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A survival shovel is one of the best tools you can have at hand in survival and outdoor emergency situations. This ancient tool (it was invented at least 6,000 years ago) is often underrated because it’s a little bit heavy and unwieldy. However, even though it’s quite a simple tool, modern technologies have introduced several improvements that make a shovel extremely helpful. Today, shovels are much lighter than they used to be. Some of them can be folded so they are more portable. Finally, they are extremely versatile and suitable for many different tasks.

Is it a necessary tool for your survival kit? In all honesty, it is not. After all, the idea of surviving in the wilderness or SHTF scenarios is based on your ability to act quickly with limited sources. You can’t carry all useful tools, machines, weapons, not to mention food and water. When you read some of the survival guides, it seems as if you need more gear than a camping gear store can offer. However, while a survival shovel might not make it to your bug out bag list, it’s a great tool to have at your bug out location or in the trunk of your car. I’ll show you why.

Why You Need a Survival Shovel

First shovels were made of the shoulder blade of oxen or other larger animals. For thousands of years, it was the main tool for excavation, digging, and moving bulky materials. Then, we invented machines that could do it faster and better. Still, shovels have never gone out of fashion. It is an irreplaceable gardening and landscaping tool. And it can come handy for many small projects. But, today we are talking about a specific (sort of) type of shovel – a survival shovel.

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When you’re not sure about your opinion, just check what the experts in the field do. However, survival experts can widely differ when it comes to specific tools and their necessity. But, my favorite survival experts are soldiers and firefighters. Their job is to face survival situations quite often. If something works for them, chances are it will work for me as well. While they use all kinds of high-tech equipment, a shovel is still a necessary part of their gear. Because it saves lives. So, let’s see what you can do with a modern survival shovel.

Survival Shovel Uses

Digging a Trench With a Survival Shovel

Fundamentally, a survival shovel is a digging tool. So, you can dig trenches. Why would you dig a trench unless you’re a soldier? In survival situations, you may have to create a shelter. In case of heavy rains, your shelter may be ruined and gear soaked unless you dig a trench to direct the water away from your shelter or tent.

Making a Shelter

Finding the right place for your shelter is important. Usually, you will need to do some digging to prepare the land for functional shelter.

Digging a Fire Pit

You need a shovel to dig a fire pit. Some survival guides will teach you how to make digging sticks, but if you have ever tried to dig with a stick, you know it’s a cumbersome and long, long process. Better ask your dog to do it instead. 

By the way, some shovels come with magnesium rods to produce sparks for your fire.

Digging a Latrine

 A sanitation hole may be required and once again, there’s no better tool than a shovel.

Leveling the Ground 

You found perfect spots for your tent, propane burner, and camping table but they are uneven and bumpy. You can fall into despair or reach for your survival shovel.

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Digging Out Your Car

If you ever get stuck in mud or snow, your driver’s skills may be put at test. However, a survival shovel will save the day pretty easily.


 You can use a survival shovel for hoeing. Some models can be adjusted to get a perfect 90° hoe.

Cutting and Chopping Branches 

You need wood to start a fire and some versatile models of shovels can do some cutting and chopping. Truth be told, it’s much better to use a hatchet or tomahawk, but if you don’t have them a shovel can do the job.


We are still talking about the fire. A sawtooth edge will help you deal with thicker branches.


Prying rocks will speed up your digging.


Clever design allows you to use your survival shovel for hammering. 

Emergency Whistling 

Sometimes you don’t want to be heard. But if you’re injured or stranded in the wilderness, a loud whistling signal can be your best chance for rescue.

Self-Defense Weapon

It’s not the most effective weapon, but if you’re out of ammo or other options, you’ll be happy to have it on hand. You can probably fend off wild animals if they attack you.

Emergency Paddle

 If you need to build a raft, you can use your shovel as a paddle. 

How to Choose a Survival Shovel

A survival shovel is a versatile tool. In a way, it follows the footsteps of a Swiss knife. Specialized knives such as a chef’s knife, paring knife, dagger, boot knife, and so on, perform much better than a Swiss knife. But they excel at one or several tasks, while a Swiss knife is a jack of all trades. So, instead of carrying a bag full of knives, you have it all in one. Survival shovels work in a similar way. It is pretty amazing how many different purposes they can have. However, there’s almost always another tool that can do the job better. But, only a survival shovel will do them all.

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There’s a vast ocean of options out there. The competition is strong and that’s great. It means that manufacturers need to improve and offer high standards to stay in the game. But, it also means that some players will compromise some aspects to offer more affordable products. So, it’s not easy to make a choice. But, this is what you should look for.

How You Will Use Your Survival Shovel

Before you start considering the quality and features, you should think of the way you will use it. You won’t experience survival scenarios very often. On the other hand, you can go camping and hiking quite regularly. Do you plan to dig small or large holes and trenches? For some serious digging, you should look for more robust shovels with longer handles. On the other hand for quick-fix leveling the ground or digging sanitation holes and fire pits, lightweight shovels will do the trick.

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Tactical survival shovel are made of all sorts of materials. Modern plastic is becoming stronger and sturdier and some alloys can perform really well. Having said that I still recommend traditional materials that have stood the test of time. I am talking about stainless steel, aluminum, and high-carbon steel.

Stainless steel is sturdy, durable, and won’t corrode. However, it is the heaviest material for shovels.

Aluminum is lightweight but it’s not very strong.

High-carbon steel is stronger than stainless steel. The higher the carbon content, the stronger it becomes. It needs a coating to prevent rust, though. This is a predominant material for sturdy and strong survival shovels.

Blade Size and Shape

The size and shape of the blade determine where your shovel excels. Bigger blades are better for moving materials such as gravel or sand. However, if the soil is dry and hard it can be quite difficult to dig. Smaller blades are easier to work with, but it takes more time to get it done.

As for shape, narrow and wide blades follow the pattern of big and small blades. A narrow blade is better for digging while a wide one excels at moving the dirt.

A blade can be pointed and flat. Forget the flat ones, at least when we talk about survival shovels.

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A handle should be made of durable and strong materials as well. The longer the handle, the easier it is to use. But it adds weight and decreases portability. Most modern tactical shovels have foldable or collapsible handles to allow easy packing and carrying. Some models feature handles that are storage locations as well. All kinds of small tools such as fire starters or LED flashlights can fit into them.

Weight and Portability

These are the essential features of survival shovels. Build quality is more important, of course, but weight and portability allow you to carry it with ease and use it when needed. Weight affects portability especially if you need to carry it for long distances. Foldable handles allow you to pack it easily.

It is also convenient if your shovel is MOLLE compatible.

Survival Shovel Versatility

Versatility has changed the destiny of shovels. From a backyard tool, it became an excellent tool for camping and survival purposes. There’s a long list of potential add-ons. Check it out before you make the final decision.

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Shovels used to be simple and effective tools. But, they were limited to a couple of tasks. Survival shovels really raised the game to another level. These cool-looking tools are so versatile that they hardly resemble good old-fashioned shovels. You can fit them into your bug out bag or backpack. They incorporate saws, hoes, flashlights, screwdrivers, fire rods, bottle openers, compasses, whistles. It’s like in James Bond movies. Except this is for real and almost all of these additions are convenient. 

All said and done, you can live without a survival shovel, but if you like camping or you want to be prepared for SHTF scenarios this tool can be a great help.