While your knife, cook pot or an access panel or door may do in a pinch, it can be very useful to have a lightweight folding or collapsing trowel, spade or shovel when you need to get down and dirty and make like a backhoe. In the desert a shovel is particularly important. Even a small plastic backpacker's trowel is a lot better than using your knife or improvising some sort of digging implement and they hardly weigh anything.
The all stainless steel "u-dig-it folding hand shovel" from U-Dig-it Enterprises is a
big step up from the
ubiquitous plastic backpacker's trowel, though at a price, both
monetarily ($19) and in weight
(6 oz., plus ballistic nylon case). The handle of the u-dig-it
folds into the blade for compact
storage, 5 3/4 x 2 1/2 x 7/8 inches maximum dimensions (the case
adds a bit to all the
dimensions) though, as you might expect, those don't reflect the
true shape or volume it
takes up. This is a very sturdy hand trowel that will stand up to
a lot of punishment, just
what you want for survival use. If you can afford the weight,
this is a substantially better tool than the plastic trowel and the Rolls Royce of trowels.
If you need something larger and more robust for digging, both Glock and Gerber (Fiskars) make compact shovels (spades) with steel blades and composite handles to save weight. The composite is also supposed to be more resistant to abuse. It certainly won't rust.
The Glock "Field Spade" (yes, the same company that makes the Glock firearms) also incorporates a serviceable, if not great, 6 3/4 inch wood saw stored inside the hollow handle. You unscrew the cap, reverse the saw and then tighten the cap back down to hold it in place. The end of the saw also functions at a large screwdriver.
The spade is 25 inches overall when open, with an eight inch blade having a very agressive point. The blade folds and the handle collapses into a pretty compact package (9 15/16 x 6 x 2 in.) and is a light 23.6 oz. We have had excellent luck with this spade, with no failures in normal or even abusive use. However, we have received a number of reports of failures of the hinge where the blade meets the handle.
The handle extension is internally threaded and locks into position by rotating until tight. If you weren't aware this is how it functions, you might miss it, there is nothing indicating how it works with the exception of a barely visible pair of marks that line-up then it is fully tight. Should you not lock the extension, you may receive a painful surprise when the handle collapses on you.
The blade locks into three using positions, 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and straight out. There is a knob on the hinge point that is tightened to lock the blade into position. It is easy to tighten it down so well that it is difficult to loosen. A notch in the knob allows the saw blade to be used as a lever to break it loose in such circumstances.
The Gerber (Fiskars) "Fiskars Folding Spade" (made by Fiskars in Finland) is a modern rendition of the G.I. style folding spade and is NATO approved. We find the "D" style handle more comfortable to use than the straight handle of the Glock, but others may well prefer the straight handle. The spade is 23 inches long when open, with an eight inch blade. The blade is slightly compromised in depth because the hinge extends approximately 1 3/4 inches into the spade face, but for 99% of situations this isn't going to cause a problem. It folds into a relatively compact package (9 1/2 x 6 1/4 x 2 inches), but is fairly heavy at 36.5 oz.
The Fiskars spade locks into only two positions, nearly straight out and at about 72 degrees. We found the slightly angled blade in the normal digging position more comfortable to use that the perfectly straight Glock blade. The blade has a less agressive, more rounded point than the Glock, which suffered somewhat in comparison in really hard soils. This was somewhat compensated for by the better handle. We found the single blade setting at an acute angle to the handle somewhat awkward to use as a "pick." The blade/handle lock is combined with a "conventional" rotating barrel at the top near the handle.
Comparing the two spades, the Glock blade has a narrow top, especially so on the side with the locking knob where it is only 1 3/8 inches wide. On the other hand, the flat, 2 1/8 inch (on both sides) straight back of the Fiskars provided greater purchase for our foot, making digging easier in any situation where we needed to use our feet on the spade to improve penetration.
The Fiskars spade seems much more robust and we prefer its construction and locking mechanism. We don't think you should count on the saw in the Glock spade, it just isn't as effective as better saws and is awkward to use with that hunk of steel (the blade) hanging off the end. Overall, we prefer the Gerber (Fiskars) Folding Spade, but if weight is a serious concern, the Glock Field Spade will do fine--just be careful of the hinge.
In winter snow conditions a shovel or better yet, a snow shovel, is even more important. There are a variety of these available which collapse into relatively small dimensions. Not small, mind you, but smaller. The best have an aluminum blade with a non-stick (Teflon, etc.) coating, a synthetic high strength lightweight shaft and "D" handle. Beware of cheaply made versions which lack the strength of better models. Life-Link and Voile are two manufacturers that come well recommended. In Arctic conditions or anywhere the snow is likely to be deep and reasonably well packed, with little or no trees or other shelter sources, a snow saw will be invaluable for constructing shelter. Life-Link makes the best, according to my sources.
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