Friday, July 30, 2010

Some Favorite Machetes

I've written both here and in my book about the utility of a good machete in the bug out bag, as well as for all types of wilderness travel and just work around the house or camp.  I thought I would post a few pictures of some of mine.  Here are the two I use most often.  Both are Latin American style blades, heavy in the tip for effortless trail clearing in the jungle, and made of good, springy steel that takes a razor edge.

I brought the shorter one back from my last trip to Honduras, and it has become an everyday favorite.  I bought it from a street vender in San Pedro Sula for the equivalent of about 7 bucks, if I remember right, including the handmade leather sheath you will see in the photos that follow.  It's just the right size and weight for a bug-out bag machete, and it goes with me every time I camp and most times I enter the woods.  It measures 23 1/2 inches overall and has an 18-inch blade.   The manufacturer's label on it says "Montero."  I've never found one like it here in the U.S., although I did find this reference on a similar one by the same company.  If I had known how good it would prove to be, I would have bought a dozen of them at that price.

The longer one is a "Collins" style machete made in Colombia.  This is the one I used off and on for years when I did some land surveying work with my brother all over the swamps and thickets of the South.  The longer and heavier blade is good for cutting sight lines all day, as the weight of the blade does most of the work if you use proper technique.  This machete can cut down small trees with no problem and has been a real workhorse.  Unfortunately, I can't find these anymore either.  I bought this one at Forestry Supply in Jackson for about 30 bucks, I think.  This one has a 22-inch blade, but they were available in longer and shorter lengths at the time.  It's in need of a new handle, but the blade is good to go for many more years.

In this next photo, you can see these two compared with a much longer blade.  This is a machete I bought off of one of our Miskito Indian guides on the Rio Patuca trip that I recently posted about.  All these fellows carried blades like this, even though most of them were well under six feet tall.  They preferred the long blades for cutting through the jungle all day and of course they used them for everything else that they needed a knife for as well.  This blade is worn down to this slender profile by repeated sharpening over the years.  It probably at one time had a heavier section near the tip, like the other two.  On that trip I saw many machetes that were sharpened to nearly a needle point and had only an inch or so of blade width remaining for most of their length.  This kind of machete may be too long for a bug out bag, but these guys didn't have bags at all and didn't even use sheaths.  The standard method of carry in the jungle when the blade is not in use (which is rare) is lying in crook of the arm, edge up, ready to come into play in an instant.  This method is also safe when negotiating muddy trails, since it keeps the blade away from you in a fall. 

Here's a couple more shots of the two Monteros from Honduras.  The well-used one is mine, and the new one is the second one I bought and gave to my dad, which he has used as a wall hanger and preserved in pristine condition.

These fancy leather sheaths go with the territory in many parts of Latin America, and though a lot of it is decoration, the tassels don't really get in the way and the leather of the sheath is heavy duty and very well put together.  The only wear mine has shown is the discoloration you see here that gives it character.  Both of my working machetes live in the tool box of my truck, requiring little thought in the way of care and only a few strokes of a mill file to keep them sharp.  If I'm sitting around a campfire with time on my hands, I might get out the diamond sharpener and hone them to a razor's edge after the filing, but it's not necessary for most tasks these blades are meant for. 

I've tried a few other machetes available locally and some have been quite good, while others were a disappointment.  One that served well on my long kayak trips was the Ontario Knife 1-18 Military Machete.  This one is basically the same dimensions as the Montero, though not quite so well balanced and a bit heavier.  Still, it's a tough machete that can take a lot of abuse and it's readily available and inexpensive, as well as the right size for a bug out bag machete.  


  1. Thanks for the write-up on these useful tools. I'm a machete fan as well, my location is in the southern coastal Texas plains where Big Woods isn't the rule, its pretty dense undergrowth. Machetes really come into their own here.

    I'm curious though - why the ornate decorations on the sheaths of these machetes? I would think it would be a waste of time / material. Maybe it has to do with pride of ownership? I've seen this on many Latin American sheaths.

  2. Yes, it's definitely a pride of ownership thing. Nothing wrong with that if you depend on a tool like that every day of your life. It's similar to the way the mountain men and Indians decorated their rifle cases, bow quivers, moccasins, etc. These machetes come with the fancy sheaths to help sell them to tourists as well.

  3. We were just looking at machetes at the Academy but did not find anything we liked. Thanks for posting about machetes, Scott. Now we know what to look for.

  4. Apartment Prepper: The ones to avoid are those heavy ones with the thick blades that have no spring to them, many of which have gimmicks like saw teeth on the back.

    You might find a supplier that sells to surveyors, or you could get a good one online. I haven't test them yet, but some of the Cold Steel machetes look pretty good.

  5. I am reading more and more (including in your book, Scott) about the utility of the machete. They seem to have much more utility in the bush than I had ever imagined it could have. This is a tool worth exploring more and more now that I am understanding it's many uses. While I have one, about a year or so ago, I opted for a fiskars ( In hind sight, I am not even sure this is was a good choice, based on a tool that should have multiple uses. Granted, it can take down a 3" tree with a good swing, but it seems that it has limited utility.

    Your thoughts on this design, and to replace it, what might you think of replacing it with that might have better utility? My eye has been on a couple of 18" (overall length) machetes the more I read about them.

  6. Hi Jack,

    That blade in your link is similar to some of the cane knife type machetes that were used for harvesting sugar cane when it was done by hand. It's also similar to a scaled-down "K-blade" as we used to call them on the survey crew. As you say, it's a good cutting tool (especially the big ones), just not as versatile as a basic machete would be in the bug out bag.

  7. Digging through my stuff this weekend, I found an old machete I had bought from Brigade Quartermasters back in the 80's. Made in El Salvador (or so its stamp sez), it has a CORNETA with a stylized coronet (I think) on it. No. 127 as well is crudely stamped on the tang. Blade is rather short, about 12" long, but still pretty wide. It did not come with a sheath, I purchased a BQ 'Jump Sheath' with it. Definitely back in my Gear Head days, lol.

  8. Weird how things in Mexico work. I was looking to buy a leather machete sheath in Progresso, but could not find a leather shop that sold or manufactured them. They had many jackets / purses, belts and other items of leather manufacture, just nothing practical like a sheath.

    A bit later, while buying vet meds for our pets, I mentioned this in passing to the clerk - she promptly called someone, and loe and behold, a kid came running to the pharmacy with a sheath, wrapped in plastic wrap. Cost - $16.50. I thought it worth the price, no decorations or stamped prints as shown, simple 1/16" thick leather, reinforced point as as shown in photo above.

    Fit my Tramontina sheath like a glove, the sheath is stamped 26", the handle portrude about 1" when inserted in sheath. When I go back, I'm probably going to order more, if possible.

  9. A mini rant here - bought a Cold Steel Magnum kukri (24" o.a. length) this past weekend, and had to comment about the sheath that comes with this machete. Not great, in fact, trash. Way to flimsy, darn near dangerous in fact. It will not last long in the bush.

    The machete itself is decent but really needs sharpening, this is the 1st time I've seen a CS product that needs this badly. I can work with that, most edges need tweaking from the get-go, but that sheath - jeez!

    If you don't want to post this, no problem - just thought your readers may want to check this out before purchasing this particular item. I have a recent copy of their standard Kukri machete as well, that has a better constructed sheath.

  10. Thanks for the insight. I haven't tried the Cold Steel Magnum, but many of the machetes I see have flimsy sheaths. That's one good thing about the real-deal Latin American machete like the ones posted above.

    The sharpening part is common even with many better machetes. Those Honduran machetes have no real edge at all when new, and require some work with the mill file to get a cutting edge. But once this is done the first time, the edge is easy to maintain.

    I haven't bought any Cold Steel machetes but I've heard they come unsharpened. This is surprising since their knives like the Voyager are so sharp I've managed to cut myself with nearly every new one I've purchased.

  11. This recent spring had a lot of rain for our area, which caused quite a bit of extra growth in our cattle pastures. Many of these species choked out the buffel grass from growing out. So machetes and gasoline electric line trimmers were pulled out.

    I have a 24" Collins Legitimus, and it does a pretty good hob. But I needed some extra reach and found a Columbian Incolma 905 machete I am pretty sure will do even better. 27" blade, thin blade profile with a 'hump back' blade point that adds cutting power.

    Finding a sheath for it is proving to be a chore, so I re-purposed one of those Molle shotgun pouch slings - fits it very well. Need to create a liner though to protect the interior from the blade - a heated up PVC pipe sleeve will be in the works for that.

    That pouch has a Gerber brush hook on the outside, and often carries a full size ax, so adding the machete to the design I think works. Its a one stop slingable package, but heavyish due to the axe.


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