Entrenching tools (or “e-tools”) are an interesting thing. I’ve had exactly four of them to date and I don’t recall ever really using one very much out in the sticks. Honestly, when its time to answer natures call and you need to dig a hole, a small trowel like the U-Dig-It tends to be much more practical and packable than the larger gear.

That being said, sometimes you need to dig more than just a hole big enough to drop a deuce. Sometimes you need to dig something outta the ground like a bucket cache, or dig something into the ground like a body. Or maybe you just need to dig a large fire pit, or what have you. Times like that you want the real deal – a folding shovel.

I’ve tried four different ones and still have them all. The first is your typical ‘tri-fold’ military entrenching tool. If you get one of these things, get the real deal..the made in China knock offs are just gonna be trouble. Ask your local Iraq/Afghan vet how to use it as a portable toilet seat. They’re pretty stout and do a good job. They’re a bit heavy, and sometimes hard to find, but they are a solid piece of kit. If you want the least expensive but still want quality, these are a good value.

Next up, Gerber made their own version and it’s not bad. The replaced a  lot of the metal construction with plastic (or ‘polymer’, I suppose) and it still folds up to about the same size as the GI tool. It’s nice, but I wonder about it’s durability. It’s really sort of between the military shovel and the Glock..and for about ten bucks more, you can get the Glock.

After that we have the Glock entrenching tool. I rather like this one, but I’m usually willing to spend the extra bucks. It is very compact, fits most e-tool carriers, and even comes with a wood saw attachment for cutting through branches. Its a straight handle rather than the usual D-handle, but that doesn’t seem to affect function very much. It is pretty light and that is it’s big attraction to me.

And then there’s Cold Steel’s Special Forces Shovel. What can you say? It’s a battle axe disguised as a shovel. Oh, it’ll dig a hole just fine but let’s not kid anybody…it’s a weapon. Sharpen the edges of the blade and this thing will take apart a steer. If you like the Eastern European style of entrenching tools, you’ll like the Cold Steel offering. I used to keep one behind the seat of the truck specifically for its ability to lop the head off of some poor slob. It’s not compact enough to really warrant taking on a backpacking trip through the boonies, but it’ll be your best buddy when you’re parking your truck in a dark parking lot in the middle of the night.

Nine times out of ten, though…the U-Dig-It does what I’m looking for and it does it with a lot less space taken up in my bag and a lot less weight on my shoulders. For hunting/fishing it’s definitely more sensible than an entrenching tool. But, for those situations where you gotta have something a bit more shovel-like I prefer the Glock one.

6 thoughts on “E-tools

  1. Our ground down here generally is too rocky and has too much clay content for the small ‘U-Dig-It’ type of tool. Sure are handy though and they fit in the ruck sack side pockets handily, enough to go ahead and carry it any way.

    The CS shovel – thats more our speed. Beneath the rear truck seat, along with a machete. The folding tools should be cleaned after each use or risk rust attacking the collar / hinge arrangement. Big amen on avoiding the cheap knock-offs – the rivets on those are crappy ! I threw mine away pretty quickly and consider it a well learned lesson. Dad kept an old WWII wood folding e-tool in his trunk and we found uses for it all the time.

    I haven’t really given the Glock E-Tool a chance – maybe I need to look more at it.

  2. I use a WWII era folding shovel for every campout over the past 5 years and it’s a keeper. Solid, solid, solid. I guess when your life might depend on digging a good hole fast, they gave the troops the best thing. Cold Steel one looks interesting too. For $30 I might check it out. Thanks.

  3. If you are shoveling, the D-handle is easier on the hands, but if chopping (folded 90*) into the ground, or used as a weapon/axe, the straight handle is needed. I expect that the straight handle has a broader utility, overall. I’m wondering if a “pinned on” D-handle might be a viable accessory?

  4. thanks for this rundown. i have been “between e-tools” a while now. looking for light but strong, the holy grail. i did find one of those chinamart jobs for 7.99 and bought it just for giggles. i purposely beat the hard ass ground around here with it and even whacked a few trees. believe it or not, it didn’t break. i did however bend a lot and shows early signs of cracking. its actually not much lighter either after i weighed it with a fish scale. i think i’ll look into that glock. all said, there’s a guy on youboob that straps his udigit trowel onto a stick and uses it quite effectively as an e-tool to dig larger holes. bob knight is his name. think i’ll get both. for survivin i don’t see humping a full on etool, but if the festivities flare up i want one for sure. used to hate digging fighting positions, til i got shot at.

    • That attaching the U-Dig-It to a stick (zip ties / cordage) is a neat trick – I hadn’t thought about it. I moved cooking fire coals with mine, but hands get pretty hot when you forgot your gloves (but did it any – stupid! :^).

      I drilled the CS shovel handle butt and screwed a steel washer on the cap so I could use it to pulverize / hammer objects. This shovel is great for filling sandbags, as the spade size is just right for filling the mouth without spilling over the edge and collapsing the mouth. If you are alone, you can easily choke up on the handle and hold the bag open with the opposite hand – works like a charm.

  5. There is a suitable purpose for the cheap folding shovels – barter. Whenever I find tools – of any kind, of better than minimum quality, at good prices – I buy them. There will come a time when a wrench set, handful of screwdrivers, or a folding shovel will have substantial value to someone who doesn’t have those items. Garage and estate sales are good sources for quality stuff at very good prices.

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