Some preppers may ask, “I already have a survival knife, what possible need would I have for another blade? What do I need a survival machete for?” As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons. In this article, we’ll discuss why you should have a survival machete as part of your prepper kit, and how to choose one that’ll work best for you.
What is a machete?
A machete is basically a large knife with a broad, thick blade. The word machete is a derivative of the Spanish word macho which means both “manly” and “sledgehammer”.
For a blade to be considered a machete, it must have a length of a minimum of 10 inches to a maximum of 24 inches. The longer machetes are usually meant to be wielded with both hands. The thickness of the blade is often 1/8 of an inch to save on weight, but ¼ inch-thick blades are sometimes favored for being sturdier where heavier brush is common.
The handle of most traditional machetes is made of hardwood, but plastic, rubber, fiberglass and other exotic materials are commonly available. It’s usually sharp only on one side but double-edged machete designs exist (the leaf-shaped “Smatchet” is a popular example).
In virtually every corner of the world you’ll find a form of the machete. It may be in a different shape or have another name, but its function is always identical: as an agricultural implement for clearing land for agricultural use, to cut paths through thick brush and even as a weapon when the need arises.
While the “machete” refers to the blade used in Latin-American countries, there are other “machetes” that go by other names in other countries and cultures, such as:
Bolo – Philippines
Nep – Thailand
Golok – Indonesia
Parang – Malaysia
Kukri – Nepal
Natal – Rwanda
In ancient times, some civilizations even had machetes that saw both utilitarian and military use, and these were likely the basis for the machetes that came after, such as the Greek kopis and the Germanic seax. The indigenous Ainu tribesmen of Japan originally used the katana as a machete, and not as a noble samurai warrior’s weapon as it’s now widely known.
In a previous article we discussed how to choose your first survival knife. This time, we enumerate the reasons why you should also consider having a survival machete, and how to select the machete that suits your needs.
Here are some functions of the survival machete that make it a tool you should have in addition to your survival knife:
1. Creating and maintaining trails
If you’re blazing a new trail out in the woods or jungle, you’ll need a machete. The machete is especially suited for this sort of task, since swinging its thick, heavy blade comes with sufficient heft and provides enough force to cut through small tree trunks and branches, bushes, and tall grass and weeds. This sort of heavy-duty cutting is not easily done, nor is advisable to do with your survival knife. Whether you live off-grid or at a temporary campsite, the trails leading to and from your habitat can be blocked by overgrowth, so it’s necessary to periodically clear them out with a machete to make navigation and travel easier.
2. Clearing underbrush
Similar to blazing trails, machetes are useful for clearing thick vegetation that could interrupt sight lines. Clearing underbrush is also important to make sure no snakes or critters take up residence near your shelter or campsite. By clearing underbrush, you also minimize the risk of brush fires occurring near or at your campsite or off-grid shelter.
3. Harvesting crops
If you have a garden or homestead, a machete will be very useful in harvesting crops like rye, millet, barley, buckwheat, corn, oats and sugar cane.
4. Coppicing wood
“Coppicing” is the practice of repeatedly cutting down young tree stems close to the ground to encourage growth of new shoots from the stump. This is a sustainable way of harvesting wood for charcoal, firewood or fencing, and the coppiced trees grow back even more stems as time passes. Coppicing not only makes wood harvesting possible without depleting trees, it also creates habitats for other insects and animals. This is an important task that’s better and more efficiently done with a survival machete than a survival knife, or even an axe.
5. Pruning and clearing “woody” vegetation
The low-hanging branches of small trees can obscure sight lines and can snag onto you and damage your clothes or backpack, and can greatly slow you down when traversing trails. A machete is excellent for pruning these unruly branches.
6. Shelter construction
While a survival knife can perform most of the “delicate” work of cutting saplings and branches for construction material of a simple shelter like a lean-to, a machete can do the work in half the time and with much less effort. This is vital especially in a survival situation. If you’re in the wilderness and food sources are scarce, the tools you have should help you do the most work, quickly and efficiently. A machete can even stand in for a shovel, and “carve” blocks of snow or directly cut out a makeshift shelter in a snowbank if you’re in the wilderness in wintertime.
7. Fending off attacks
By virtue of its length, a machete is better for defending against, and killing snakes or fending off angry animals.
In skilled hands, a machete can effectively butcher wild game of just about any size, from rabbits to wild pig and deer. A machete can even be used to cut up fodder to feed livestock or small pets, and gut fish.
Parts of a Machete
While a machete may appear to be a lot like a survival knife, its parts can be simpler. The main parts are:
- Blade: Shapes, lengths, thicknesses and materials
- Handle: May be made of a variety of materials but should fit the hand well and securely
- Edge: The sharpened side of the blade, usually runs the entire length of one side of the blade but may have two cutting edges
- Spine: The back of the blade is usually plain and flat but may be sharpened or have saw teeth
- Tang: The back portion of the blade that is covered by and attached to the handle
- Pommel: The end or “butt” of the handle
Choosing Your Survival Machete
As with choosing your first survival knife, getting the right machete can be a dizzying exercise as there are a lot of blades to choose from, with different styles, shapes, blade lengths, materials and handle designs. You can use the guide below to sift through the clutter, consider the important aspects of a good survival machete, and you can find the right survival machete to suit your needs.
Consider what tasks you’ll be using your survival machete. Specializing in tasks like harvesting sugarcane isn’t advisable, so go for a machete blade that’s designed for general-purpose use. Since you’ll be using the machete for mostly chopping through vegetation, more intricate tasks like woodcarving, camp tasks and cooking are best left to smaller knives.
Length of the Blade
There is no strict requirement or “ideal” blade length for the machete, but the minimum length should be at least 10 inches. Anything less than that undermines the need for a machete and you’re better off with a survival knife.
The maximum length for a machete is 24 inches, but first consider what sort of cutting or chopping tasks you’ll be doing before you decide on a blade length. Base your choice of blade length such that it’s long enough to use one-handed and without risk of losing control of the blade. You must also take into account the size of your hands; choose a machete with a blade length that also matches your hand size.
A very important factor in your decision is the material you plan to cut with the machete. A long blade can cut lots of tall grass with each swing but that length is less efficient if you’ll be making trails through heavy brush where a shorter blade will be more effective on the tougher growth. An 18-inch blade is great for saplings, small branches and general work but will mean a slower go and more swings to cut as much as the 24-inch blade.
The majority of machetes come with a relatively small thickness of 1/8 of an inch. This is the “standard” thickness that accounts for light weight and makes it easy to control. Despite this “thickness”, the blade is hefty enough to provide enough momentum with each swing and result in a clean cut or chop through most types of vegetation. But, remember that a blade this thin is more prone to breaking when used for heavy-duty cutting or chopping. The blade thickness you should consider for your first survival machete is one that provides an optimum balance of control and durability. If you need a machete that has more heft to it and think you can handle it, choose one that has a blade that’s thicker; up to ¼ of an inch.
For a decent machete that stands up to a reasonable amount of punishment, choose one with a blade that’s made from carbon steel. This type of steel provides excellent durability, strength and is easier to sharpen.
As with choosing most knives, choose a machete that has a full tang; this simply means that the machete is made from a single piece of steel, from the tip of the blade to the pommel, reducing the chances of breakage at the handle.
A machete makes for a good “companion blade” to any prepper’s kit, and it’s a utility blade worth having. A survival machete can tackle many of the more demanding chopping and cutting tasks that you wouldn’t want to do with a survival knife. When choosing your survival machete, get one that has a full tang for utmost durability, and has a blade length, blade thickness and type of grip that you’re comfortable handling. Like the survival knife, your machete has to be durable, sharp, simple and reasonably priced. Remember that the machete you choose shouldn’t be rock-bottom in price but doesn’t have to break the bank to perform the way it should.
Choose the survival machete that you feel the most comfortable with and has the best possible level of utility and durability, with a decent sheath for safe handling and sufficient blade protection.