Machete cutting a tree branch

Best Machete for Bug-Out Bag in 2021

If you’ve ever watched an action movie set in the jungle, you have likely seen the main character carrying a machete.  Machetes are heavy, intimidating, sword-like knives, but their main purpose is not a weapon of war.  Machetes are built for clearing foliage in dense forests, harvesting crops, and are definitely great tools for campsite preparation.

For our purposes, a machete is definitely a knife to be included in your Bug-Out Bag because of their size for intimidation purposes but also because they are useful if you find yourself having to camp in an uncleared, uninhibited area.

Things to consider before buying a machete

Blade Style

The intended use for your machete will dictate which blade style to select.  

The workhorse of machetes is the “weighted” or “heavy” machete. The blade of this machete is roughly twice as wide at the tip as it is near the handle.  This is largely used for chipping through heavy vegetation or woody plants.

The barong machete has a blade with a largely straight top but a curved cutting edge.  This is traditionally used for hunting.

The Kukri has a curved blade which is gradually becomes wider before narrowing to a point.  This is a good all-purpose blade.

Blade Length

Although machetes generally range in length from 10-28 inches, the most common length is around 18 inches.

Blade Material

The blade material will determine the durability and ability to retain a sharp edge.  It also contributes to the price of the machete.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel blades are easy to sharpen, stain resistant, and require reasonably little maintenance.  Unfortunately the material is relatively soft and dulls quickly.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel blades are less expensive than stainless steel, but are a harder material which means it retains its sharp edge longer.  However, the edge is difficult to re-sharpen and rusts when in contact with moisture.  It will require regular oiling for proper maintenance.

High Carbon Steel

High Carbon steel blades combine the best of both worlds.  They have the durability of Carbon Steel blades with the rust resistance of Stainless Steel.  This makes them more expensive but a good option.

Top Pick

Ka-Bar Kukri

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The machete which I have in my survival kit is the Ka-Bar 2-1249-9 Kukri because it was a mid-priced blade with the durability I was looking for.  Because it is a Kukri blade, it is a good all-purpose machete which will be good for both hunting and clearing vegetation.  These are the exact qualities you want in your go-bag or emergency kit.

Features & Benefits

As I said, this is a mid-priced blade.  The trade-off for the price is that this is a carbon steel blade rather than high carbon steel.  Because I only expect to use this machete in an emergency, I decided that a lower price was an acceptable trade-off for better durability.  The blade is sharp out of the box and easy to sharpen after use.

The blade is 11.5 inches long, which makes it easy to pack since it is on the short side.  But that also means it only weighs 1.5 pounds.  A lighter machete is better in this instance because you may have to carry it along with the rest of your emergency kit to a secure, remote location.

The handle is 100% synthetic which means it is durable and easy to clean.  It is also very comfortable and ergonomic. 

This machete also comes with a durable sheath to protect the blade when it is not being used.  

Ultimately, I like the all around use of the Kukri style of blade.  It can easily be used for hunting, but also useful for clearing vegetation and clearing a campsite.

What do owners say

Don’t just take my word for it.  I also scoured the Internet to find out what other owners had to say.  

Pros:  Most people who own this machete and have used it say it is very durable and did not lose its edge even after hours of cutting vegetation or even firewood.  By most accounts, this is a very durable knife, especially considering the price point.

Cons:  Most of the negative comments have to do with the black coating coming off after usage.  But in my opinion, this is to be expected.  After all, paint has a tendency to chip or rub off with use.  The other negative comments are about the difficulty of sharpening the blade.  Much of this difficulty has to do with the shape of the blade, so every Kukri will have the same problem.  In my opinion, because I do not expect to use this machete unless there is an emergency, I will accept these drawbacks.

Click here to buy the Ka-Bar Kukri.

Runners-Up

There are several other machetes I believe are great and worth checking out.  Of course, I could only select one as my recommendation, but I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the machetes I have listed below.

Ka-Bar Machete Cutlass

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If I didn’t have the Ka-Bar Kukri in my Bug-Out bag, I would have the Ka-Bar Machete Cutlass.  It has exactly the same specifications as the Kukri, but with the cutlass style blade.  The durability of this blade is extremely dependent on use.  It is not made to chop limbs from trees, but works great for its intended purpose of clearing smaller vegetation.

Features & Benefits

Largely the only difference between this machete and the Ka-Bar Kukri is the blade shape.  Again, this is a mid-priced machete with a blade made of 1085 carbon steel.  The blade is sharp out of the box and easy to sharpen as it dulls through use.  The knife weighs in at 1.12 pounds, so it is a bit lighter than the kukri.  

The handle is 100% synthetic which means it is durable and easy to clean.  It is also very comfortable and ergonomic.

This machete is great for cutting branches or other vegetation and clearing campsites.  However, the blade shape makes it a bit more difficult to use in hunting and skinning.

What do owners say

Pros:  Most people who own this blade and use it frequently call it a “beast” which can be abused and retains an edge.  Even when used to chop firewood (which is not what it is designed to do), the machete feels solid.

Cons:  This is not a heavy duty machete. Some owners used it to baton tree limbs, but this knife was not intended for that purpose.   

Click here to buy the Ka-Bar Machete Cutlass.

Kershaw Camp 14

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If you are looking for a workhorse machete for everyday use, the Kershaw Camp 14 is it. This thing is a beast.  In my research, I saw pictures of people chopping down 12 inch trees with this thing.  For use in my bug-out bag, I felt like this knife was a bit long, but this is definitely a machete I would buy.

Features & Benefits

This machete features an 14 inch blade made with 65Mn steel.  14 inches is perfect for use in a campsite, pruning trees, or forging new trails deep in the woods or jungle.  The blade is extremely hard and durable and I expect it to last for years.

Importantly, the Kershaw Camp machete comes with a molded sheath to protect the blade in transport and when not in use.  Although the sheath does not have a belt loop, it does include lash points and nylon straps which would be fine for securing to a backpack.

The handle is made of solid polymer and wrapped with texture rubber.  This combination makes for a secure grip whether the environment is dry or wet.  The handle also includes a hole at the end where I would recommend adding a wrist strap.  For a sharp knife used for chopping, I believe the wrist strap is a very important safety device for this type of tool.

What do owners say

Pros:  Most owners think the blade is designed well and perfect for chipping and de-limbing branches.  People who own this machete also love the way the handle feels.  And finally, many owners really appreciate the design of the sheath which fits the machete well and includes a drain hole at the bottom to allow moisture to escape and not risk the blade rusting.

Cons:  Some owners did not like the way the blade was sharpened at the factory, but through use and sharpening on your own, this will correct itself over time.  Others thought the black coating on the knife was too thin and not durable.  However, the coating is not an integral part of the knife and is largely only done to make the knife look better but does not affect performance.

Click here to buy the Kershaw Camp 14.

Conclusion

Each of the machetes I reviewed is very different.  I would purchase any one of them depending on my needs.  I selected the Ka-Bar Kukri as my favorite simply because of the price point and I think the blade shape makes it highly versatile.  But the Ka-Bar machete cutlass and Kershaw Camp 14 are both excellent blades for what they were designed to do.  In my mind, I would not hesitate to buy any of them.