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.