Preppers who live in the American South — with its soft pine forests, thick undergrowth, and swamps and bayous — should give serious consideration to adding a machete, kukri, bolo, or some other type of jungle knife to their survival kit. The best kukri or machete can also handle most of the cutting chores you’d normally use a hatchet for, making them a decent replacement.
After all, there’s a reason why indigenous cultures in hot climates developed these style of blades over centuries, as opposed to the more wedge-on-a-stick tools (like a great axe or hatchet) that developed in colder climates to process the hardwoods found in northern forests.
More: Learn how to mix and match the right types of bladed tools based on where you live.
Machetes are one prep where you can get a lot of value for very little money (and very little pack weight). We’ve used and abused cheap army surplus machetes for years in the woods, without having them fail or degrade. So while you can drop over $300 for some of the machetes in this review, we consider anything over about $30 to be overkill.
Different machete names like bolo, parang, and billhook refer to differences in the tool’s blade shape. Although we considered different machete shapes for this review, it’s not important enough to split them up by those sub-categories, so we just refer to them all as “machetes.”
The kukri, however, is different enough that we consider it a separate type — its pronounced recurve shape means it needs a thicker, heavier blade made of better steel than the average machete. That also results in a higher price point for a good kukri vs. a machete.
Best for most people:
OKC Military Machete
The best machete for most people is the $18 OKC Military Machete. This is a standard, military-issue design that OKC has been making for decades, and it does everything you need a machete to do for under $20. OKC is a very well-regarded knife maker, and we include many of their blades in our other reviews.
Tramontina 24" Machete
Also great is the $22 Tramontina 24” Machete, which offers a longer blade for more reach and leverage. Tramontina is a Brazilian brand whose machetes are very popular for gardening and brush clearing.
Condor El Salvador Machete
If you have to get out of the $20 range on a prep before you feel like you’re getting something good, then upgrade to the $60 Condor El Salvador Machete. The El Salvador features a coated, 1075 carbon steel blade and a comfortable polypropylene handle, and with the premium, “tactical” look and feel of it your prepper friends won’t laugh at you for carrying a cheap gardening tool to the apocalypse.
Medford Tach Mach Machete
You should not under any circumstances pay in the multiple hundreds of dollars for a machete, but if you were to do such an insane thing, then the $325 Medford Machete is how you max out this prep. The S7 steel used in this beast is the current state-of-the-art in toughness and shock resistance, and it has recently found its way in to a number of ultra-high-end tomahawks and demolition tools.
Best for most people:
Condor Tool & Knife Heavy Duty Kukri
If you’re in the market for a jungle blade that can chop thicker wood and also be used for stabbing, the $90 Condor Tool & Knife Heavy Duty Kukri is a standard prepper recommendation. This is the blade that was used by Alan Kay, the winner of Season 1 of the History Channel’s Alone, and it’s carried by one of our own experts.
Cold Steel Gurkha Plus
If you want a major upgrade in materials, fit, and finish, the $190 Cold Steel Gurkha Kurki is an amazing performer, with an ultra-tough blade of O1 tool steel that will take a beating and stay sharp. This popular, well-reviewed blade is essentially the Kukri answer to the Trailmaster Bowie we recommended in our big Bowie knife review.
Himalayan Imports Ang Khola
The premier traditional kukri is the $200 15” Ang Khola, the top-selling model from Himalayan Imports’ extensive line. This blade is handmade in Nepal out of a high-carbon spring steel, with the option of either a wood or horn handle. Don’t let Himalayan Imports’ janky website fool you — for decades they’ve been the go-to source for hardcore kukri enthusiasts, and their quality and customer service are legendary.
We researched over a hundred different jungle blades, before narrowing the field down to 21 of the best picks based on reviews, videos, and forum threads.
As a general rule, a jungle blade that’s shorter and has more mass towards the tip (e.g. a bolo or a parang) is better for cutting thicker wood, while a blade that’s longer and has less mass toward the tip (e.g. a regular machete) is better for brush, vines, and smaller diameter wood pieces.
The kukri (also spelled kukuri) has a shorter blade and more tip mass, making it an excellent chopper that can work as well as a hatchet for most softwood varieties.
The recurve blade style makes it a bit more challenging to sharpen, but it gives you more edge in a smaller footprint, and it changes the tool’s overall balance to enhance chopping ability.
The kukri’s combination of excellent chopping ability and “big knife” stabbing ability make it a formidable weapon, which is why it’s a staple in the villages and militaries of Central Asia.