Let’s begin this article with a disclaimer: if you’ve come here to look for a murder weapon you’ve come to the wrong place.
This article will not tell you which machete is best for severing a windpipe or dismembering a body. If anyone from the NSA is reading (whilst simultaneously scanning my browsing history for the past five years before deciding whether to raise the terror alert to critical) please rest assured that this article is interested in machetes as a tool rather than a torture device.
Indeed, it may surprise those of you raised on horror movies and Danny Trejo features that the machete is, primarily, a tool. According to this etymology website the English word machete comes “from Spanish machete, probably a diminutive of macho ‘sledge hammer,’ (or) alteration of mazo ‘club’.”
|Gerber Gator Golok Machete||REI / Amazon||B|
|Condor Tool & Knife, Golok Machete||Amazon||A|
|Pro Tool Industries 284 Woodman's Pal||Amazon||B|
|Kershaw Camp 18 (1074) Camp Series Machete||Amazon||A+|
|Condor Tool & Knife Engineer Bolo Machete||Amazon||A|
The machete, traditionally, was a blade wielded in the style of a club or hammer. Used in this way it allowed users to hack their way through dense vegetation. It’s no accident the word originated in South America, home of the Amazon jungle, in the 16th century, while variations of the machete, such as the Barong and Parang, are native to another area of the globe with jungles, SouthEast Asia.
Machetes are, essentially, a knife with both a longer blade and a longer handle. This allows them to be swung with greater momentum and makes them a multipurpose tool for campers and hikers. Machetes can be used to cut branches to make a shelter, to chop up firewood and to hack through undergrowth. And, yes, they could also be used for self-defence in the event of an attack.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of machetes on the market. Which will be the best for you?
Features to Look Out for When Buying a Machete
The first question you might want to ask yourself before buying a machete is whether fashion or function is your primary concern. Let’s be honest, machetes are cool. If you want to look like a badass, wandering into the woods with the curved blade of a kukri held aloft is probably the surest way around of impressing passers-by (and/or ensuring they make absolutely no eye contact and rapidly increase their footspeed).
Assuming that you’d also like to own a machete that does a good job when put to a task, below are some of the features that distinguish effective machetes from sleekly designed imposters.
The vast majority of machetes on the market are made from one of two types of steel: carbon steel or stainless steel.
Carbon steel machetes produce a superior blade in terms of performance. Carbon steel is stronger than stainless steel, a key component in a blade that will be swung and will have to endure heavy impacts, and also keeps its cutting edge for longer. When the need for sharpening does arise, carbon steel also outperforms stainless: it is easier to sharpen out in the field.
Stainless steel does have something going for it, though. Rust resistance is an area in which it outperforms carbon steel – no small consideration given that machetes are often used in wet climates or on damp undergrowth, continually exposing them to the potential for oxidation.
If only there was some way to blend the strength and cutting edge of carbon steel with the rust resistance of stainless steel… Enter the final machete blade option, high carbon stainless steel. Though not quite as strong as carbon steel this does retain a sharper edge than low carbon stainless steel and a decent level of rust resistance. It could be a useful midway choice.
Machetes come in a range of shapes and sizes. This image usefully illustrates the diversity of handle and blade pairings on the market. The shape of a blade plays a big role in determining how a machete will perform at certain tasks so it’s worth take a look at the benefits of various designs.
Machete blades that place most of their weight and bulk at the tip, such as the panga, might be a good choice if you plan to use your machete on tough material (like wood). Since the end part of the blade carries the most momentum when swung, a heavy tip allows for a significant strike that should cut through small branches and make firewood collecting less of a chore.
Other machetes such as the barong have a more balanced, knife-like design, with the thickest part of the blade in the middle. The more balanced feel allows the user to feel more in “control” of the machete and to cut more accurately. If you plan on making your machete a multi-purpose camping tool a barong style design will provide you with the greatest range of options. It could be put to tasks as diverse as clearing undergrowth and chopping onions for dinner.
Machete blades vary in length from roughly 25 cm to 70 cm. Machetes with smaller blades are easier to control, making them useful for precision tasks like whittling wood, and can be used more effectively in confined spaces than larger blades.
That being said, small blades simply can’t generate the same momentum and weight of impact as larger blades. Why? Because the laws of physics say so, that’s why! Trust me, there’s this thing called “centrifugal force” and it, well… it means that when a bigger blade is swung it… has more range of movement and so it will, um… help me out here?
I may have flunked science at school but you know that I’m right. A bigger blade equals a bigger swing and a bigger, heavier hit. If you need to hack through stubborn shrubbery a large blade will help your cause.
Most machete blades are less than a third of a centimetre thick. Since machetes are designed to chop through vegetation, that’s generally wide enough to do the job (while providing the user with a tool that’s light enough to use without embarking on a gym routine first).
There are a few machetes on the market with thicker blades – up to two-thirds of a centimetre – but these are specialised options for those anticipating run-ins with seriously stubborn shrubbery. A thicker blade will cut through sterner materials, so may be an option if you plan to use your machete mostly on wood, but be wary of the additional weight – nothing kills the joy of camping like hauling a deadweight pack around!
The “tang” is the part of the machete that attaches the blade to the handle. Quite important then! Full tang machetes extend this connection all the way down the handle, making the construction as solid as possible, and probably aren’t something you want to cut corners on (unless you’d like your blade to fly off when you swing!)
How to Use It!
Tools are only as good as their users and, let’s face it, most of us are useless these days when it comes to practical matters.
This YouTube video on using the machete as a tool may have a presenter who looks like he scorns the internet so much he can’t believe he’s on it, but provides a thorough guide on how to use machetes on branches and brush.
Find more of our related gear reviews here.
Gerber Gator Golok Machete
If cool machetes are your thing the Gerber Gator Golok’s sleek black design may well catch the eye. The meanness of its design isn’t just for show. The Gator Golok has the thickest blade of any Gerber machete, ideal for those whose primary use for a cutting tool will be tackling wood.
The blade’s dual tapered design was created with heavy cutting in mind and, in conjunction with full tang construction and a sturdy handle, makes the Gator Golok a heavyweight tool for the trail. The machete comes with a sheath (to save you from your own clumsiness!) and dual D-loops, a belt loop and a lanyard that provide multiple carry options.
- Low-to-mid price option
- Sturdy construction and thick blade should make this ideal for those planning to chop wood on the trail
- Numerous user reviews point out that the handle is a little too small for their taste
- The construction of the sheath has also been questioned
Condor Tool & Knife, Golok Machete
This Condor machete puts fashion well ahead of function. With a walnut handle and a long blade it looks like a bread knife that got out of hand, but the quality of the materials and construction can’t be questioned.
The machete comes with a leather sheath, highlighting that, where other machetes might cut corners, this one goes for the real thing: reliable, durable materials. The blade itself is high carbon steel and user reviews suggest that it performs to a high level. A black powder coat finish has been applied to the blade to try and prevent corrosion, the downside of carbon steel.
- High-quality tool that doesn’t cut corners – the fact that the sheath is 100% leather speaks volumes for this machete
- Users consistently and enthusiastically praise the performance and solidity of the blade
- Taste is subjective and the Condor Golok Machete may appeal to those moved by traditionalist designs, but it isn’t the coolest looking machete on the market
- Mid price – not the cheapest machete around
Pro Tool Industries 284 Woodman’s Pal
This high price option replicates the design of official US Military machetes used from World War II through to Operation Desert Storm. The Woodman’s Pal is very much a US offering. The high carbon steel blade was forged in a US steelworks, the handle is made from “the best American ash wood,” shaped by Pennsylvanian craftsmen.
If patriotism and partisanship is your thing you can feel like a true American out on the trail with this machete! The unusual shape of the blade, with an overhang at the end, highlights the fact that it can be used as a machete or swung like an axe. A steel knuckle guard could prove handy (if you’re fond of your knuckles).
- Proud Americans will be attracted to the history and native craftsmanship of this machete
- Treated leather sheath adds a touch of class
- A honing stone is included with the machete to help keep the blade in shape
- High price point may deter those looking for value
- The axe at the end of the blade makes the machete one of the least pleasing on the eye. Seen from certain angles it resembles a bottle-opener!
Kershaw Camp 18 (1074) Camp Series Machete
The black powdercoat finish and modern design of this Kershaw machete place it firmly in the “cool” category. It’s jagged black sheath wouldn’t look out of place on Batman’s hip (that’s the badass Batman of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, not the comedy Batman of yore), while its polymer, textured rubber grip makes it more or less the opposite of the Condor and Woodman’s Pal machetes.
This is a modern tool, made of unashamedly manufactured substances, and presented with flair. The Kershaw Camp 18 Series Machete has a long blade – 18 inches, as indicated in the name – and performs to a high level according to user reviews.
- Looks superhero movie cool
- Long blade equals extra swinging power and the potential to cut through thicker foliage
- Low-to-mid price option
- Users report that the black finish on the blade is thin and that the steel beneath can become exposed after use
Condor Tool & Knife, Engineer Bolo Machete
The hardwood handle of this mid-to-high price option recalls the throwback design of the Condor Golok Machete, however the design of the blade is strikingly different – a long, curved, dimpled slab of metal that looks devilishly sharp. This is a heavy machete. The blade is 15 inches of high carbon steel and is a quarter of an inch thick – more or less as thick as machete blades get. This isn’t a precision cutting tool, this is a long, powerful machete designed to mow down chunks of stubborn undergrowth or to hack off small branches. It may look cool, but you’ll need to be strong enough to handle it.
- Looks significantly cooler than the previous Condor entry on this list and certainly packs a punch – this is a heavy duty machete
- Like the previous Condor offering the machete comes with a brown leather sheath
- Mid-to-high price point
- Not a machete suited to a diverse array of tasks and may be too heavy for some users to wield comfortably
And the winner is…The Kershaw Camp 18 (1074) Camp Series Machete.
It wasn’t an easy decision – every machete on the list has its plusses and minuses – but the Kershaw offers a blend of qualities that arguably make it the most versatile tool on the list. Its high carbon steel construction provides a strong, sharp blade for cutting, with a thinness to the blade that should allow for both precision and heavy duty use, while a black powder coating protects the blade from the threat of rust.
The black coating also fits in with the dark aesthetic of the machete. Blade, handle and sheath are all jet black, giving the Kershaw machete a sleek, modern look that will appeal to many.
Those who prefer a more traditional look to their machetes, one built on tried and tested materials like walnut wood, leather and naked (ie uncoated) steel, may be attracted to the two Condor machetes on the list. Those looking to use a machete primarily for clearing heavy plant growth may be particularly interested in the Condor Tool & Knife, Engineer Bolo Machete, which, with the thickest blade on the list, is specialised for heavy work.
Both Condor options are, however, significantly higher priced than the Kershaw machete. A sleek design, accessible price point and quality performance make for a winning blend. The Kershaw machete can hack it!