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Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for Best military folding shovels

Military shovels have been around for over 2,000 years, so it goes without saying they're pretty useful. Yet it seems that until the late 1930s, nobody had thought about making a folding one! Since then, of course, they’ve become hugely popular, not just with armies but also with campers, hikers, and RVers. If you live in an area with frequent snowfalls, it’s a very compact and handy tool to throw in the trunk.

The design may have been slow to develop initially, but more recently things have changed fast. Modern materials make these tools strong but very light. Sawtooth edges, pickaxes, and all kinds of extra accessories were added until, today, some are close to being complete survival kits. That’s great news if you’re looking to buy a military folding shovel because you have lots of choices.

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The military folding shovel was originally called an entrenching tool because its main purpose was to dig a trench or “foxhole” as a defensive or firing position. You’ll still see them called “e-tools” today.

Key considerations


When it comes to choosing a folding military shovel, you’ll find a variety of sizes. It’s important to check dimensions because pictures don’t necessarily give a true impression. Some blades are a little bigger than your hand. That’s great if you want something small and light, but you need to think about your intended use. Heavy-duty tasks require a more substantial tool.


On basic models — often called trifold shovels — a D-shaped handle folds over the blade, which makes it very compact and portable. Others have straight handles. Longer poles come in several sections, so you can choose the best length for a particular task. However, they are seldom telescopic; most screw together. It gives you added flexibility, but those individual pieces require more storage space. You’ll find handles made of a few different materials.

Steel: Traditional military folding shovels are designed for people who need simple efficiency, and reliability. The handles on these are steel, which is very strong if a bit heavy. 

Aluminum: On more complicated tools, the handles are frequently aluminum. It’s light and easy to manufacture in a variety of shapes, which is important with many of the attachments now provided. Some are coated in plastic or rubberized to improve grip (and so you don’t have cold metal to hold). 

Nylon: Glass-reinforced nylon is also used. It’s light and has good directional strength (along its length), though it can shatter under heavy impact. 

Resin: We’ve also seen handles made of polymer resin, which is very tough, though you’ll only find this on D-shaped handles.


The blade, or scoop, is usually a type of carbon steel (something we look at further in the FAQ section below). This is often powered coated to prevent rust. Another approach is stainless steel, which doesn’t rust at all but is more expensive.


Check the joint between the handle and blade, which is a potential weak point. You want solid rivets and a sturdy hinge that’s going to stand repeated impacts. This is particularly important on shovels where the blade can be set at several different angles. It’s not a problem with well-made tools, but on cheap models, a more complicated linkage can have a greater potential for failure.

If a bag or cover is supplied with the shovel, check its quality. If it’s not well made, you’ll soon need to find space somewhere else in your gear for your shovel and any accessories.




As we’ve mentioned, modern military folding shovels offer a huge number of attachments. Even basic ones usually incorporate a sawtooth edge, and you’ll often find they can be used as a hoe or pickaxe, too. From there on, it’s really a question of deciding which tools are most useful to you. The options we found include the following:

  • Axe blade
  • Flashlight
  • Wire saw (thin but surprisingly effective serrated cable)
  • Knife blades (often these screw to a short section of handle)
  • Rope cutter
  • Screwdriver (some with extra bits)
  • Compass (often conveniently positioned in the end of the handle)
  • Abrasive fire stick
  • Fish scaler (and occasionally disgorger)
  • Bottle/can opener
  • Whistle
  • Hexagonal nut tightener
  • Glass breaker
  • Ruler

As you can see, there are plenty of choices! It’s what makes the modern military folding shovel such a versatile tool for all kinds of users. Nevertheless, a simple model might still be your optimum choice. As attractive as some of these models seem, you’ll want to take into account the gear you already own. There’s little point in doubling up.

Quality: It’s also important to think about the quality. If you’re being offered a dozen or more accessories for what seems like a very low price, you need to question the construction standard. Having poor tools is just as frustrating as not having any, and maybe more so. If you’re miles from anywhere, you need to know you can depend on your tools, and for serious outdoor enthusiasts, we always recommend investing in the best quality you can afford.


Although all multipart tools come with a bag to store all the components, some simple military folding shovels don’t include one. If you’ve planned space for it in your pack, that’s not a problem. If you’re strapping it to the outside, you’ll need to order a bag separately. They can be heavy-duty canvas, leather, 600-denier nylon (we’d avoid anything thinner), or ballistic material (a very strong form of nylon mesh).

folding shovel2
Shovels have been part of military equipment as far back as the Roman Empire. The first recorded use by the US Army is 1870, when the trowel bayonet was introduced.

Military folding shovel prices

Inexpensive: You can find a cheap military folding shovel for under $15. The problem with many is that when the description says “compact,” it often means very small indeed! There are also concerns over construction quality. Some say they’re okay as an emergency tool, but in a difficult situation, we’d want something more dependable. There are some good bargains between $15 and $25, so a decent shovel is still very affordable.

Mid-range: Between $25 and $60 you have an enormous choice of well-made folding shovels, from those actually used by the US Army and NATO, to models with all the accessories you could wish for. It’s not a lot to pay for a tough, reliable, multifunctional tool.

Expensive: There are a few military folding shovels in the $70 to $100 range, and the specifications can be remarkably comprehensive. Some are like a whole survival kit! Gadget freaks will love them. If you just need to dig the occasional hole, they’re kind of overkill.

Having a whole bunch of accessories sounds great, but do you really need them? If not, a basic folding military shovel will cost you less and be easier to carry.

folding shovel3
The multifunctional military shovel has been around for well over 100 years. They weren’t just useful tools, they could also be used as a cooking surface or a canoe paddle.


Q. What’s the difference between a folding camping shovel and a military shovel?

A. Mostly it’s just the name! The camping model might be more straightforward, while the military version has an axe edge, saw blade, or other accessories, but unless you buy the actual model used by armed forces personnel, it’s really just a description given by the manufacturer.

Q. What are the advantages of a carbon steel blade?

A. You need to be careful here because descriptions can be a bit misleading. All steel is carbon steel — it’s an alloy of iron and carbon. Some manufacturers use the term “carbon steel” to exaggerate the quality. You need to look for “high-carbon steel,” which is harder and stronger than normal (and usually used for cutting tools). The best will quote a number, such as 1095 high-carbon steel.

The same is true with “aircraft aluminum” or “aviation aluminum.” It might be a better material, but it doesn’t mean much without a supporting designation, such as 6061 T6.

Q. What is MOLLE?

A. It stands for Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment. It’s a system designed for the military (and used by US and British armies) to make it easy to attach various items to a shoulder harness, belt, or backpack. It’s now widely used by manufacturers of camping and hiking gear.


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