Which is Best for Bushcraft – Hatchet or Machete?

Bushcraft involves the use and practice of your skills in acquiring, developing, as well as understanding knowledge to thrive and survive in any natural environment. Surviving in the wilderness is not an easy thing to do and developing this skill is crucial.

Having bushcraft skills is ideal as it offers basic human necessities for survival. In this case, you need to be equipped with skills such as; tracking, trapping, foraging, fishing, and more. This will help you to obtain food, water sourcing, fire crafting, and shelter building.

Any expertise in wood carving, knots and lashing, twine-making, and natural navigation can make a great supplement. It can be confusing for some to differentiate between bushcraft and camping.

The two are related to a certain degree but are not the same; bushcraft is more of survival situations mimicking where your survival skills are tested, while camping is a more luxurious activity, shall we say.

In this article, we are going to address a fierce debate about hatchet versus machete as cutting tools for bushcraft – which one is better?

Which is best for Bushcraft, Hatchet, or Machete?

When it comes to bushcraft, there is a wide range of tools you can use, but one of the main ideas of bushcraft is to get by with as little gear as possible. However, this depends on how extreme you want to be. The majority of people practicing bushcraft tend to be at the hobby-level and are more than willing to carry some vital equipment to make things easier!

Machetes and hatchets are ideal in this situation. In terms of the kind of jobs they can perform, hatchets and machetes contain a significant amount of cross-over, but each has its own unique qualities. For you to be in a position to make the right decision on which tool is the best to take with you to the forest, we need to consider the types of work each can do.

Machete

Ontario Knife Co 1-18″ Military Machete on Amazon

You can use a machete as a light-duty axe, especially on greenwood, but this tool performs perfectly as a slashing tool – its main purpose is for clearing brush, undergrowth and vines to clear a path in a dense forest or jungle. It is an all-purpose, one-handed tool that is ubiquitous and can be used for a variety of tasks in a bushcraft environment.

The Ontario Knife Co Machete pictured above is a top seller on Amazon and at around $30, it’s a pretty average price for a decent quality machete. It has to be said, compared to a good quality hatchet, machetes are a much cheaper option for a cutting tool.

Hatchet

Hults Bruk Jonaker Hatchet on Amazon

A hatchet is a small axe incorporating a sharp blade to cut and chop, and can double as a hammer. Hatchets are a highly versatile cutting tool that are limited in slashing functionality compared to a machete, but have the advantage of greater chopping power for thicker branches and limbs.

The Hults Bruk Jonaker Hatchet is a fine example of a high quality hatchet for bushcraft. At around $150, it’s a bigger investment than a machete, but the versatility of a good hatchet makes the investment extremely worthwhile.


When it comes to the kind of activities these tools can perform, and where they excel, you need to be sure to select the best one for the environment you are going to be in, and the jobs you will likely be undertaking.

In terms of weight, the Ontario Machete pictured above is around 16 ounces, while the Hults Bruk Jonaker Hatchet is 1.5 lbs. A good hatchet will always outweigh a machete because the weight of the axe head is key to having an effective chopping tool – that’s what generates the power as you swing it.

A machete works perfectly with activities such as light chopping – 3 inch diameter limbs, bush clearing, plant removal, trail clearing, and slicing or knife work, but will struggle with tree felling or hammering tasks for example.

A hatchet performs perfectly on activities such as knife work or slicing, tree felling – those having a diameter greater than three inches, and as a general all-purpose camping tool, but is poor at clearing thick brush or clearing a trail in the undergrowth.

For the reasons above, it is difficult to say with any certainty that either one is better than the other – they are designed for different purposes. However, if I had a choice I would choose a good quality hatchet over a machete. A hatchet is a more versatile and durable tool with a wider scope of abilities. But if you have enough space… you can carry both!

Which tool is more versatile, a Machete or a Hatchet?

The more versatile your tools, the less tools you’ll need to carry. The swiss army knife was designed with this principle in mind. I don’t think the latest one has a hatchet or machete option though…

To understand the versatility aspect of a machete or a hatchet, you’ll need to know about the weaknesses, strengths, trade-offs, as well as differences of these tools in similar applications.

In a very basic sense, machetes tend to be more sword-like when compared to hatchets. They are made with uniform weight distribution across the long, thin blade. Although it can tackle most activities done by a hatchet to a degree – splitting small logs, clearing dense vegetation or brush, and chopping small saplings, they lack the power that a small axe can provide.

Hatchets are a small one-hand axe with their major purpose being chopping. The hatchets’ opposite side (poll) is usually blunt and can be used when in need of a hammer. However, common hatchet uses include wood splitting, cutting, carving and kindling wood, and small to medium tree felling as well as any tasks a knife can do. You could build a whole cabin with a good quality hatchet!

From the information above, you should select the tool depending on the activities you need to perform. For a machete, chopping any dried wood or performing hammering duties is difficult, however, in most situations, it can act as a hatchet. When it comes to greenwood, it performs excellently. Therefore, a machete IS a highly versatile tool, but lets take a look at some comparisons between these two cutting tools for a variety of activities.

Comparison of Hatchet and Machete on Common Applications

Having discussed the uses of each of these tools, we can compare in-depth how they perform on similar applications.

Wood splitting

When we talk about wood splitting in bushcraft, it’s important to understand that we won’t be splitting big logs in half with one mighty swing of your weapon. Splitting wood in this environment is generally done by splitting off small pieces around the edge of a bigger piece of wood.

A hatchet is perfect for this job due to the weighted, wedge-shaped head. The blade sinks into the wood and the wedge splits the wood apart along the grain. Easy, quick and efficient.

A machete was not specifically designed for splitting wood, but it can perform quite well if the wood is newly cut (green) and the pieces are not too thick. The thin blade WILL get stuck in the wood very easily so some practice is required to perfect this skill with a machete.

Way-making, Clearing Trails

Machetes plays a key role when it comes to clearing a path through the forest or jungle – they were designed for this specific purpose. It’s the best tool for clearing overgrown brush and cutting down thick vegetation when making new trails – it does this with ease.

A hatchet has an average blade length of 3 inches. Compared to an 18 inch machete blade, there is really no competition for this task. If your activity in the wild is mainly focused on hacking your way through dense vegetation, you need a machete!

Camping

Setting up camp in the wild requires a number of tasks – clearing the site of debris, removing tree limbs and branches, building a shelter, carving stakes, preparing wood and kindling for fire prep, shaving feather sticks for tinder, hammering tent stakes – even improvising a tripod out of sticks for cooking purposes.

With a hatchet, all these tasks are within its capabilities. The handy size and versatility of a good hatchet makes this tool invaluable in a camping scenario. A hatchet is one of those tools that can be used for so many things, you don’t even realize its true potential until you are stuck with one in the middle of nowhere. I am still finding new uses for my trusty Hults Bruk Jonaker Hatchet!

Tree felling

Clearly, in a bushcraft scenario we aren’t talking about felling huge oak trees here. It may be necessary to chop down a small tree or two to harvest wood for shelter building for example.

A machete can be an efficient tool for dealing with small saplings that require less force than say, an established tree of 5-6 inches in diameter. But the design of a machete lacks the weight to deal with anything more than saplings with any efficiency. The blade just doesn’t cut deep enough.

Although small, the hatchets’ design enables you to generate ample force to quickly remove chunks of wood from a tree with relative ease. With the proper technique, it’s surprising how effective a small hatchet can be at felling trees.

For survival situations

When it comes to survival situations, the machete plays a key role. Many outdoorsmen and survivalists use machetes because they can do the job of many other tools – just not quite as well. A machete can chop, but not as well as an axe.

Machetes can cut fish or game for instance, but a knife provides better precision. The relatively large size of a machete compared to a hatchet is another con in some situations.

A hatchet is a handy tool to have in any survival scenario. The one downside is it’s inefficiency in the case of bush clearing. Hatchets lack the blade length required and leave machetes to be the best option for this.

It is legal to practice bushcraft anywhere?

Practicing bushcraft can be legal or illegal depending on where you are doing it. For instance, in Canada, you can only practice it on crown land. This activity can’t be done anywhere. Some places such as designated campsites, private land, and recreational areas prohibit it.

To practice bushcraft, you need equipment like a carrying kit – rucksack, clothing – heavy or light-weight warm layer, water, shelter, sleeping kit-bivvy bag or sleeping mat, cooking items, and more.

What are the essential items for bushcraft?

There are arguably 7 key pieces of gear that are essential for bushcraft, these items are tried and tested, quality gear that everyone practicing bushcraft should own:

  1. Survival hatchet – Hults Bruk Jonaker Hatchet
  2. Fixed blade survival knife – KA-BAR US Marine Corps
  3. Folding saw – Silky Ultra Accel Professional
  4. Flint and steel – Bayite 4 Inch Survival Fire Starter
  5. Sharpening puck – Lansky Puck
  6. Compass – Lensatic Military Compass
  7. Fishing line & hooks – Survival Fishing Kit

All of these essential items are available on Amazon now.

Conclusion

I hope this article has given you some ideas on carrying a hatchet or a machete on your adventures in the wilderness. Personally, a good hatchet is always preferred over a machete, but that’s because I don’t generally need to do much trail-making or bush-whacking where I am.

Overall, I find a good hatchet to be a lot more versatile than a machete, it’s just a hardier tool that can be used for so much outdoors.

The items listed here are just two examples of hatchets or machetes that are tried and tested by me, and are top quality products. Yes, there are cheaper hatchets and machetes out there, but it’s so important to invest in a high-quality, reliable cutting tool for bushcraft – it makes things so much easier!

Enjoy yourselves, see you soon!

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