Favorite Fixed-Blade Knife
I own two DARTs, the original in S30V and this iteration in 5160. They're my go-to fixed blades and my favorite TOPS knives. I use my DARTs for camp, bushcraft, and combatives drills. For any serious outing, one of the DARTs is either in my trunk or at my hip. The DART would complement the Benchmade 915 in an emergency or disaster situation. One of the DARTs top selling points is its ergonomics. The handle curves with the human palm, so the knife becomes an extension of the arm. The handle shape and materials are perfect: not too large, but not too small; not too textured, but not too smooth. The scales are durable, easy to clean, and, if necessary, easy to remove. Beautiful coloring, too. The jimping is helpful and well placed, both for a standard and reverse grip. The jimping is comfortably large, too: it's not so small and rough that it chafes bare hands.The blade balances on the guard so that, in a normal grip, the knife is ever so slightly tip-heavy, and in the choked-up grip, the knife is slightly pommel-heavy. Somehow, though, whichever grip I use, the balance feels just right. Again, the knife just seems an extension of my arm, whether I'm cutting, chopping, or stabbing. In a reverse grip, the knife may at first seem awkward because of how the down-swept blade affects the balance--the DART will not feel like a dagger or KA-BAR in the reverse grip. But after working with the DART, I've come to prefer it to a dagger or Bowie-type knife, even in the reverse grip. Because of the excellent ergos, I can put more force behind a stab, and the kukri-like blade allows for reverse-grip draw cuts (unusual, I know ... mostly an OH-SH!! move). At first, the lack of a flared pommel bothered me a little. This kukri-type blade wants to be swung, so it seemed silly not to have a pommel that hugs the heel of my hand and makes for a more secure swing. But the DART is not a heavy, extreme-chopping kukri. Its chop does not pivot on the heel of the hand, as with a kukri or medieval cutting sword: the DART pivots on the thumb and index finger, almost like a fencing saber, and the DART handle has a nice cut-out to secure this pivot point. This balance and security makes not only for good chopping; it also makes for tremendous snap-cuts (prescribed for the kukri by Ewart Oakeshott). It's a wonderful experience, holding the DART as lightly as a fencing saber, but chopping as vigorously as with a kukri.The stabbing ability of the DART deserves some mention. I’ve described the DART’s blade as “kukri-like,” which may imply that the knife is primarily for chopping and cutting. In fact, the DART’s somewhat leaf-like blade lends itself well to stabbing. Perhaps I should compare the DART not just to the kukri but also to the xiphos, the leaf-shaped Greek sword that could cut as well as thrust. The DART’s grind tapers similarly to quite a sharp point: this point, combined with the DART’s belly, creates immediate sword-sized punctures. When stabbed into thick protective layers (I’ve only used denim and leather), the DART’s belly does seem to meet undesirable resistance, comparable to what I experience with a Bowie. In other words, the DART is no dagger, but, for a cutting blade, it’s surprisingly good at thrusting and stabbing. The DART02 is the only knife I’ve owned in 5160, unless you count kukris. I’m impressed by how well TOPS tempered this steel. It’s as indestructible as any of my kukris, but it still keeps an edge. Not as well as, say, 1095 or D2 keeps an edge, but probably better than anything stainless (I’ve used the 5160 more roughly than I’ve used the S30V DART, so I can’t offer a good comparison). I haven’t tested the 5160’s lateral strength too severely, but ... I have no reservations about using the DART as a makeshift pry bar. Minor point: The lanyard hole on this knife is large enough that I’ve used it to secure the top of a fire drill. The metal, of course, got hotter than a middle-aged housewife, so I had to wear gloves. I’ve since used a Dremel to dimple the scales for a fire drill. My only complaints about the DART are the same complaints I have about all TOPs knives: the traction coatings and the sheaths. I don’t mind the coating so much on the 1095 blades, but on the 5160 and especially on the stainless S30V, I don’t want whatever protection the coating offers. I want smooth cutting. As for the sheaths, well, my first complaint (a common one) is the Velcro retention strap. D@mmit, TOPS, for a top-dollar production knife, we deserve snap closures! My other complaint is that TOPS sheaths are generic: they’re made for various knives within a certain size range, so they fit some models better than others. In the DART’s case, the sheaths are just a bit too open. I have to use the retention strap just to keep the blade from rattling horizontally in the sheath. At least the blade doesn’t rattle vertically (against the edge and spine). Someday I’ll try slipping a Kydex liner inside ... well, inside the Kydex liner, to tighten things up. Until then, I’ll simply shake my fist at TOPS for cutting corners on otherwise amazing products. The DART doesn’t get talked up enough in the knife community, and I’m not sure why. For me, it’s as good a camp knife as a RAT or ESEE, and it’s far more practical as a utility/fighting knife than the overweight Steel Eagle. Yet all three of those knives seem to get more hype than the DART. Ah, well. I hope that, eventually, the DART gets the attention it deserves.