I have a problem. Actually I have a lot of problems – but my infatuation with Chris Reeve Knives is one of the most prevalent. The Small Sebenza 31 was my gateway drug, and since that initial purchase, I’ve bought and sold multiple Sebenza’s, Inkosi’s, a Nyala, Mnandi and a Pacific. But one gaping hole in my CRK experience has been the Umnumzaan.
For years I have scratched my head at this knife – this ugly hunk of steel that knife knerds like myself seem to love. The classic profile and attractiveness that drew me to the Sebenza seems incredibly lost on the Zaan. But, I told myself, it’s a CRK. I must be missing something. I must come up with a way to justify another $400+ CRK!
So I did it.
And after lots of daily carry and EDC use…I still think it’s an ugly hunk of steel. To be clear – there are some very neat design aspects and I am a big fan of certain cuts and details. But as a whole, it doesn’t work for me visually. It feels like a knife that was designed by a committee – each individual element makes some sense, but it’s not cohesive – at least not visually. But hey, that’s only form, right? CRK’s are designed to use. So on to important things.
At a high level, I love the “robustness” of the Umnumzaan. It is an overbuilt, solid tank of a knife and there is a lot of confidence to be had in holding and using it. The thick slabs of titanium add a lot of heft, and paired with the ceramic detent ball lock the knife locks up like medieval dungeon. Really satisfying.
As with most of the slab-titanium CRK’s, the pocket clip is an absolute winner. Not much more to say here – it’s awesome as usual. Probably my favorite pocket knife clip. It doesn’t look like much, but it works perfectly.
The most important factor of any knife, though, is the blade. On looks alone, the blade is what you may expect from Reeve – a beautiful hollow grind, subtle blasted finish and excellent drop point-ish profile.
Unfortunately, that’s where my inner fan boy is silenced by practicality. The blade is overbuilt – and not in a good way. Perhaps I’m suffering from some comparative bias here, having carried a Large 21 Insingo Micarta for the last year, which was a beautifully thin slicer. The Zaan blade spine is thick and chunky – definitely adding to the “tank” feeling of the knife as a whole, but severely detracting from the utility of it as an EDC knife. At least for me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the knife world, it’s that there is a great deal of subjectivity – everyone has different preferences, everyone does different things with their knives. For me, though, it was a frustrating knife to use for simple tasks – like slicing an apple. The thick spine creates a wedge, and essentially results in tearing out the bottom of your cutting object once the top of the spine reaches the top of the cutting object. That may not make sense in words, but trust me. It’s not a great slicer.
I would be remiss of me not to mention my other major gripe with this knife – and one you’ve probably been waiting to hear about. It is perhaps the most controversial aspect of this knife, and the one defended strongly by Zaan enthusiasts. The thumb stud/opening action/thumb destroyer. Look, I get it. Every knife takes a little warming up, and with some practice you can reliably and quickly deploy this knife. It has a super-solid lockup, buffered by O-rings which provide a very satisfying lockup feel and sound. The thumbstud is actually quite large, spacious and isn’t an inverse cone. Good, good, good.
But…why? Even after weeks of use, once I could reliably open the knife, I could not answer the question. The angle and force needed to deploy the knife continually hurt my thumb and I every time I pulled the knife out, I had to consciously think about opening it differently than every other knife. It never became intuitive, and it never became enjoyable. It quite honestly became the #1 reason I would pass on this knife when selecting a carry option for the day.
It’s probably not difficult to determine that this is a cut for me. It’s a cool knife, there are some good things going for it – but cohesively it’s a pass for me. I just don’t get it. Maybe I’ll re-buy in the future and all of those opinions will change. But for now, this is one of the few CRK’s that I am not smitten with, and my wallet is happier because of it.