Machete vs. Large Knife: Which is Best?

When contemplating a survival situation, it is sometimes the decisions that you make long before you ever find yourself tested at the moment of truth that will make the biggest difference in the outcome.

One such decision is what kind of cutting tool you will take with you for the task. Out of all the various blades preppers have to choose from, the classic survival knife and the machete are among the most relied upon.

Which is best between a survival knife and a machete?

Both are adequate with their own strengths and weaknesses, but the survival knife is a better all-around choice, being adaptable, multi-purpose, and much easier to keep close at hand. The machete excels at chopping and hacking through dense underbrush.

But don’t just take my word for it. There is much more to consider when it comes to choosing a bladed tool for tackling a survival situation with, and all of the specifics attendant to where you live, your skills and your requirements are worth carefully examining.

In the remainder of this article we will tell you what you need to know when it comes to choosing a machete or a survival knife.

Survival Tool Requirements

Any given survival tool that you choose will have to measure up across a variety of tasks. No matter who you are, where you live and what sort of environment you wind up living in, or trying to live in, the same general sorts of jobs will be asked of your blade.

This is only broadly constrained by whether or not you are in a wilderness setting or a human settled one

Any sort of survival tool will have to deal with cutting cordage, shaving or splitting kindling and tinder, running across a fire steel or ferro rod and dealing with all sorts of assorted tasks in and around camp.

If you are relying on your tool to perform serious processing of wood it will have to be capable of chopping on its own or in conjunction with some other pounding tool.

It might have to cut through dense undergrowth. It might have to cut through ornery people, as self-defense is just one of the many tasks that a survival tool might be required to perform.

As with most tools, you can have a tool that excels at one or two things or is passably competent at many things, but you will never have a tool that can do absolutely everything well. This is the crux of the problem when preppers consider the survival knife against the machete.

A survival knife is your do-it-all all-star, capable of handling just about every task that might call for an edged implement. It is certainly nimble, handy and suitable for handling pretty much all light- and medium- duty tasks.

Contrast this with the machete, a powerful, long chopping tool that can help you process firewood in abundance or blaze a trail through the most tangled undergrowth.

Long the tool of choice in dense jungle terrain throughout Latin America, a good machete is one of the few portable tools capable in these environments.

But what it has in power and efficiency for these tasks it gives up in precision and versatility.

So which one should you choose? There is more to consider below.

Contrasting the Survival Knife and Machete

Survival KnifeMachete
Camp TasksUseful for many tasks, great and small.Excels only at chopping and clearing brush/vines.
Self-DefenseWorks well enough in a pinch.This formidable chopper can inflict nasty wounds with reach.
VersatilityHighly adaptable.Limited.
PortabilityTypically light, compact and handy.Typically light, but length makes it harder to carry.

Survival Knife Advantages and Disadvantages

It will be the rare situation where you will go wrong choosing a survival knife. They are so versatile, so balanced and so well adapted to the possible tasks and chores you might have to handle there is little reason to not choose a survival knife over a machete.

Your survival knife will be just as suited to batoning through branches in order to process firewood, as it will be engaged in the fine task of feathering bark for tinder, or prepping fruits and vegetables for dinner.

You can use your survival knife both for preparing food, chopping, cutting and skinning and also for catching your food by employing it as a spear.

The survival knife is obviously going to be handy for mundane tasks also, things like cutting zip ties, slicing through cordage and fashioning stakes for securing your tent or triggers for setting up a trap.

Even in a self-defense situation your trusty survival tool will make for a ferocious weapon.

Perhaps its only shortcoming is that it will be one you can only employ it at point blank range unless you are using it in conjunction with a pole as a spear. You should never underestimate several inches of sharpened steel, that’s for sure!

Well-rounded, versatile and highly adaptable, made even better by its small overall size and light weight. The survival knife deserves a place in every single prepper’s armory.

machete in log
machete in log

Machete Advantages and Disadvantages

Compared to the survival knife, the machete is more of a one-trick pony. What it sacrifices in versatility, agility and sheer handiness it makes up for with brute strength chopping capability and allows you to slice through dense, constricting undergrowth with ease.

Don’t misunderstand; a machete can take a very nice edge and is more than capable of performing all the utility chores that your survival knife can listed above but its length makes it clumsy for any job you’re performing in a close workspace.

You’ll be contorting and maneuvering and employing different grips far more often with a machete than you would be with a survival knife for the same task.

This makes the machete a nominal choice only in areas where foliage is very dense near ground level, places where you might literally have to slash a path in order to progress.

Are Machetes Good for Self-Defense?

Machetes are definitely capable, and in the hands of a trained user they can be utterly effective.

Even the uninitiated can see that a machete has much in common with short swords or a cutlass. The long blade is excellent for hacking and slashing; imagine the damage that could be done with a full-power swing or decisive chop!

On the other hand, machetes also have some significant disadvantages in a self-defense situation.

First, they are simply too big and unwieldy to use indoors or in true close quarters; you will quickly find yourself at a disadvantage if your attacker can get inside your reach.

Additionally, unless you have had specific training (or are otherwise experienced in using a machete), it can be very easy to injure yourself as well as your attacker.

Consider too that machetes, most of them anyway, are not point-driven tools; though they may be pointed, they typically depend on cutting, chopping and slashing.

The vast majority of knives have points that are far better suited to thrusting and stabbing than your average machete.

Overall, there are much better options available for dedicated self-defense, but machetes should not be counted out as a means of protection.

Blades that Blur the Line: Large machete-like Knives

When it comes to survival knives, there is a lot of debate about what is the best type. There are those who swear by typical fixed-blade knives and those who prefer big, machete-like blades.

In this article, we are going to take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of large, machete-like knives that can perform in a dual role in a survival situation.

There exist some very large knives (or perhaps you’d call them small machetes!) that have the performance perks of both while also having some of the disadvantages.

Some blades in this category include the parang, bolo, and the legendary kukri made so famous by the ferocious Gurkhas of Nepal.

One of the main advantages of these types of knives is their versatility.

They can be used for serious chopping tasks; better than a traditional knife knife but not as good as a hatchet or axe. They can be used for clearing brush; again better than a knife but not as good as a full-size machete.

Additionally, they are quite nimble and still capable on defense, with some even having a pronounced sharp point more like a much smaller knife.

However, there are also some disadvantages to these specialized knives.

They can still be difficult to control for precise work and may cause accidental injury more easily when chopping since they are comparatively short- the follow-through on a miss or glance can easily hit your legs!

Additionally, they are not as concealable or as light as a smaller knife, though they are much handier than a big machete.

Are these special blades the ideal blend for survival? Ultimately, it depends on your individual needs and preferences. If you feel comfortable using a large machete-like blade but want more portability, then it may be the best option for you.

However, if you don’t want to sacrifice when it comes to detail work or are worried about injuring yourself when chopping, then a smaller fixed-blade knife may be a better choice.

Machetes are the Obvious Choice for Clearing Brush and Vines

If you are going to be surviving or travelling though areas of intense undergrowth, jungle or other areas with a lot of vines, brambles and other obstacles in your way, then a machete is really the only tool for the job.

There is no knife that can match a machete when it comes to clearing a path; they are simply built for it.

The long blade and balance of a machete make it easy to cut through even the toughest vegetation; something that would be taxing and difficult with even the largest and best bush knife.

And though it seems counterintuitive, the greater size and weight of a machete can save energy when bushwhacking in this way: you need only a little force to swing the blade quickly enough to cleave through tough vegetation thanks to the physics at work.

A shorter blade means you must invest more force in each swing to transmit the same amount of power.

So, if you know for sure that you will be spending time in areas of dense undergrowth, then a machete should definitely be high on your list of survival tools.

The Survival Knife is the Savvy Prepper’s All-around Choice

Preppers will always seek to choose the correct tool to handle the situation they are anticipating in the environment that they currently occupy, but more than this preppers also greatly desire multipurpose or multifunction tools that can help cover all their bases and all eventualities. The survival knife fits this mantra to a T.

Any good survival knife will be just as at home in the kitchen as it will be in the field, and can handle the most mundane chores and the most hair-raising survival jobs equally well.

It can even be adapted into a longer range weapon by fashioning it and a suitably improvised haft into a spear, negating its biggest disadvantage in a self-defense context.

The only major shortcoming of the survival knife, its lack of serious chopping power compared to a machete or similar tool, can be partially overcome by batoning the knife through the wood that needs to be split utilizing a mallet, club or sturdy branch.

batoning maple wood
batoning maple wood

Obviously your survival knife must be made to a higher standard to survive regular treatment in this way but is a small price to pay for such capability in a highly compact size.


Both the machete and survival knife can serve as life saving primary tools in an emergency situation, but the machete gives up a fair bit of versatility for excellence in chopping and slashing.

The survival knife is smaller, often far smaller, but also far more versatile and well suited to survival (and even self-defense, though you may want a fighting knife for that) in a great variety of environments.

If you can only choose one blade for your go-to survival tool, make it the survival knife unless you are in an area with incredibly dense undergrowth.

1 thought on “Machete vs. Large Knife: Which is Best?”

  1. you should always have a small knife on you. even if you wanna make an one item package, have a small knife in there. the big blade is chosen based on weight and utility. a small one is mandatory for survival. therefore the versatility argument is a minor one.

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