A complete survival system, TOPS’ new XcEST Alpha is ready-made for adventurers.

“The more you know, the less you carry” is a popular cliché among survivalists. But this romantic notion of bare-knuckled, man-against-wilderness dominion over nature is an oversimplification that no aborigine ever embraced. A more pragmatic survival philosophy might be expressed as, “The more you know, the better prepared you will make yourself.” The more options available for accomplishing a task, the better the chances for success under the broadest range of circumstances.

The new Cross-Country Emergency Support Tool, or “XcEST Alpha,” is TOPS Knives’ answer to ensuring that anyone prudent enough to carry this survival system will have an assortment of useful tools on hand for most emergency situations. The XcEST Alpha isn’t a knife that has been adapted to survival purposes, but a purpose-designed compact survival system that is engineered to perform, from the shambles of a post-earthquake inner city to the frozen northern wilderness.

The Package
The heart of this belt-ready survival kit is an all-business fixed-blade knife with an overall length of 7-1/2 inches, and a one-piece skeleton-tang design of 440C stainless, hardened to an edge-holding Hrc 58-59. Its beefy .188-inch thick blade is 3-1/4 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide. Already resistant to corrosion, the blade and tang are further protected with a baked-on, gray epoxy-hybrid powder coat, onto which the TOPS logo and model designation are handsomely printed in gold. The point is rather blunt, but very strong for drilling spindle holes in the fireboard of a bow-and-drill, or for punching through sheet metal or tough animal hide. A notch in the choil accommodates most flint fire-starting rods.

The XcEST’s canvas-Micarta handle is ergonomic and user-friendly to a variety of hand sizes. Ladies and teens with smaller hands found the knife comfortable over a broad range of tasks, from peeling apples to prying apart a rotting log in search of fishing bait. A divot on the left-side handle scale serves as a handle detent for the drill portion of a bow-and-drill fire starter, and as TOPS’ Mike Fuller pointed out, it permits users to tell in which direction the edge faces without looking at the knife.

By removing the two screws that anchor the Micarta scales, you can expose the knife’s full-length skeleton tang, with recessed lanyard hole. With the scales in place, there is room enough between them for the assembled handle to contain fish hooks, needles, or a few “fire wick” fire starters. With the scales removed, the XcEST can be tied to a long sapling and used as a spearhead for fishing, taking small game—even from burrows—or for defense.

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A complete survival system, TOPS’ new XcEST Alpha is ready-made for adventurers. “The more…