As readers have seen by regular perusal of DTG posts, we’re ALL about multi-purpose tools, and there’s a good reason: If you can use one solid tool for multiple uses, it means there’s one or more things you don’t have to have in your ruck. Makes sense, right? And that, along with quality and reliability is what guides our choices on gear. Today’s post is on, what we believe, is just about the best balance between purposes for a general purpose digging tool: The Cold Steel ‘Special Forces’ Shovel.
When this tool originally hit the market, Cold Steel called it the, ‘Spetsnaz’ shovel. There was no sheath offered originally, either. They’ve since renamed it the ‘Special Forces’ shovel. Point of order: ‘Spetsnaz’ is the Russian term commonly used for ‘Special Forces’. Must be some sort of marketing thing…whatever. The shovel itself was modeled after a soviet issue entrenching tool that could be used as a weapon (as all E-tools can be), but it had a niche in that it was very strong, fairly light, and could be used as a stand-in chopper as well as a primary digging tool.
The e-tool I used to carry was a Korean era USGI e-tool because the thing was/is simply bomb proof. It had the additional feature of a pick, which was nice, but it was an extremely heavy piece of equipment for the dual use capability it provided. At least 5 lbs, and didn’t balance well. In the service we had the Korea/Vietnam issue e-tool/picks at first, which is where I first used that model, then about 1980, we traded them into supply for the new-fangled ‘tri-fold’ shovels. Such a down-trade has never occurred before or since, in this writer’s opinion. Simply worthless. Digression complete.
I became aware of the Cold Steel offering almost as soon as it hit the market, but did not want to buy one due to anti-soviet prejudice. Anything designed by the soviets was to be eschewed, as our indoctrination went. However, about 10 years ago, I saw a fellow survivalist with one on a weekend outing, and observed how he basically beat the crap out of it without it being phased. He used it as a shovel, an axe, a machete, and to tend the fire when bunching coals together for cooking. I was impressed. To be sure, I could have done the same with my e-tool, but truly, it was a PITA to get ready for use as you were required to unscrew the nut, adjust the shovel blade to the angle you wanted and the tighten it back up for use. My fellow survivalist’s shovel was ready the second he pulled it out of the side pocket on his ruck
So, I bought one and promptly threw it in the supply pile and forgot about it for a year, still using the Korean era US issue shovel. Then, one day I was repacking my ruck and became frustrated with my e-tool’s penchant for requiring center line attachment on the ruck because nothing else I carry would balance it piece for piece.
That’s when I remembered the Cold Steel shovel sitting in my supplies! I recovered it and it’s nice black cordura sheath, and tested the edge on an old piece of 2X4. Chopped pretty nice. Just like a small axe. I’ve since dug all sorts of holes with it in training, chopped brush, saplings, firewood, and so forth, and brought the edge back to ‘machete sharp’ with a simple file. It keeps on going.
As you can see, I’ve painted mine up and it’s seen it’s share of service, no worse for the wear. The edge is maintained with a fine file, and every now and again I ‘rattle can’ it to tone down that BRIGHT wood and black finish. I’ve cut medium to small firewood, dug trenches, chopped brush, and it always comes through, so I’m pretty happy with its performance. One thing, though: If you’re going to be doing significant excavation, nothing takes the place of a 1/2 to full size shovel. Saves the back quite a bit. The problem is portability, which is the niche the E-tool fills. I carry mine between the ruck and the side pocket of the ruck. Works great! Oh…and don’t forget to add a plastic garden spade….they’re great for digging cat holes. Just sayin….
What e-tool do you use?