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E-Tool: 10 Surprising Things You Can Do With An Army Shovel to Survive

10 Things You Can Do With An Army Shovel to Survive
by Steve Pappas, Copyright ©
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E-Tool: 10 Surprising Things You Can Do with an Army Shovel ... to Survive
I've heard the following many times when it comes to backpacking or prepping for a bug out: "You don't need a shovel, just use a stick or stone to dig. Taking a shovel is such a waste of space and it's too heavy."

On some days a shovel may not come in handy at all. But there are other days when a shovel can be a life saver and why it's been standard issue for various army infantries in the modern day. Like it or not, sh** happens. There will be days when an Army shovel can save your life.

Army shovels -- entrenching tools -- are really important and should be strongly considered for your bug out bag and you should definitely have an Army shovel in your vehicle, whether you're bugging out or just on a weekend trip off road. (You'll read why it's important for your vehicle in a moment ... and how to use it.)

History of the Shovel in Survival

Going back as far as the Romans, shovels were considered important tools of war, war being the ultimate survival situation. When a Roman legion went to a new territory and had to set up camp, they would dig a ditch and fortify all the way around their camp. Whenever they laid siege to a fortress, they would dig in their own fortifications because sieges could last quite some time. They were even known for trying to dig under a fortresses wall to try to collapse it.

I don't need to go into detail about the use of entrenching tools for digging trenches and latrines in the wars of the 20th century as it's very well documented and everyone has heard of "trench warfare." .

In fact, Australian and New Zealand soldiers, even to this day are referred to as "diggers" because of their roles in trench warfare.

What is a Modern Army Shovel, the Entrenching Tool?

An entrenching tool (E Tool) is a souped up shovel in the same way that a Humvee is a souped up truck. They have so many features it's more of a question of what they can't do than what they can do. When it comes to E Tools, their primary function is still to dig holes, but they have evolved enormously and offer many other uses as well.

E Tools are also really strong, generally made out of aluminum or steel. They're lightweight, around 2 pounds and fold up to a really small size so they fit the bill for a survival tool that can be used in a bug out bag or be stored in a vehicle. Below I'll go over my favorite uses for an entrenching tool, some are obvious, and some are not so obvious.

The Top 10 Uuses for an Entrenching Tool in a Survival Situation

1. Digging a Shallow Entrenchment in just Minutes .. and Hiding from the Enemy

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Sun Tzu, the ancient Asian war philosopher said that "All warfare is based on deception". Make no mistake, if the SHTF and people don't have food and water, if criminals aren't kept in check by law enforcement, you will find yourself in a war zone. If the SHTF and people turn into zombies, and are coming after you and your family, you can dig a shallow trench in deep brush off trail quickly, jump in and cover yourself with brush and by doing this you can hide from marauders very effectively. You could even end up sleeping there if necessary. From there, you can wait for the enemy to completely pass you by or you can wait until the time is right to strike. This was very common practise in the Vietnam war and there were many successful escapes that included similar tactics. Every infantryman in the Soviet Army carries an army shovel. If given the order to halt, he immediately lies flat and starts digging a hole beside him. In just a few minutes he can dig a 6 inch trench that he can lie in so that bullets will fly by harmlessly.

2. Using an Army Shovel as a Last Resort Weapon

Entrenching tools not only dig holes, they can be used as weapons. Most entrenching tools these days come with a sharpened side so that they can be used as an axe. That means, that if necessary, you could swing at not only a tree, but someone who's trying to take your life. Used in this fashion, you'll be able to cut through flesh and bone easily. The Soviet Spetsnaz units were the first to be really well trained in shovel combat. Now it's common place for commando forces all across the world to be trained to fight with entrenchment tools. The American soldier, Anthony Kaho'ohanohano killed two Chinese soldiers with his entrenching tool in the Korean war. During the second world war, the Germans and Soviets used entrenchment shovels in close quarter combat. An entrenching tool can be used to thrust as well as chop so it's like a mini poleaxe (you probably know a poleaxe from images of the Swiss guard). The poleaxe was the pinnacle of close combat weapons until the advent of gun powder. The reason is simple, it had good reach and it could stab, chop and could also be used as a hammer to do some damage against armor wearing knights. A spear could only stab, an axe could only cut. That's why an entrenching tool that can stab, as well as chop is a handy weapon.

3. Funerals ... Burying the Dead with an Army Shovel

Yes, it's gruesome and no one likes to think about it but you might be in a situation where you have to bury someone and hopefully that someone is a marauder and not someone in your own family. You could cremate someone of course but many people would refuse to cremate or would not want be cremated. One way or another you have to get rid of the body or bodies or you have to move. I don't need to go into detail about diseases that can come about from a rotting corpse, let alone the massive psychological issues of knowing a dead body is a little too close for comfort.
It would take forever to dig a big enough grave without a shovel. Not only that, the longer it takes, you could be putting yourself at risk by being around a dead body, you could also be putting yourself at risk by being out in the open for too long.

4. Sanitation ... Digging Latrines for Human Waste

It's generally not the big pests (whether they be human or animal) that get you but the small ones. Bugs, parasites, disease. If you don't have proper sanitation you run the risk of disease carrying insects infecting you. Once that happens you're in a world of hurt. The option below for a camp latrine is far more sanitary, especially seeing as you would be putting dirt over the top of your waste so that no bugs are touching it and then potentially spreading some nasties.

5. Covering Your Tracks

Following on from the sanitation point above, if you bury your waste product you will be much harder to track down in the event that someone is tracking you. What about disguising your camp once you've gone, a shovel can make that much easier. What about burying the waste from game so that you don't attract predators? What about burying your trash to make you harder to find? No one wants to be stalked or tracked down by something hungry or vicious.

6. Staving Off Infections From Cuts

Your much more likely to cut your hands or get bitten by something, even if you're wearing gloves when your digging a hole with a stick or your hands. There could be spiders or other insects hiding in the scrub you're trying to clear as well so the further away your hands are from the area, the safer you will be.

7. Safer Camp Fires

If you live in a dry area where fires are common, it's always best practise to dig a hole for your fire and clear out the surrounding area. That way your fire is far less likely to spread to the surrounding area. It also has the benefit of protecting the fire from too much wind on a windy day which could put your fire out and it also means you will burn less wood which means you have to fetch less wood. Anything that can save energy in a survival situation is a benefit. Just make sure that the dug out hole isn't close to any roots of trees because fires can start from the roots up. It can take several days, but it does happen.

8. Getting Your Vehicle Out of Trouble Off Road

You could be driving to your bug out location or you could be trying to escape from other people or civilization. The last thing you need is to get stuck in the mud, loose dirt, or snow. If you have to dig yourself out of trouble, you'll be very grateful you had an entrenching tool in your vehicle.

9. As a Paddle

In a rush and need to get across a small pond, river or lake and don't have the resources or time to make a paddle, use your entrenching tool. You can tie it to a branch if necessary to get greater leverage, just make sure you tie it on very well.

10. Starting a Fire

Fire is one of the most important elements of survival and it's one of those aspects that you should have multiple levels of redundancy. Many of the entrenching tools come with a magnesium rod to start a fire. Other features of entrenching tools:

Opening a bottle
An anchor
As a hoe
As a pick
A hook to climb
As a blade for clearing brush
To dig cat holes
Bury trash
As a weapon
Making fire pits
Clearing brush
To use as a stake when making a shelter
Fire suppression
Tactical knife
Extracting nails
Scale fish
Pry tool

Now you've got the information as to many of the uses and scenarios you could use an entrenching tool so you can make up your own mind if they're right for you. I consider them the ultimate back up tool, they're sort of like a massive multi tool which most people carry.  They are relatively inexpensive, small and lightweight and can change a survival situation from one of dire circumstances to one of productivity. To see which entrenching tools I recommend, here's a list I have put together on my website


About Steve, the author, from Why am I so passionate about survival? Because without it, I wouldn't be here today. My family is of Greek origin and when the muslim Ottoman Turks invaded the village that my ancestors came from, two of my relatives were prepared for the invasion. It wasn't a surprise they invaded the area, they had invaded other parts of Greece first. My relatives took off for the mountains and survived there for months until the Ottomans left the village. Most of the population of the village didn't survive.

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