Yeah, I'm a knife guy. Not like I'm a knife fighter or like I live with a knife in my hand 24/7, but I appreciate knives. As one of man's oldest and most versatile tools, knives - in my opinion - are invaluable and everyone should always have one with them. Now, I know folks who like their folding knives to have a six inch cutting edge and I know a guy who never carries a knife with a blade over two inches long. I like happy mediums and in this week's review I'm taking a look at one of the newest offerings from Gerber: The Guardian Back-Up Alpha. Not too small, not too big, but plenty of performance in a conveniently sized package.
Based on its existing Guardian Back-Up design, Gerber developed the Alpha with a Tanto style blade to replace (for those who wanted it) the double-edged spear point blade of the original Guardian Back-Up. Let's be honest: anyone who has carried and used knives for long enough has preferences in blade design, handle shape, etc. Plenty of people prefer the well-documented historical performance of the Tanto style blade. For penetration strength it's hard to beat and its sharp edge cuts as well as any other sharp edge. In this case, the 3.75" cutting edge, including the 1" of serrated edge, is supported by a full 1/8" thickness in the blade steel to within 5/8" of the tip.
The overall length of this knife is about 7.25" and it's purported to have a "3/4 length tang". Since it has an almost 4" moulded synthetic grip, that means about 2" of tang is sunk into / surrounded by the grip. The grip is glass-filled nylon with Softgrip inserts - which I translate in my hand to "hard rubber". The grip is about as small as I would want in my hand but is of proper size given the blade length and overall compact size of the knife in general.
The sheath for the Guardian Back-Up Alpha is the same design as for previous versions of the Guardian Back-Up: a synthetic sheath with a belt / boot clip and an adjustable locking mechanism that lets you set how tight the knife is held. You can adjust it (or at least I did) to a point so tight I couldn't get the knife out at all. At the other end of the spectrum is a setting so loose the knife practically falls out if you shake the sheath gently. Obviously a middle ground is what's desired but you can easily adjust the sheath to your personal preference depending on the circumstances. Adjusting the sheath tightness is easy: you just push and slide the tabs on either side of the sheath. I do recommend that you keep them equal, otherwise the knife doesn't want to go straight in and out.
Of course, since this is a knife and its first and primary job is cutting, I had to find out how well this one would do. Out back to the shed...
The Guardian Back-Up Alpha did as well as can be expected from a knife of its size. The usual test materials were fishing line, string, twine, 1/2" rope, 1" nylon strap and a few other assorted miscellaneous items. The knife cut through everything with a single pull / swipe although it took me three tries on the rope before I pulled hard enough (on a "clean" spot) to get the knife through in one pull. Cutting pieces of plastic construction bucket was also easy with the exception that the smaller grip and shorter cutting surface makes cutting chunks more time consuming and repetitive.
MSRP on the Gerber website is $78.28 but a quick Google search found me a few as low as $40 from various vendors. (That's for the original Gerber Guardian Back-Up. The Tanto Style reviewed here will be available February 2011)
All in all I give this knife two thumbs up for its performance to size ratio. I think Gerber should explore some other carry options to increase the potential versatility of the knife and, as a traditionalist, I'd love to see them offer (maybe as an option?) a leather sheath for it as well.