How To Choose The Right Machete: Your Machete Style & Function Guide

Notice the title of this post. It is not “Should you own a Survival Machete” or “Is a Machete right for you?”. The title is HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT MACHETE. I am assuming you are already aware that a machete is a SPOG (Stock Piece of Gear) for any outdoor and survival enthusiast. Are machetes necessary to survival? No. However…

A Machete REDUCES FATIGUE and INCREASES EFFICIENCY.

Second to a good knife, a machete can be your new best friend.  Machetes are built for work and abuse.  They can make quick work of a variety of survival tasks such as clearing brush, chopping wood, building shelters, gathering cordage, processing large game and the list goes on and on.  They are a staple tool in basically every indigenous culture on the planet – and for good reason -  they are very inexpensive, extremely functional and incredibly easy to maintain.

Besides the obvious uses, machetes make excellent self defense weapons as well.  Whether pursued by beast or man, the machete is a force to be reckoned with.  It is a crude but efficient last line of defense against any attack.

Below are a series of  questions to ask yourself before you dig into the different survival machete styles.  Answering these will help you choose which machete is right for you.

  1. How do you plan on using the machete?  In the woods? For urban survival? As a Bug Out Bag tool?
  2. Will you also be carrying a knife?
  3. Do you carry an axe or hatchet?
  4. What kind of environment do you adventure in? Desert? Thick forest? Swamp? Jungle?
  5. Is this intended mainly for wilderness related chores or solely as a survival self defense weapon or BOTH?

Below are 5 very popular machete styles.  I have described what I consider the main functions and influences of each one as well as the advantages and disadvantages.  Based upon your answers to the questions above, these descriptions should help you narrow down which machete is best suited for you.

 

Survival Machete Style # 1:  The Kukri  

Kukri Style Survival Machete
Kukri Style Survival Machete

The design of the Kukri Machete makes it an excellent “all-around” machete choice.  The large heavy end provides weight for endless chopping power.  This machete makes an excellent hatchet substitute.  The narrow blade near the handle can be used for more detailed carving work as well.  The spear point tip is a good feature for self defense.  From experience, the Kukri is not best suited for clearing brush.  It’s best feature is chopping wood – making quick work of small saplings and limbs for shelter building.  Overall, this machete would be a good choice for someone who doesn’t want to depend on a hatchet or a knife to get things done.  They plan on doing some heavy chopping either with building projects or for fire wood.  And, they also would like the option to have an excellent spear point self defense weapon.

Advantages:

  • Heavy Chopper
  • Can also use as more detailed carver
  • Spear Point
  • Full Tang
  • Excellent Self Defense Rating

Disadvantages:

  • Does not excel at any one task, but gets good grades in all

 

Survival Machete Style # 2: The Bolo

Survival Style Bolo Machete

Survival Style Bolo Machete

 No detail work with the Bolo Machete.  It’s designed for brute chopping and slashing power.  Clearing paths, chopping dense vegetation and crashing through thick underbrush is where this beast performs best.  Originating in Asia and the Pacific Rim, the spear tip design lends itself well to cracking coconuts but is just as capable of cutting down the whole tree, building a shelter out of it and then chopping up the scraps for fire wood.  If it’s a workhorse you are looking for, the Bolo is for you.  Don’t expect to do any light camp chores with it though – definitely pack a good camp knife.  You can leave the axe and saw at home.

Advantages:

  • Chopping and Slashing power
  • Brush Clearing
  • Full Tang
  • True Spear Point for Thrusting
  • Excellent Self Defense Rating

Disadvantages:

  • Built mainly for big workhorse jobs
  • Can get a little bulky

 

Survival Machete Style # 3: The Panga

Panga Style Survival Machete
Panga Style Survival Machete

 The Panga originates in Africa and is basically the standard machete for the entire African continent.  Like the Bolo, it’s specialty is heavy brute force work.  It excels in chopping trees, wood and brush.  The weighted end allows for intense striking power.  Because there is not a direct spear-point, this is probably not the 1st pick for self defense.  It makes sense to have both an effective thrusting weapon and slashing weapon for self defense and this tool lacks in thrusting efficiency.  However, the threat it lacks in thrusting is made up for by it’s beastly weight.  Panga style machetes are typically pretty hefty and can take quite a beating.  So if you plan on abusing your machete, you might consider the Panga.

Advantages:

  • Intense Chopping Power
  • Hefty Weight Built For Abuse
  • Full Tang

Disadvantages:

  • Lacks thrusting spear point
  • Bulky

 

Survival Machete Style # 4: The Latin

Latin Style Survival Machete

Latin Style Survival Machete

This is the styles used by the US Military and for good reason.  It performs excellent in nearly every environment.  It does not have the brute force chopping power of the Bolo and the Panga, but this style can hack through most anything without trouble.  Saplings up to 3-4″ don’t have a chance.  This is a great machete style for deciduous forest areas and make quick work of almost any kind of underbrush, briars and debris.  Latin style machetes are known for a great combination of reach and leverage.  They are very well balanced and are not as bulky as other styles – which increases fatigue.  It also has a very traditional look.  Like the Panga, though, the Latin Style Machete lacks an effective Spear Point.

Advantages:

  • Excellent Hacker for anything 3″ or under
  • Great balance of leverage and reach
  • Full Tang

Disadvantages:

  • Lacks True Spear Point
  • Not ideal for heavy chopping

 

Survial Machete Style # 5: (BONUS LISTING) The Woodman’s Pal

 

Woodman's Pal Survival Machete

Woodman's Pal Survival Machete

While not an internationally recognized Machete Style, the Woodman’s Pal is a very unique and functional design.  Made in the USA (Pennsylvania), this Machete style is designed with the outdoors man in mind.  It’s heavy ended design lends well to powerful chopping.  Don’t even think about bringing your axe. The unique sickle hook slices through stubborn vines and briars and removes unwanted sprout growth at ground level.  Hacking at ground level can be really frustrating and this feature helps with that.  It is more compact than traditional machete styles.  I would call it the PIT BULL of machetes.  It is well balanced and feels more like an extension of your arm – like any good tool should.

Advantages:

  • Compact & Very Well Balanced
  • 1/8″ Thick carbon steel blade
  • Full Tang
  • Sickle hook for vines and scrub brush
  • Heavy Chopper

Disadvantages:

  • Doesn’t just slide right in and out of the sheath
  • No thrusting spear point for self defense

 

For me, the Machete SHEATH is also very important.  I prefer hard plastic molded options but ultimately it is a matter of personal preference.  I also prefer Carbon Steel blades over Stainless Steel.  Machetes get a lot of tough use and Carbon Steel tends to hold it’s edge better than Stainless.  And, it tends to be more flexible – which is a good feature in a Machete.  

There are more Machete Styles on the market, but this covers some of the most well known.  Hopefully this information has been helpful.

Cheers~

Creek

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Comments

  1. Rob Lambert says:

    Thanks man, excellent information, much appreciated!

    I liked the recurve bow article also..

    Rob

  2. I have a Ka Bar Machete. The handle is lacking, but the 1085 carbon steel sharpens easy and it is a work horse! Cuts down, up to, medium sized 12″ diameter pine trees like a good swedish axe at a fraction of the price. It sparks a ferro rod, digs holes to take a crap and fire holes and much more. A bit heavy in my MOLLE II pack, but worth the weight in camp. Use caution when batoning though, if my RAT 1095 carbon steel can brake in half after two years of abuse, well then this softer steel may very well in the future – best used to chop, not split.

  3. Zooper says:

    TheNorthernSurvivalist – which Ka Bar machete do you have? Is it the Kukri or Cutlass? I have been trying to decide between the two. I would be using it for hiking/clearing brush and a self defence option. At 1.2 pounds it seems a bit heavy to be carrying around strapped to a belt.

  4. John says:

    Informative article Creek. Thanks. I own an Ontario 18″ Military machete with the plain back. I saw a guy on Youtube modify the front end of his Ontario to make it a bit more of a spear point for thrusting.

  5. Pete says:

    Great article Creek.
    After weighing the pros and cons of each style, the next choice was how much to spend.
    I ended up going with the Cold Steel Magnum Kukri.
    The more expensive blades come much nicer out of the box with nicer finishes, sharper blades/better profiles, and usually much nicer grips.
    Going with the cheaper option I re-profiled the blade, wrapped the handle, and ground down the poor factory finish on the back of the blade.
    For those wanting to get a great tool for a cheaper price, a little bit of sweat equity, a bastard file, and a sharpening stone can go a long way.

    @TheNorthernSurvivalist: Most survival knives are made of a harder steel than machetes. Higher carbon, or other alloying metals like chromium and nickel usually accomplish this. This makes them more impact resistant(ie, denting when batoning), able to hold an edge longer, and with much less flex in the blade.
    This also makes them more brittle, so they are more likely to snap clean off as the do not have as much elasticity, malleability, or ductility of lower carbon blades.
    While it will show more signs of wear, a lower carbon blade is more likely to be repairable through annealing, tempering, and quenching after misuse and abuse, and a higher carbon or stainless will usually just snap clean off when it reaches its’ breaking point.

  6. weldnfab says:

    very interesting article…. I for one am considering a machette for the back of my jeep … any journeyman blade maker can make you a knife capable of being softer in the spine yet a hardened cutting edge up front…. look into a good hand made bowie… or at least the ideas behind their many designs if you want a better blade. There are good reasons for their design, the materials they are made of, and heat treated the way they are. (Most blade makers do not offer it, but a good 52-100 steel, when hammered out on a anvil properly, will make a dandy blade, capable of holding a very good edge for a long time. 5160 steel would be my second choice and is more readily available.) I have several of each, they work.

  7. My girlfriend bought me a Woodman's pal for my birthday last year. It's apparently been in storage for 50+ years.With the pal being a bit weird at first, I'm glad mine came with the steel "click in" sheath. If you don't like the leather one, give the steel ones a look.

    • Adam Allen says:

      WOW! what a good fine. Like old guns, old knives carry a lot of history and are way cooler in my opinion then a fresh knife. What a great girlfriend.

  8. Best Machete says:

    I'm a big fan of Woodman's pal.

  9. Rob Baribault says:

    I have a cane machete.It's flat on the tip with a broad blade that tapers towards the handle. What's your take on that? Here's a picture of the type it is.http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-CCBw_5lYcsI/TXfJoU12lMI/AAAAAAAAACQ/-zLWzsR2ET4/s1600/Machete_1.jpg.

  10. matt says:

    I’ve been very happy with my 14″ Tramontina machete and have chopped all kinds of wood and carved
    slingshots with it,and even cut up chicken for fajitas.
    I would place my machete ahead of my tomahawk as far as versitility.
    The Tramontina machetes are a great value.

  11. Rodney Posey says:

    like

  12. Rofo Reman says:

    I own a panga machete. This post mentions "it's not a good thrusting self defense weapon". Well… if you stab straith forward aimlessly it sure sucks. But, if you stap on a slightly diagonal ascending movement from (down to up) it stabs and goes deep. Ask the opinion of the wolf that tried to pounce me in the woods (nearly killed me with fear) the panga went almost trough him. So don't worry, it's good to stab too, even tough it's not as good as a kukri or a bolo.
    As for chopping, oh my God, it's a beast. We were processing a boar from hunting, and just out of fun I though "I'm going to strike the neck just to see if this machete is good".
    It's no wonder the panga was used as a war weapon on Africa: it beheaded the boar, clean and straight, on one single chop, I'm not kiding.

    It was obviously a "maximum brute blind strength" strike however, but it cutted a neck with the thickness close to a human torso.

    So, in conclusion: In my modest opinion, if you don't mind it's bulky, heavy and slightly sloppy handling and remember it's specific way of stabing eficiently, I'd say it's the best overall all-around machete you can find.
    As an extra, if I had to choose a diferent machete, I'd go for the kukri.

    That is my experience and opinion, hope it helps.
    Happy choping

  13. Rofo Reman says:

    I own a panga machete. This post mentions “it’s not a good thrusting self defense weapon”. Well… if you stab straith forward aimlessly it sure sucks. But, if you stap on a slightly diagonal ascending movement from (down to up) it stabs and goes deep. Ask the opinion of the wolf that tried to pounce me in the woods (nearly killed me with fear) the panga went almost trough him. So don’t worry, it’s good to stab too, even tough it’s not as good as a kukri or a bolo.
    As for chopping, oh my God, it’s a beast. We were processing a boar from hunting, and just out of fun I though “I’m going to strike the neck just to see if this machete is good”.
    It’s no wonder the panga was used as a war weapon on Africa: it beheaded the boar, clean and straight, on one single chop, I’m not kiding.

    It was obviously a “maximum brute blind strength” strike however, but it cutted a neck with the thickness close to a human torso.

    So, in conclusion: In my modest opinion, if you don’t mind it’s bulky, heavy and slightly sloppy handling and remember it’s specific way of stabing eficiently, I’d say it’s the best overall all-around machete you can find.
    As an extra, if I had to choose a diferent machete, I’d go for the kukri.

    That is my experience and opinion, hope it helps.
    Happy chopin

  14. Wyatt Carlson says:

    I have the same kukri machete.

    its one of the best mechetes ever.

  15. Alan Kernighan says:

    Great little overview. its ridiculous how many different types of “machete” there is out there. That last one looks like something you would see on the walking dead. I myself have the Bear Grylls Parang Machete, its pretty decent for hacking through undergrowth on my farm! Cheers, AK

  16. Doug Crawford says:

    I have a cane, latin, and a panga (Marble’s Swamp Master Jungle Machete). I really like the panga for the extra weight at the tip when cutting brush and limbs. It’s heavy enough that it does a lot of the work through it’s own inertia. It’s heavy and bulkier than my cane or the old Vietnam issue machete so I modified the sheath to attach to the side of my pack so it’s much easier to carry than on my belt. It doesn’t seem to work as well on lighter growth as the latin or cane though.

  17. Tresa says:

    What is the name of the kukri that is pictured? Thanks!

  18. Kent Barnard says:

    I have a Kukri and a Smatchet as well as other knives. Still experimenting with finding the one that I like best and works the best. I always have a knife.