The best survival shovels – what they are what features do they have?
If you mention survival shovels to most non-survivalists, you’ll usually be met with a giggle or a raised eyebrow. And even we have to admit that it sounds funny if you’re uninitiated. After all, what can possibly be so special about a survival shovel? Isn’t it good enough to just have a normal shovel with you? Maybe shorten its handle a little bit?
No, not really. The best survival shovels out there have dozens of amazing and life-saving features that a normal shovel will lack. That, together with the general need for a great shovel-like or axe-like tool in a good survival kit, makes them a must-have.
But what does a good survival shovel look like? What features does it have? Well, let’s see.
What is a survival shovel?
Any lightweight, highly durable, and effective shovel with a compact and/or short handle can be viewed as a “survival shovel”. These are shovels that you should have in your main survival kit almost regardless of where you live. Any long-term survival situation will require some type of digging, be it for a tent, a ditch, or for tubers and roots.
Survival shovels are meant for more than just digging, however. Most good survival shovels will have a flexible and mobile shovel head which can turn your shovel into other tools. The most common example is survival shoves that can turn into pick axes but there are other variations too.
A good survival shovel will also have a serrated edge to be used as a mini saw. It will also have a blunt part on one of the corners of the shovel head to be used as a hammer. Great survival axes will also have a nice case to be carried in. The case should offer enough protection from the sharp edges of the shovel’s head and it should be durable and sturdy.
Additionally, the shovel’s case or pouch should be easily portable. It should offer at least several carrying options – from stuffing it in your backpack to hanging it on it or on your belt.
And of course, a good survival shovel should also be durable. And by that we mean really durable. Such a shovel should be usable in any condition imaginable or at least in any condition you’re about to encounter. It should also be strong enough to survive near-countless uses. That’s vital not only because you wouldn’t want to have to buy a new one either. It’s important because particularly tough survival situations might force you to stay in the wilderness for months or years.
Last but not least, the best survival shovels also come with a lot of additional features. They can have knives, multitools, Ferro rods, hooks, and all other nice survival tools in the shovel’s pouch or sometimes even in its handle.
What’s the difference between a military survival shovel and any other survival shovel?
One of the most common questions people have when looking for survival shovels is what are military shovels. Is there a difference between the two? Why is it so common to see two similar-looking shovels with one called “military” and the other – not?
The idea behind the term is that military survival shovels are extra tough and durable. They are supposed to work in every possible situation and to last for years. These shovels are also supposed to be very versatile and have many different uses. And some models are even actual military models that have been used in the U.S. army.
There are two problems with the term, however:
- As with any “quality-assuring” marketing term on any item type, “military” is sometimes slapped on shovels that don’t actually deserve it. In essence, it’s sometimes similar to the “homemade” label on some commercially-manufactured foods. Don’t take this to mean that you should steer clear of military survival shovels, however. Many of them are indeed excellent. You just can’t rely on the label alone as a guarantee for the shovel’s quality.
- Virtually any survival shovel should correspond to the qualities of military shovels – durability, longevity, and versatility. If a survival shovel isn’t durable, won’t last long, and isn’t versatile enough – that’s a crappy survival shovel.
So, while military shovels are supposed to be a sub-type of survival shovels, it’s largely a label you can ignore. Just make sure that whatever shovel you’re getting is of excellent quality and has all the features you’re going to need.
Why do you need such a tool in your survival kit?
What are the possible uses of a survival shovel, however? The more obvious ones can be pointed out immediately but survival shovels have a lot of uses that might surprise you. Let’s go over some of them:
- Setting up a tent or shelter. Most tents have a different setup process but almost all of them benefit from a handy shovel. Even when it’s not necessary for digging, the shovel can still help even out the surface area. It can also be used to hammer down pegs into harder soils.
- Digging up tubers and roots. Having to feed off the ground is not uncommon in SHTF (shit hits the fan) situations. Fortunately, a good survival shovel can help with that. In fact, you might also need to set up shop somewhere for a bit longer. In those cases, starting a quick veggie garden will also be easy with a survival shovel.
- You need a pick axe. Most good survival shovels can be switched into a pick axe as well. This is very useful for a lot of different tasks:
– Braking up ice for fishing.
– Breaking harder soils.
– Clear brush.
- Dig a Dakota fire hole. When you want to start a fire but you don’t want the smoke or fire to be easily visible, you can dig a Dakota fire hole. That’s an underground fire pit with two exit holes that hide the flame and distort the smoke. It’s pretty useful when you want to remain unnoticed while in the woods.
- Make an outdoor toilet. Obviously, you can dig an entire toilet pit but it’s useful to dig a potty hole when you’re camping with friends or family. This way you can just cover it later and not ruin everyone’s day.
- Your vehicle is stuck in mud or snow. Not all survival situations are on foot – sometimes you might be driving away from a crisis situation. Getting stuck in snow or mud is normally annoying anyway but especially so during an emergency. A good survival shovel can help with that.
- You need to cut branches, a rope, or something else. Yes, survival shovels are great for cutting too. That’s because almost all of them come with at least one serrated edge. This allows them to cut like a moderately decent saw.
- You need a multitool. A really good survival shovel will also bring a lot of extra goodies with it. Most models have knives or multitools in the shovel’s bag or pouch, for example. Others have hollow (but still solid and durable) handles that can hose a knife or a Ferro rod. Do you need to start a fire to survive? You can use the Ferro rod in the shovel and the shovel’s straight edge to start a fire. Do it in a Dakota fire hole and you’ve got an even better use of your shovel.
- Dig snow. There are lots of different reasons to want to dig into the snow. Maybe you’re in a search & rescue situation and you want to help an avalanche victim. Maybe you have found yourself under a press of snow and you need to dig yourself out. Or, maybe you just want to hide your gear in the snow. Either way, a good survival shovel will make short work of any such task.
- Self-defense. Yes, we didn’t forget what some find to be an obvious use for any metal tool – self-defense. And it is true – survival shovels make excellent self-defense weapons. They are lightweight and their handles are short which makes them very wieldy. However, the shovel head is still heavy enough to cause serious blunt force trauma with a single hit. Plus, with most survival shovels’ sharp edges, you can do even more damage if you have to.
Of course, there are even more possible life-saving uses for a survival shovel out there. Even more so when you consider all the more obscure multitools they have sometimes.
What are the main features of a good survival shovel?
So, you’ve arrived at the sound conclusion that you need a good shovel for your survival kit? But what’s the best survival shovel for you? There are lots of things to consider, after all. Some are always objectively important while others will depend on your circumstances. Let’s go over all of them quickly:
- Top quality. No piece of survival gear is worth having if it’s not of a good enough quality. Yes, you can make the argument that a crappy shovel is better than no shovel. Still, it’s a bad idea to buy a crappy shovel instead of a high-quality survival shovel. The design of the shovel needs to fit your needs and preferences. Plus, the tool should be made out of high-quality and durable materials.
- An excellent shovel head. Survival shovels can have different shovel heads, depending on what they are meant to do. Most will still be similar – sharp point, one serrated edge, and one straight edge. Some will have additional features, however – a sharpened straight edge for cutting, a hook on one of the back corners, etc.
Whatever the exact features, the shovel head should also be made with excellent quality metal, preferably high-carbon steel or similar.
- A good, stable grip. One of the main drawbacks of survival shovels is that they are short. This means that you’ll typically have to bend over or even kneel to dig with them. Plus, the shovel head is usually smaller than that of normal shovels. All that’s why the grip needs to be as stable as possible. The last thing you’d want is for your hands to get hurt in the middle of a long but vital dig.
- As with any survival tool, the more uses your survival shovel can fulfill, the better. Survival gears and kits need to be compact after all. So, a multi-task survival shovel hanging from your belt can save you a lot of space on knives, fire-starters, hammer, etc. That’s why it’s important to pay extra attention to the extra features and accessories of every survival shovel you’re considering. Think about your survival kit, what you already have in it, and what you need.
- Compact and lightweight design. There are three main factors you should always prioritize in a survival kit or backpack – usability, size, and weight. Everything you pack should be effective and efficient at what it does, but it should also be compact and lightweight. That goes for survival shovels as well. Every extra gram or square inch on the shovel means that much less weight or space you’ll have for the rest of your gear.
In conclusion, while survival shovels are a must-have, they should also be of excellent quality. A sub-par survival shovel will usually be little more than dead weight and soon-to-be tossed away trash. A good survival shovel, on the other hand, is a literal life-saver in most survival situations.