Hatchets and Machetes are suitable for a lot of the same jobs. There is a ton of cross over in the type of work they can do, with a few key differences. I take each item on for different types of trips or jobs. So, what should you take? Which is better? Let’s have a look!
A hatchet can be thought of as a small axe, that doubles as a hammer, and a knife. A machete is a slashing tool that can clear lots of brush efficiently, and be used as a light duty axe (on green wood). Both hatchets and machetes weigh about the same amount.
The most important factor in determining whether you should take a hatchet of a machete is to know what kind of job you will be doing. If you are clearing a trail, cleaning up brush, or cutting a shooting lane for a deer stand, a machete would be the better tool. If going camping or you plan on performing a lot of branch clearing of woody shrubs, a hatchet would be a better tool.
Hatchet vs Machete Comparison Table – Which is better?
|Type of Job
|Trail and Brush Clearing
|General Camping Tool
|Light chopping (limbs up to 3″ diameter)
|Tree felling (>3″ diameter or larger)
How heavy are hatchets and machetes
I checked several style of hatchet and found a typical weight range of 1-1.5 lb (0.5-0.75 kg). For machetes, a general 18″ machete normally weighs just under a pound. So, you would expend less energy carrying a machete.
Brush and trail clearing…..
When it comes to clearing trail and brush removal – a machete is a better tool than a hatchet. The large blade can cut through brush with ease when properly sharpened (not too sharp). Large swings can make quick work of tangled vines and light vegetation – sometimes several branches in one swoop.
Even when clearing through thick saplings such as Bush Honeysuckle, a machete is a great tool to chop through trunks several inches thick when the tree is alive. Once the tree has been dead for some time though, a machete will struggle to cut woody branches.
When the wood is green, you can cut through almost any sapling with the proper technique. This is because wood is easier to work, and more pliable when wet. 
How to cut woody branches that are green with a machete
Machetes are great at pruning and delimbing green wood, or woody shrubs/trees that are still alive. What you do is apply a light pressure toward the top end of the branch, so that it is slightly bent. Doing this places the wood grain on one side of the limb in tension.
Then you just give a light chop with the machete at the base, on the side that is in tension (away from the bend). The small reduction in surface area will often cause the trunk to snap, or break enough where it can easily be removed. This method uses far less effort than chopping.
Is a hatchet or machete better for camping?
A hatchet is a better tool than a machete in regards to camping. The types of jobs you typically would be expecting (for a normal weekend warrior) could be gathering firewood, light clearing and hammering.
Most people aren’t going to be chopping down a bunch of trees to make way for a new cabin. And most people go to prepared campsites that may only require some light clearing. Also, if one needs to pound in tent stakes, the back of the hatchet doubles as a hammer.
So, with all that in mind, a hatchet is clearly the more logical choice.
For light chopping of small limbs on live shrubs or trees, a machete is very effective for the same reasons as trail clearing. A machete is very efficient at slicing and chopping through green wood! This is because green wood is easier to work and cut. 
Think of people who carve spoons or statues out of wood. They don’t use dry wood, as it is too difficult to cut and control your cuts. They use freshly cut green wood for their piece, then allow the wood to dry in a bag of the moist shavings.
So, if your wood is green or soft a machete is better for chopping. However, if the wood is dry, or has been dead for some time – then the extra force you get from the concentrated weight of a hatched is superior. So, like many things in life, it depends on what you are doing as well as the state of the wood.
The answer to what tool is better for tree felling, a hatchet for machete is fairly obvious. For felling larger trees, a hatchet is clearly the better choice. The greater concentration of energy at the head of a hatchet can allow for more efficient felling of a tree.
To fell small trees with a hatchet, don’t chop perpendicular! Instead, chop at a 30 degree angle from the trunk axis, then flip 180 degrees to chop from the other way. In this manner you will chop a ‘V’ shaped notch in the trunk. If the tree is straight, the tree fall down in the direction of the notch.
Slicing and knife work
Both a machete and hatchet can be equally useful for use as a knife. The blade of a hatchet can be used as a knife, just as a machete. So, in general I would consider each tool equal to the task.
However, the long blade of a machete can be ground to different angles, but still retain its slashing power. So, in skilled hands, a machete could have a very narrow angle for certain survival tasks such as skinning an animal.
Also, since the hatchet is smaller, it can be more useful for smaller knife work where more control is required. If you grip the hatchet just below the head (known as ‘choking up’ on the handle), you can have fine control of the cutting edge, and won’t have the long machete blade sticking up or being awkward.
Plant removal, habitat restoration
For habitat restoration, it would depend on what kind of vegetation you were removing as to which tool you would use. For most common woody invasive such as vines, a machete is better than a hatchet. However, if you happened upon larger trees, then the obvious choice would be the hatchet.
While both tools would allow you to apply the cut and paint method for killing woody invasive plants, which tool to use depends on the plant to kill. Nobody would try to pare down a 5″ diameter Bradford Pear tree with a machete. While at the same time it would be quite difficult to slice through Oriental Bittersweet with a hatchet.
Personally, if I were going out on an invasive plant killing spree, I would already know what plants I would be targeting and their maturity level. That would guide my choice of tool, and it should for you too.
I used to tackle vast swaths of invasive species (Bush Honeysuckle). And either a hatchet, machete, axe, or a pruning saw would be good tools to use (and I used them all!). But in the years since I started, I have purchased a chainsaw. Still though I find myself taking my machete. It is just so useful for removing all the twigs from small branches and saplings to avoid large brush piles. Even though I have a power tool available, I only use it on large diameter trunks.
*I did a complete review of my electric chainsaw, and how much it helps me clear invasive species, limbs, etc. I do really love it, as it is a huge time saver. You can watch it here:
So what conclusions can we draw from all these comparisons? The most obvious conclusion is that you must know where you are going, and what kind of vegetation you would expect to encounter.
If you were hiking miles to get to a specific place, you would likely choose the tool with the least weight. As you don’t want to be more tired then necessary when you arrive at your campsite/job site. Otherwise, if weight is not a consideration and you have room – take both!
What is more versatile, a hatchet or machete
Unless you know you are going to have to be doing some tree removal, or that you will be dealing with a lot of dead and dried wood, I would choose the machete.
As stated above, and for anyone who has tried it, a machete does not do well chopping dead and dried wood. It just doesn’t seem to have the inertia to cut through, or break off dead wood that is springy. Also, it cannot be used as a hammer. That is one ‘intangible’ that you do get from a hatchet.
However, since a machete can be used as a hatchet in most situations (almost all if you have enough patience), and will out perform or match a hatchet with green wood, the choice is clear. A machete is more versatile. That would be my choice in most situations.
The type of work one intends to do is the single most important factor in determining whether you should take a hatchet or machete into the woods. Machetes should be used for clearing trails, removal of ‘green’ limbs, and clearing of plants. Hatchets are superior for chopping down small trees and as a general camping tool. Both a hatchet and machete can be useful as a general knife, although a hatchet will allow for better control when one chokes up on the handle.
So, to restate, the most important piece of information for you to know, before you select your tool, is what do you expect to be doing! You must know where you are going, and what you think you may encounter to properly prepare for your job/ trip. And, if possible, take both tools!
 – Wood handbook : wood as an engineering material. Madison, WI : USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, 1999. General technical report FPL ; GTR-113: Pages 4.1-4.45
 – C. C. Gerhards, EFFECT OF MOISTURE CONTENT AND TEMPERATURE ON THE MECHANICAL PROPERTIES OF WOOD: AN ANALYSIS OF IMMEDIATE EFFECTS. WOOD AND FIBER SCIENCE. V1, Jan 1982. pages 4-36.
Also – Hundreds of Amur Honeysuckle Trees agree – I’m an authority at chopping down Invasive Plants!
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