Gerber set out to prove that an inexpensive knife can still handle the rough stuff. Did they succeed? We’re going to find out in my hands-on review of the Gerber Zilch.
Like a lot of the knives I review, I first spotted the Gerber Zilch in a YouTube review with a catchy thumbnail that said it “wrecks budget norms”. That’s a lot of hype to live up to. So, I spent $22 and ordered one from Amazon. Note, that this is now almost a $30 knife and is absolutely not worth the money anymore. At $22, it was an interesting offering from Gerber. Now at the time, the YouTuber shot the video the Gerber Zilch was only $18 and I can understand some of his enthusiasm.
I bought the knife in June of this year (2022) and never got around to writing a review until now, so my opinions have changed. First, don’t waste your money on a $20 knife…ever. Save a few more bucks and get to the $30-$50 range (Read How Much Should I Spend On A Pocketknife Here). However, if you were to spend your last $22 on a knife, should it be the Zilch? Maybe, it’s not a total loser considering the entire cheap knife landscape.
First Impressions Of The Gerber Zilch
I own a whole slew of inexpensive Gerber pocket knives and they run the range from junk to surprisingly awesome. To me, Gerber is very inconsistent with their knives. The American-made stuff is head and shoulders above their cheap China specials. Their Fastball is a great knife ( but again, not at the $125 current price).
Why bother reviewing the Zilch? I am not sure, but some of it has to do with people wasting their money and some of it has to do with the fact that I bought the knife for the sole reason of writing a review. Go to keep traffic coming to the website, right?
I will be as fair and open in my thoughts about the Zilch as possible, but I just can’t get over the price increase in 6 months, it’s crazy. You really need to shop around because the price you pay for this sets the whole stage of expectations. The official retail as of this writing is $25 on Gerber Gear while Blade HQ has it a tad cheaper.
Why am I harping on the price so much? Because what you pay for this knife dictates how critical you can be.
Out of the package, the Zilch isn’t a bad-looking knife. It’s got a good footprint and is lightweight. The blade and pocket clip are stonewashed and the polymer handle has a cool criss-cross etching to it. I bought the black handle model but it also comes in red and a black blade/tan handle combination.
The blade is on the thin side and this is not a heavy-duty user, it’s more of a light-duty, office warrior kind of application. Beware of the Amazon listing, this knife does not have a reversible pocket clip.
Gerber did add a few nice finishing touches on the Zilch. The handle scale screws are flush, the pocket clip is semi-deep carry, the stone washing is well done, and it has dual thumb studs and a generous lanyard hole to round out the knife.
Performance & Real World Use of the Gerber Zilch
Sitting on the desk the Zilch might be considered a cute little knife, but as we know that is not a helpful characterization of performance or how the knife behaves in the real world. As I said, I am giving the Zilch a fair chance here and putting it through all the same cutting tasks I do with any other knife.
I always start with the time-tested plain paper out of the box and go all the way up to cord and rope. All in all the Zilch struggled at cutting everything out of the box. With enough force and patience, it cut everything, it just wasn’t a pleasant experience.
For the second round of cutting tests, I sharpened it with a simple Smith’s Diamond Combo Sharpener. A few minutes and some fine attention to the blade and it made a noticeable difference. I was able to get a very sharp edge on the knife. However, the 7Cr17MoV blade dulls very quickly. If you need to open a few boxes and peel an apple, you found your man. This is a mild EDC knife. I also see this as being a reasonable option for a lightweight backpacking knife where you need something to open your Mountain House meals or cut a few pieces of moleskin.
In the hand and under normal use the Zilch feels fairly comfortable. The blade does flick out easily with the thumb studs and the liner lock feels secure. I was surprised to see how well it engaged and held the blade in place. There was absolutely no blade play and it feels secure during use.
Who Should Buy The Gerber Zilch?
So where does the Gerber Zilch fit in on the spectrum of EDC knives? It’s an O.K. starter knife if all you have is only $20 (and can find it for $20). It would make a great stocking stuffer or a good first knife for someone who doesn’t own a pocket knife. It’s a great little knife to give to an outdoorsy person who is a little anti-knife and you wanted to win them over. I can even see this as an extra knife to keep on your desk at work or a backup to a backup in your car or truck.
Final Thoughts On The Gerber Zilch
I may be a little harsh at some points in my review of the Gerber Zilch, but I think most of my criticism is warranted. The low end of budget pocket knives is insanely competitive and there is stiff competition from many companies to get your $20.
When you compare the Zilch to current offerings it is easy to be overwhelmed in choices. The best $20 knife out there right now is the Eafengrow EF223 which made our Best Budget EDC Knives. In fairness, the Gerber Zilch also made the list.
Should You Buy A Gerber Zilch?
The Gerber Zilch still has some positives for as much as I have railed on it. It’s good-looking, feels good in your hand, the clip slides in your pocket well and it’s still cheap. Should you buy it? The answer is yes, but only if you can score it for $20 or less, otherwise I think you should pass.
Blair Witkowski is an avid watch nut, loves pocket knives and flashlights, and when he is not trying to be a good dad to his nine kids, you will find him running or posting pics on Instagram. Besides writing articles for Tech Writer EDC he is also the founder of Lowcountry Style & Living. In addition to writing, he is focused on improving his client’s websites for his other passion, Search Engine Optimization. His wife Jennifer and he live in coastal South Carolina.