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Best Machetes for Survival

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: August 1, 2022
Best Machetes for Survival

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Machetes are useful for a lot of things.

Sometimes I think the machete gets looked over as a survival tool in favor of other types of blades. While machetes are often large, they certainly don’t have to be. A lot of major knife and tool makers offer a variety of sizes.

If you are wondering if you should have a machete then you should consider this list of uses for home, trail, and defense.

Machete uses

Chopping Through Brush

When bugging out, camping, hiking, or getting rid of some pesky vegetation around your home, a machete can come in handy. Having a machete allows you to make your own path rather than sticking to standard trails.

green forest

In a survival situation, going your own way could really help you out. While I know that leaving a distinctive trail can allow someone to track you, the danger of that may not be as great as what would happen if you took known paths or stayed in place.

Self Defense

There has been many revolts and fights started and sometimes won with a machete. A machete is far more accessible to some people than a gun due to cost, availability, and legality in some jurisdictions. If someone is really out to get you and your life is on the line, there are a lot worse things to have then a machete nearby.

While this would not be my weapon of choice, it is always good when a prepping tool can be used for multiple things if needed. Machete wounds are terrible and you can easily kill someone using one so it should be treated as a deadly weapon if you are going to use it for defense.

Chopping Down Small Saplings Or Trees For Fuel Or Shelter

A machete can help you out if you need to construct a shelter in the woods or cut down something to fuel your fire. Sure dry wood on the ground is great but standing dead wood or even smaller saplings is better than nothing.

machete bucket grass

A machete can be easier for some people to wield when cutting down small saplings for a lean to or extra cover during a survival situation. Even if you have a tent, extra protection can be a big help if it is wet and/or cold.

Factors When Deciding Which To Buy

When it comes to machetes, I think simple is best. I don’t care if it has a lot of gadgets attached or makes bold claims about doing a million things. Here are the key factors I think are important when deciding which machete is right for your survival needs.

  • Size & Weight

Machetes come in a lot of different lengths. More compact versions may be good for smaller people or those that want something they can pack with ease. 18 inch and 24 inch blade machetes seem to be the most common size but 14 inches and even 10 inches are out there. Weight is more of a factor when you are packing one but none on this list weigh more than 2 lbs without their sheaths.

  • Type Of Metal

Carbon steel is easier to sharpen and holds an edge well but you have to watch out for rust creeping up on it. Stainless steel is better for those that want something that they don’t have to think about maintaining as much.

Stainless is harder to sharpen but it does vary some. There are some harder stainless steels that have come on the market. A diamond sharpener works best on the harder steels out there. For some sharpener options check out my previous post on “Best Knife Sharpeners”.

  • Price Point & Brand

Machetes are a fairly big blade that takes a lot of materials to make. While I know that sometimes you run into a deal on a good knife, I always caution against going with too good to be true prices and off brands.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some bargain machetes out there but you have to be careful. This is a survival tool and you don’t want something that is more likely to let you down when you need it most. There are a lot of reasonably priced options out there from reputable manufacturers.

Machetes for Survival

Gerber Gator Machete

SOG SOGfari 18" Machete MC02-N

Machetes For Survival | CRKT Chanceinhell Fixed Blade Machete

Length18 inch blade | Overall Length: 25.7 Inch18 in. blade length | 29.95 in. overall length12 in. blade length | 19.5 in overall length
Weight1.98 pounds1.75 pounds1.4 pounds
MaterialHigh Carbon steel3CR13 stainless steel65Mn Carbon Steel
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Carbon Steel Machetes

There are a lot more carbon steel machetes out there than stainless. You should assume a machete is carbon unless otherwise stated. Carbon steel has the advantage of holding an edge well and being easy to sharpen with about any type of sharpener. Carbon also takes the shock of impact a lot better than stainless steel which is harder and more brittle.

Gerber Gator Machete

  • Overall Length: 25.7 inches
  • Blade Length: 18 inches
  • Weight: 18 ounces

When it comes to budget-friendly blades of good quality, Gerber is my go to brand. The blade is high carbon steel and features a full-length saw on one side and a 15 inch fine blade on the other. The included nylon sheath is a great bonus. The rubberized handle offers a firm non-slip grip under trying conditions.

For those that want a compact version of this machete for packing, Gerber offers a Junior size. For some reason, the smaller one costs more so that is something you may want to consider. Other than the size, everything else is the same.

Gerber Gator Machete JR

  • Overall Length: 18.75 inches
  • Blade Length: 10.75 inches
  • Weight: 14.3 ounces

Ontario Knife Co 18″ Military Machete

  • Overall Length: 24 inches
  • Blade Length: 18 inches
  • Weight: 24 ounces

This carbon steel machete is made to military specifications. If you are looking for a classic style machete then this is what you want. The handle is molded plastic and riveted. The one issue some customers have experienced is a slippery handle. This can be solved by taping with sports tape or wrapping the handle tightly with paracord.  The blade is full tang for strength and durability. This is definitely the machete I was used to seeing in the corner when I was growing up.

Kershaw Camp 18 Machete

  • Overall Length: 24 inches
  • Blade Length: 18 inches
  • Weight: 23.1 ounces

Kershaw is another trusted brand when it comes to knives. This machete has a pointier tip than a lot of those you see. The full tang carbon steel blade is powder coated for rust prevention and durability. This included sheath is molded plastic and nylon with lash points so you can easily secure the machete to packs, gear, vehicle, etc.

The polymer handle has a textured rubber overlay for an outstanding grip under a variety of tough conditions and weather. This machete is the largest of the Camp Series. If you want a smaller version, check out the links below:

  • Kershaw Camp 10
  • Kershaw Camp 14

CRKT Chanceinhell Fixed Blade Machete

  • Overall Length: 23.625 inches
  • Blade Length: 18 inches
  • Weight: 21.6 ounces

Columbia River Knife & Tool is another favorite brand of mine because I know that they last. At 35 years old, there are CRKT products in my house that are 15 years old and going strong. This powder coated, full tang, carbon steel blade comes to you already sharp and ready to go to work.

The handle features a polypropylene core and rubberized over grip for a no slip experience every time. This machete comes with a really nice nylon sheath with a poly lining for durability and protection.

Cold Steel Tanto Machete

  • Overall Length: 15 5/8 inches
  • Blade Length: 13 inches
  • Weight: 16.6 ounces

For those that like a Tanto style blade there is the Cold Steel Tanto machete. This full tang carbon steel machete is built in a classic black and basic style with the exception of the tanto blade.

I know there are a lot of fans of Cold Steel out there and this machete does justice to their reputation for excellence when it comes to producing affordable high quality blades. This is a lightweight machete that comes with a durable nylon sheath. The polypropylene handle is sturdy but you may want to wrap it for additional grip.

SOG SOGfari 18″ Machete

  • Overall Length:  24 inches
  • Blade Length: 18 inches
  • Weight: 15.7 ounces

SOG is another quality manufacturer that is easy on the budget. This machete offers a full 6 inch handle so that is nice for those with larger hands too. The saw blade on one side and smooth cutting edge on the other increases the versatility of this machete. The Kraton rubber handle is comfortable and helps you maintain a good grip.

Condor Tool & Knife, Engineer Bolo Machete

  • Overall Length:  24 inches
  • Blade Length: 15 inches
  • Weight: 3 lbs!

This machete is the luxury one that made the list. I wanted to include a machete that wasn’t just basic black. The hardwood handle stands out and the metal is extremely thick. While a lot of machetes are in the 1 lb range, this one comes in at 3. This extra heft helps deliver some major force with each blow. This is a machete for heavy work and it should be said that for lighter work, it might wear you out a bit to wield it for a long time.

The carbon steel blade is about 1/4 thick, twice as thick as some blades. The leather full grain sheath is included, adding to the value of this blade. Condor Tool and Knife is based in El Salvador and I have to say that they know their machetes. I think I will be looking at them as an alternative to Columbia River Knife and Tool for some types of blades.

Stainless Steel Machetes

I managed to find a few stainless machetes that are affordable and quality. Stainless steel is good for wet environments and those near salt water that don’t want to have to take a lot of care to maintain their blade. Stainless is a lot harder steel than most any carbon blades but that makes it more brittle so in the case of a machete, you are better off with carbon under typical conditions.

Whetstone Cutlery Full Tang Rubber Grip Machete

  • Overall Length: 25.75 inches
  • Blade Length: 17.75 inches
  • Weight: 1.8 lbs

This machete offers a rubber hand grip and a totally stainless steel blade. The hand guard is a different touch but some may like this increased protection and stability during use. A saw blade runs most of the length of one side of the blade while the other is smooth and ready for chopping.

Schrade Parang Full Tang Machete

  • Overall Length: 19.6 inches
  • Blade Length: 13.68  inches
  • Weight: 1.37  lbs

This parang style machete is an excellent bargain. The stainless steel blade helps it hold up to salt water and other corrosive environments.  The nylon sheath is sturdy comes with a leg strap as well. The blade is an outstanding 4 mm thick despite the light over all weight. The handle is textured plastic so you may want to wrap it for increased grip.

UST Coated Stainless Steel Paracuda Machete

  • Blade Length: 11 inches
  • Overall Length: 16.3 inches
  • Weight: 11.6 ounces

This lightweight and compact machete features a powder coated stainless steel blade for increased durability The smooth blade on one side and saw blade on the other make this machete more versatile. It comes with a nylon sheath, a flint fire starter, lanyard, and emergency whistle.

I like that the handle is already wrapped. The color of the paracord wrap is pretty bright so you may want to consider this if you are trying to go with colors that blend in well.

Alternatives To Machetes: Enter The Brush Axe or Ditch Blade

Machetes are great in that they are compact and packable but for brush cutting around the homestead I prefer a good thin blade brush axe. You can clear a lot with one of these.

In fact, when Matt and I just had an overgrown piece of property and a tent on it, the brush axe was what made those first few trails so we could actually walk in a few places. A brush axe needs to be used with care of course and it will no doubt wear you out to use it for a few hours but it is amazing how good a job it does getting rid of brush and even small saplings.

You also have more reach because the handle is about 3 feet long if you get a standard brush axe. You can also get smaller length ones that are more similar to a machete. Here are two brush axes to give you an idea of what your options are.

Fiskars Brush Axe

  • Blade Length: 10 inches
  • Overall Length: 21.75 inches
  • Weight: Around 1 lb is a lightweight short handled brush axe.

Fiskars is pretty well known for blades. The composite handle is strong due to the combination of nylon and fiberglass. The blade is hardened carbon steel. Customers comment that this tool is light enough that they can use it for a long time in comfort. This is small enough of a tool to be handy for a variety of gardening or harvesting chores.

Council Tool Double Edged Ditch Bank Blade

  • Blade Length: 16 inches
  • Handle Length: 40 inches
  • Weight: Under 5 lbs? I could not find an exact weight.

Council Tool is a well known brand for a wide range of useful tools around the homestead or for those taking to the trail. This brush axe is made to high standards and will hold up to some hard work.  The blade is made of high carbon hot rolled American steel and tempered for durability.

The entire tool is made in the USA, too. A stout American Hickory handle feels solid and holds up to a lot of abuse. This is the style of brush axe we used to clear our place. I like having a big reach so you can clear out a lot of the stuff ahead of you while keeping the blade a more comfortable distance away than with a machete.

Machete Safety

A machete is no doubt a great basic tool. Like any tool, you need to take the time to learn how to use it right. A machete is a small sword that you are swinging around. You are often using it low to the ground where your legs are. One small hit with a machete can cause a lot of damage.

You also have to be aware of your surroundings so you don’t hit any person or animal that may be coming up behind you. Start out slow and chop a few things down. Learn to use your machete properly during good times so you will have the confidence and skill to use it safely and effectively in a survival situation. Watching a few videos can help you learn how to use and care for your machete.

A Note On “Fantasy” Machetes & Odd Blades

Some may have noticed that I left out a lot of the really unique machetes. The reason for this is that there are a lot of knives and machetes out there that look beautiful or “cool” but are not functional enough for a survival situation.

A blade that has a lot of hollowing out of the blade for example may be lighter weight but when you go to chop through brush and vines you are going to get it tangled up fast.

Blades that are odd can also be difficult to sharpen. If self defense is the goal then maybe it would be alright but for most of us a solid blade made in a few traditional and proven ways is going to be the best bet for a variety of situations.

If you have found any far out designs that have actually been functional then please let me and your fellow readers know in the comments below. I love learning about new blades and hearing what people really think about them not just what the maker claims!

Factory Sharpness = Dull 

When it comes to machetes and brush axes alike, the fact is that most of them do not come to you in a truly sharp state. Perhaps you have found a brand that does but it seems like for the sake of liability a lot of companies leave the fine sharpening to the customer.

This is really frustrating at times. Apparently the cardboard blade guards that are used are not enough for something to be sold in a store or shipped to you. For brush axes we use a Dremel tool and attachments to put a good edge on the axe.

Different Machetes For Different Uses

A lot of folks may find that they want to have several styles on machetes on hand for different uses. different lengths and blade types are sometimes nice to have. Your home machete for chopping wood may be larger than the one you have for bugging out or camping. You may want to keep a smaller one in your car or utility vehicle hood compartment. Since this is  such an affordable and versatile tool, it isn’t a big stretch to have a few of them.

What is your favorite machete? What size do you like to use? I wrote a post about sharpeners awhile back but I didn’t really discuss sharpening bigger blades. What do you do to keep your machete sharp and ready to go?

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10 Responses to “Best Machetes for Survival”

  1. I test swords and machetes and similar as a hobby. As a iron clad rule, I stay away from stainless steel in anything longer than 10″. Stainless steel makes a decent knife, but is too brittle at longer lengths. There is an old video from the Home shopping network that illustrates this, if you can find it. A salesman was demonstrating a 440 stainless katana by slapping the blade against the edge of the table. It broke, and impaled him. No responsible sword maker uses stainless- knock-off Chinese and Pakistani makers do. Find a 1055 or 1060 or 1065 carbon steel blade. I’d even stay away from 1095 carbon steel blades if the machete is going to be used for real, heavy duty work.

  2. This article would have benefited by including the blade thickness of those discussed. Overall very thoughtful.

  3. Very informative article. I have been thinking of getting a new machete for my backyard. I have a small one that I got in El Salvador in 1983. It has been a great little camp knife but I am wanting a larger machete or ditch knife. Your article pointed out a couple things I hadn’t considered. and the video was helpful too!

  4. I have 5 different machetes and use them frequently, the beauty of the longer length is the speed of striking at the tip. One issue withe the longer machette is the springy nature of the blade.For shorter close-in work the Gurkha kukri is hard to beat. I have 3 kukris and they get a lot of use too.

  5. Ontario makes an excellent line of machetes (besides the one you listed [which also comes in a sawback version]), but my favorite is their SP-8 Survival machete. It’s a but heavier and is shorter, but is a good combination of a machete & a hand axe, plus the blade wraps around the leading edge which makes it then useful as a rough planer.

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