Having the right knife for the right job is a common mantra of survival books and outdoor lore. I have long followed that advice in my own backpacking experiences and usually carry between three to four knives when venturing into the outdoors. I carry a small to mid-sized folding knife in my pants pocket, a mid to large sized fixed blade in my pack or belt and a larger chopping knife secured to my backpack. In addition, I keep a small Swiss Army style pocket knife with my first aid and cooking kit.
I have been making a concerted effort to lighten the amount of steel carried in my gear. While I like to have a variety of knives for different tasks it seems like overkill to carry so many knives for a short hiking trip. A few months ago I reviewed Ontario Knife Company’s Spec Gen II Spec Plus 45 which serves the function of a large chopping knife in my gear. While I really like that knife for its functionality, I have been on the lookout for a somewhat smaller yet sturdy knife to fulfill the chopping role. When Associate Editor Tim Stetzer asked me to review TOPS Wind Runner XL I was excited for the opportunity. I had looked at TOPS knives online quite a few times but have never had the chance to field test one of their knives. TOPS has an excellent reputation as a knife maker particularly with their extensive line of military and survival blades. A number of staff members here at Woods Monkey have used TOPS knives and think very highly of them.
TOPS Knives offerings have been designed from the vast experience of military, survival and martial arts personnel and their website states that many of their knives have been used operations around the world. After testing the Wind Runner XL, I believe that it would make an excellent choice for future backpacking trips. The overall quality of the knife supports their reputation. The Wind Runner XL length is just shy of 10 inches in overall length with the blade measuring 5 ¼ inches. It is a full tang fixed blade with a thickness of ¼ of inch of 1095 high Carbon steel. 1095 steel is a common knife making steel and is well known for its durability.
Considering the thickness of the tang of the blade TOPS has used small pieces of white/black G-10 laminate for the scales. The combination of the white/black scales contrasts nicely with the gray colored blade. The butt of the handle bends downward to protect the bottom of the hand and has a hole for a lanyard cord. The Wind Runner XL includes a basic black kydex sheath with a metal belt clip and weighs 12 ounces. When you first handle the knife you notice that it has serious heft considering its size. Carrying the Wind Runner XL is accomplished with a simple metal belt clip that is attached to the kydex sheath. It is apparent from its construction that the Wind Runner XL was meant to be worn high on the hip without wearing a backpack. I also tried to secure the knife in the small of my back, however, I found this positioning to be uncomfortable and impractical. I have an old set of Vietnam issue day gear that I used for hiking and playing paintball. The sheath can be attached to the front “H” type suspender via the metal clip and electrical tape. I was unable to secure the Wind Runner XL to my Camelbak pack or my Blackhawk Assault Pack shoulder straps.
The series of tests I used for this review consisted of lots chopping and batoning. This knife is fantastic for chopping as the weight of the blade is situated towards the front of the knife. It makes the Wind Runner XL especially useful for removing branches and taking down small saplings. Given the weight of the knife it was quite easy to fashion improvised tent stakes. I found that the relatively blunt and sturdy point of the blade was also useful for digging and prying. The second test involved using the Wind Runner XL for batoning. I prefer knives to axes for chopping mostly from my own experiences. Knives are lighter and in my opinion have more uses than an axe. Now before some of you begin to send me hate mail, I also absolutely love axes and own several. However, I generally don’t take them hiking. I used to the Wind Runner XL to split numerous small logs into manageable kindling for a fire. Usually, when batoning I use a blade well over 6 inches but felt that this knife with its ¼ inch thickness would make a suitable candidate. It didn’t disappoint and functionally it worked as well as any other knife I have used for batoning.
After using this knife over the last month it has really grown on me. The overall presentation of the knife is really slick and appealing. It worked well in the battery of tests and was clearly capable of sustaining a great amount of abuse. I like the heft of the knife and it was very comfortable to use in my large hands. In addition to the Wind Runner XL’s use for chopping and batoning I feel this knife would also be suited for self-defense. I think the size and weight of the knife would be more than adequate for this purpose should it arise. I also think that in a pinch you could use this knife to filet fish or skin game animals.
TOPS also manufacturers a smaller version called the Wind Runner that features a 3 inch blade and weighs only 3 ounces. For people with smaller hands or who simply desire a smaller knife I would recommend taking a look at this version. I didn’t have the opportunity to handle the smaller Wind Runner but looking at its specifications it would seem to be a better option for those folks or as a companion knife to the larger XL. On TOPS website they have an image of both knives in a set. I did not see the knives available for purchase together as a set.
In my opinion there are only two areas of improvement for the Wind Runner XL. First, the blade edge was inconsistently sharp. The forward sweep towards the tip of the blade was extremely sharp and I was able to shave with that portion of the blade before and after the chopping tests. However, the edge of the blade toward the handle was not nearly as sharp as the point. I was not able to shave with this portion of the edge even before I conducted any tests for the review. Despite the inconsistency of the blade edge it still functioned properly during my tests. The second minor issue I have with the Wind Runner XL is the sheath. While the kydex sheath fits perfectly I don’t particularly like the belt clip. When clipped to a belt the handle sits high on the waist which causes interference with the waist straps of my daypack. Considering the proliferation of MOLLE gear for backpacks and survival gear, a version of the sheath that could be secured using this technology would be great. These two minor complaints would not prevent me from purchasing or using the Wind Runner XL with my current gear.
Overall, the Wind Runner XL is an extremely useful and well made knife that is manufactured in the United States. Its functionality is exactly what I would look for in a mid-sized chopping knife. The thickness of the blade and the simple hand design make it exceptionally durable and easy to use. TOPS’s website is offering the Wind Runner XL has a manufacturer’s retail price of $180. However, as an introductory special they currently offer it for $150. An internet search for this version of the knife should turn up some other sources as well and you may be able to shave a few bucks off of that price. I was able to find the smaller version of the Wind Runner on a few websites as well, if that model is more suited to your needs. Given the utility of this knife I would not hesitate to order this knife directly from the manufacturer. If you are in the market for a super durable mid-sized chopping knife then you should give the TOPS Wind Runner XL serious consideration.
For further information visit: http://www.topsknives.com/