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Knife Review: Buck/TOPS CSAR-T Folder

Buck and TOPS knives have teamed up for a durable, fine-cutting folder.

March 23, 2011  |  by Nick Jacobellis - Also by this author


The TOPS-Buck Combat Search and Rescue Tool (CSAR-T). Photo: TOPS-Buck.

Life is all about tradeoffs when you discuss equipment such as edged weapons. I say this because a carbon steel blade will generally hold an edge better than other types of steel but carbon steel will corrode easier if it isn't protected by a special coating.

This is why modern knife makers apply a corrosive resistant finish to their carbon steel knife blades. Even with this finish, the knives still require proper maintainance when they're exposed to moisture, especially in a tropical environment.

Fortunately, there are knives on the market that provide an excellent balance between corrosion resistance and being able to hold a sharp edge after continued use.

This brings me to the Buck/TOPS Combat Search and Rescue Tool folding knife. As a collaboration between Idaho companies Buck Knives and TOPS Knives, the CSAR-T is a heavy duty folding knife that uses an ATS-34, stainless-steel, Tanto-style blade measuring 3.8 inches long and 0.175 inches thick with a Zirblast Finish for extra corrosion resistance that's heat treated to a Rockwell hardness (Rc) of 59-61. The CSAR-T is being called a tool, because it can be used with an optional hex tool set.

The blade on the CSAR-T has a reputation for holding an edge after repeated use. Buck/TOPS uses 154CM domestic stainless steel to manufacture its knife. Based on what I know, the 154CM-grade stainless steel has a good reputation for holding a sharp edge.

The Buck/TOPS CSAR-T folder also has a superbly ergonomic rugged Rocky Mountain Tread G10 handle, giving the knife an overall length of 8.2 inches and hefty 8.6-ounce weight. The CSAR-T folder has some heft, making it rugged enough to be used in the most demanding applications.

This can prove to be especially useful if you need to use a rock to strike the back portion of the knife's frame while you use the blade to cut limbs from a tree to make a shelter, stretcher, or to simply gather firewood from a felled tree. I also found the folder to have excellent ergonomics regardless of which hand I used to operate this knife. This is an important capability, because you never know when you may lose the use of one hand.              

One topic that warrants some discussion is the difference between a straight-edge blade and a partially serrated blade on a folding knife. Clearly, there are two sides to this debate. One well-respected knife industry expert recently relayed to me that he believes a straight-edge blade made of high-quality steel is stronger than a partially serrated blade. A knife industry executive relayed a similar message. 

Those who prefer a partially serrated blade usually like a mini saw on their knife blade that can be used to quickly cut through seat belts, rope, deck line, tactical nylon products including MOLLE gear. Other end-users seem perfectly happy using a well-made knife with a straight-edge blade for hardcore combat applications and survival situations when you need to whittle cups and eating utensils out of wood or use your knife to build traps to snare animals, dig in the earth to retrieve root vegetables, peel fruit and vegetables, make a spear for protection and hunting, or skin and cut fish and wild game for the pot or the fire.

While most authors tend to concentrate on the primary and most common uses for a folding knife, I would like to add that should you become engaged in a fight for your life and have no other weapons available, the CSAR-T is an impressive folding knife that can serve as a striking weapon when the blade is closed. A heavy stainless steel lanyard ring on the bottom of the handle makes it a formidable blunt instrument in a life-or-death situation as a hand-held weapon. The top portion of this folding knife should also protrude far enough from your closed fist to serve as a blunt instrument if you find yourself being overpowered by someone trying their best to take your life. 

Using a knife like the CSAR-T in an unconventional fashion when your life is at risk may be especially useful for undercover personnel who are overpowered and must defend themselves until their backup team can come to the rescue. Remember, there's no such thing as a fair fight when someone's trying to kill you. If deadly force is authorized under the law, it doesn't matter how you deliver this level of force if you're doing so to save your life or the life of another person.

This folding knife retails for about $150, and is simply too good to ignore because it doesn't have a partially serrated blade.

Tags: Folding Knives, Edged Weapons, TOPS Knives, Buck Knives, Product Reviews


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Lloyd Reese @ 3/24/2011 6:47 PM

Your review is somewhat glowing without mentioning any negative factors. I purchased one at a knife show for just under $100 about one year ago. I carried it with me while hiking in the GW National Forest. It's a good knife for SAR and possibly survival situations, but much too heavy to interest the average backpacker. Don't think the average cop will be interested although a few game wardens, park rangers, FS LEOs, may be.

On the down side, it's heavy. The handle is not easy on your hands so be sure to have gloves available. It does not have an assisted opening blade, usually preferred today in a folder. However, with proper lubrication and some practice, you can make it open easily with one hand. In my case, the case was defective and could not be snapped on my belt. I returned it to Buck and received a replacement one promptly.

If I need a survival knife, I prefer my TOPS Dawn Warrior, a fixed blade (1095 High Carbon Alloy RC-58), with a Kydex sheath. It comes with either a partial serrated or plain blade. I can draw it from it's sheath quickly if needed. Price at knife shows or the Internet well under its MSRP of $179. It's a top survival knife according to http://www.survival-gear-guide.com.

Nick Jacobellis @ 4/25/2011 11:47 AM

Yes, my review is a glowing report of the TOPS CSR Folder. I wrote this positive review because the TOPS CSR Folder is one heck of an edged weapon that is hefty enough to be used in AN EMERGENCY as a survival tool. The fact that the Combat Search and Rescue Folder is on the heavy side can come in handy if you have to carefully strike the back of this knife with a suitable size rock to cut tree branches to make a signal fire, build a shelter, manufacture splints or build a stretcher. As you well know life is all about trade-offs and while nothing man made is absolutely perfect some tools of the trade are close enough to perfection to be effectively used by armed professionals. Please remember that blog articles are relatively short reviews that cannot possibly explain every point in vivid detail. Generally, a blog is meant to provide an overall perspective and provoke discussion. I hope these comments further explain the position that I took on this product.

steve t @ 12/1/2011 6:29 PM

The knife blade can do without holes that weaken the blade. Rock pounding etc.. will lead to breakage at a weak point.

le @ 4/29/2012 10:18 AM

Gloves ? Maybe you should slow down on the hand lotion .

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