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Style over substance, form over function, products that look “tacticool” but aren't made for real work—we've heard these arguments used around the Internet in reference to various high-end survival gear manufacturers. Specifically, we've seen a few critical statements made about TOPS Knives on knife forums and Facebook pages, claiming that the blades look heavy-duty but are just for show. On the flipside, we all know that some people on the Internet often love to spread hate and misinformation. So, what's the reality of the situation?
Are TOPS Knives average products propped up by clever marketing, or does the company make legitimate survival tools you can depend on? We decided to answer these questions by testing their latest knife design, the Hazen Legion 6.0. We hope this will shed some light on the truth, and will cut through the Internet back-and-forth on the subject once and for all.
Before we get into our review of this new knife, we'll share a little background on the company. TOPS Knives was founded in 1998 by several Vietnam veterans, all of whom were dissatisfied with the quality of the knives they were issued during the war. Since then, the company has collaborated with numerous designers to produce hundreds of different knife models. The company states that many of their knives have seen real use by Field Operators in “hot spot” locales around the globe, hence their slogan “Spec Ops Trust TOPS”.
Over the years, TOPS Knives have also been featured in several high-profile movies. The company's Tom Brown Tracker was used by Benicio del Toro in The Hunted, and Adrien Brody fought off intergalactic monsters with a Steel Eagle in Predators. Some claim this as evidence that the company has jumped the shark and gone all Hollywood on us, but we'd attribute it more to the fact that their knives simply look imposing, and therefore were chosen as movie props for the silver screen.
Despite this, it's clear from their manufacturing process that TOPS Knives are much more than movie props. Every one of their blades is manufactured in the USA and hand-finished at their facility in Idaho. This video from InnerBark Outdoors gives a factory tour, and introduces a few of the American employees:
You may recognize this blade from a press release announcement we published a few weeks ago, shortly after the Hazen Legion 6.0 was released to the public on February 2nd, 2016. At that time, we hadn't gotten our hands on it yet, but now that we have, we can share our complete review.
The TOPS Hazen Legion 6.0 is a straightforward fixed-blade with a slim design. This model was envisioned by Mark Hazen, a man with 40 years of experience in the field of knife design. In order to bring his design to a wider audience, Hazen partnered with TOPS to produce the knife for the general public, and make use of TOPS manufacturing experience and resources.
As with most TOPS Knives, the Hazen Legion 6.0 is formed from full-tang 1095 high-carbon steel with a 25-degree grind on each edge. The blade is also differential-heat-treated, meaning that the edge is hardened to 56-58 Rockwell while the spine is left softer to prevent breakage. This makes for an extremely tough and dependable survival blade, and also one that can be sharpened easily in the field. TOPS refers to their knives as tools, and 1095 steel is superb for this purpose—it's not space-age tech, but it doesn't need to be.
The Legion's steel is finished in a subtle sandblasted matte grey. This knife isn't overly flashy or aggressive-looking, but it certainly has a tasteful appeal that we can appreciate.
Despite its sleek design, the knife is a substantial 0.19 inches (4.8mm) thick. Paired with its 9.1oz weight, this reassures our impression that it's made to take a beating.
TOPS states that the Legion is designed for combat, and the beveled Hunter's Point shows this influence. There's also ridged jimping on the top edge and a prominent bolster on the grip, ensuring this fixed blade stays controllable while piercing or slicing.
Similar to the TOPS Anaconda 7B we tested in the past, the handles on the TOPS Hazen Legion 6.0 are made of a material called black linen micarta. This composite material uses laminated sheets of linen in a thermosetting polymer, meaning it has the durability of hard plastic with the textured grip and moisture-absorbing properties of fabric. It's hand-sanded to show off the layers, and has a subtle faded greenish-grey coloration.
Other TOPS Knives we've used include nylon fabric sheaths (which, honestly, we're not big fans of), but the Hazen Legion comes with a black Kydex sheath. We found that it provides a very secure fit, likely due to the fact that TOPS hand-molds the Kydex around each knife at their Idaho facility.
The sheath has a molded nylon belt clip, which rotates a full 360 degrees and will fit belts up to approximately 2.25″ wide. It also includes grommeted holes for adding a paracord wrap or strapping the sheath to your pack.
Finally, there's a small TOPS-branded rescue whistle included, in case you need to signal for help at some point. It's a nice freebie, but we promptly removed it from our sheath to eliminate rattling as we walked.
From a visual standpoint, there's no denying that this knife looks great. It's a subtly modern twist on a classic combat knife design, without any fancy serrations, saw teeth, or other added features we wouldn't use. The only purely stylistic flair added is some jimping along the spine's midsection, which doesn't really hurt anything if you ask us.
The Legion 6.0 is quite comfortable in hand, and is supremely balanced. This makes the knife effortless to manipulate, like an extension of your own arm. We will say that based on the overall proportions of the handle, we think it wouldn't have hurt to make the blade about 1″ shorter—it's just a hair more than we found ourselves needing. However, the added length could be handy for batoning firewood and other tasks.
We loved how the micarta scales absorb sweat without getting slippery—you can actually see the material darken as it absorbs moisture, and lighten as it dries out. Jimping on the thumb rest also gives a bit more leverage and grip for precise cuts.
The thick 1095 steel and moderately-obtuse 25-degree grind spell excellent durability for repeated use (although it makes ultra-precise cuts a little more difficult). Also, the Hunter's Point shape lets it pierce even the hardest materials with ease.
To summarize, here's a quick list of pros and cons we found after using the TOPS Hazen Legion 6.0:
So, what's the answer to the question posed earlier: does TOPS Knives make legitimate survival tools you can depend on?
Based on our experience with the Hazen Legion 6.0, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Some models in the TOPS lineup are certainly flashier, but this particular knife is a purpose-built blade that can stand up to the rigors of hard daily use—it's the real deal, and certainly not just a show piece. We'd wager that anyone who says otherwise hasn't actually used it.
Sure, it's on the expensive side of the spectrum, but it's a hand-finished, American-made, lifetime-warrantied blade. If you can afford a survival knife in this price range, we'd have no hesitation recommending the Hazen Legion 6.0.
For more information on TOPS Knives, visit TopsKnives.com.