Best Tactical Shovel – What to Look for and Our Top 5 Picks

Tactical Shovel

Tactical shovels are sometimes overlooked when people go looking for a lightweight shovel that’s capable of being used in both survival kits and in a tactical environment.

Let’s look at what makes tactical shovels useful, what they’re used for and which ones you should buy.

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Best Tactical Shovels

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.

Tactical shovels don’t necessarily follow these design standards.

Our top pick for a tactical shovel is the Condor Tool & Knife Wilderness Survival Shovel.

What to Look for in a Tactical Shovel

Tactical shovels should be lightweight, strong and capable of digging first and foremost. If a shovel isn’t capable of digging well, then you’re much better off with some other type of tool.

What to look for in a quality tactical shovel:

  • Good head made with quality materials
  • Solid locking head if the shovel folds
  • Sturdy handle that isn’t going to easily bend, break or snap.
  • Lightweight design 3 lbs. or less

Shovels often need more attention to keep them from rusting. When you’re digging a lot, the material that you’re digging in is going to wear off any kind of protective finish that may be on the head. Make sure that you’re not putting them away wet and occasionally check them for rust and clean them up as needed!

Where Would You Use a Tactical Shovel

Tactical shovels can be used in any way that a survival shovel can be used, but their ability to perform in a tactical environment is what sets them above other shovels.

Defensive Fighting Positions

The primary use of tactical shovels is making defensive fighting positions (DFPs). This is probably the most common use of a shovel by soldiers. There are different types of DFPs that you can build depending on how much time you have and how much protection you need.

Hasty scape/hasty fox hole – These are holes about 18″ deep and long enough and wide enough for you to lay in. You can do this relatively quickly and even under fire if you had to.

They give you cover from frag from incoming grenades, mortars, and artillery when there isn’t any other cover. You can also dig one before you go to sleep in order to protect you from any unexpected attacks that happen while you’re sleeping.

Tactical Shovel

Fox hole/DFP – A fox hole or DFP is made when you’re going to be defending a position. Dig them 1 rifle wide (about 3′), 2 rifles long (about 6′), and to the armpits of the tallest person using it.

As time passes you can improve your DFP by adding sandbags and overhead protection, and lengthening it to accommodate more people.

Trenches – Trenches can be dug between fighting positions so you can safely move between them without exposing yourself to enemy fire.

Latrines

The next most popular use of a tactical shovel is making latrines. When you’re staying in a place for an extended period of time, you need to do something with the waste that’s produced.

Digging cat holes all over the place just isn’t a good idea. A slit trench dug in the area, away from where people are sleeping and working, keeps waste contained to one area and helps limit the spread of disease.

Self-defense

The first thing you notice when you pick up a tactical shovel is the fact that you could really do some damage to a person if you ever hit them with it.

Using a shovel in self-defense isn’t really something that happens in modern conflicts. This is more a holdover from WWI and WWII when massive trenches were built and often overrun by the enemy. When that happened, the soldiers would grab anything nearby to defend themselves and a small sharp shovel just fits the bill.

Bug Out Bag

Should you use a tactical shovel in your bug out bag? The answer is probably not.

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 a latrine.

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 adding much weight.

In really harsh environments, a shovel can be used to make shelters so that may be a reason to add one to your bug out bag. If you’ve buried caches along your bug out route, then you’re going to need a shovel to retrieve them so it also makes sense then.

I can also see the potential benefit of being able to make a hasty scrape before going to sleep in some situations, but they’re few and far between.

Other Uses for a Tactical Shovel

Tactical shovels have the same uses that any other small shovel brings to the table.

Some of the additional uses for a tactical shovel are:

  • Shelter building
  • Hiding caches
  • Fire-pit making
  • Digging out cars/truck/other vehicles

The Downside of a Tactical Shovel

The main downside of a tactical shovel is the fact that it’s not a full-sized shovel and is never going to dig as well as a full-sized shovel. Once you get past that, you’re going to find that most of the time a tactical shovel is going to be great to have around.

Best Tactical Shovels

When you look around on various online retail stores, you’ll see all kinds of tactical shovels being pushed. They run from really cheap to really expensive and everywhere in between. They’re also made from the full range of materials with some being nearly indestructible and others falling apart after you dig a 2-foot hole.

The 5 tactical shovels that we’ve selected are all made of quality materials and fill their role really well. Even better, none of them are crazy expensive so you should be able to afford one if you’re interested.

Tactical Shovel

Condor Tool & Knife, Wilderness Survival Shovel

The Condor Tool & Knife Wilderness Survival Shovel is just a great tactical shovel. Its overall length is 19.5″ and the head is 5.5″ wide. It only weighs 2.75 lbs so it’s not going to kill you if you’re going to be carrying it for a long time.

The head is made of carbon steel that’s pretty sharp on all of the edges. The nylon sheath covers the head well and makes it easy to attach the shovel it a pack or your belt.

There’s also a similar version that has a saw on one side of the head and a desert tan coating instead of the black coating.

Pros

  • Carbon steel head
  • Hardwood handle that you can replace if it breaks
  • Comes with a nylon sheath

Cons

  • Head is flatter than some may like

Tactical Shovel

Cold Steel Special Forces Shovel

The Cold Steel Special Forces Shovel is just behind the CTK Shovel and pretty similar in construction.

The overall length comes in just over 20″ and it weighs right around 2 lbs. The shovel head is 4.5″ wide with sharp edges on the digging side and is made of carbon steel.

Pros

  • Carbon steel head
  • Replaceable handle in case it breaks
  • Comes with a nylon sheath

Cons

  • Handle finish can be rough and need a little work to smooth it out

Tactical Shovel

Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade

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.

Pros

  • The locking positions are roughly 170 degrees and 80 degrees making it easier to dig and use as a pick
  • Locks securely in place

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with a sheath


SOG Folding Shovel – Elite E-tool

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.

Pros

  • 1075 Carbon steel head
  • Glass-filled nylon handle cuts weight
  • Comes with a nylon sheath
  • Super light at 1.55 lbs

Cons

  • Saw blade is only 7″


M48 Kommando Tactical Shovel

The M48 Kommando Tactical Shovel is interesting. It has a little bit of an identity crisis that’s pretty obvious and that almost kept it off the list.

If you want a small shovel that can fill a couple of roles, then the M48 is certainly worth your time to check out. It has a stainless tool steel head that has an area meant for chopping and one on the other side that’s designed to function as a really poor saw in a pinch.

The handle is designed out of a strong synthetic material with a flare at the end that can make digging easier and also helps keep your hand from slipping off the end when you’re swinging it like an axe. Its overall length is 16 1/4″.

Pros

  • Stainless tool steel head
  • Tough handle
  • Comes with a nylon sheath

Cons

  • Small head
  • Has a slight identity problem

Conclusion

Tactical shovels have been around for a long time. They let you do everything you’re going to need in a tactical situation and can also hold their own in a survival situation. You can keep them in your car, add them to a survival kit, or take them camping and hiking.

You can add one to your bug out bag if you really want to but I’d recommend against it unless you have a specific reason for why you’d need it.

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