length and thickness of the blade.
Most machetes are relatively cheap tools – given their simplistic construction, which is why you can easily find reliable models in the $20 to $30 price range. Fancy models, with extra safety features, complimentary items, and better aesthetic appeal, are available at higher prices, going $70 and above. I’d recommend you to pick something in the $30 to $70 bracket, since it will normally have good workmanship and excellent performance.
Also, try to get a product that comes with a warranty – you never know when a design flaw in your chosen machete results in a breakdown, so it’s better to give it a few swings in your backyard to test its durability and strength, before taking it in the field. If it does develop nicks / notches easily, you’ll be glad you got the warranty.
With its 1075 high carbon steel blade construction, and a high quality, stylish hardwood handle with replaceable soft pads, this machete screams of high production values at first glance.
The 13’’ high carbon steel blade is coated with epoxy black powder to minimize rusting, and has a mean, durable edge as well as a thick spine, suitable for cutting through thick trees, plants and even pieces of metal, with its powerful strokes.
The machete has a full tang, which means you can count on it to weather heavy blows day in and day out without it is made from thick, high end leather, with a belt loop riveted on, providing excellent utility in the field.
An issue I came across is with the hardwood handle – it does look nice, but it is shaped in a manner that could be a bit awkward for some. On top of that, it isn’t sanded properly so you can’t get a good grip on it easily. However, you can string some 550 cord through its lanyard hole to go around your wrist, as an extra precaution that the machete doesn’t slip out of your hand during intense usage.
You may also find that the weight distribution takes time to get used to, since it isn’t forward weighted – however, it does lend itself well to chopping heavy plant growth.
There have been complaints about the unsatisfactory sharpness of the blade out-of-the-box, as well as a few about unexpected nicking, which implies so-so quality control on part of the manufacturer – which is surprising given their German origins. All in all, this blade is great for clearing dense vegetation and chopping tough wooden material at a farm / garden / backyard, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a lone survival tool.
Endorsed by famous survival adventurer Bear Grylls, the Gerber Bear Grylls Parang Machete is made for tropical jungle survival situations. It is quality assured for withstanding the toughest of punishments in harsh conditions, and is backed by a lifetime warranty.
The 1/8’’ thick, angled blade, composed of robust high carbon steel and possessing a 13.5’’ length, works great for clearing both limb and brush, whatever crosses your path in the jungle, while also resisting corrosion and being easy to sharpen. This is useful, given how the moisture in a dense jungle can act on regular steel. Still, this blade isn’t strong enough to chop through thick wood, as several consumers have indicated, so you should stick to something else for that application, unless you absolutely can’t.
The blade meets the handle in a full tang, ensuring a firm overall structure; the rubberized textured rubber grip is perfect for prolonged use in sweaty conditions. A lanyard cord is tied into the handle – this provides extra protection when there is a risk of the blade slipping from our hand. It is a noteworthy feature given how most manufacturers only leave a lanyard hole on the handle, leaving it up to you to get some 550 cord to go into the hole.
The nylon sheath this machete comes with is lightweight, but has a really poor build quality, making it downright dangerous since the sharp edge can cut right through its stitches. There have also been some issues with dullness straight out of the box, so you may have to sharpen yours for the first time.
This machete bears a remarkably hardy 16’’ blade, made out of right 1055 carbon steel and sporting a weight forward distribution that enables it to chop its way through brush, saplings, vines and even relatively thick wood.
The blade ends in a piercing tip that makes it great for skinning and slashing, and can also double up as a makeshift survival weapon. Keep in mind though that the bulky weight of the blade means that it won’t be as effective at cutting through thin grass, as it would be at clearing dense plant growth.
The handle and blade are combined by means of a full tang, ensuring excellent structural support. The plastic handle does take some getting used to, especially considering the forward weighted blade configuration, and it tends to slip when your hands get sweaty – but that can be remedied by creating a 550 cord loop through the lanyard hole it comes with, to go around your wrist as a safety.
The sheath this machete comes with is no more than a show item, and you’d be better off replacing it with an aftermarket version. Also, a few users have complained about blade dullness, which could be a result of inconsistent QA. Given its ability to cut through thick forest vegetation and serve as a temporary melee weapon, I’d recommend this as a thoroughly reliable woodland survival tool – just don’t expect to trim light plant growth with it.
The SOGfari Tanto Machete seems to be designed with the tactical martial artist in mind: its low profile 10’’ blade, slim 0.08’’ blade, pointed tip and balanced weight distribution all indicate its prowess in cloak and dagger situations, where discretion is tantamount.
The machete has an alternate sawing edge that can be useful in all sorts of situations such as cutting through tough, thick rope, or a wooden fence. On the other hand, it could also be a liability in a setting where it could easily get stuck in things e.g. jungle vines.
The rubber handle is quite comfortable, and meets the blade in a full tang that protrudes from its back in the form of spikes that can be used for scraping and cutting your prey. It also has several lanyard holes through which you can loop some 550 cord as an added grip safety.
Note that the 3CR13 stainless steel the blade is made out of won’t give you a really strong edge – so you can’t use it for the kind of heavy duty applications normally associated with other machetes; then again, nothing about this machete says brute force – it caters to the needs of those who want a tool that can come in handy swift and deadly combat.
This authentic kukri machete, hand crafted in Nepal, is a juggernaut, in spite of its relatively short 11’ blade length: the high grade carbon steel blade is 3/8’’ thick, and features a double fullered design. Its edge is water tempered to be sharp and durable, and the 5160 / Car Spring steel material makes it springy and durable at the same time. The forward weighted, curved kukri design makes it ideal for chopping wood, dense vegetation and bone.
Be prepared to get tired while using this kukri machete for prolonged periods of time – I won’t deny that its heavy, but this weight is what enables this knife to do the heavy duty tasks it is supposed to. Interestingly, it is currently the standard issue combat knife for the Royal Gurkha Regiment of the British Army stationed in Afghanistan.
The blade is connected to the handle by a full tang, the latter being hand styled, polished rosewood. Accompanying this machete is a leather and wood sheath, which looks great but can be irksome to use, since it doesn’t adapt to the shape of the blade. You also get complimentary chakma and karda tools, that always go with traditional kukris.
This kukri is no doubt expensive, and bulky even by machete standards, yet, if its heavy combat (involving parries and blocks) that you’re expecting, this is definitely the best machete for the money, in terms of performance, quality and reliability.
As mentioned before in this guide, there is no definitive best machete on the market – the machete is simply too diverse a tool to be narrowed down like that. Depending on the primary application you seek from it – heavy combat, tactical self-defense, light vegetation clearing, heavy wood chopping etc. – you could choose any one of the products I’ve recommended above, or even go with an entirely different one altogether.
That being said, for me, the best machete would be the Cold Steel Jungle Machete because it is cheap and multifunctional at the same time – it can serve as a general purpose chopping utility, a makeshift self-defense weapon and even a passable animal skinning tool, and that too without losing its edge. Again, I’m thinking from a survivalist / woodsman perspective – your needs may well be serviced better by another candidate.
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