Being prepared for survival situations is equal parts having the skills and experience to handle a situation, and having the tools to help you do the work you need to do in an efficient manner.
I know all kinds of preppers who accumulate more and more tools over the span of their lives and the effort to be prepared for all manner of scenarios, no matter how unlikely.
Specialist tools are great, and sometimes the one thing you have to have in a specific situation, but more often it is the generalist tools that we turn to time and time again thanks to their versatile nature.
For general survival, and outdoor survival in particular, it is the humble shovel that you’ll reach for regularly when disaster strikes.
If you just use your shovel for landscaping or gardening, you probably haven’t stopped to consider what other crucial survival tasks it can handle for you.
Naturally, some shovels are far better suited for the rigors of bugging out or survival use then common hardware store versions, so in this article we are bringing you a list of the best survival shovels you should spend your hard-earned money on.
Table of Contents
Dig Your Way Through Trouble!
One old expression tells us that when we have dug ourselves into a pit, we should stop digging. Good advice, but sometimes when you find yourself in a hole all you could do is keep digging until you emerge on the other side! Pithy rebuttals aside, there is so much digging that needs to be done during a survival situation.
You might need to dig or scrape open ground to create a fire pit, dig a hole or a trench or a latrine, create a fighting position, water catching installation, drainage ditch or even the foundations for a semi-permanent or permanent shelter.
You might need to use your shovel to clear plants and other vegetation. You’ll definitely need it to fill sandbags in effective matter for either flood protection or reinforcement.
Certain shovels that are designed for the purpose can even be used as a light duty axe or pick, further increasing their versatility.
I see plenty of advice that touts preppers can dig using their ax or even their bush knife, but this is going to be hard on both tools and is far from efficient.
No, it is better by far to use the one, right tool for the job if you can, and considering the versatility of the shovel it is hardly going to be a begrudged inclusion.
That being said, committing to full-time carry of a shovel in a mobile survival situation is fairly serious. As always, you’ll have to make value judgments based on your personal situation and the circumstances.
Find a Balance between Size and Performance
As was so many other tools we use as preppers, we always want to strike a balance between size and performance.
At least we do if we ever plan on bugging out with the tool in question, shovel included! if all you plan on doing is battening down the hatches and bugging in, then you can use whatever kind of shovel you see fit as it will just be hanging out in your garage or in the shed until you need it.
But for everyone else, we need to think weight and size savings. A traditional shovel is a long-handled tool that is cumbersome to carry. Highly effective, less tiring to use, but difficult to carry.
Sure, I guess you could work up some sort of contraption to sling your shovel or attach it to a pack, but this is far from ideal.
A shovel that is going to be easily carried is carried in the hands and your hands will likely be full with other things. If you are going by vehicle, consider an external tool rack if you don’t have room for it in a bed or cargo compartment.
Luckily, for the vast majority of tasks, a compact shovel will work nearly as well, even if we have to get lower and work a little harder.
Short handled shovels or folding field shovels, commonly known as e-tools or entrenching tools, are ideal for typical prepper tasks and have long been used by militaries and explorers around the world pretty much forever.
You’ll find examples of both on the list below. Make sure you carefully assess your requirements and typical plan before committing to one or the other.
The Best Survival Shovels
Romanian Military Folding Shovel
The Romanian military folding shovel, sometimes called an entrenching tool, is a widely available, affordable and quality copy of the superb German military original used throughout World War II.
This design, though simple, lends itself well to hard use and difficult conditions and is sturdy enough for any field task.
With a sharp edge and saw for cutting through roots or handling other rudimentary wood processing tasks and a long, ergonomic wooden handle that can be field replaced in a pinch, this is a prepper’s delight and you can pick these up for a song right now. There’s hardly anything you can’t handle with a shovel of this type.
If you want one, act quickly, because these are starting to get snapped up faster and faster every day. German ones have been broadly unavailable for a while now, and what examples do surface on the market go for very high prices.
Also note that this shovel only folds at the interface between the handle and the head, meaning it is not quite as compact as more modern e-tools that fold in two places and a telescope.
Danish M-1943 E-Tool
The Danish made M-1943 entrenching tool is a locally produced version of the older US issue tool of the same make.
Compared to most other entrenching tools or compact shovels in its category, the longer handle is a boon when it comes to saving energy and getting maximum leverage for heavy duty digging.
Also, this shovel is just a shovel, even though it is a good one. The edges can take a little bit of sharpening for cutting through roots, but it does not feature a saw, a bottle opener or any other such trickery. That’s okay, because a shovel should be a shovel first and other things second.
If you want maximum performance for digging and a relatively compact footprint, this might well be the one to get.
As with the Romanian army issue e-tool above, this is a copy of another army’s version but it is still widely available and extremely high quality for the price. But as you are probably expecting, supplies are drying up and they’re likely won’t be any more made.
Save yourself a headache and a bundle of money compared to the original US version by snagging this one.
Fiskars Tri-Fold E-Tool
The most modern US issue entrenching tool, and one of the most popular folding shovels sold on the commercial market, the tri-fold e-tool from Fiskars is lightweight, super strong and folds down into an unbelievably compact package that can be assembled in seconds.
Purists deride the use of plastic and fiberglass in the familiar design compared to the older, all-steel version, but decades of use in the harshest conditions have proven the worthiness of this one.
I have to level with you guys, this is absolutely my favorite folding shovel that can be had anywhere. It is as light as a feather compared to all of its competitors, cuts through even tough soil and roots like a hot knife through butter and is sublimely compact when stowed, perfect for stashing in car pack or on your belt with absolutely no problems.
Fiskars is known for making high quality tools and cutting implements, and this one is no different, so if there is just one thing you can take away from it is that it is priced accordingly. That being said, compared to traditional shorthanded shovels or collector’s item priced military surplus, it is still a bargain.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.
SOG Entrenching Tool
If you want something even smaller and lighter than a traditional entrenching tool, check out SOG’s own trenching tool. Confusing statement? Don’t be.
If you look at it in pictures, it appears to simply be a bog standard US entrenching tool stamped with SOG’s prominent logo but a side by side comparison will quickly put that assumption to rest.
This is about 25% smaller than comparable US issue in trenching tools, and correspondingly lighter, but also lighter duty.
This absolutely is not the entrenching tool to use if you want to dig a foxhole, a trench or cut through heavy duty roots. It just isn’t made for that.
But, if you want to dig a cat hole, level a campsite, clear light brush and detritus, this is the one that can do it and save you a bunch of weight and space in the bargain.
This is a truly compact package that folds up into a form factor scarcely larger than your average hardcover book, and is perfect for stashing in a backpack or hanging off the back of your gear belt. Don’t expect to conquer the world with this one and you won’t be disappointed.
Oakvue Backpacking Trowel
I’m probably pushing it a little bit including what is actually a trowel on a list of survival shovels, but I am taking a liberty for completeness here.
This backpacking trowel is an excellent, lightweight tool for minimalist backpackers or preppers who are traveling really, really light and don’t plan on doing any major terraforming while they are out there.
Able to easily dig a cat hole for waste disposal, help with setting up snares and traps, or clearing a small fire pit this useful multi-tool also features a paracord wrapped handle, multiple sizes of hex wrench built in, the ubiquitous bottle opener and a nick in the center of the spine for using it as a light pry or nail puller.
If you want a light and handy tool that will help you cover the bare minimum of survival tasks, you probably don’t even need to commit to something as small as an e-tool, as it is still going to be significantly heavier to say nothing when compared to a full size shovel.
Remember, it is your mission which should drive your gear selections!
Fiskars 46” D-Handle Digging Shovel
The first full size, true shovel on our list is one you have probably passed by a hundred times in your local hardware or big box home improvement store.
A long fiberglass handle crowned by a D-shaped hand grip and a high quality, tempered steelhead means this is the ideal shovel for serious, lengthy digging tasks.
As mentioned elsewhere, Fiskars is a brand that is synonymous with quality tools, and this shovel is no exception. When you need to dig, this shovel will help you save energy both due to its efficiency and it’s lightweight.
Sure, purists will sneer at the fiberglass handle as compared to a nice birch or hickory one but the proof is in the pudding, and the fiberglass provides increased strength for less weight, a win in my book for sure.
Obviously, this will be a pain in the butt to carry around on any serious adventures, so think twice before choosing this as a shovel for dedicated bug out or field work unless you are traveling by vehicle.
Russian Military Field Spade
Sometimes you want one tool that can really cover all of your bases, and if what you desire is a brutally efficient and efficiently brutal compact shovel, the Russian military issue field spade will do it.
Consisting of a beautiful birch handle and a sleek, angled spayed head with lightening holes drilled in it, this is one shovel that is certainly capable at its primary task, but also capable of so much more.
For one thing, these things are issued sharp. Like, suspiciously sharp. In fact, they are so sharp they are easily used for chopping smaller diameter wood and also smashing skulls and limbs.
Infamously, these make excellent improvised hatchets for close quarters battle, and even have a notch in them for wire cutting and other utility chores.
Frankly, you’ll probably have to be a little more cautious when using this shovel then you would normally but you’ll like the efficiency, and if the notion of having a backup melee weapon close to hand is appealing to you, this should be at the top of a very short list when it comes to entrenching tools.
Get the Russian Military Field Spade on Amazon.
Seymour Super Shovel
The second and final full size shovel on our list is the Seymour Super Shovel. Not all digging is going to be in soft, sandy soils.
Sometimes, you’ll be digging through rocky ground, hard earth or dirt that is woven through with vines and roots. In such cases, a traditional spade is going to struggle, but not the Super Shovel.
The standout feature of this shovel is the wickedly serrated front edge. Conventional in every other aspect, it is this tooth frontal edge that allows the shovel to both pierce and break up hard earth with greater efficiency but also slice through roots and other obstructions. This will save you a lot of energy in the long run when digging in hard, tough soil.
If you live or work in an area that is known for making digging difficult, and you don’t need a particularly compact shovel, the Seymour Super Shovel should be at the very top or near the top of your shopping list.
Compared to all the other tools that a prepper might need, a shovel might be thought of as an afterthought, if it is on the list at all.
But so many of the tasks we engage in as preppers when in a survival situation will entail digging as part of the process, and that means the right tool for the job is a shovel of some kind.
Full-size or compact, folding or fixed there is a survival shovel for every purpose. Review the list above and you are sure to find one that will serve your purposes.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.