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January 5, 2013 Comments (0) Blades & Tools, Reviews

TOPS Wilderness Guide and Machete .230 Review

This Dynamic Duo is just TOPS! That is TOPS Knives and hard use tools. Woods Monkey does a review of the TOPS Wilderness Guide belt knife and the Machete .230 by Leo and Joe!

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Woods Monkey is no stranger to TOPS Knives, and once again they provide a set of extreme use tools for the discerning outdoorsman. The Wilderness Guide and Machete .230 are as at home in the bush, as a Woods Monkey is in a pub. In my time with these tools I went from hacking up brush and bushes from around my new house, to the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains building a footbridge across a stream and putting up a shelter to protect my friends and I from a summer storm.
The Wilderness Guide was designed by Leo Espinoza. It has an overall length of 8 ¾” with a blade length of 4 ¼”. The 1095 High Carbon steel is 1/8th of an inch thick with a Rockwell hardness of 56-58. It has tan canvas micarta handle slabs, and what TOPS calls their black traction coating on the blade. It comes with a ballistic nylon sheath in coyote tan that has a bellows pouch on the front, and a removable flap. The flap is attached to the sheath with hook and loop on the back and a fastex style buckle on the front. This in conjunction with the knife retention qualifies the Wilderness guide as a jump knife as well. The knife with sheath weighs in at 10.7 ounces, and is as TOPS puts it 101% made in the USA.
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I used the Wilderness Guide as my primary knife in and around my house, ranging from kitchen chores, trimming branches, and digging around roots in preparation to remove a bush from the front yard. The knife is extremely stout, and the wide blade excelled in digging. I could see it being used to up root edible bulbs in a pinch. Especially if one didn’t want to take the time to make a digging stick. In the kitchen it sliced tomatoes fairly well as long as it was sharp. It jointed a chicken, and I used it to separate a tube of hamburger by hammering it through the frozen meat.
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I then took the Wilderness Guide with me on the few trips I managed this year. It cleaned and scaled the one fish taken on my Fontana Lake trip. I used it to make tarp stakes out of fallen pine branches, and trim the stubs off of a ridge pole to set up a dining fly. If you grip farther back on the handle with your hand through the lanyard you can get tremendous power in a swing, and make up for not having a larger knife or machete. The Wilderness Guide batons through the smaller stuff very well. It has enough beef to handle the job. Just don’t try to tackle a large log and lose the point like I did. On the plus side the scales are tough enough to withstand the hammering it took to work it out. The edge maintained its sharpness until I was near the end of the testing. By that time I could still carve some wood, but it smashed rather than sliced the tomatoes.
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The knife scales are rather thin on the Wilderness Guide, but this is by design. It allows it to stay flat and trim, and not bulge out when carried, but suffers in the comfort factor when in hard use, at least in my hands. I like the idea of the removable flap on the sheath, but I’d rather see a strap attachment, instead of the Velcro. It seemed kind of weak to me. Overall I quite like the Wilderness Guide, and wouldn’t hesitate to have it as part of my kit.
TOPS also sent out their new Machete .230 to be reviewed alongside the Wilderness Guide. The Machete .230 is collaboration between Leo Espinoza and Woods Monkey’s own Joe Flowers! It has an overall length of 22 ½” with a blade length of 15 ¾” in a Latin style machete blade. It’s made out of 1095 high carbon steel with a thickness of 1/8in. The .230 has a black linen micarta handle with an elastic lanyard/ hand wrap. The blade has an ash gray traction coating, and the drop point tip like the Wilderness Guide. It comes with a ballistic nylon sheath that has two 6in long bellows pockets. There is almost enough room to stuff the kitchen sink in these pockets.
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The Machete .230 was tough enough for any job I put it too. I cut, hacked, split, and generally beat the stuffing out of the Machete .230 trying to give it a decent work out. I took the .230 on my few trips out this year and used it for gathering firewood, building shelters, and slashing trails through the undergrowth to reach water. The .230 has thin scales instead of the normal hand filling slabs most machetes have. In addition to the scales it has an elastic lanyard that you pull over your hand that is supposed to provide additional retention during a swing. It broke the first time I tried to use it, so I was unable to fully test its functionality. I went ahead and used a piece of paracord to make a quick lanyard and was back to work.
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The .230 was great at cutting undergrowth, and taking down brush. I found a stand of bamboo near my house, and spent a happy hour harvesting some different diameter pieces. With the right angle swing the .230 would simply zip right through whatever was placed before it. It batoned well through logs, but when trying to take down a larger tree the grip tended to twist in my hand due to the thin scales.
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Actually, the scales are my biggest gripe with the Machete .230. I tried different grips, lanyard placement, and changing the angle of my swing to prevent the handle from twisting in my hand. No matter what I did I could never get used to not having a hand filling grip. While this is a personal choice, it is also a deal breaker in my book. I’m going to get some micarta and make me a set of slabs that fit my hand better, and then the .230 will be all over it.
With a little tweaking this dynamic duo would be at home in my gear, and it might just be worth considering for your kit. The Machete .230retails for around a hundred dollars, and the Wilderness Guide retails for around $140.00. You can probably find a better price with some searching on the internet.

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