We’ve discussed the survival axe and knife in a previous post but there is a third survival tool that many argue should be a centerpiece to any outdoorsman’s kit, the machete. Longer and heavier than than a knife but with a longer blade than an axe, the machete is a perfect marriage of two tools for some. But like any tool, it can only be used properly if you have a quality machete and know the proper technique.
What is the Best Survival Machete?
The best survival machete has the right material, the proper durability, and a good handle. The blade thickness and shape may vary according to the type of the survival machete such as the Parang or Golok, the Latin, the Khukuri or the Coping. It is also important to bear in mind to learn the right swinging technique when it comes to the function of the machete.
Disclaimer: A machete is just as dangerous as any knife or axe, so treat it with respect. Be mindful of other people, watch for foliage that may deflect your swings, and keep limbs out of the way. Always make sure you keep your tools in excellent condition so that the chances of the blade snapping is low!
How to Select Your Machete?
There are several types of machetes that we will get into in a moment, but first let’s look at the general quality features that yours should have:
For maximum durability, it should have a full tang. Many cheaper blades use a partial tang, which means that the metal only extends partway into the handle rather than all the way through. A full tang adds more stability to the construction of the machete, and is very important if you plan on trusting your life to this tool.
Stainless Steel may look better, but carbon-spring steel will be much more durable for you.
Use carbon-spring steel, NOT stainless steel. Stainless steel has a hard time standing up to the repeated impacts a machete is expected to endure when compared to the strong carbon-spring metals. If you can find the SAE rating for the steel, look for commonly used quality ratings such as 1050 or 1095 steel which are plenty strong for use in a machete.
The handle should be durable and comfortable. Although there is some argument over the merits of plastic or wooden handles for machetes, generally speaking it comes down to comfort. If you are woodscrafty, a wooden handle is obviously more easily replaced but otherwise just ensure that the material itself is made of strong plastic/wood without obvious manufacturing defects.
Types of Machetes
There are several common types of machetes designed for different purposes. Generally speaking, blade thickness and shape are the primary differentiators between each type. A thicker blade will be better for heavy chopping of wood or saplings, while a lighter, thinner blade will be better for clearing shrubs and vegetation.
The Parang or Golok. Thick, short, and good for chopping. The Parang design originates from Malaysia and Indonesia, and is designed for the thick, woody vegetation in that area. Not only is it weighted to chop well, but a proper Parang blade also has a bevel designed to reduce the chances of the blade sticking during chopping.
The Filipino Bolo. The Bolo is another short machete designed for thick jungle foliage, with a thick bulge at the end for added chopping power. Depending on the manufacturer a Parang and Bolo could actually be very similar, but a true bolo should be thicker at the end than a similarly sized parang. The difference between the two mainly depends on how you prefer to chop, as the Bolo tends to be shorter than the Parang.
The Latin. Used by the U.S. Military, the Latin is a long, thinner blade designed to be a middle-of-the-road sort of tool. The extra length compared to most machetes can be useful in certain situations particularly with thinner brush, but the lack of a weighted end means you’ll spend more energy chopping through thicker wood and branches.
The Khukuri. This is not often thought of as a khukurimachete owing to its military fame with the legendary Ghurkas of Nepal, but it was originally designed for general farm work more than killing. It can look almost like a metal boomerang, with the end of the blade being much larger than the handle side. This strange looking design is extremely effective for a variety of tasks, including chopping wood and clearing brush. It is rather short (generally between 16-19 in in length including the handle) but what it lacks in reach is makes up for in incredible chopping power.
The Coping. This is a more modern design, which forgoes the use of a tip in favor of a blunt, rectangular end to the blade. This is commonly referred to as a “rescue blade”, as the lack of a tip reduces the odds of harming trapped victims. This advantage is also favored in tight spaces where a sharp tip might have a tendency to catch on hanging foliage.
Proper Swinging Technique
The machete can seem like a simple survival tool, but much like a knife or axe it needs to be used properly for maximum safe use.
Do not use perpendicular swings at the object you are trying to chop. A 45 degree angle is superior. A straight, downward chop is also useful in certain situations.
When chopping or hacking, use the broad and thick part of the blade to make full use of it. This is usually referred to as the “Sweet Spot” of a machete, and differs based on variety and manufacturer.
Lead with your elbow, and flick your wrist upwards for thin foliage or downwards for woody, thick objects. These motions add additional force to your swing, which saves energy and allows you to complete your task faster.
Let gravity and momentum work with you instead of trying to muscle through your chops. Chopping is hard work and requires some muscle, but you gain nothing by tiring yourself out and working against helpful forces like gravity. Swing with your whole arm and and drop your shoulder as you swing to increase the momentum of the chop and use the weight of the blade to increase the force of each hit.
If chopping loose or flexible materials, try to pull them taut with a hand or foot that is positioned safely away. Just like cutting a string, a taut piece of grass or vine takes much more force from each swing if it doesn’t have the ability to bend and shift. This will spare you a great deal of frustration if done right, just make sure your arm or leg isn’t in danger if your swing was deflected.
The machete is an excellent tool for a variety of tasks, and if properly taken care of will last for a long time. Make sure you know how to use yours properly!