How much knife should you carry when backpacking? The answer depends on where you plan to hike, I guess. TOPS makes some huge knives that might seem to some like a good choice for hiking in bear country, but they’re heavy and you’d do better with a .44 or 10mm than you would with any knife.
While TOPS isn’t going to tell you not to buy a big knife, they do make this smaller and lighter Backpacker’s Bowie that provides a dependable blade that isn’t going to hang off your pack like a boat anchor.
With its sheath, the TOPS Backpacker’s Bowie weighs just over half a pound.
TOPS Backpacker’s Bowie Specs
- Overall Length 8.25″
- Blade Length 4.50″
- Cutting Edge 4.13″
- Blade Thickness 0.160″
- Steel 1095 RC 56-58
- Blade Finish Tumble Finish
- Handle Material Green Canvas Micarta
- Knife Weight 7.2oz
- Weight w/ Sheath 9.7oz
- Sheath Material Black Kydex
- Sheath Clip Rotating Spring Steel
- Designer TOPS Team
The TOPS Backpacker’s Bowie Blade
Most Bowie designs have a clip-point blade shape with a slight swell toward the point. It is a blade heavy design and is usually long. Many are seven inches or more with a wide blade. This is where the weight comes from.
The TOPS is shorter. The blade is four and a half inches. And it isn’t as thick as some of the other TOPS knives.
The clip-point does have a false edge and TOPS advertises that they can sharpen this edge on request. Like it is, this edge is useful for prying.
There’s a hook shape cut in the blade, too. This looks like a bottle opener, but no one carries bottles of anything on backpacking trips. TOPS suggests using the hook to lift pot lids or to break wires. It works well if you have lids or pots with the right wire loops on the lids. I’ve not found any wire in the wild that needs breaking since I’ve had this knife, to I’ve yet to test that part.
At the hilt there’s a cut out that you can get paracord through. If you had to lash this to a pole, this would be a huge benefit. As it is, this nub is long and prevents your hand from slipping forward. On top of the blade, in front of the handle, TOPS has added nice jimping. This is where you anchor your thumb for extra leverage.
The blade itself is made from 1095. This is a common tool steel with a high carbon content. It will hold its edge well and easier to sharpen than most forms of stainless steel. I’ve not had to sharpen this in the field and don’t hike with a sharpening stone, but many who do bushcraft things do.
The finish on the blade is a stone-washed tumbled look. As I’ve used the knife, some spots are getting more shiny.
The Grip on the Backpacker’s Bowie
Many of the TOPS knives have G10 scales, and this one does too. The material is about as indestructible as it gets. I’ve got a Bowie that has wooden scales—it is the one I carry on most camping and hunting trips, and the wood—maple—gets dinged up.
These scales can be removed with simple tools. If you do end up using this for hunting, that will be useful. You’ll need to take them off to clean under the scales.
The shape of the handle is strange. It has finger grooves, which are nice, but TOPS has cut weight by keeping the grip a bit short. I can get three fingers on this, but my pinky doesn’t have the same full finger groove. It felt odd at first, but I’ve gotten used to it.
There’s no real pommel. The whole handle fits in your hand. But the grooves mean it is secure and easy to hold. This short grip is another way TOPS keeps the weight down on the knife and it will likely be the one part that keeps you from liking it, especially if you have big hands.
Wearing the Backpacker’s Bowie
TOPS has built a Kydex sheath for the Backpacker’s Bowie and it has a steel clip on the back. I’ve been hiking with an Osprey pack and there’s no place on the hip belt that I can put the knife. The pack has pockets where a belt might be on my hip.
I’ve been wearing it on the shoulder strap. It clips on there securely, even upside down, because the steel clip has a J shape that holds a strap in either direction. On my shoulder, it is easy to reach, safe to draw and re-sheath, and it doesn’t get in the way of anything.
And I don’t wear a belt when I’m hiking. I hate the way a belt feels under my hip belt, so I don’t even take one with me. And the steel clip is strong enough to clip directly to my waistband when I am not wearing my pack. The sheath’s hook will grip onto fabric pretty well.
One Knife for Backpacking?
I’ve been backpacking a lot with the Boy Scouts. Most of my friends don’t carry a knife when we go hiking, which means my knife gets borrowed a lot. I usually carry this one and anther pocket knife, just in case.
And there are things that this knife isn’t perfect for. The blade angle is steep and not great for slicing—like cutting up an apple. It works, but not as well as the thin blades on some pocket knives.
And the point is more rounded than some Bowie designs. It is a great knife to pair with another light knife. Where I hike in the Ozarks, we build fires in camp, especially when it is cold. A knife like this has to do the work of a hatchet sometimes, and it isn’t as easy as it is with some huge choppers, but it works.
That’s the main point, I think. This knife works. It doesn’t weigh a ton and it works. There are bigger knives that chop better. There are smaller knives that are lighter and better for small tasks, but the TOPS is right there in the middle—good at just about everything.
TOPS sells this knife for $175. It sells for closer to $100.