This Gentleman’s Multitool is a Surprisingly Good Alternative to Swiss Army Knives
The Civivi Crit looked neat from a distance, and I was under the impression that I was just getting a neat knife when I picked it up. But every little thing I’ve encountered in using this knife has been a new, pleasant surprise:
The blade is sharper than I expected, the action is butter smooth, the front flipper tabs are easy to engage, and the tool bar has a vast range of uses that is mostly limited by imagination.
I’d like to know who Civivi’s in-house designers are, because they’ve been consistently smacking the knife industry upside the head the last couple of years with a refreshing run of knives that always seem to have a perfect mix of good looks and ergonomics with a high priority on function.
The only issues I’ve had with this knife come from the trickiness that comes naturally with making a multitool, and even there, Civivi has managed to keep a potentially complicated design simple enough that disassembly is approachable for most people with a decent set of torx screwdrivers.
|Blade Hardness:||59 – 61 HRC|
|Blade Shape:||Drop point|
|Tool Bar Length:||3.11”|
|Tool Bar Steel:||9Cr18MoV|
|Tool Bar Hardness:||58 – 60 HRC|
|Tool Bar Components:||4 Hex Drivers, flathead screwdriver, 2 rulers (CM and IN), strap cutter, Bottle Opener|
|Handle Material:||Linen Micarta|
|Super sharp blade|
|Tool bar puts a lot of actually functional tools in a small space|
|Comfy scales and great action|
|Deep carry wire pocket clip|
|Can’t switch the pocket clip without messing with the pivot screws|
|Flipper tab for the blade is an unusual side of the handle|
|Slight side-to-side blade play|
The Blade is a Clean Slicer
I don’t think anyone could reasonably ask for a sharper knife than this. The Crit’s blade cuts paper like warm butter. It’s also a flat grind with a spine that’s just about 2 mm at its thickest part, so there’s almost no feeling of friction with this blade at all.
The edge retention seems to be pretty good so far. Admittedly I haven’t put it to incredibly heavy use because the blade is so thin. But after some rope cutting, and breaking down a reasonably thick box I did notice a slight drop in performance on a paper test.
Nothing too drastic. It basically had a couple millimeters of edge that didn’t immediately start a cut, so the retention is definitely within the range of what I’ve come to expect from Nitro-V steel. This thing could probably use a strop if you put it through a day of really heavy use.
There’s also just a little bit of blade play going to side to side out of the box. It’s very slight, and tightening the pivot screw pretty much stopped that. But I think it’s fair to expect a little bit of blade play on a multitool like this.
The only thing I don’t really like about the blade is how thin it looks, which is a very personal thing. The performance that thinness creates is great; it just makes this thing feel like it’s the skim milk of knives.
I was prepared to say that Civivi should have made the blade a little taller and put a nail nick on it so people who don’t take to front flippers had another option. That would make the blade profile match my own preferences a little more, and give the blade a little more heft, but the flipper tabs on the Crit turned out to be easy for even someone like me to use.
So at the end of it all, I think I have to give Civivi props for putting a blade this nice inside a multitool while also maintaining a slim profile.
The Comfy Handle that’s Packing All this Function
The handle feels like just about the right size for me. The length goes the whole span of my hand without much sticking out below, but there’s still plenty of room to shift my grip a little as I need to. But even as roomy and comfortable as the handle feels, it somehow still has a slim profile that slips into the pocket and rides like there’s nothing there.
The scales feel great too. The Micarta is almost too dry, but it has a fantastic grippy feeling. For a knife that has almost no grooves or indentations in the handle, this knife is easy to hang onto. The Crit handle has a similar look to the Civivi Relic, but the Crit has a bit more resin mixed with the Micarta.
I’m a little mystified by the two indentations the scales do have, though, because they don’t help with grip much. They do measure out to a pretty even 6 cm (or a little over 2.25 inches), so maybe they’re meant to be used as quick measuring guides. They also add a little more dimension to the overall look of the knife, so I’m not complaining. I’m just curious.
The only legitimately awkward element is the pocket clip, and even that has turned out to be less of an intrusion than I thought it would be. I’ll get a little more into some of the complications I did find with the pocket clip later, but for the purposes of just holding the knife, it felt pretty comfortable in both positions. I did feel like I had a little less control when the clip was under the blade, but it wasn’t so awkward that I didn’t feel like I could use the knife.
The Bendy Liners
The width makes gorilla grips pretty comfortable too, although there have been a couple times that I tightened down too hard during use and noticed the sides of the handle bowing inward.
Civivi has kept the liners pretty thin on the Crit. I’m guessing that’s both for the sake of weight and keeping the size within a certain width. I’m tempted to say they should have made the liners a little thicker and given us something that we could really bear down on.
I never really need a tight grip on the handle with the blade, but the tool bar side has all kinds of things that require a lot of pulling and pushing. I’m absolutely going to squeeze hard down on this handle if I use one of these hex drivers to break a nut loose.
I’m not sure if this counts as a mark against the knife yet. I haven’t noticed anything getting pushed out of place, and I tried pretty hard to get the liner locks to shift by squeezing on the handle. Everything is still where it should be. But it does make me worry about pieces in this tool warping over time.
For now, I’m not going to say this is a fault on the knife, but I will keep a close eye on the inner workings, and I’ll update this review if anything ever fails critically.
The Tool Bar and all the Beers I’m Going to Open with this Thing
It turns out that having a 3-inch bar of steel with a bunch of weird shapes on it can come in handy all the time, and Civivi was pretty clever about the way they arranged all the tools on this.
The strap cutter is at the top so you can get maximum leverage on pulling it through tough materials, the flathead driver is stout enough to be used for a little scraping and prying, they managed to fit four different sizes of hex drivers on it, and of course the bottle opener sits reliably at the bottom of a well-spaced curve that makes it as easy to get drunk as any corkscrew I’ve ever used.
The strap cutter has turned out to be great for opening packages, and hooking things in general. I’ve even started using it to pull the grates out of the oven to check on whatever I’m baking.
I’ve also probably tightened down about fifty different things since carrying the Crit. Most of them didn’t really even need to be tightened, but now that I can get a flathead into my hand in less than a second, every screw I come across is doomed to be poked and spun around a little bit.
It Can Do Stuff on Cars too, Though
Our very first thought with the Crit was to open beers with it. That is the fate of any design with the beer-opening function. Just ask my Kershaw Shuffle.
But after smacking the tool bar against random objects to see what other functions we could find, we realized that the hex drivers could be handy for working on a car. So we walked over to the old Infiniti QX4 to see what it would fit on and found maybe half a dozen or so different places we would be able to actually work out a bolt with the Crit if we really needed to.
In smaller cars, there are probably a several more places the Crit could fit into. I hope to never have to find out, but the possibility is there.
The one issue with the hex drivers is that they’re difficult to use in a tight space because they’re in the middle of the bar.
I’m nitpicking here, but there’s always going to be 1 to 1.5 inches sticking out in front any time you try to tighten or loosen a hex bolt (or about 2 to 4 cm, depending on what side you’re looking at). Anyone who’s ever had to stick their arm half way around an engine to get at the harness for a hose will tell you that any extra metal moving around and hitting against different things is a nightmare recipe.
Obviously it’s better to have the Crit than nothing, and if you’re down to just using the hex drivers on this to work on your car, you’ve already gone through a sequence of misfortunes and bad decisions that realizing you have this thing in your pocket is likely to be the best thing to happen all day.
All I’m saying is that, as great as it is that Civivi put so many tools in one small space, the tools are limited by the space they’re packed onto.
Simple Ergonomics but the Blade’s on the Wrong Side
Every time I pull the Crit out of the pocket I try to open it on the wrong side. I thought that was because of my lack of experience with front flippers, but then I checked the Crit next to the Boker Plus HEA Hunter and realized that the fipper tab on the Crit is, in fact, not on the normal side of the handle.
That stays true no matter what side the pocket clip is on, because it turns out Civivi decided to put the multitool bar in the orientation that most of us would expect the blade to be in.
I’m not sure if it would be fair to call this a fault. It’s a quirk that takes some adaptation. And if it really starts to bother you, you can probably switch the places of the blade and the multitool bar.
The Pocket Clip Puzzle
Switching the pocket clip unfortunately brings us smack into another tricky thing about this knife: You can’t switch the clip around without messing with the pivot screws. So long as you’re careful, this isn’t a huge issue, but it can make the process a little more involved than other knives.
The first time I did it, I didn’t realize how finicky it was and ended up taking the blade way off center and mucking up the action until I realized I needed to press down tight on the opposite side of the handle from the screw I’m trying to tighten or loosen.
God knows that most people who get this knife are likely to be more competent than me, but just for the few fellow idiots, here’s a quick rundown of what switching the clip entails:
- Press your finger tight down on the Civivi symbol opposite of the screw you’re loosening.
- Use a T8 torx driver to bring the screw up just enough so you can slide the pocket clip out from under it.
- Still with your finger pressed on the opposite side, tighten the screw down until the blade looks centered (be sure to flip it out a couple times to make sure the action is where you want it)
- Then repeat the process in reverse on the other side.
Update: I’ve discovered a new downside to having the clip on the same pivot screw as the tool bar. It will loosen up a lot if you like to fidget. I think because the tool bar is so heavy, flipping it out repetitively causes a little more strain than the screw can handle. Nothing has broken, but it does increase the chances of the knife falling out of your pocket.
The Construction is Almost too Simple
The lock bar is cleverly done. They’ve managed to use one piece of metal for both the blade and the tool bar. In fact, if you look down inside the knife you’ll see that the whole center of the knife is one metal piece that’s been cut and bent as needed.
This is really nice for maintenance and weight, but it does make me wonder about the longevity of the knife. It’s similar to my issue with the thin handle liners bending inward. It doesn’t seem like a big enough issue for me to mark it as a downside, but it’s worth noting that this whole construction has one fairly large point of possible failure.
It’s probably not a problem so long as the tool is used as it’s intended, but it’s always good to keep an eye on areas where critical problems might come up.
Comparison and Alternatives
If I were a better knife reviewer this is the part where I would whip out my Swiss Army Knife and say something like “sure the Crit is good, but it’s not 30-year-old-SAK good”. But I lost my good SAK a long time ago and never replaced it. I am, however, still familiar enough with Victorinox stuff to say that you can get a wider range of uses out of most SAK models, but you’re not going to get the same kind of smooth one-handed opening and pocket carriability as the Crit.
Any SAK you look at in the same price range (the Hunter, Outrider, Adventurer, etc.) all have more tools on them, but, for myself, they don’t have more tools that I’m likely going to use besides the scissors, and the general lack of pocket clips on most SAKs pretty much guarantees that I’m more likely to have the Crit on me than any other multitool in my collection. That includes the Leatherman Wave I keep in my car, and even the Kershaw Shuffle that, up until now, has been my primary drinking companion.
If we were just talking about the blade part of this tool, I’d probably recommend the Civivi NOx as a sleeker option with something of the same experience in the blade. And I’d even go so far as to say that the OD Green version of the CRKT Bona Fide is worth looking at because the handle has a similar profile, and even though the steel is much softer, the blade is actually a little sharper.
Civivi could have left the tool bar off this thing and gotten away with selling it for the same price. I probably would have talked about how nice and clean the knife looks, and compared it to other gentleman folders like the CRKT CEO, and then maybe called it boring a few times. But the tool bar adds a whole new dimension that has me looking at is as a low-key dress knife and a potential hard-use supplement to my clunky multi-tool.
The fact that it has the tool bar along with a good blade, and they’ve packed both of those into a nice handle that rides comfortably in the pocket is an outstanding achievement.
Obviously there are some potential concerns with longevity. Everything seems solid enough, but only time can tell how these thin handle liners will stand up to the rigors of my caveman style of fixing things. From where I’m standing right now, though, there aren’t many multitools that ride as comfortably, cut as cleanly, or open as easily as the Crit.
We liked the Crit enough to include in our 2021 Knife Gift Guide, because we think just about every knife nerd we know would be happy to have this knife be part of their EDC rotation.