Shovels are often ignored when people are thinking about survival tools. I think that’s because people imagine full-sized shovels, not e-tool style folding shovels.
Folding shovels make a lot of sense in survival kits once you fully appreciate what they’re capable of. It’s relatively easy to use a folding shovel as a hatchet in a pinch. It’s almost impossible to use a hatchet as a shovel.
Traditional shovels are designed based on the task that they’re designed for. The handles are usually elbow-length when the head of the shovel is on the ground.
The blade (head) shape and size are designed based on the type of material they’re supposed to move. The less-dense the material, the larger the size of the head can be.
- Use triangular or round blades with long handles are for sand and dry earth.
- Use square blades with short handles with coarse materials such as gravel, coal, or ore.
- Use a smaller head to minimize the weight of material when lifting.
Folding shovels are a little different.
The SOG Folding Shovel – Elite E Tool is our top pick for a folding shovel to add to your survival kit.
What Makes a Good Folding Shovel
Folding shovels bring a lot to the table. They’re light and fold into a compact package, but that’s not where their usefulness ends. Most of them double as picks and axes and some of them even have additional tools in the handles like saws and some go so far as to add in knives, ice picks, screwdrivers, and firestarters!
I like all of the additional tools that some companies add-in but it has to be a good shovel first. Some folding shovels have so much added onto them that they’re more of a novelty item than an actual tool anymore.
What to look for in a quality folding shovel:
- Good head with a sturdy lock up
- Lightweight design 3 lbs. or less
Folding shovels often need more attention to keep them from rusting. If you’re digging a lot or using them roughly, the finish is going to wear off and you’ll need to occasionally clean the rust off the bare metal.
Folding shovels have a ton of uses and they’re pretty easy to figure out. Anywhere that you’d like to have a shovel, but don’t have room to stick a full-sized shovel is where they’re going to shine.
ATV / Side-by-Side
If you’ve ever spent a lot of time driving an ATV or side-by-side around in rough areas you know that you’re eventually going to get stuck. Even if you have a winch there are times that you need to dig yourself out.
Car / Truck
Having a folding shovel in the trunk or the bed of your truck is also a great idea. You may not need it all that often, but when you do, it can be a lifesaver.
Folding shovels make shelter building much easier in some environments.
Some of the most effective desert shelters require you to dig a 20 to 30-inch deep trench large enough to get your entire body in. This is a lot easier if you have a shovel, even if it’s in the sand.
Snow shelters are also a lot easier to build when you have a shovel. You can move more material and keep your hands a lot warmer with a shovel.
If you’re burying a cache in a place that you can’t drive to then a folding shovel makes sense because you’re probably already carrying a lot and a full-sized shovel may be too big to carry on top of everything else.
Carrying a shovel around may also draw unwanted attention.
Bug Out Bag
Do you need a folding shovel in your bug out bag? Most of the time I would say no.
When you’re bugging out you don’t really want to stop for long periods of time. You should be moving from your home to your bug out location, not stopping to dig a fire pit or build a shelter.
If you really want a shovel in your bug out bag but can’t justify carrying the weight of one, I’d suggest looking at something like the UST ParaShovel PRO. It’s a multi-function spade that could easily find a role in just about any bug out bag without much weight.
One of the only times that I’d recommend packing a folding shovel in your bug out bag is if you’re in a desert or snowy environment and may need to build a shelter to survive through the day. Even if this is the case, there are probably better shelter options than intentionally planning to dig a hole to sleep in.
The other time that a folding shovel makes sense to me is if you plan on recovering hidden caches that you’ve buried along your bug out route.
Other Uses for Folding Shovels
Shovels have many uses beyond the ones that I’ve listed above. Some of the other uses for a folding shovel are:
- Fire-pit making
- Making a latrine
- Digging a trench
The big downside of folding shovels is the smaller size of the head and the short length of their handles.
A folding shovel just isn’t as good as a full-size shovel when it comes to moving serious amounts of earth. The difference between a folding shovel and a full-sized shovel is a lot like the difference between a hatchet and a full-sized axe.
There are a lot of folding shovels out there that seem like they’re a great deal. Some of them are under $10, some are a lot more expensive but seem like they come with every kind of tool you would ever need.
Unfortunately, most of the time they’re just too good to be true. They’re made with cheap metal and bend and break easily.
The three shovels that we’re recommending are made by quality name-brand manufacturers out of quality materials.
SOG Folding Shovel – Elite E-tool
- COLLAPSIBLE ENTRENCHING TOOL: The 26-inch Elite E-Tool locks in 4 positions to become a backhoe...
- SURVIVAL SHOVEL WITH WOOD SAW AND HOE: Multi purpose camping gear hand shovel includes a wood saw in...
- FOLDING SHOVELS FOR DIGGING: At 24.8 ounces, this foldable shovel e tool is a lightweight hiking...
- CAR EMERGENCY SHOVEL WITH SHEATH: This super portable shovel packs down to fit in its ballistic...
- SOG SHOVEL MULTITOOL FOR LIFE: Take care of your tactical folding shovel and we’ll take care of...
The SOG Folding Shovel – Elite E-tool has a synthetic handle and 1075 carbon steel head. The shovel locks in 4 positions and expands to 26 inches at it’s fullest. Collapsed it comes in at 10.2 inches.
The handle has a 7″ saw blade that will do in a pinch but isn’t the best.
- 1075 Carbon steel head
- Glass-filled nylon handle cuts weight
- Comes with a nylon sheath
- Super light at 1.55 lbs
- Saw blade is only 7″
Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade
- Lightweight and tough
- Anodized shaft
- No sheath included
- Sheath part number is Gerber 22-00026
The Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade is the next evolution of the traditional G.I. e-tool. It has a glass-filled nylon handle, aluminum shaft, and anodized aluminum head.
The lock-up is great and digging with it is easy due to the head shape. If you’re looking for a more traditional e-tool design, this is the folding shovel you want.
- The locking positions are roughly 170 degrees and 80 degrees making it easier to dig and use as a pick
- Locks securely in place
- Doesn’t come with a sheath
Glock Entrenching Tool
- Versatile tool features number of multifunctional properties
- Half the weight of a conventional E-tool
- Entrenching tool has no welding or rivets for enhanced endurance
- Folding blade is lockable in four positions
- Extendable telescopic handle made of high-impact resistant polymer materials for outstanding...
The Glock Entrenching Tool is similar to the SOG folding shovel. It has a glass-filled nylon handle that extends to a little less than 26″ with a metal head that locks in 4 positions and a saw blade in the handle that is right around 7″.
- Comes with a nylon sheath
- Slightly cheaper than the SOG version
- Saw blade is of limited use
- Seems slightly less sturdy than the SOG
Folding shovels can make a great addition to a survival kit. They make digging a possibility and can help you get your vehicle unstuck, bury a survival cache or even build a shelter in the snow or in the desert.
I would suggest that you really think about how you would use one before you add it to your bug out bag, however. If you don’t have a real reason to add one to a bug out bag then you may just be adding unnecessary weight.