In the 1990s Spyderco was requested by a branch of a U.S. law enforcement agency to make a knife for their undercover agents. They needed to have a last ditch weapon just in case they found themselves in a situation that prevented them from carrying a handgun. The knife should allow an officer with no formal knife training to escape life-threatening situation.
The Civilian is the result of that design challenge. The current production model now has a G-10 handle but the business end of the weapon is unchanged; a fearsome 4.125" (105 mm) fully serrated, hollow ground S-curved VG-10 blade with a 3.75" (95 mm) cutting edge. Blade thickness is .125" (3 mm) at the base near the handle and the overall length when opened is 9.188" (233 mm).
You’re not reading this review for just the specs right? Let's go on to what this knife is meant for.
The Civilian is the only production folder that I know of that is intended for cutting human flesh and nothing else. In fact, using this for gardening, cutting rope, opening boxes or any other utilitarian task will void the warranty. The card that came with the knife – along with the cool fleece-lined storage case – is quite clear about what the knife is designed for. This is a self-defense knife only and for that purpose I think it’s very well designed however the design also limits its use as a tool. I’ll explain more about the reason for this limitation later.
The S-curved blade looks even more terrifying in person. I’m not a believer in using a knife to simply intimidate an attacker in a self-defense situation but this knife has spectacular pain and brutal dismemberment written all over it, in bright neon colors. An attacker would have to be completely drunk, stoned out of his mind or just crazy not to notice the wickedness of the blade and consider what it will do to him.
The knife blade is indeed 3mm thick at the base, near the handle. But it tapers to a very thin profile at the tip. My guess is it’s shaped that way to allow for easier insertion into the target. The knife is obviously for slashing only, a gross motor movement that will be much easier to do under extreme stress than fine motor movements. If the user contacts the target with the tip, the continued motion of the strike will drive the blade deeper into the flesh and the follow-through will push more material onto the serrations.
The result would be a very deep gaping wound, with tendons and tissue sliced to the bone. Cutting to a forearm, bicep or leg with this blade will render that limb useless. The attacker can’t hold onto his weapon if he no longer has tendons and muscles controlling his fingers. Even if the blade hit the target toward the belly of the edge, the damage from the follow-through will still be massive as the material goes through the length of the blade and the tip ripping out the last bits of resistance.
Its design as a slashing weapon makes it naturally comparable to a karambit. Although both are indeed meant for slashing and not stabbing, the karambit has the finger hole in the handle that reinforces the grip and prevents the user from dropping the weapon or being disarmed by his opponent but the Civilian gets plus points for having a blade that I believe is better designed for its intended use. The tip though of the Civilian’s blade is very thin and could break off in actual use. I imagine that this is the primary reason for the product’s usage limitations. Another clue to the knife’s design as a slashing weapon is the absence of any jimping (notches carved into the blade to increase friction between the metal and the thumb) on the blade, behind the hole.
From what I gathered from my research on this weapon, the design was meant to not be lethal, in the way a British commando dagger is. The latter is designed purely as stabbing weapon – for taking out enemy sentries - and it certainly does the job well. In contrast the Civilian is designed to make devastating wounds that will stop an attacker but not necessarily result in his death.
Having said that, I can imagine how this weapon can be used that will make it truly lethal. Slashing at some targets on the human body will result in overwhelming shock, massive blood loss and eventually death. Such lethal methods – to access these targets - would require training, which is exactly what the Civilian user is not required to have.
It’s a mistake though to think that anyone can pick up a Civilian and deploy it effective in self-defense. As a folding knife, it still requires practice to access and open under stress. This makes me wonder why Spyderco never made a training version of this knife; granted that Civilians probably don’t sell as much as their other products, Spyderco should still consider offering a specialized training version of this weapon just for practicing deployment. I’m considering adding a zip tie on this to make it “waveable” and thus more accessible.
There’s nothing that says that one can’t practice for using a Civilian. Anyone with enough knife training will know exactly how to maximize the knife’s potential as a weapon. Such training though will have to be specially adapted to its unique profile. That means replacing thrusting responses in training with slashing; not an easy transition to do once you’ve put in many hours of training with a conventional knife.
So would I recommend this for an untrained person, as a self-defense option? Yes, but only if he or she trains to get to the weapon under stress, which is easier said than done. This knife is certainly going to be very devastating once it’s opened fully by the user and heading toward a target. Until that happens, the defender needs to have some skill to create the time and space needed to properly and effectively access the weapon.