Not your Daddy’s Lock Back: Spyderco Civilian

The Spyderco Civilian is one of those iconic tactical knives with a dark pedigree. In the 1990s, the bulk of Spyderco’s catalog included knives named for their intended use or user’s occupation: Police, Military, Worker Co Pilot, Mariner, etc. One of their models was named the Civilian.

Some of our pseudo-tactical friends dismissed it as a working man’s knife on the name alone, and longed for the “Gunge-Fuck Model”. But the Civilian’s purpose was as a quick last-ditch backup weapon for law enforcement officers who had no particular training in hand-to-hand combat or knife fighting. All that the officer needed to know was how to slash and stab and possibly break off that slender tip in a bad guy if that’s what it took to stop him.

Of course, if you judge knives by their names only, you’re probably better suited to carrying nail clippers and an emery board for your working needs.

The Civilian had one of the longest blades ever found on a Spyderco folding knife at 4 1/8″. The cutting edge seemed longer as this claw-like blade was ground in what Spyderco refers to as their “Reverse S Curve”, with a tip that looked like a vicious fish hook ready to rend flesh. The original version featured a fully serrated blade with a thin tip and deep belly. It wears a Spyderco pocket clip in the tip-down position, relies on Spyderco’s round hole for deployment, and is a lock back. The latest models feature VG-10 steel.

A plain-edge version was made, but did not prove very popular since the serrated version looks more menacing. The original handles were made from Tuff Ram aluminum with rubber inserts for retention. In later years the handle material was changed to Black G-10 fiberglass and a small run was released in Carbon Fiber. Spyderco later made a downsized version with plastic handles called the Matriarch for customers from South Africa, who requested a slightly smaller and more economical version of the Civilian.

One complaint about this model is that it’s too specialized and not practical for the chores typically demanded of a pocket knife. Some armchair critics call them fragile, but in over twenty years of owning these knives, I find them more durable than they’re given credit for.

The Civilian model has changed slightly over the years with the newer handles. It could really be improved by using a different mechanism than a lock back, which is secure enough, but makes the knife slow to open. The scaled-down version known as the Matriarch is currently being offered with Emerson Knives’ wave-shaped opening device and a tip-up mounted clip to facilitate faster opening. It might be nice to see these features on the Civilian in the future.

There may be other knives more suited to the tasks and demands of every day carry, but the Civilian is there when you need a knife to stop a threat and don’t have easy access to a firearm.

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