The TOPS Game Guide is a solid, sturdy, and mean knife that has found its way into my pack. According to the TOPS website, Jerry Garner has spent a considerable amount of time in the out of doors and is a true conservationist. Jerry designed the Game Guide and TOPS produced it. The Game Guide is not a large game or Bowie style knife by any means.
This 1095 High Carbon Steel knife measures in at 7 and 7/8 inches overall with a blade length of 3 inches. The width of the blade is 1 ½ inches at the widest point and the steel thickness is 3/16 inches. As you can see, the knife comes from the factory without any handle scales and is already cord wrapped with a tan camouflage pattern of para-cord. As you might imagine, the Game Guide is quite hefty for a 3 inch field stripped blade, in fact TOPS lists the knife at 5.8oz. TOPS also provides a factory Kydex sheath with a spring clip for belt attachment (the standard TOPS set up).
My review really took place in two locations. The first was a grassy area near a garden hose so that I could test the ability of the Game Guide to start a fire with some basic tinder and a ferro rod. It had been dry in the area and I didn’t want to venture too far and have the fire starter work too well and end up with a situation on my hands, so to the backyard I went. I used a tinder bundle that I am familiar with, a 4 inch fatwood stick wrapped with about 20 feet of jute twine. After using the Game Guide to cut the twine into pieces, about arms length, I unraveled the twine and balled them up and then pulled them out into a bird’s nest configuration. I then used the knife to make some fatwood shavings that I tried to keep in the middle of the bird’s nest. I think this is a pretty standard set up for starting a fire, and something that I have used before. The Game Guide powered through the fatwood with no trouble. It was sharp enough that I could direct where my shavings landed. To be thorough the $109.95 knife also cuts twine very well, I know you are all shocked.
Now, on to the ferro rod. I happen to carry a ½ inch by 5 inch ferro rod that throws a huge spark if you hit it just right. If you don’t have the technique down, you end up with a curl of metal stuck to your blade, sometime still smoldering (I know, I’ve seen myself do it). The Game Guide scraped the ferro rod and threw tremendous spark. The tinder took, and if I had really wanted to, I would have had a fire going. So we can check fire starting off the list. I realize that this wasn’t a super tough task for a real outdoor knife, but it was a good way for me to get the feel of the knife as well as make sure it could perform some expected tasks.
Next I headed into the woods on some trails to try to put the Game Guide through its paces. I found a branch about 2 inch in diameter. First I tried to cut and hack a piece off the end. I would like to tell you that it was more graceful than that, but with a 3 inch blade, it wasn’t. However, I can tell you that I was able to get though the branch. It took about 20 minutes and really wasn’t the most comfortable process, as I developed a nice sized blister. I won’t hold the blister against the knife. It could have been technique, it could have been the fact that I haven’t chopped wood with a knife in a while, or it could have been the shape of the handle with the rough para-cord wrapping. There were too many variables to rule out to sufficiently place blame.
Speaking of variable, I tried to eliminate as many as possible when I moved on to the final test of the Game Guide, batoning wood. I used the same branch but started with a flat cut from as close to 90 degrees as I could manage. I wanted to test the knife and not my batoning abilities. I started with the Game Guide in the middle of the branch and went to work with what I thought might be a shorter than ideal baton. I found that because I had less than an inch of knife protruding, I had great control on the baton and it actually worked quite nicely. I was splitting away until I had the entire Game Guide buried in the branch. It was at this point that I learned how well the traction coating on the blade worked. The traction seemed to catch on the wood and really make thing more difficult. To remedy the problem I used a short stick about the diameter of my little finger and whittled off the ends to make a very dull spear point and used it as a wedge. Appropriately, I was able to whittle off the ends of the small stick using the Game Guide while it was still stuck in the branch I was trying to baton. Once the wedge stick was place on the spine of the Game Guide and used to force the wood apart the rest of the batoning went very smoothly.
Overall I was very impressed with the TOPS Game Guide. The 3 inch blade makes quick work of chores that are usually reserved for larger knives. There are a couple of things I would change. First of all, I would like to cord wrap the knife myself. I am always apprehensive of taking the cord off of a knife that has been wrapped at the factory. To me, the cord or a knife is there to use, not just for a handle. But I am never sure I will be able to get the cordage back on exactly the same way, especially if it had been glued, so I tend to leave it alone and then pack other cord. The second thing I would change is the sheath. As I mentioned above, this is the standard TOPS Kydex sheath and it works fine, but it isn’t anything special. Even on your belt it is a bit tricky to remove the Game Guide from the sheath one handed. If it isn’t on your belt it is almost impossible without tying a loop of cord to the bottom so you can pull with your teeth. I understand that most of the time we have both hands available to remove the sheath from our knife, but emergent situations arise, injuries happen, and sometimes your other hand is simply full. Despite those observations, my final grade of the TOPS Game Guide is an “A”.
Game Guide Discussion thread on Woodsmonkey Forum: