Rick Hinderer has been enjoying a few years of seemingly uninterrupted success. His XM-18 became one of the sought-after knives in the world—prices on the secondhand market were oftentimes more than double the original. Then came the series of collaboration knives with Zero Tolerance and Kershaw, a collaboration that continues to this day, but that probably reached its zenith in terms of sheer number of sales with the Kershaw Cryo.
The Cryo is a small EDC folder with Hinderer lines and a Kershaw price, and it’s no wonder that it has since sold thousands and thousands, and catalyzed the custom collaboration fad that is sweeping the knife world today. The last knife to capture the general knife knut populace’s mind in the same way was the Ken Onion-designed Leek.
The Cryo was a big deal.
Numbers and custom pedigree aside, it is a great little knife that showcases some of the best qualities of both the designer and the manufacturer.
Below, please use our interactive table to compare the Kershaw Cryo to a handful of great knives (and ones worthy of your consideration).
$ = $1 – $30 | $$ = $31 – $60 | $$$ = $61 and above
|Kershaw Skyline||Sandvik 14C28N||3.1” blade||$$||4.7/5|
|Kershaw Ken Onion Blur||14C28N Steel blade with Tungsten DLC black coating||3.4''||$$$||4.7/5|
|Kershaw Ken Onion Leek||14C28N Steel||3''||$$||4.6/5|
A Brief History on the Kershaw Cryo
The Cryo is kind of a mini version of the Hinderer XM-18. Although it is commonly thought of as a custom knife, the XM-18 is in fact a production knife, albeit a very high-end one. Geared towards emergency responders and soldiers, it became a collector’s darling, virtually impossible to obtain for original asking price for a few years—one reason why the idea of a mass-produced Hinderer knife was so appealing.
The Cryo has seen some changes since its much-ballyhooed release. The original Cryo had stainless steel handle scales, and initial fit and finish was spotty. It ruffled a lot of peoples’ feathers, to say the least. Here’s a review of a particularly egregious example from the early days.
But fit and finish issues aren’t unheard of during the early days of a knife. Tolerances and machining are still being worked out, after all, and it looks like things settled down for the Cryo after a shaky start.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling pocket knives currently for sale on Amazon:
Now, there are quite a few different models of the Cryo:
- Stainless steel Cryo, available in partially serrated or plain edge drop point blade
- Stainless steel Cryo with plain edge tanto blade, blackwashed
- Stainless steel Cryo available in partially serrated or plain edge drop point blade, black coating
- Stainless steel Cryo with plain edge drop point blade, blackwashed
- G-10 Cryo with plain edge drop point blade
The G-10 Cryo is the model under review today. It has the same proportions as the original; the only difference is the show side scale: instead of being pure stainless steel, it is now a G-10 scale over a stainless steel liner. This makes it lighter and grippier, and to my mind it is the best version of the Cryo.
I find it interesting that some of the knifemakers most associated with military tactical knives, designers like Ernie Emerson or Rick Hinderer, rarely mess up the handles in the way that so much derivative tactical knife designs do. Look at the XM-18, the inspiration for the Cryo’s lines, and then the Cryo itself: neither feature any of the troublesome finger grooves that so many knives are burdened with these days.
The Cryo has a simple curved handle, just big enough to fit four fingers on. The jimping on the spine and the bottom of the handle is effective, just grippy enough to help with indexing, not so sharp as to be painful to use in harder tasks. The G-10 is also just right: no matter how you hold the knife, your hand is coming into contact with its textured surface, meaning you can count on a sure grip in any position.
If you compare the Cryo to its cousin the Leek, the difference is night and day; the latter is a slippery, spindly little thing. The Cryo manages to fill the hand and remain secure without feeling like a brick.
This is a distinct advantage over the stainless steel Cryo. Metal, no matter how you treat it, just isn’t all that grippy. Kershaw knows this. The Blur, for example, has grip tape inserts to keep it secure in the hand. The standard Cryo doesn’t even go this far, and suffers for it. The larger Cryo II, although only available in stainless steel, is easier to hold on to because it’s weightier.
Hinderer knives share a common aesthetic, and I think that aesthetic comes out most strongly in the blade shapes. The Cryo has a drop point blade, embellished with a pretty big swedge, and hollow ground from about mid-blade down. I think that Hinderer’s design style works best on larger blades (the smallest XM-18 is 3”). On the Cryo, the look is a little busy and cramped. If you look at the larger model, the Cryo II, it looks much better. I prefer the blade shape and grind on the RJ Martin-designed Kershaw Zing—it has a lot of character while remaining simple and clean.
The Cryo’s blade works quite well, though. The hollow grind is dramatic, meaning that there is very little steel behind the edge. This equates to low-drag, high-efficiency cutting across the board: cardboard, foodstuffs, plastic, wood—the Cryo did well on everything, at least as good as the curvier Blur, and better than the Leek.
For as visually unappealing as it is, the swedge does strengthen the tip, meaning that, unlike with the Leek, tip breakage isn’t a concern.
The only hinderance (sorry) the Cryo has is the fairly mediocre steel. 8Cr13MoV, the standard-bearer for budget knife steel, is the only option you get with the Cryo. It’s fine—it’ll get nice and sharp, and cut for a while, and it resists rust okay. It just doesn’t do any of these things as good as or better than pretty much any other steel on the market. The 14C28N steel you find on the Leek and Blur beats it in every regard.
The original stainless steel Cryo was a clunker. 4.1 oz. for a knife this small just doesn’t cut it (so sorry) anymore. The Blur weighs less and has a much bigger blade (3.375” to 2.75”). The Zing and the Leek both have 3” blades and weigh less as well. It weighs only an ounce less than the significantly larger Cryo II. This is a dense, dense knife in its original incarnation. Kershaw must have been listening to the complaints, because it subsequently released a Cryo with a G-10 show side scale. The G-10 model gets the weight down to 3.77 oz.—still not ideal, but much more reasonable.
And this reduction in weight also makes it easier to appreciate the other ways in which the Cryo is an excellent carry. The clip is superb: small, slim, durable, discrete, deep-carry. It makes the long, wide clip on the Leek and Blur, and the curlicue clip on the Zing, seem like amateur hour. And for as much as I don’t like stainless steel in other ways, I appreciate it on the clip side of the knife. It makes retrieval effortless, and won’t tear up your jeans like G-10.
As a side note, I think that this clip works less well on the Cryo II. That knife is so much larger, and this clip is so little, that it doesn’t feel stable in the pocket. The knife is already heavy enough, and this momentum problem just makes it worse. Stick with the smaller Cryo.
The framelock is indisputably the most popular locking mechanism in the knife world today. In fact, here’s a long thread from BladeForums dedicated solely to the admiration of framelocks. I don’t know whether this reputation is actually deserved or not, to be fair. I find framelocks to be more trouble than they’re worth—whatever slight advantages they have over a lockback or a liner lock in terms of strength is negated by how much more maintenance they require.
A framelock works less and less well the looser the pivot pin gets. This is true with all locks to a degree, but with framelocks, it’s constant. Every framelock will develop bladeplay.
But for as much as I dislike them, the stainless steel framelock on the Cryo is quite good. Pivot pin maintenance aside, I didn’t have an undue amount of play or wiggle, something you can’t always escape on inexpensive assisted-opening or automatic pocket knives.
The Cryo’s framelock remained quite solid. Compared to the larger model, I found it to be just as stable. I still like the liner lock you can get on the aluminum Leek or the Blur much better, but I understand I’m in the minority here. If you like framelocks, you won’t be disappointed with the one on the Cryo.
The Cryo is a great little knife. It’s easy to see why it sold millions: the Hinderer heritage at the price point the Cryo sells for is too good a deal for people to pass up. But, stripped of all the history and mythos, it is just a really good little knife. Stout, reliable, and a surprisingly good slicer, it will perform any EDC task with ease. It may have kicked off the custom collaboration craze, but the Cryo rarely has been surpassed.
- Rating: 4/5 stars
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