The Best Camping Shovels for Outdoor Survival

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Small shovels, or entrenching tools (E-Tools), date back as far as humankind, or at the very least, as far back as early warfare when combatants needed a modular way to dig. Until the world wars happened, these items were very basic and rudimentary, usually consisting of a plate of metal, a very simple hinge, and a handle. They were subject to rust, especially in the hinged mechanism, and weren’t much better than a standard shovel when it came to weight and mobility. Only since the Germans created their Klappspaten entrenching tool during WWII has the world of compact and folding shovels gotten the notice of campers, hikers, hunters, and outdoorsmen of all types.

Modern camping shovels are made with long-term EDC in mind. Built to be carried indefinitely through the most arduous of circumstances, quality diggers now appear on the backs of every nomad and complete more than a few gardening tool sets. Thanks to their enhanced versatility as full-sized shovels, weapons, camp tools, and even emergency axes and saws, the modest camping shovel has become a staple of life outside, if only used as a survival tool or a means to use nature as your restroom. So you’re never digging with an inferior model, we found the best shovels for camping outdoors.

Why Do You Need a Camping Shovel?

First and foremost, a shovel is a great all-around tool to have outdoors. If you need to level the ground for pitching a tent or setting up a table, it’s an easy problem solver. Likewise, digging a hole may be your only option when it comes to using the bathroom. From a survival standpoint, shovels can also double as a non-lethal weapon for any attackers, either human or animal. Many options available are lightweight and easy to stow, so adding a folding shovel to your camping arsenal won’t be an issue.

What to Look For

Weight: Most camp-ready shovels will weigh anywhere between 1 and 3 pounds, so stowing them in your car or bag won’t be much of an issue.

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Size: This is the one factor that makes folding shovels the perfect option for the outdoors. Total length is key, especially when it comes to overall leverage, but packed dimensions are important as well, since you’ll need to have room to bring these along with you.

Blade Material: When picking a shovel, look for a blade that’s made of some sort of steel, be it carbon steel or stainless steel. However, metals such as titanium can work swimmingly as well.

Handle: If you’re going to be using your tool for repeated motion, you’ll want a handle that’s comfortable and ergonomic. Most of the picks on this list fit the bill and have sturdy yet user-friendly grips.

Schrade Payload Shovel

Schrade Pay Dirt Shovel

Best Budget Shovel: For a small shovel, this packs a lot of power into a small package. It’s too small even when telescoped to its max length for standing and digging, so it works more like a trowel than a real foxhole excavator. The 1055 carbon steel is an unusual choice for shovel material, but it adds a little more bite to the edge of the blade for easier picking through tough terrain and dealing with roots or other flotsam underground. Its tiny nature gives you a lot of room to move and swing, even when working on your knees, so it’s good as a garden shovel as much as one for burying your campfire. When it comes to picking up dirt and holding it for displacement, the shovel’s unique shape comes in handy, with high-ridged borders that keep the soil inside. If that’s not enough, the company offers a lifetime warranty with each shovel purchase as well.

US GI Military Original Issue E-Tool

US GI Military Original Issue E Tool

Best Overall: When you’re looking for quality, keep in mind that the United States military spends far more money than any other part of the government. That means they’re usually buying the best of the best when it comes to gear, and the E-Tool proves that point. A simple steel blade and an aluminum handle make up the body. A black powder finish on the alloy steel blade helps keep the whole apparatus from rusting since it needs to work everywhere from the frozen wastes to the Mid-East sandbox. A sharpened axe edge and serrated saw give it a little broader use than just going deep, but when it comes to digging fast before the enemy starts firing, you’ll see it’s the actual shovel that’s the star of the show. When it comes to digging options, the blade locks into two positions with the threaded handle. If you buy this shovel, you simply won’t need another for years, if not longer.

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Gerber E-Tool

Gerber E Tool

Runner-Up: Gerber is a Portland-based heritage company that has evolved f to become one of the most revered American knife and multi-tool brands around. Its range of gear is quite impressive, with thoughtful designs across the board that each challenge the status quo when it comes to its individual category. And this E-Tool folding shovel is no different. Start off with a boron carbon steel blade, attach it to a 7075 anodized aluminum shaft, and then finish it off with a glass-infused nylon handle and you’re cooking with gas. Tack on a serrated edge for when you need to saw through branches or roots and put on that reliable Gerber name that has been a mark of quality since it was Gerber Legendary Blades back in 1939 and you have a folding shovel that’s meant for serious work. It disappears into an astoundingly small bundle that can ride on your hip rather than your back. Outfitted with secure locking mechanisms that ensure you’ll never be working with a collapsing piece of equipment, the Gerber E-Tool is dressed to impress.

TheTentLab Deuce Potty Trowel

TheTentLab Deuce Potty Trowel

Best for Bathroom Use: No one really likes to talk about it, but multi-day camping or backpacking trips typically mean you’ll have to use the bathroom at least a few times. This is where a good shovel comes in. However, larger models will be heavier for the quick digging required when you really have to go, and they’re also more difficult to stow in a sanitary fashion. Enter: TheTentLab’s Deuce Potty Trowel, a 0.6-ounce shovel made expressly for going #2. A fantastic option for backpackers because of how easy it is to stow, the 6.8-inch aluminum trowel also comes in other sizes as well, but this particular variant is a fan-favorite for a reason. Made of aerospace-grade, U.S.-produced aluminum, it comes in a variety of vibrant colors so that you don’t mistake it for your non-potty trowel.

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Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool

Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool

Best Non-Folding Dig Tool: Sometimes you don’t need a spade shovel to do outdoor digging. In fact, a quality U-shaped trowel can do the trick. Sporting a compact and slim design, this Dig Dig Tool from Vargo can fit easily with its bar-like shape, inspired by Hori-Hori knives from Japan. Extending just over 8″ total, the unit can be hammered into the soil by foot much easier due to its lack of a traditional handle. However, the rolled handle is still deceptively comfortable in your hand. The butt end doubles as a guyline anchor for your tent and both sides of the blade feature long serrated edges. Made of titanium, the entire shovel weighs just 1.25lbs in total. Titanium by nature is much lighter than steel, and also more corrosion-resistant, making this a breezy addition to your hiking loadout as well.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>