Bushcraft involves a lot of cutting, whether you want to chop wood or prepare food. Having the right cutting tool for your purposes is essential!
This article will compare and contrast machetes with hunting knives—to help you decide which cutting tool is best for you. You’ll get to know which tasks each tool is best for, as well as each tool’s respective advantages and disadvantages. By the end, you should hopefully have a good idea of which cutting tool will be best for you!
What Is the Difference Between a Knife and a Machete?
A knife is a utensil or tool designed for cutting small things. It is usually made from steel and has a sharpened edge attached to a comfortable handle. The blade usually has a pointy end that can be used for piercing. Most hunting knives are small and portable, and some designs are foldable and can be stored in a small, portable case or sheath.
Bigger and longer than a hunting knife, a machete is usually used to chop down things that are too strong and tough for a knife—like wood, bones, and other hard substances. A machete can come in different sizes, but many of them have blades that are 50 to 65 centimeters long and up to 3 millimeters thick. The downside: machetes are larger and therefore harder to pack away and they generally don’t come in a foldable design.
To sum up: both hunting knives and machetes are used for cutting, the major difference being that machetes do tougher cutting and hunting knives do lighter cutting.
When to Use a Hunting Knife
There are numerous occasions when you should choose to use a hunting knife. These include:
- Preparing kindling for a fire: When starting a fire, you might want to carve out feather sticks—and a hunting knife is a great tool for doing this. With the knife, you can create curls in the kindling to make a fire light more easily. Such an intricate task would be near-impossible with a machete.
- Starting a fire with a rod: You can also use a hunting knife along with a firesteel (ferrocerium) to start a fire.
- Cutting and preparing food: Food preparation during bushcrafting is made a whole lot easier with a hunting knife; you can use it to peel and cut fruits, skin and cut meats, and more. Again, a machete would be too cumbersome for this.
- Carving and shaping wood: There are all sorts of reasons why you might want to carve pieces of wood. For instance, you might want to carve a wooden spoon for eating with. A hunting knife is the ideal tool for this.
- Splitting pieces of wood: If you want to split wood—for instance, for a fire—you can use a hunting knife to do so. Baton the knife with another piece of wood and your intended piece of wood will gradually split.
- Opening packaging: You might have brought some packaged products with you on your trip—like emergency medication—and a hunting knife can help you unseal them quickly and easily.
When It Is Better to Have a Machete
Although a hunting knife has many uses, there are some occasions where only a machete will help. These include:
- Digging roots: You might want to take cuttings of medicinal or edible plants from the wild, and their roots can be very tough—a machete is better than a knife for cutting these.
- Chopping wood: If you want to chop large pieces of wood, e.g. for a fire or a shelter, then you’ll do best to use a machete as it’s purpose-built for chopping large and tough things.
- Clearing space: Whether you want to clear bush as you’re walking or setting up camp, a long and sharp machete is very effective. It can help you cut into obstructing branches, swipe away vegetation that’s in your way, and cut tall grasses that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach.
- Butchering game: Hungry? A machete can help you butcher game. If you are crafty enough, you can also use it to set up traps.
- Defending yourself: Given its larger size and blade, a machete is better than a hunting knife for warding off animals e.g. snakes and wolves.
- Cutting tough fruits: While a hunting knife can generally be used for chopping fruit, you might encounter tougher fruits like cacao or coconut—these are cut far more easily using a machete. Make sure to always sharpen your machete before using it to cut tough objects.
The Pros and Cons of a Hunting Knife and a Machete
As you have seen, hunting knives are great for some tasks, while a machete is better for others. Let’s finish this article with a review of the pros and cons of each cutting tool.
A machete can be used in various bushcraft situations, from clearing bush to digging roots, but it brings the disadvantage of being quite heavy and less portable. A machete is far too cumbersome for preparing food. Nonetheless, you can use a machete to ward off predators more readily, given its large size and blade. But make sure to inform yourself about the regulations on machete use, as they are banned in some areas.
On the other hand, a hunting knife is really useful for small-scale tasks like chopping food, preparing kindling, and carving wood. However, given its small size, you won’t have much success trying to clear bush and shrub with it. It’s up to you to decide which tool is best for you and your bushcrafting needs.
Know that, since machetes and hunting knives are both highly useful, some bushcrafters decide to carry and use both. Maybe you’ll decide that’s also the best solution for you. But, if you only want to use one of the two tools, we would advise going for a machete. A machete covers a wider range of tasks crucial to bushcraft and survival—from chopping firewood to clearing bush, to defending yourself and butchering game.
…And that’s a wrap! You now know that hunting knives and machetes are built very differently and are used for very different purposes in bushcraft. This article has hopefully helped you to decide which tool is best for you and your bushcraft adventures. Remember that you can always carry and use both tools if you need!
I am Bruno. I write and lecture about bushcraft, survival, hiking, and nature experiences in general. I also produce short films on these topics as a director.
My wife Lilith and I try to travel as much as we can to discover the world! We wish to live in harmony with nature and preserve its ecosystems: Eden paradise is here now.
I want to open a door to reconnect with nature through this blog.