We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t reinvent the wheel,” along with its many forms. If something is already perfect, you should spend your time inventing something else. Come up with your own ideas, dude! Create something new!
Civivi is, clearly trying to reinvent the wheel with the Crit – a knife that’s retro and modern and patterned after a Swiss Army knife and totally different at the same time. It follows the same concept – packing multiple implements as well as a knife into a single shape – but the way it goes about it is wholly different. It’s one of the coolest and most innovative knives I’ve gotten my hands on recently.
The Crit is currently available in three versions – the green Micarta tested here, as well as natural Jade G10 and Black G10. They all retail for around $73 at time of writing.
Key Specs: Civivi Crit
The Crit has two equally sized implements, one of which is a blade. Considering the “modern SAK” design ethos of the knife, the blade shape makes perfect sense: utilitarian and function focused, it’s a 3.18” long drop point blade with a full flat grind and a nearly straight spine. The profile of the blade is very narrow (like a SAK) and comes to a very fine point. Blade stock is thin at 0.10” across the spine, and the whole blade has a deep stonewash finish. The only marking on the blade at all is tiny font on one side near the pivot that says “Nitro V” – a blade steel that I was unfamiliar with until the Crit came into my hands.
If you’re also unfamiliar, don’t feel too bad – Nitro-V only dates back to 2017. Produced by Buderus for New Jersey Steel Baron, Nitro-V is a modification of Uddeholm AEB-L, which is also chemically very similar to Sandvik 13c26. Sandvik updated 13c26 to 14c28n (with the addition of Nitrogen) for Kershaw, to cut down on corrosion, and Nitro-V is a modification of AEB-L in a similar vein: it adds small amounts of Nitrogen and Vanadium to the AEB-L recipe, resulting in slightly better corrosion resistance and finer grain structure (for a cleaner edge.) At only 0.68% carbon, this isn’t what you’d call a “super steel” but as an EDC item it hits a lot of boxes: decent edge retention, easy to touch up, won’t rust.
Deployment & Lockup
The Crit is a front-flipper, for both implements, and they both deploy equally well – assuming you’ve become proficient with a front flipper in the past few years, that is. The front flipper on both sides is parallel with the surface of the handle, so the motion of positioning your thumb onto the flipper is very natural – you just slide it out to the end of the spine then press back with the side of your thumb. I like the selection of dual front flippers for the Crit for several reasons: one, this is supposed to be the neo-SAK, and a SAK isn’t “tactical.”
Front flippers don’t have the same tactical bravado that spine flippers do, and they also have the benefit of being a lot more analog in their deployment than the relatively digital nature of spine flippers: meaning you can open them in a quick snap with a minor wrist flick, or you can also slow-roll it open by tracing the outline of the handle – just depends on the situation. Also, if this knife had two spine flippers it would take up a lot more pocket real estate and be pretty annoying to put your hand down around it in the pocket. Both implements use caged ball bearings in the pivot for smooth deployment, and the detent strength is relatively light on each so you can snap it or roll it – I’m not a huge fan of a stiff detent on a front flipper as it really limits your deployment flexibility.
Lockup is via a liner lock, which is cleverly cut from a single piece of metal for both sides – if you open the knife and the tool and then look down into the handle, the central liner cross diagonally from the blade tang to the tool’s tang. Very cool, clever multi-purpose engineering. External stop pins on the knife and the tool locate both in place when open, the pins being anchored in the outer liner and the inner locking liner for strength. I did not observe any vertical or horizontal blade play in either implement.
Features, Fit & Finish
The biggest feature to talk about is the multitool, obviously. It opens opposite the blade, using the same front flipper/bearing pivot mechanism as the knife, and it’s a mix of obvious and strange components. It does pack quite a lot of functionality into a single piece of stamped steel, in this case is 9Cr18MoV rather than Nitro-V. Which is pretty ironic, because 9Cr18MoV is, at least by chemistry, a much higher-performing steel for knife use than Nitro-V. It has way more carbon (0.95 vs 0.68) and chromium (18%, which is very high!) which determine edge retention and corrosion resistance.
Regardless, it’s a very cool tool: starting at the tip, you have a medium slotted (flathead) screwdriver that’s also a bit of a scraper or pry tool. Behind that there’s a sharpened strap cutter, the outer edge of which is also a larger flathead screwdriver. In the middle of the tool are two dual-size hex drivers (which Civivi says are H4/H5 and H6/H8) and behind that is, of course, a bottle opener. There’s also a ruler inscribed along the spine, one side showing centimeters and the other side showing inches. It’s quite a lot of functionality packed into a single piece of steel, and everything has been cleverly laid out to maximize its usefulness – the bottle opener being further back gives it more leverage, while the strap cutter being further forward gives it more reach.
Other features of the Crit include a set of swanky looking green canvas micarta scales, little Civivi logos for pivot pins on both implements, the opposite body screw on each side also being a decorative screw which serves as a hold down for the pocket clip. That clip, by the way, is a deep-carry wire clip, which is a two-position setup (more on that later.) It’s held in place by a single screw with two slots in the scales to locate it.
Fit and finish on the Crit is exceptional, especially considering the price point and the relatively complicated construction – two tools, three liners, two scales, two sets of ball bearings, two pivots, etc – it’s all very well put together. Both the knife and the multitool are perfectly centered in between the liners when closed, which seems like even more of an accomplishment considering they share a common locking liner with separate detent balls. The spine of the knife is chamfered with a decreasing angle as it approaches the tip, giving you a smooth spine to the touch, as is the spine of the multitool. The grind on the blade is even and accurate, and it came satisfyingly sharp from the factory. It’s a very well-made thing for the ~$75 price tag, especially considering the tools I compared it to the most.
Let’s talk about carry, and specifically that clip. It’s hard to define what position is what – there’s no way to arrange the clip that leaves the spine of both tool and knife facing the corner of the pocket for right-hand carry. When I’m carrying a regular pocket knife, I always configure the clip so that the blade is tip-up with the spine of the blade against the outside corner of my right front pocket, which helps to keep the blade closed and also keep your fingers safe in the even it opens accidentally in your pocket. Since this is a two-sided tool and Civivi doesn’t use the pivot screws as clip mounts, it’s not possible to do this – so you have two options, leaving the blade tip up or the tool tip up (which is how mine came out of the box.) How you configure the clip depends on whether you think you’ll use the knife or the tool more, since whichever implement you’ll use less will require you to pull the Crit out of your pocket and then flip it around 180 degrees to open the other one.
Despite my safety concerns as a righty, the Crit does carry very well. It’s light (3.44 ounces) and small (4.25” long, 0.75” tall and 0.61” wide) and its profile is narrow and straight, so it doesn’t take up a lot of space in your pocket. It’s a little wider than most regular pocket knives (for instance, a QSP Penguin measures 0.46” wide between the two scales) but it doesn’t make a huge difference in reality.
How well does the blade work? Well, if you keep in mind the restrictions of its dimensions, it’s a good slicer. It has a nice acute tip which pierces things well, and the thin blade stock and full flat grind allow it to slice effortlessly though a lot of stuff. I did find the tip more fragile than I expected, unfortunately breaking a bit of it off when trying to remove a piece of stranded plastic from a screw hole on a mini-fridge, but I would estimate that’s as much my fault as the knife’s. Knives make for expensive and poorly-performing single use pry tools. Still, a task a more full-sized blade would have handled without an issue.
As far as the multitool goes, it rules. The bottle opener is killer, as a craft beer enthusiast I always have ample opportunity to try them out and this one might be superior to my previous favorite multitool bottle opener (the Leatherman Skeletool CX) – it has a ton of leverage against the cap, and the shape of the lower hook catches caps very well. It’s a single pull party trick kind of opener. I don’t cut a lot of straps, but I did find a unique use for the cutter – when opening clamshell packaging, use the tip of the blade to start a cut in the packaging then use the strap cutter as a “zipper” to remove it.
I appreciate the ruler as well, a smart inclusion that doesn’t take up any extra real estate – just adds extra functionality. I was able to use the smaller straighthead driver at the edge to tighten up a few electrical outlet plates in my house too, which is my most common use for these type of tools. I think it’s a great multitool, but what I’m not super sold on are the hex drivers. Working with cars, usually the smallest bolts I deal with are 7mm – so only the 8mm would be much help. I’m not sure where you’d run across a lot of 4 or 5mm hex bolts, but regardless, the length of the tool on either side of the hex drivers make it hard to get into any tight spots which limits its usefulness.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.I don’t think Civivi designed this to compete directly with anything else – it’s a pretty unique product, with the form factor, front flippers, ball bearings, all that neat stuff it really doesn’t have a direct competitor in the market.
Swiss Army Knives (at least from Victorinox) are generally grouped into body length size by millimeters – the Crit measures 108mm, putting it closest to the Victorinox 111mm group of knives. One of the only 111mm SAK’s with a one handed blade is the 2008+ Swiss Soldier’s Knife, also known as the One Handed Trekker/Trailmaster in civilian form. This tool features a large locking main blade, a wood saw, a locking cap lifter/pry tool, a can opener, and a Philips screw driver as well as an awl on the back layer. It’s heavier at 4.5 ounces but it does pack a lot more functionality in, although the blade won’t hold an edge as long as the Civivi will.
Another potential competitor is the Boker Plus Tech Tool line, which is an interesting combination of classic SAK design language with some more modern features, like G10 scales, screw together (instead of pinned) construction, and reversible pocket clips. The City 2 is a 2-layer tool like the Crit, featuring a 2.75” drop point blade in Sandvik 12c27 stainless steel, a bottle opener/screwdriver, a small serrated blade, a corkscrew, a wire stripper, and a carbide glass breaker tip. An awfully handy thing to clip to your pocket at only 3.01 ounces, even if it lacks some of the features of the Crit (locking blade, one hand open, strap cutter.)
The Leatherman I compared this to the most was the Skeletool CX – because I own one and carry it most of the time when I’m around the house. The Crit has a longer blade, it’s considerably lighter and carries much better (the Skeletool is really a mess in the pocket, all sharp edges and corners in the wrong place) and the quality control on the Civivi isn’t even in the same universe – the poor quality grind on the Skeletool’s blade is really remarkably bad. But there’s a reason I carry the Skeletool – it has pliers! And a bit driver! Still, not exactly a fair comparison. The closest Leatherman is probably the Free K2, which is a knife-based multitool – a conventional folding knife with 3 additional tools stored in the in the handle, in this case a package opener/pry tool, an awl, and a Philips/bottle opener combo. Blade steel is 420HC, a major downgrade from Nitro-V, although it is a full sized blade at 3.3 inches. It’s similarly priced at $80, and not too overweight at 4.5 ounces.
Finally, there’s the Kershaw Select Fire. Designed by G&G Hawk, the Select Fire is also a knife-based multitool, with a full sized blade (a 3.375” drop point in 8Cr13MoV) that opens via thumb stud, secured by a regular liner lock. The handle contains a fold-out bit driver, and each scale holds two bits in a spring-loaded carrier, small and large straight bits and Philips bits. There’s also a ruler on the bit driver, because why waste a flat surface, and the whole thing rings in at only $35. It’s heavier (5.4 ounces) and bulkier than the Crit, and doesn’t have quite as wide an array of tools, but it’s a great backup toolbox in your pocket option.
It’s a little difficult to subjectively evaluate things that don’t really have any direct competitors. At least as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing else on the market that does the same thing the Crit does, which is put a lot of useful tools into a small footprint, and combines some premium materials in as well. The double front flipper deployment is both very cool, and also much more practical than old school Swiss Army Knife-style nail nick deployment, being able to easy deploy with one hand without taking up a bunch of pocket real estate in the process.
It also more effectively balances being a real knife with being a multitool than a lot of other hybrid offerings, giving the user a real full sized blade in a useful shape and grind, as well as a pretty well thought-out multitool, neither of which step on each other’s proverbial toes. The Skeletool has a small knife and carries poorly, the Select Fire’s handle isn’t comfortable, the Tech Tool and SAK’s are bulky – I think Civivi really has a USP here and I hope they expand it with other offerings in the future, maybe with more premium steels or other implements.
- Front flipper/bearing deployment solves a lot of SAK usability issues, lots of functions in a light package with a small footprint, clever lock bar design, carries very well in the pocket
- Fragile knife tip, not actually designed for right hand carry, wrenches in multitool are of limited utility