TOPS Knives , Tactical Operational Products, is located in Idaho Falls, ID. The company is comprised of a special team of 12 “operators” with backgrounds in the military, law enforcement, outdoor professions and the martial arts. This team designs and handcrafts knives for use as mission specific tools for extreme assignments.
Over the last couple of years, TOPS knives have been requested and deployed in many of the “hot spots” of the world. In addition, numerous individuals who are currently active field operators are using TOPS knives and they have been reporting top performance and reliability from these tools.
However, although TOPS Knives’ main focus is the manufacture of tactical knives, they also manufacture a line of high quality hunting knives, folding knives and hand axes.
Interestingly, the TOPS Mountain Lion was created using input from several active and retired members of the famed 10th Mountain Division; it reflects that mission specific design mentality by featuring an 10 3/4” overall length with a 5 1/2” drop point blade with a sabre grind and a recuved edge made from 1/4” 1095 high carbon, non-stainless tool steel with TOPS “Black Traction Coating”. In addition, the knife features a full-tang construction with ergonomically shaped, black and green, G10 handle slabs. Last, this knife is supplied with a heavy-duty, ballistic nylon, sheath.
Of all of the knives TOPS produces, we happen to find the Mountain Lion to be both very aesthetically pleasing and particularly well-suited for use as a dedicated wilderness survival knife.
However, with a blade length of only 5 1/2”, it is not a very efficient tool for chopping. But, if it were paired with a larger knife like the TOPS Condor Alert or the TOPS Armageddon, the user would have a very effective wilderness survival system.
In fact, we strongly suspect that the reason that this particular knife is so well designed for this particular purpose is due to the input to its design from members of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division which is a unit that is specifically trained and equipped to operate in extreme terrain and in extreme conditions.
Consequently, wilderness survival is second nature to this unit and experience has taught them what works and what does not work in the field.
Therefore, in constructing this knife, TOPS started with a 1/4” thick steel billet to give the knife an extremely strong spine and they then chose a very graceful drop point blade shape to which they added a secondary edge which extends approximately half of the way up the length of the spine.
Also, they decided to use a flat sabre grind to lend strength to the recurved edge. They have also incorporated a curved ricasso that works in conjunction with the integral quillion to create a “finger groove” which also enables the primary cutting edge to be sharpened all of the way to the back.
In addition, while we are not a big fan of “finger grooves”, we have to admit that it does look good on this knife.
Plus, we absolutely love the recurved edge displayed on the Mountain Lion since it provides the user with extra leverage when carving or slicing due to the fact that the forward section of the edge exhibits a forward positive angle.
Furthermore, while we are also not big fans of using non-stainless steels to construct dedicated wilderness survival knives, we have to admit that 1095 is a very tough steel that can be made reasonably hard even though it has very simple composition consisting of enough carbon (0.90% – 1.03%) to convert the iron into steel and still have enough left to increase the hardness and abrasion resistance; as well as enough manganese (0.30% – 0.50%) to strengthen and toughen it.
However, because the steel contains no chromium or nickel at all, it is easily corroded and thus, TOPS applies what they call their “Black Traction Coating” to the blade in order to prevent corrosion.
We do have to admit that we completely fail to understand the thought process behind leaving the secondary edge on the Mountain Lion’s blade uncoated; especially since it is specifically designed to be a tactical/survival knife. Instead, we would think that you would want the knife blade to be fully coated in order to provide the maximum amount of stealth.
We happen to really like the shape of the full-tang handle and the use of the black and green G10 handle slabs (which suggests a camo pattern) as it really compliments the graceful lines of the blade.
G10 is a very tough handle material similar to Micarta except that instead of consisting of numerous layers of resin impregnated linen or canvas as Micarta does, G10 consist of glass reinforced nylon and thus, like Micarta, G10 provides a very positive gripping surface that is impervious to the absorption of moisture and it is highly abrasion resistant.
All in all, in my opinion, the TOPS Mountain Lion is an excellent example of what a dedicated wilderness survival knife should be; unlike so many knives that are billed as such but are actually ill suited for the job. Thus, as long as you don’t mind spending the extra time necessary to keep the blade corrosion free, the TOPS Mountain Lion should serve you every bit as well as it does military personnel.