SURVIVAL

Best Survival Machete: Top 7 Picks

Machete for survival review
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

When it comes to a survival situation, you have to rely as much on the tools you have brought with you as you do on your own instincts. That’s why choosing the best tools for survival is a process that merits time and consideration, particularly when you are selecting tools that you might use to save your own life.

A machete is one such tool. Most machetes serve multi-purpose functions; that is, they are just as capable of building a shelter as they are of protecting you from bodily harm.

With that in mind, a machete should be on the top of every outdoorsman and survivalist’s list of tools to bring into the wilderness. The array of machetes available on the market today may make selecting the best survival machete a difficult task, but the following reviews highlight 7 key machetes anyone looking to purchase this tool should consider.

How to Choose A Survival Machete

In essence, a machete is simply a large, heavy knife with an important difference: From building a shelter to cutting vegetation to warding off predators, machetes perform a variety of tasks that an average knife doesn’t.

Because a survival machete can mean the difference between life and death when you’re in the wilderness, backcountry, or other survival situation, it’s essential to take some time to choose the one that best fits your needs.

Survival machete in the wild

The first step, then, in choosing a survival machete is assessing your intentions. What are you going to use the machete for?  Are you looking for an all-purpose machete specifically for survival situations, or do you want the machete to perform specific functions in other situations, too?  In what kind of environment will you be most likely to use the machete?

What Can You Perform with A Machete

Your answers to these questions affect the type, weight, and features of the blade you’ll need and are, therefore, an important component in the selection process. Any task you perform with a machete boils down to three basic actions:

  • Chopping,
  • Piercing, and
  • Slicing.

Chopping

When you choose a survival machete for its chopping power, you will be choosing a machete with a thick, heavy blade, capable of chopping down wood for fires and shelters or cutting through thick swaths of vegetation. A thick blade ensures successful repeated chopping, as it won’t give out or break down with use.

The weight of the blade, too, helps build momentum and provide enough force behind each blow to ensure clean, complete chops.

Survival machete chopping

Many chopping machetes on the market today have heavier, thicker blades than normal, allowing them to hold up under heavy use; however, for a survival machete, a blade with a moderate weight and thickness is best, as the mid-range weight will allow you to continue using the blade without fatiguing too quickly.

Piercing

The piercing ability of a survival machete allows you not only to do such jobs as killing game or puncturing an object, but also to perform less savory but essential survival tasks like draining a wound in the event of a backcountry medical emergency.

The design of the machete’s blade assists you with these and other functions. As such, the blade has a narrow, often spear-point, tip and becomes progressively wider and thicker as it moves towards the handle.

Survival machete piercing

The tip should be not only sharp but also aligned with the handle of the machete; this allows the wielder to thrust, pierce, and stab in a straight line, making it easier to pierce a variety of objects.

As with that of a chopping machete, the blade of a piercing machete should have a moderate thickness and weight, thick enough to withstand repeated use, but light enough to not fatigue the wielder too quickly.

Slicing

Finally, a survival machete should be able to perform slicing tasks, such as a skinning game or cutting a frayed rope, with relative ease. In order to achieve this, the blade needs to have a fairly thin, long cutting edge with a generous curve.

The narrow shape of a slicing blade minimizes friction between the blade and the object being sliced, too. Tasks performed with this type of blade should be limited to true slicing, like skinning or filleting; cutting larger portions of meat, for example, is a task better suited to a chopping blade, as this activity can wear a thin blade over time.

In general, you should choose a machete with a blade that’s weighted and balanced for the kind of tasks you want to do, whether that’s chopping, piercing, slicing, or all three. Keep in mind, too, that the heavier the blade, the more fatigued you’ll become using it, which may impact your own performance in a survival situation.

Survival machete slicing

The shape of the blade also affects the type of tasks a machete can perform and, thus, the type of machete you choose. For example, a deep belly blade has both the curvature for slicing tasks and the weight for chopping tasks, while a sharp tip blade is ideal for piercing and slicing.

The Material of A Survival Machete

Once you establish the type of tasks you want your survival machete to perform, you will also need to consider the material the blade is constructed from, as its fabrication impacts longevity, durability, flexibility, resistance to corrosion, resistance to wear, and retention of edge, strength, and hardness.

To achieve the best results in each of these categories, most survival machetes are constructed from either

  • Carbon steel
  • Stainless steel, or
  • High carbon stainless steel.

Carbon steel

Machetes made from carbon steel tend to be stronger, harder, and less expensive than those made from stainless steel.

Survival machete carbon steel

Carbon steel blades are also easier to sharpen and retain their sharpness longer than stainless steel. The drawback of carbon steel is that it rusts more easily than stainless, although oxidation can be removed and prevented by occasionally oiling the blade.

Stainless steel

Although stainless steel machetes tend to be softer, more expensive, and less sharp than carbon steel machetes, they generally withstand corrosion and wear better than carbon machetes. The chromium nickel coating protects the blade from rust and corrosion, making stainless steel an ideal material for wet or adverse environments.

Survival machete stainless steel

The downside of stainless steel is that the softer material requires more sharpening than carbon.

High carbon stainless steel

Combining the best of both worlds, high carbon stainless steel has the edge retention, hardness, and strength of carbon steel with the resistance to corrosion of stainless steel. This is perhaps the most useful material for a survival machete, though it is significantly more expensive than the other two options.

Finally, an often overlooked aspect—but one that should influence your choice—of the survival machete is its handle. Although you use the blade to perform tasks, the handle allows you to make the motions that actually execute those tasks!  A weak or uncomfortable handle impacts your ability to use your machete to its fullest potential.

High carbon stainless steel

When looking for a survival machete, test the handle for its comfort level. It should have a comfortable grip and an ergonomic design that will allow you to use the tool repeatedly without discomfort. Be sure, too, that the handle is made from durable, high-quality material that won’t break, crack, or fall apart with repeated use and exposure to the elements.

Top 7 Machetes for Survival Situations

If you’re looking for ideas to help you choose a survival machete, the construction, function, and price of one of the following 7 machetes might make it the perfect tool for your survival kit or next wilderness adventure.

Gerber Gator Machete
Gerber Gator Machete

Weight: 1.1 lb.

Dimensions: 28 x 5.1 x 1.9 inches

Special Features: High carbon stainless steel blade, fine edge and saw edge blade, Gator grip rubberized handle

Best use: Sawing, light- to medium-Weight: chopping

Description: The Gerber Gator is an excellent multipurpose machete and, at less than $20.00, the perfect choice for survivalists on a budget.

This lightweight machete weighs just 1 pound, yet its 15-inch razor edge blade delivers enough sharp, tough chopping power to clear a swatch of vegetation in a single cut. Its ergonomic, tactile rubber grip handle allow the wielder to exercise maximum control while performing repeated tasks with no discomfort.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of this blade, though, is that it doubles as a saw: the 18-inch, high performance, serrated edge opposite the blade edge is ideal for sawing through wood, rope, and other materials. The saw edge also makes up for the fact that this relatively thin, light blade works best for light- to medium-Weight: chopping tasks.

Related: Smith’s Axe and Machete Sharpener

Cold Steel 97KMS Kukri Machete

Cold Steel 97KMS Kukri Machete

Weight: 1 lb.

Dimensions: 18 x 6 x 1 inches

Special Features: Carbon steel blade, polypropylene handle, Cor-Ex sheath, limited warranty

Best use: Heavy chopping, piercing, carving

Description: The 97KMS Kukri machete by Cold Steel is the perfect pick for those looking to combine quality with affordability. At under $30.00, this machete performs workhorse tasks at a reasonable price.

Its 13-inch carbon steel blade provides maximum chopping power to clear the thickest brush with its weight-forward balance, while its durable, polypropylene handle ensures tough tasks can be repeated in comfort.

While kukri machetes like the 97KMS are primarily used for heavy chopping, their three-part blades also feature a pointed piercing tip and a narrow area near the handle that can be used for more delicate tasks, such as whittling or carving.

Related: Cold Steel Magnum Kukri

Ka-Bar Black Cutlass Machete

Ka-Bar Black Cutlass Machete

Weight: 1.1 lb.

Dimensions: 18.2 x 4.6 x 2.6 inches

Special Features: High carbon steel blade, Kraton G thermoplastic elastomer handle, hollow grind, 20-degree angle edge, leather/Cordura sheath

Best use: Slicing, survival, self-defense, cutting small limbs and branches, clearing camp

Description: As the name suggests, the cutlass-style Ka-Bar Black Cutlass machete handles light- to medium-weight chopping tasks with ease while delivering power for piercing and slicing tasks, making it an excellent mid-range survival machete.

Its 11-inch carbon steel blade works well for clearing campsites, chopping down light vegetation, and cutting smaller branches and tree limbs. It also features an ergonomic, non-slip grip handle designed to maximize comfort and use.

The Ka-Bar Black Cutlass is a lighter, less-curved version of the kukri machete, making it an ideal choice for those who don’t like the deep curve of the kukri, or who are looking for a machete that impresses both in terms of performance and aesthetics.

Related: Condor Bushcraft 13” Parang Machete

Gerber Bear Grylls Parang Machete

Gerber Bear Grylls Parang Machete

Weight: 1.9 lb.

Dimensions: 25.5 x 6 x 1.5 inches

Special Features: High carbon steel blade, ergonomic textured rubber grip, lanyard, nylon sheath, search-and-rescue and SOS instructions

Best use: Survival, clearing vegetation, search and rescue

Description: A traditional jungle machete in a modern design, the Gerber Bear Grylls Parang machete combines multipurpose performance and durability with an affordable price.

The 13.5-inch blade clears thick vegetation with ease while aiding in survival and search-and-rescue situations. Its high carbon steel construction ensures longevity, durability, and resistance against corrosion and wear, even with heavy use.

A textured, ergonomic rubber grip handle boosts comfort while reducing slippage. This particular model also includes Priorities of Survival, Bear Grylls’s pocket guide to survival and SOS essentials, making it the perfect choice for those who want a machete specifically designed with the survivalist in mind.

Related: Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Hatchet

Ka-Bar 2-1249-9 Kukri Machete

Ka-Bar 2-1249-9 Kukri Machete

Weight: 1.3 lb.

Dimensions: 17.4 x 4.6 x 2.4 inches

Special Features: Carbon steel blade, hollow grind, Kraton G handle, 20-degree angle edge

Best use: Light- to mediumweight chopping, basic field tasks (clearing campsites)

Description: In 1942, Ka-Bar became the brand of choice for American serviceman fighting in World War II. Today, Ka-Bar maintains this legacy with its military- and survival-focused products, and the 2-1249-9 Kukri machete is no exception.

This machete is used by members of the United States military, outdoorsmen, and survivalists alike, making it one of the most popular models on the market today.

It features an 11.5-inch carbon steel blade that makes short work of a variety of chopping, piercing, and slicing tasks, though this machete excels primarily at light- to medium-weight chopping and basic field tasks like clearing campsites. Its ergonomic non-slip grip handle ensures maximum comfort for all-day use.

Related: Cold Steel Latin Machete

Condor Tool and Knife 14-Inch Golok Machete

Condor Tool and Knife 14-Inch Golok Machete

Weight: 2.4 lbs.

Dimensions: 20.5 x 3.2 x 3.2 inches

Special Features: High carbon steel blade with epoxy black powder coating, leather handle, 107 sculpted vents, replaceable soft pads

Best use: Heavy chopping tasks

Description: Similar to a parang-style machete, a golok machete is designed and weighted with heavy chopping tasks in mind. The Condor Tool & Knife 14-inch Golok features a high carbon steel blade that’s tough enough to split bullets, chop down trees, and resist rusting and corrosion.

Its hardwood handle looks smooth but has been roughened to ensure a non-slip yet comfortable grip. While this machete may not be the best choice for piercing, slicing, or more delicate tasks, this is an excellent machete for those who spend a lot of time in the wilderness performing heavy tasks and need a strong, durable tool.

Related: Whetstone Cutlery ‘The Brute’ Super Machete

Cold Steel Jungle Machete

Cold Steel Jungle Machete

Weight: 1.5 lb.

Dimensions: 0.4 x 0.4 x 0.4 inches

Special Features: High carbon steel blade with black baked-on anti-rust matte finish, polypropylene handle

Best use: Chopping heavy vegetation, clearing camp, skinning, self-defense

Description: The Cold Steel Jungle machete delivers the multipurpose performance you’d expect from a blade that looks like a bush, parang, and kukri machete all rolled into one—and for a reasonable price.

From chopping woody vegetation to slashing through vines; from hunting and skinning prey to defending against predators, the 16-inch carbon steel blade of the Jungle machete excels in multiple areas of use.

Though its weight is balanced slightly forward, the blade was designed to do a variety of tasks with a survival focus. This survival machete is an excellent choice for those looking for a machete with a balance of capability, durability, and affordability.

Related: Elk Ridge Tactical Machete

Final Words

The following chart provides a quick comparison of the primary use and price rating of the survival machetes discussed above.

MachetePrimary UsePrice Rating
Gerber GatorMultipurpose$
Cold Steel 97KMS KukriChopping$
Ka-Bar Black CutlassSurvival$$
Gerber Bear Grylls ParangMultipurpose, survival$$
Ka-Bar 2-1249-9Chopping, military$$
Condor Tool and Knife 14-Inch GolokChopping$$
Cold Steel Jungle MacheteMultipurpose, survival$

When it comes to choosing a survival machete, many factors—use, construction, handle, and price—combine to influence your final decision.

Machete for survival

The suggestions above highlight some of the most popular, useful, and affordable survival machetes on the market today, but ultimately, the machete you choose depends a lot on you and your survival needs.

Investing time, consideration, and money into your ideal survival machete now ensures that you won’t get caught in a survival situation without the tools that could potentially save your life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Jenny Simpson Smith

    As someone who spends a great deal of time in the bush and jungle, a solid machete is a crucial tool for ensuring safe passage through the unknown, warding off any unwanted company and from time to time, assisting with food preparation.

    Though I’ve owned a few machetes listed here over the years, all of which have performed well, most recently, I have been using the Cold Steel Kukri Machete and I have to say, it trumps them all.

    It has been used to chop down countless saplings and hack through miles of undergrowth, it has been knocked on rocks, dropped on the ground and even had a truck back over it and it still looks as good as it did, the day I got it.

    The blade holds a nice edge, though if I recall, out of the box it did need a little attention (an hour or so with a file, and a few stones). It is lightweight enough to use for extended periods of time, I have personally used it for 3-4 hours and more at a time, without developing any blisters.

    I really cannot say enough good things about it, a must have for any hiker, backpacker, camper or worldly wanderer.

    • Dennis Owens

      The Cold Steel brand is a fool-proof brand and has been around for quite a long time already, and is one of the most established brands in the market when it comes to knives and machetes. While some models are quite expensive, investing in a Cold Steel Machete is definitely worth saving up.

  • Tom Grainger

    When Gerber first released the Bear Grylls range of products, I did roll my eyes a little, thinking they’re probably nothing more than corny name-dropping products, with very little real world application. I was, however, proven wrong when I received the Gerber Bear Grylls Parang Machete as a Christmas gift in 2015.

    Right out of the box, you’ll notice just how high the quality of this product is. The blade is heavyweight, the sharpest I’ve ever seen on a newly delivered blade and it holds a better edge than any other machete I’ve ever used.

    The grip comfortable and it has great balance, so cutting through dense brush or thick branches is almost child’s play.

    For the price, you’ll struggle to do much better than this.

    • Dennis Owens

      While I would have to agree with you that co-branded products are often not as effective as marketed (not to mention they are often more expensive than regular ones), there are various co-branded outdoor items worth checking out. The Bear Grylls range is one of them, and whether or not you are a Bear Grylls fan, its line are some of the products in the market that are worth checking out.

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