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.
Best 5 Machete Comparisons
|Condor Tool and Knife
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|SOG Specialty Knives & Tools
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|Genuine Gurkha Kukri
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Is a Machete a Knife or a Sword?
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.
Machete vs. Hatchet
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!
How can a Machete be Useful?
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.
Did you know that machetes have a long history of combat use? Their blade strength and thickness is designed to chop through tough material, this includes human/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 machete fits the bill perfectly. You can use it to cut your way through bush and tree growth, cut rope, or chop 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.
Types of Machetes
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:
This powerhouse of a machete has a forward weighted blade, making it ideal for chopping up dense vegetation. It bears a rather flat edge and blunt tip, since it is meant for chopping, as opposed to a curve that is suitable for slicing. It resembles an ax in its functionality.
A popular South East Asian tool known for its enhanced thickness, which gives it better chopping power. It is relatively compact in design, and ideal for cutting and chopping applications.
Bearing a standard straight-backed blade, this general purpose machete has an evenly distributed weight, and is quite stout. It is portable, and its design lets it be easily carried around in a sheath. It is also sometimes called a Latin machete.
The barong’s blade has a distinct leaf-like shape, and it is sharpened only on one of its sides, as per convention. It is a customary weapon of the Philippine people, and gained a fearsome reputation among the European settlers it was used against. Besides being a great utility blade, it is employed in various Philippine martial arts.
A renowned blade from the Caribbean and Africa, it has a deep, curved belly that gives it ample heft for chopping as well as curvature for slicing. It ends in an upturned, pointed tip that makes it a good piercer too.
Tapanga machete has a unique weighted, backwards going tip; a flat cutting edge for normal usage; and a front-weighted edge for chopping. It is popular in African regions.
Colima machete is unique in that both its edges are sharpened, making it ideal for clearing large expanses of plant growth with both forehand and backhand swings. The weighted back edge enhances the power of the back stroke.
Its wide, blunt tip makes it ideal for hacking at sugarcane and corn stalks. It has a thin blade to make cutting up cane-like plants a breeze. It is also available in a cleaver-like style that is great for chopping up bones as well as dense plant growth.
Spear- point Machete
This machete ends in a pointed tip, making it suitable for stabbing / piercing in combat.
This ancient European machete’s curved blade profile is designed to chop around curved plant growth e.g. tree trunks / branches. It was traditionally used to strip buds and side shoots from plant branches, but the curved blade also makes it a great bramble and vine cutter. Gardeners have used it to build and maintain hedges, and it has been employed for the purposes of coppicing and managing woodlot by charcoal makers too. Its design has most recently been implemented in the Woodman’s Pal machete.
This Japanese designed tool ends in a reinforced, pointed tip meant to pierce through armor.
Incorporating the design of the famous Bowie knife (first introduced by Jim Bow, the legendary American pioneer), it has a skinner tip that helps to skin animals after a hunt. Preferred by outdoorsmen and survivalists in North America.
Also known as parang machetes, they have a uniquely curved shape in which both their edge and spine are curved, similar to a scimitar. Their blades are relatively long and thick, and may either be evenly weighted or slightly forward weighted. These tools are great for cutting clean through woody materials.
The kukri is one of the most impressive machetes around – originating (at least in its present form) in Nepal where it has enjoyed a military, agricultural and symbolic significance; its blade has a wide middle for chopping, a pointed tip for stabbing, and a narrow base for carving / whittling.
Features to Consider in a Machete
Depending on the type of applications you want a machete for, you’ll need to consider certain features:
Modern machetes vary a great deal in length, going from short and stocky 10’’ blades to double-handed 28’’ versions. Remember that the longer the blade of the machete gets, the more power it will deliver, at the expense of added weight and reduced portability. Shorter blades, on the other, are easier to carry around, but won’t provide you with the kind of swing power and chopping length as a longer blade.
Machetes are normally made of either carbon steel or stainless steel, with a hybrid high carbon stainless steel being a recent third variety.
Carbon steel is a tough, relatively inflexible material that provides excellent edge retention but rusts easily and is tough to re-sharpen. It’s great for situations where you’re expecting to make repeated heavy blows in the field.
Stainless steel, on the other hand, is more suited to softer applications, since it loses its edge quickly. However, it is much easier to re-sharpen, and doesn’t rust for a long time.
High carbon stainless steel combines the rust resistant capabilities of stainless steel, and the toughness of carbon steel – the result is a relatively springy, yet formidably tough blade material – the downside is that it’s pricier than the other two.
Machete blades tend to have thicker spines compared to other weapons, to give them more power for chopping and cutting through thick wood, etc. For illustration purposes, 2mm blades are fine for cutting through light grass and relatively thin bushes. Consequently, to cut continuously through thicker, tougher material, you’ll need a machete at least a quarter inch thick in its spine. Furthermore, a forward weighted blade design will give the machete a chopping capability comparable to an ax, by better distributing the power of your stroke.
Additionally, machete handles can be made from wood, plastic, cloth, rubber, steel and even bone – purists may be OK with these traditional handles, but a tactician will always recommend the one which provides the best hand grip. In that regard, micarta handles are a sound bet, even though they are pricey, they’ll provide you a comfortable grip year in and year out.
Also, try to look for a machete whose handle has a quillon / knuckle-guard, as well as a lanyard hole to create a 550 cable wrist loop. The former will protect you from the blows / parries of an opponent’s blade, and the latter will minimize accidental hand-slip incidents.
The tang is the part of the machete blade that goes into its handle and gets locked / riveted into place, to make the blade and the handle a single, fixed unit. All decent machetes will have a full tang – which means that the tang will come out of the back of the handle, resulting in excellent overall integrity.
Picking the Right Machete for Yourself
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:
What will You Use it for?
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.
Which Situations will You Use it in?
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.
How Heavy a Blade can you Handle?
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.
How Skilled are You at Wielding a Machete?
Novices may require safety features such as a rubberized grip, a lanyard hole and a quillon / knuckle guard, in order to keep them from hurting themselves (or others) accidentally.
Pricing and Warranty
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.
Top 5 Machete Reviews
Condor Tool and Knife 14-Inch Golok Machete with Leather Sheath
- 14 blade length
- 1075 high carbon steel with epoxy black powder coating
- Hardwood with soft pads
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.
- 1075 high carbon steel, thick spine and decent length ensure powerful chopping strokes.
- Aesthetically appealing construction, with epoxy finish and hardwood handle.
- Replacement / refund policy.
- Awkward handle construction.
- Inconsistent build quality.
Gerber Bear Grylls Parang Machete
- 13.5 blade length | 1/8th blade thickness
- High carbon steel
- Textured rubber
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.
- Cheap and effective against dense jungle vegetation.
- Easy to sharpen.
- Built in lanyard hole and cable.
- Rubberized handle provides excellent grip.
- Blade won’t work against thick wooden branches.
- Sheath quality is poor.
Cold Steel Jungle Machete
- 16 blade length/ 0.110236 blade thickness
- 1055 carbon steel
- Polypropylene plastic
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.
- Blade length, material and weight configuration make it an excellent heavy chopper.
- Piercing blade tip enables use as a slashing / stabbing / skinning tool.
- Commendable durability.
- Somewhat awkward handle design.
- Sheath is merely for show, otherwise impractical.
SOG Specialty Knives & Tools MC04-N SOGfari Machete Tanto 10 Inch Dual Steel Striaght Edge and Saw Blade with Kraton Handle, Black Powder Coated Finish
- 10 blade length | 0.09 blade thickness
- 3CR13 stainless steel
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.
- Slim, well balanced build geared towards tactical self-defense.
- Backed by limited lifetime warranty.
- Comfortable rubber handle.
- Stainless steel blade restricts the machete to lightweight applications.
Genuine Gurkha Kukri - 11 Authentic AEOF Gurkha Afghan Issue Brown Sheath Khukuri- Handmade in Nepal by Gurkha Kukri House - imported by R&T Trading Co.
- 11 blade length | 3/8th blade thickness
- Steel 5160 or Car Spring high carbon steel
- Dark rosewood
- Cotton wood and buffalo leather scabbard, karda and chakma tools
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. It simply doesn’t adapt to the shape of the blade. In addition, 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.
- Hand crafted design.
- Made from high carbon spring steel, and with a thick spine, to cut through thick, tough materials.
- Short blade length minimizes issues in tight, enclosed settings.
- Complimentary sheath, karda and chakma.
- Weight and short length can make prolonged bush clearing a chore.
- Sheath is impractical.
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 usage – heavy combat, tactical self-defense, etc., you can’t go wrong!
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.