When I was a teenager there was kid that hung out with my friends and me. This kid was awkward, short, portly, a little off, and strong as an ox. He was loyal and would do anything for you without complaining. He was like our group sidekick. We kept him around because there was always something he could do that we could not or that we just did not want to do. TOPS Knives apparently found that friend of mine and turned him into the TOPS XcEST BRAVO.
XcEST BRAVO stands for Cross Country Emergency Support Tool two. The Bravo is a 440c (RC 58-59) spey point full skeleton tang tool with an overall length of 7.5 inches and a blade length of 3.25 inches, entirely coated with a black traction coating. The handles are brown canvas micarta. The tool comes with a nylon sheath and the TOPS Survival Kit, which includes: Survival Saw, Lansky Sharpener, 2 Ranger Bands, Compass, Fishing Line, 2 Fishing Hooks, Offset Screwdriver, P-38, Snare Wire, L.E.D. Light, Sail Needle, Fire Starter, Razor Blade, Snap Link and 2 Safety Pins.
Just some quick background on how I test the knives I receive. First I do an “out of the box” inspection. I note the factory specifications and edge. I look at the aesthetics and respectfully fondle the blade. Then I try to find the strong and weak qualities of the knife by using it as the creator/designer intended. The particular “tests’ vary according to the intended use of the knife or tool. Then after I have tested the subject and formed a data specific assessment, I take the knife to various practitioners in the outdoor community and ask them for a personal opinion. This is my testing methodology.
Out of the Box
Out of the box the BRAVO took me by surprise. I was not expecting such a small beefy blade. I had been to TOPS website where they have specific information on the BRAVO but nothing is like holding the tool in your hand. When taking the tool from the box it felt heavy in relation to its size. I thought that would be an issue but while using the tool it became quite apparent that a skinnier blade would not have been able to stand the punishment. Immediately I noticed the top edge along the spine of the blade. Not to sure why it was included. TOPS calls the top edge a “cutting/ band breaker”. It works, but how often do you need to cut a steel band without wire cutters. I thought the top edge would be a problem in my baton tests but it really was not. It did however chew up my hardwood (sugar maple and oak) baton and after ten to twenty hits you run the risk of the baton tip breaking off in the general direction of your face. The linen micarta handle of the tool is quite comfortable; it did not slip around or out of my hand during wet and mud testing. The handle also has a bow drill divot to use in fire starting. The divot is a little shallow but your spindle should form to it after a few passes of the bow. The factory edge is sharp, but what do you expect from a TOPS knife. The black traction coating on the blade came off pretty quickly after some use.
I ran the Cross Country Emergency Support Tool BRAVO through a battery of tests. I focused the testing on making a fire board set so that I could use the knife to start a fire. I grabbed a maple baton about 3 inches around, grabbed the Bravo and went to the woods. While in the woods I found some downed pine trees. The lateral branches on the tree were almost the perfect width for a decent fireboard. I used the Bravo to hack a dry shortleaf pine branch about 3 inches in diameter off of the tree. Using the knife blade alone to hack was a chore. The tool is not designed to be a hacker but I had to try it, and I got a pretty good work out. After wearing myself out hacking the branch I moved to the next one and this time batoned through it in a fraction of the time it took me to hack through. Much easier if you ask me. When you put the BRAVO on something small and hit it with a baton it does quite well. I used the baton to cut sections from the branch and then again to make the actual fireboard. Once I had a decent textbook fireboard I continued to use the tool making my spindle and bow. The downed pine had some decent spindle size branches that I cut off. The BRAVO cut through ok but not as well as a skinnier knife would. I went a little long on time cutting the branch and shaping it. Out of curiosity I made a second spindle from the same wood with my unnamed pocket knife and was able to do it much quicker. With a spindle and a board I now needed a bow. I found a red maple sapling that was the perfect size. The BRAVO had no trouble hacking through the small tree, and I had zero problems shaping the ends. The only remaining chore was a tinder nest. After hiking down to a small creek I found some dead Red Cedar and Black Willow trees. I used the BRAVO top edge to scrape the cedar bark. When using the blade as a scraper or draw knife please remember to cover the opposite edge so you don’t cut your fingers off. The top edge performed well scraping the bark on both the cedar and the willow. Both trees yielded some great material and the stream provided a great location to start my fire.
Prior to my excursion into the woods I had taken some wood from my firewood pile and used the BRAVO to baton some kindling. The tool did really well and I never really had a problem other than my baton breaking and almost hitting me in the head. The top edge just chewed the baton up. With my teepee fire pit made and my tinder nest ready to go I finished my fireboard. The tip of the BRAVO is an oversized spey blade shape, which is perfect for pitting and notching board. I was really pleased with the performance of the tip in the construction of the board.
Using the BRAVO I made all the tools and implements required for a bow drill fire starting set. Time for me to make a fire, woohoo! The spindle divot in the handle of the tool is a little shallow. I had some trouble keeping the spindle in the divot during the first few passes. The spindle did however shape itself into the divot and then performed well. I was able to start a fire after about 10 strokes once all tools were working in sync. After about a few fires though I noticed the friction and heat from the spindle were really chewing up the handle.
XcEST BRAVO stands for Cross Country Emergency Support Tool no. 2. This is exactly what this tool is, a support tool. While I like the design, sturdiness, and usability, I would not use this as my primary knife. I am not saying however that I would not carry it as a backup. I enjoyed using the BRAVO but I can do everything with it I can do with my favorite carry knife and more save one thing. The spey blade tip on the BRAVO performed so well drilling the holes into my fireboard, I plan on using only it for that function. There are also some minor issues with the size of the handle that I have. People with bigger hands have had trouble holding on to the knife. There is a fix to this though. The handle has a great lanyard attachment, and if you put a nice knotted lanyard through it, it adds a little to the handle. If I had one wish though, I wish it was 8-10 inches long without a sharpened back edge.
The TOPS retail price for the BRAVO is $179.99. It is on sale at the TOPS website currently for $149.99. After a little research online I found a BRAVO for as low as $116.00. All in all the TOPS XcEST BRAVO is a great little sidekick to any survival kit.