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.

This post may contain affiliate links. By clicking and purchasing, I may receive a commission. Thank you for supporting Bench Reviews!

3 thoughts on “Cut or Carry: Chris Reeve Knives Umnumzaan Review

  1. Thanks, this was helpful. I adore my Sebenzas and Inkosis and I guess I remain in no big hurry to add an Umnumzaan to the roster.

  2. As you rightfully said… everyone has different preferences.
    I was intrigued by your review when it started off by saying the small Sebenza 31 was your gateway as that too is where I started my CRK affair… and to be honest, I remember even before then picking up a Zaan at my local knife shop and trying (and failing) to open the drop point version.
    I couldn’t understand what would possess a person to spend that kind of money on something that made one’s thumb feel like it was going to be torn apart everytime you tried to open it. The answer I received at the time was “its still new”.
    I went on to buy my small 31 and a number of other knives some of which were a small black micarta insingo Inkosi (awesome knife and cannot wait to get my hands on the large) and a large Sebenza 31 with black micarta inlays.
    CRKs had captured me and no matter what other knives I bought, they somehow didn’t quite measure up to the CRKs, in the months that followed… I kept seeing reviews of the Zaans… videos and posts of the fan boys with their knives and I just couldn’t understand it.
    But after talking to a few guys that had them, when a Tanto version was available, I decided to take the plunge and give it a bash.
    At first it was stiff and awkward and yes my thumb did hurt a bit… but there was something about that knife that just spoke to me.
    I disassembled it and gave it a good clean and grease and put it back together again which already made a huge difference to the action.
    And after about a week of daily carry the action was buttery smooth.
    Perhaps not an apple eaters friend, but I generally tear into those bad boys with the teeth that I was blessed with… hee hee.
    Sure the Zaan is a hefty tool that is best not carried in gym shorts – but every knife has its place.
    Comparatively speaking, it’s more or less the same size as a large Sebenza, which I never notice in my jeans, has a narrower carry profile than a PM2 and a far smaller pocket displacement than an XM-18.

    If you like the Zaan and the thumb studs and opening of it are the only things of concern… trust me, your concerns will be short lived.

    1. Excellent comment, and we share similar CRK stories. Since getting my first small 31, nothing matches up. I can see what you’re saying about the Zaan – there is definitely something about it that’s really appealing, I miss it sometimes. I never could get used to the thumbstud, but who knows…maybe I buy another one some day…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *