I have to admit that when I received the TOPS Mini Tom Brown Tracker #4 neck knife in the mail I was a bit insulted. I thought what did the guys at TOPS do? Did they take the specs on the original Tom Brown, divide by two and send the product to production expecting us to fall head over heels for it? Well, whatever they did it was genius. This is a great neck knife.
Whether around the neck, on the belt, or in a pocket we have all carried a neck knife at one point or another. They are a great size for small camp tasks or to do basic tasks in a survival or mock survival situation. This knife is a bit different than the usual neck knife in that it has a couple of bigger siblings.
Most of you are familiar with the nearly 12 inch original Tom Brown Tracker knife, as it is a worthy field knife. Not only has it been featured in a major motion picture (The Hunted); but many sheaths have been designed as aftermarket add-ons to compliment the hefty blade. The original design incorporates several features to increase its usefulness. The smaller Tom Brown #4 incorporates these same features, in a smaller scale of course, at six and one half inches.
You may be asking yourself, “If the original is number one and the mini is number four, what happened to two and three?” As you may have guessed the Tom Brown number two is somewhat smaller than the original at nine and one half inches. The specs of the number three fall in between one and two, but it was only made for a short time and was constructed of 154cm steel, as opposed to the 1095 carbon steel of which the rest of the line is made.
I set out to try to test all the features of the neck knife. The first to be tested was the draw blade. This is the straight portion of the knife blade and can be used as a fillet blade or a draw blade. I had some fresh mulberry limbs that would be my test wood. I found that the draw blade allowed me to easily cut the bark from the branch in large enough pieces that I could save them and use them later in the testing of the knife.
The next thing I did was to try to spit the branches into smaller pieces. If I were using a larger knife, like the original Tom Brown Tracker Knife, this would be a simple task. I could baton my way through them with ease. But at half the size I was a bit apprehensive if the little Tracker Knife would handle the job. It did handle the job. I was able to split the branch into smaller pieces with no trouble at all. I did find that the black coating and size of the knife bound a bit as I got deeper. The solution was to simply cut a small wedge out of a small stick and drive it into the split behind the knife to relieve the pressure.
For my third test I decided to try out the saw back of the knife. The original intention of the saw back was not to replace your Stihl chain saw but rather to give you the ability to quickly notch wood to allow you someplace to secure paracord and keep it from sliding. The quarter inch thickness of the original Tom Brown Tracker Knife works great for this purpose. The smaller one eighth of an inch thickness of the Tom Brown 4 is a bit narrow to allow regular paracord or gutted paracord.
Having said that, the saw back is not really intended to be used for a saw in a pinch you might find that you need to cut things down to size. The next trick was to try using the saw back to actually cut through a branch that was about an inch think. I have to report that it cut through with ease. I was surprised how easy and accurate it was to saw through a branch. The idea of making a trap or shelter just became a lot more inviting knowing that I had the ability to construct something to specifications that I had come up with. I also didn’t have to baton my way through the wood.
The first notch of the saw back is deeper on all the Tom Brown Tracker models. This is crafted as a wire breaker. In a perfect world a taught piece of wire (like chain link fence) should be able to be inserted into the first notch and with a quick and strong sideways motion the wire should break. Of course, I tried this feature of the Tom Brown #4. I didn’t have good luck. After several attempts at breaking the wire of an old fence that was soon to be torn down, the fence won every time. I don’t know if I was using a bad technique or if the smaller Tom Brown #4 didn’t have the leverage required to break fence wire. Either way, this feature of the Tom Brown #4 doesn’t work as well as I had hoped.
Now that I was fairly familiar with the functions of the knife I decided to attempt to make a fishing spear. This is something that I learned about years ago, probably on the internet, but have never had a chance to try. Since this is uncharted territory for me, I am not looking to gauge the adequacy of the knife on the success or failure of my project. Rather, I am rating the knife and its overall usefulness and ability to do what I want it to do. If my handy work falls short, well, so be it.
The first step was to secure a branch about one inch thick. I used a piece of the mulberry tree that I had skinned the bark off of earlier in the review. I tied the bark strips around the branch about three inches below the end that had been cut at a ninety degree angle to the shaft of the spear. The bark strips would prevent the splits I was about to induce from going the length of the spear. The next step was to split the end of the spear in four places to create eight equal pieces. I found small twigs and cut them to roughly the diameter of the spear where the splits were. The twigs were rounded using the curved section of the Tom Brown #4 knife. The idea was to wedge the twigs in between the eight pieces to spread the apart. Once in place the twigs were secured with more bark. So far the knife has done everything I have asked. I have been able to create the basis of a spear as I had hoped. Now on to sharpening the points of the spear; I used the point of the knife and gradually sharpened each of the eight points as best I could. I realize that this is not going to be sharp enough to penetrate the flesh of a fish, but hopefully the fan will pin the fish to the bottom of the lake or stream long enough for me to stab it with a sharp point. As long as I am at it I might as well try to make a sharp point too. I used a similar size branch that I cut at an angle with the saw back. Then with the rounded part of the knife I set to whittling the branch to a point. This set up should able me to secure food in a survival situation.
I have described several things that TOPS did right with the Mini Tom Brown Tracker #4. There are a couple of small items that could be improved in my opinion. The sheath of the Tracker #4 has a belt clip, but the clip is only able to be mounted for horizontal carry. This is not the classic rotating TOPS belt clip. Like all the other dimensions on the knife, the lanyard hole on the butt of the knife has also been cut in half. The problem here is that neither full paracord nor stripped paracord will fit in the lanyard hole. One or maybe two of the seven strands of inner cord stripped from paracord would work, but this is not nearly as strong as I would like my lanyard.
Overall, I am very pleased with the Mini Tom Brown Tracker Knife. I did notice that I started to feel a couple of hot spots on the palm of my hand that had great potential to turn into blisters. This is not a problem exclusive to this knife, but likely to happen when trying out any new knife. The problem was quickly remedied when the handle was wrapped in paracord. Pound for pound this is a great knife. I think I will try to incorporate it into my pack and make it my new Personal Survival Knife. The TOPS Mini Tom Brown Tracker #4 runs for $129.95 at TOPS site and can also be found at all the usual TOPS dealers.
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