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What’s An E-Tool And Why Should It Be Part Of Your Survival Gear or EDC Kit?
Entrenching tools or e-tools started out as standard-issue military gear. These “folding shovels” were primarily used to dig defensive positions like foxholes and trenches. But like any good tactical gear out there, they soon caught the attention of civilians who wanted a compact yet reliable shovel to take with them to camping trips or as part of their bug out bags and car emergency kits.
Today e-tools have become an indispensable part of every outdoorsman or prepper’s kit. This device not only good for digging holes and clearing out campsites; you can also use them in a number of ways.
Here are some of them:
- Digging catholes and latrines
- Makeshift toilet seat
- Digging a compost pile
- Can be used to build survival or bushcraft shelters (dug-out shelter, snow cave)
- Sharp edges can be used to chop wood and branches
Firebuilding and Food
- Digging firepits
- Digging traps and solar stills
- Moving coals from a campfire
- Cooking using a Dutch oven
- Can be used as a frying pan
- Digging your car out of mud or snow
- Landslide and avalanche rescue
- Grappling hook
- Boat paddle
- Close contact weapon
To know more about the uses of an entrenching tool and to watch some awesome tutorials, check out this in-depth article.
What Are The Different Types of E-tools?
E-tools can be classified into two general categories: straight-handle and folding.
Fixed, straight-handled e-tools first emerged back in World War I, back when trench warfare was the thing. These entrenching tools usually came with an all-steel construction. Today, this type of e-tool can be outfitted with a hardwood handle and a carbon steel head. They’re known for their stability and durability, but they can also be space-consuming and heavy.
The Germans introduced the world’s first folding spade back in World War II. This device’s handle remained fixed, but the shovel can be folded at the head so one can use it as a hoe or pick. This revolutionary design was further improved into the modern tri-fold e-tool we know today.
The obvious advantage to this type of e-tool is that they’re compact and portable. They can easily be stored in MOLLE-compatible sheaths, bug out bags or backpacks. The downside is that they involve more moving parts and are relatively more prone to damage than their fixed counterparts.
What Should You Look For In An E-Tool?
Not all e-tools are created equal. Some claim to be good but end up being a complete waste of time and money, so it’s important to come up with a certain standard or criteria.
When selecting the right e-tool, consider the following factors:
What and Where You’re Using It For
First things first: where are you using your e-tool for? Knowing this little detail will help you determine the type of entrenching tool that best suits your needs.
For example, if you’re prepping for a disaster and are packing a bug out bag or car kit, you’ll most definitely need a robust e-tool that can handle a lot of use and abuse. You might even want to go for an e-tool with a fixed handle if you’re setting up a bug-out shelter.
On the flipside, if you’re just putting together a camping backpack and are only using the e-tool for small chores around the camp, you might want to settle for a more portable device that can be easily carried around.
Distance You’re Covering
This factor is closely related to the first one, albeit more specific. Do you plan to travel on foot and are expecting to cover long distances? Pick a small, compact e-tool that can be easily stored in your backpack. You might want to look out for one with a MOLLE-compatible sheath, too.
Driving to your destination? You can get away with a bigger entrenching tool and simply store it in your trunk.
Most modern e-tools have shovel heads made from carbon steel. Depending on its overall carbon content and heat treatment, this type of material can withstand a lot of pressure and heavy-duty use. The higher the carbon content, the tougher the steel.
The shaft and handles can vary from thermoplastics or polymers like glass-filled nylon and polypropylene, aero-grade aluminum, wood or steel. Thermoplastics significantly weigh lighter than any of the other materials mentioned, but they are also more susceptible to damage.
Hardwood or steel is sturdy, but they will kill your weight savings. Aircraft-grade aluminum is the middle ground between these materials, being both relatively lightweight and strong.
Regardless of your mode of transportation (or lack thereof), you have to consider the e-tool’s portability. How heavy is it? Can you comfortably stow it in a backpack or your car trunk? Does it come with its own sheath or do you have to purchase one separately?
Lots of e-tools are designed to be folded and stored comfortably in a backpack or in your car’s trunk. Many come in tri-fold designs while some have telescoping or removable handles. Still, there are others who sport straight or fixed handles. Each design comes with its own set of pros and cons, so weigh them out accordingly.
Ergonomic Design and Functionality
Make sure that your e-tool of choice won’t kill your back when it’s time to dig. Straight, fixed handles have no-nonsense functionality, while open, D-handles are great if you’re looking for something versatile.
Also look out for features like a secure, threaded locking mechanism that doesn’t loosen up under pressure and serrated edges along the shovel head to help you cut and chop some wood, underground vines and roots.
How We Did Our Review
Curious about how we tested, reviewed and ranked these entrenching tools? Here’s what we did:
First step: separate the wheat from the chaff. That meant scouring the internet for e-tools with the best features, price-performance ratio and of course, customer reviews. We also considered the size and weight, ease of use, functionality and durability of each e-tool.
From dozens of possible candidates, we narrowed it down to the top 6. We ended up selecting four full-sized e-tools and two smaller ones, just to see how they would fare when pitted against each other.
Once the line-up was complete, we subjected these e-tools into various tests that would test their durability, functionality and overall effectivity.