Looking for the absolute best survival machete out there?
In this guide, I'll show you the 5 most popular types of machetes and what critical factors to look for when selecting one for your gear. As a bonus, I've included reviews of the 5 best machetes out there.
Having a machete in your gear is a must. No doubt about it. Here's why: a machete can be used both as a tool and weapon for self defense. When your ammo runs out, what weapon will you reach for?
As it turns out, there’s a lot of cheaply made machetes on the market today that don’t last. But the good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a high quality machete.
You just need to know what to look for. In this guide, I discuss the most important things to look for when selecting a machete.
But first, about me: my name is Paul, and I’m a machinist that loves machetes.
In a survival situation, you’re away from civilization and the abundance of tools that we all take for granted.
When it happens, it will suck and you know it. You'll have to rely on your knowledge, wits, and gear to keep you alive. Consequently, having a good machete with you could mean life or limb.
A machete is a versatile tool. It can be used for multiple tasks, including self defense, clearing brush, light wood processing, wood crafting, hunting, and many more. So let's get started!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Best Survival Machetes Comparison Table
1085 Carbon Steel
1055 Carbon Steel
High Carbon Steel
1095 Carbon Steel
1095 Carbon Steel
Types of Machetes
First of all, there are a few different kinds of machetes. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Ultimately, the type you select should be based on your preferences and your own unique situation. I'll briefly discuss some of the most popular types below.
Latin or Bush Machete
The Latin or Bush type machete is the one most people visualize in their head. It has a fairly straight and balanced blade and therefore is great at chopping vegetation and other general tasks.
The Latin machete is a great general purpose tool. If chopping bush is the main task needed for this tool, then this type is a great fit for you.
It’s also the most common type of machete on the market, which means there’s lots of great products to choose from.
The Kukri machete is a one of the most popular choices and for good reason. It’s designed for multiple tasks, making it a great choice for folks looking for a very versatile machete.
The kukri design has a pointed tip meant for stabbing in self defense or hunting.
It also has a wider blade at the midsection designed for better chopping.
Lastly, the kukri’s blade near the handle is more narrow to allow the user to do finer wood processing like shaving (for creating tinder), whittling, and carving.
Therefore, the kukri is a great choice for someone with multiple needs in a machete. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular types. In essence, a survival kukri is an incredible addition to anyone’s gear.
Sword Style Machete
Another popular choice is the sword style machete. It's also one of my personal favorites.
Some top brands have been introducing historically epic sword designs that function as machetes.
This type of machete gives the survivalist the ability to have the utility of a machete and also the capability of a sword as a self defense weapon.
As a result, it’s the best tactical machete, also making it the optimal zombie machete, in my opinion. It's an epic combination. If you’re looking for a machete that can both vegetation clearing and zombie elimination, this is the one for you.
Most of all, there are lots of swords styles to choose from. Options include a sword fit for an ancient Roman Legionnaire (the Cold Steel Gladius), a Samurai warrior (the Cold Steel Katana), or even a swashbuckling pirate ( the Cold Steel Cutlass).
Golok and Parang Machetes
The Golok and the Parang styles of machete are also fairly popular.
The defining line between them can be blurry at times, as different folks have different opinions about which is which.
Overall, they tend to have curved blades and tend to be longer. In addition, their typical thicker blade makes them a great choice for cutting wood.
As a result, if you want a machete to do a lot of wood processing, then this is the type you should get.
Bowie machetes are also a very popular choice. They typically have a tip that is designed for skinning.
Therefore, if you’re looking for machete that is a great hunting tool in addition to chopping vegetation, then the Bowie type machete is a great choice.
Finally, if you're more of a knife guy (or gal), then this type of machete is the one for you.
Critical Factors to Consider
When selecting a machete, there are several factors to think about.
These include defining the intended use of the tool, looking at the design (material and quality), considering size (length and weight), and also cost. I briefly discuss each of these factors below.
Use of the Tool
First of all, you need to ask yourself is what you plan on using the tool for. The answer will greatly impact your requirements for the tool.
For example, will it be used in the backyard for light brush clearing? Will you be taking this machete camping and hiking? Or is this machete going to be used for survival where it's effectiveness might mean life or death?
In essence, be sure to identify how you plan to use the tool first.
Some common uses are: clearing vegetation, producing kindling, processing wood, building shelters, self defense, clearing walking paths, hunting/skinning, etc.
Perhaps you’ll be using a machete for multiple tasks. If this is the case, select one that is designed primarily for those tasks or a machete that is very versatile.
Alternatively, another great option for self defense is a tomahawk. I wrote a separate guide on how to select the best one for your situation.
Material, Design, and Quality
The type of materials used is an important factor for obvious reasons. You want a strong steel for the blade on a machete. There’s lots of debate on what kind is best, but I recommend going with carbon steel vs. stainless steel.
Design is also important. I highly recommend selecting a machete with a full tang. A full tang simply means the blade and handle are one full piece of metal (no tapering in the tang, or handle portion, which creates a weakness).
As discussed in the section on some of the different styles of machetes, the design dictates the capabilities of the tool. Depending on your needs for the tool, the design can ensure the machete is an excellent choice.
Clearly define your needs and select a machete type that is specifically designed for those needs.
Lastly, quality of manufacturing is important. Right before you make the purchase, check out the machete reviews for any quality control issues that would indicate poor craftsmanship.
Also, testing your machete when it’s shipped to you is a great idea, assuming you have the ability to test it.
Putting it through some light duty can reveal a lemon before you need to use the tool in a critical situation. It also gives you the option to return it if there's any issues.
Size (Length and Weight)
One of the biggest considerations for a machete is size and weight. Length provides leverage and more weight can provide additional momentum to make your cutting activities more efficient.
However, you also have to carry the machete around, so length and weight during non-use is a big consideration. You want to find a balance between size and the effectiveness of the tool. This balance should depend on your situation and your intended use of the machete.
Cost is usually king for most people when it comes to picking a good tool. We all want to spend the lowest amount and get the best product.
There’s a lot of poor quality machetes on the market that are really cheap. The problem with extremely cheap machetes is that they are usually made poorly with weaker metals.
They often times don’t have full tangs and will break quickly, posing a danger to you and anyone near you. I say dangerous because when a blade of any kind breaks during a swing, the sharp metal can go anywhere, including hitting you or someone else you don’t want it to. Be careful!
However, that’s not to say you need to spend a lot of money to get a good machete. There’s a lot of great quality machetes in the mid price range. Go with one of the best brands that have excellent reviews. All of the ones I recommend fall into this category.
Below, I review some of the top machetes on the market.
The Ka-Bar Kukri is an excellent choice for a multi-role machete. This machete is the best one on the market, in my opinion.
The kurki design is one of the most popular and versatile.
The tip of the kukri blade is designed for stabbing, the wider mid-section of the blade is designed for efficient chopping, and the section of the blade near the handle is thinner and designed for finer wood processing.
Ka-Bar is a great brand and makes some incredible products. This machete is no exception. I think they make the best kukri on the market.
The Ka-Bar Kukri has an 11.5” blade, is 17” long, and weighs 1.7 lbs. It has a full tang and is made with 1085 carbon steel.
Top Pick: One of the most versatile machetes you can get. Best kukri machete on the market.
Pros: Full tang. One of the most popular choices for a machete. Great design. I like the 1085 carbon steel.
The Cold Steel Gladius Machete is a great choice for anyone that is looking for a machete primarily as a self defense weapon with the ability to do standard machete tasking like clearing brush.
Inspired by the carry weapon of the Legions of Ancient Rome around 2,000 years old, the gladius design was meant for chopping and stabbing. It nearly conquered the world.
The Gladius machete has a 18” long blade, is nearly 26” long, and weighs about 1.7 lbs. The blade is made with 1055 carbon steel with a baked on, anti-rust, black finish. It has a full tang, and the handle is made with Polypropylene.
This machete is also my personal choice as a self defense machete in the home. I love it. Cold Steel also makes a practice version of this gladius that is nearly the same weight and balance. It's made with polypropylene (plastic) and is a great way to get a feel for the machete without the danger of cutting something.
Pros: Full tang. Made by Cold Steel. Incredible price. Excellent reviews and videos of how effective this machete is. Made with 1055 Carbon Steel. Comes with a nylon sheath.
The Kershaw Machete comes in 3 blade lengths: 10”, 14” and 18”.
I recommend the 14” due to its middle range size. The 14” version has a 14” blade, is 20” long, and weighs around 1.9 lbs.
The blade is a full tang design and is made with 65Mn steel.
Pros: Great design. Highly rated. Made by Kershaw, a trusted brand. Full tang.
Cons: Made with 65Mn, a Chinese steel. Made in China.
The Ontario Military Machete is a proven instrument of machete excellence. It has been military tested and approved by the US Armed Forces since WWII.
The Ontario Military Machete has an 18” 1095 Carbon Steel blade, is 24“ long, and weighs 1.3 lbs.
The blade is designed to be heavy duty and to take a beating. It is shipped without sharpening though, so you have to reprofile the edge and sharpen it or have someone else do it.
Pros: Made in the USA. Full tang. Military tested and proven design. A chopping beast. Cheap but not cheaply made.
Cons: Sheath sold separately. Comes out of the box dull and requires sharpening.
The Ontario SP8 Machete is an excellent choice if you intend to do a lot of wood processing. With a 10” blade, this tool is excellent at chopping and splitting.
The overall length is 15”, and the blade is made with 1095 carbon steel. The machete weighs around 1.4 lbs and a tip designed for chiselling. The blade is ¼” thick, which is designed to take a beating.
With this machete, you can cut down smaller trees, split wood, pry things, chisel, craft wood into useful objects, as well as do standard chopping and clearing duties.
This is a woodsman’s machete; however, the trade-off is the point is not designed for stabbing for self defense. The back of the machete blade also has saw teeth.
Pros: Made in the USA. Excellent tool for wood processing. Can split wood. Blade is thick and made with 1095 carbon steel. A beast.
Cons: Would not be my first pick for self defense applications, although it could be used for that in a pinch.
I hope this guide saved you a tremendous amount of time in selecting a machete for survival.
In summary, I discussed some of the most popular types as well as the top choices on the market. I also discussed the top factors to consider when making your selection.
These factors included defining the intended tasks for the tool, overall design (designed for which tasks, type of steel, and quality), size (both weight and length), and cost (watch out for cheaply made).
My top recommendation for survival is the Ka-Bar Kukri. It's a very versatile, well designed, and well made machete. It gives you tremendous flexibility in capabilities.
My 2nd recommendation is the Cold Steel Gladius Machete, particularly if you're looking for a machete intended more for self defense vs finer wood processing. It can chop with the best of them yet has a great tip for stabbing.
Now it's your turn! Let me know what you think in the comments below. Also, if you enjoyed reading this article, please share it on facebook and twitter. The buttons are below.
Good luck out there!
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