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February 16, 2013 Comments (0) Gear & Equipment, Reviews

TOPS Lite Trekker Review

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TOPS Knives has a long standing history of making tough knives, built like tanks, which are ready to build your log cabin or survival tree house.  Lately though, they’ve found a niche of making tough knives, that are light and easy to carry, and will still get things done without fear that they’ll spontaneously combust in your hand.  In this review, Woods Monkey takes a look at a new offering from TOPS Knives, the Lite Trekker.  Coming in at only 7.7 ounces, with the sheath, we find out if it’s really up to the task.

For as long as I can remember, especially in the outdoor gear world, light weight has meant one of two things.  Either one, it was incredibly expensive, or two, it was absolute junk.  I never could afford the latest and greatest, ultra-light, actually-makes-you-feel-less-heavy sort of high dollar equipment.  And suffice to say, I’ve wasted plenty of money on light weight junk that broke the first time I ever used it.  When I found out that TOPS Knives’ Leo Espinoza had collaborated with Woods Monkey’s own Joe Flowers and his wife Ashley to design the Lite Trekker, I just had to see it for myself.

The Lite Trekker is an all-around field knife that can do whatever you need, without sinking you to the bottom of the creek you happened to fall in.  In reality, light weight knives have been around for decades.  With the advent of new technology, new metallurgy, and advanced manufacturing techniques, we the consumer are seeing light weight knives, clothing, and outdoor gear at prices that were well beyond our reach when we were growing up.  The Lite Trekker is a full tang knife to boot, not sacrificing strength in the name of weight reduction.  Built from one solid piece of 1095 carbon steel, my favorite carbon steel, the Lite Trekker is hardened to a Rockwell hardness of 56-58.  This combination gives a shaving sharp edge with little effort, and retains that edge through chores and tasks commonly found around camp.

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The Lite Trekker is just that, light.  I have folding knives that, although are considered on the big side for their type, are heavier than this fixed blade.  To get straight to it, the Lite Trekker weighs in at only five ounces without the sheath.  Yep, you read that correctly.   Five, measly, not-a-sharpened-pry-bar ounces.  With the sheath, including the fire starter, the TOPS Lite Trekker comes in at only 7.7 ounces.   That’s 7.7 ounces of insurance, there when you need it, sort of a knife.  The Lite Trekker’s blade shape is a drop point design, which I prefer for an all-around user.  Furthermore, the Lite Trekker’s blade is flat ground, with a full spine thickness for the majority of the 4 1/4” blade.  The blade is coated in a black powdercoat finish to protect the 1095 from corrosion.  I can go either way on blade coatings, as they sometimes seem superfluous, and sometimes seem necessary.  Whatever side of the blade-coating fence you’re on, you’ll find the Lite Trekker’s finish to be well executed, contributing little drag in the cutting effort required through most material.

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On a recent snowshoe hike from one of my favorite local State Parks, I carried the Lite Trekker as my only cutting tool besides my Leatherman.  The State Park I was at is one of my favorites for snowshoeing, as it’s hard to find a time in the winter with less than three feet of the white stuff on the ground.  I loaded up my pack for the day, and dropped the Lite Trekker into the side pocket of my Carhartt pants.  This is one of my favorite ways to carry a light fixed blade, since my belt is the home to my pistol when out and about in the woods.  It only took a hundred yards or so to realize that I could barely notice the Lite Trekker in my pocket.

After crossing the property line into National Forest, I found two dead, standing Aspen trees.  The bark of the Aspen is similar to Birch, but without the heavy oil that makes Birch so much better in damp conditions.  Using the Lite Trekker, I was able to strip off a half-sandwich-bag sized ball of bone dry Aspen bark tinder.  It really is remarkable how with a little bit of knowledge, you can put your hands on dry tinder when everything around you is covered in frozen water flakes.  The Lite Trekker stripped the bark of easily.  The handle shape is such that I was able to keep my gloves on while working on the bark.  This is a real benefit when the temps are in the single digits.

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Up the trail from the dead Aspens I found a Lodegpole Pine that had fallen to the wrath of the pine beetle.  If you’re not familiar with the pine beetle, it’s a small, invasive beetle that feasts on Lodgepole Pine with devastating effect.  The wind had taken down this particular tree at about three feet above the ground.  But when falling, this tree wedged against another, keeping the entire trunk raised above ground.  What this provided was an ample amount of dry fire wood in the form of the branches on the top side of the trunk.  I was able to snap off one particular branch that was very dry, and I easily processed this into a baton to work on the others.  Using the baton and the Lite Trekker, I was able to notch the base of the larger branches, and then break them off the trunk without much effort.  I should also note, I did all of this without having to take off my showshoes.

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With an armful of dry branches, the baton, and the Lite Trekker, I looked for a suitable place to split out some kindling.  A nearby log was sufficient, and I began to baton the branches in half.  Whatever your views on batoning (some people are convinced it will cause a knife to burst into flames, others are convinced it’s the only way to use a knife), I feel it is an appropriate and useful test for a new knife.  Of course, while something made by Stihl or Husquvarna would make firewood faster, a lot of times you have to work with what you’ve got available.  And I’ve said it here on Woods Monkey before; you’re only making kindling, not building a log cabin.  Batoning appropriately, the Lite Trekker zipped right through the Lodgepole pine branches.  In about ten minute’s time, I had enough kindling and firewood for two small fires.

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Now it was time to test the fire starter.  Included with the Lite Trekker is a magnesium and ferrocium combination fire starter tool that is housed on the kydex sheath in its own, removable, sleeve.  I first used the Lite Trekker to shred up the Aspen bark I had collected earlier.  Once a small pile was accumulated, I began to use the uncoated area on the spine of the Lite Trekker to scrape off some magnesium.  This was a little tricky, as the bare section of the spine has the coating up to the edge of it, causing the Lite Trekker to ‘slide’ more than ‘bite’ into the magnesium rods.  But after a while, I got the hang of it and was able to shave off enough magnesium to be sufficient.  Next, I would attempt to throw sparks onto the magnesium to start the fire.  A few practice attempts away from my tinder proved this would be difficult.  After a dozen tries, using several techniques, I could not get the Lite Trekker to throw more than the most pitiful sparks from the ferro rod.  Thinking the rod might be bunk, I took out my Leatherman.  Using the back of the saw, the first attempt threw a shower of sparks KISS themselves would be proud off.  The second attempt using the Leatherman saw got the fire going right away.  This led me to believe a little of the coating had to be removed near the bare area of the spine of the knife, allowing it to ‘scrape’ more than ‘slide’.

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Once the quick fire was hot, and my tea water set to boil, I began testing other aspects of the Lite Trekker.  The edge of the knife has a continuous curve from about half the length of the edge to the tip.  This allows cuts to bite deep into wood and made carving and notching both Pine and Aspen easy.  The handle is very comfortable as well.  The small, integral guard lets the user know which way the edge is facing without having to look.  The traction bumps in front of the guard provide good purchase for the thumb.  The knife was also surprisingly comfortable in the forward pinch grip, my favorite way to hold a knife while cleaning game.  My version of the Lite Trekker has the natural canvas micarta handles with orange painted grooves.  This proved very helpful when I dropped the knife into the snow while attempting a few pictures.  I quickly found the knife with the orange jumping out at me, a great feature that would help a hunter or stranded adventurer alike.  Several versions of handle combinations are available, though.  You can even get ’em with bright green paint in the handle.

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The kydex sheath of the Lite Trekker is very secure.  You can draw the knife by using the thumb to push on the sheath a bit, and the knife pops free.  The spring clip on the back allows quick repositioning of the knife, and I found it stayed where I put it.  I have carried the Lite Trekker during this testing period on my belt, clipped to a backpack compression strap, and dropped into the water bottle pocket on my work pack.  I’ve found the Lite Trekker to be there when I need it, without being so heavy or cumbersome as to be left at home.  I have no delusions of clearing acres of land with a pen knife, I need a knife that does what it’s told, stays where it’s put, and won’t give up when I’m using it.  The Lite Trekker is exactly that.  With retail prices around the $110 to $125 mark from various online retailers, the Lite Trekker is well worth the money.

If you’re in the market for a good knife at a reasonable price, for all around use, give the TOPS Lite Trekker a serious look.  Even if temps are above freezing, you’ll find the Lite Trekker to be a great companion.

www.topsknives.com

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