Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Ruger Alaskan: Bring Enough Handgun

There has been an explosion of carry pistols and what I call “city variants” of guns over the past couple decades. From a Glock in every home, to more concealed carry permits that ever, to a wide choice of magazines about the topic in the grocery store. It’s no wonder that notable wheel guns seem a bit of an oddity these days. Especially the larger caliber “hand cannons.”

Mr. Callahan
While I won’t completely dismiss the “Dirty Harry effect” on big muzzle wheel guns, I do find the .44 magnum a proper load when follow up shots might not be an option. Like with bears for instance. Now I’ll admit I am a fan of bear spray. I hear endless city folk and even plenty of suburbanites complain that pepper spray is ineffective, full of drawbacks, and nowhere near as good as a firearm. Basically that tells me that there are some holes in their knowledge about bears, bear spray, and firearms.

First of all, pepper spray is effective on bears. I find it a little funny that there seems to be plenty of survivors (mauled maybe, but living to tell the story) who sing the praises of pepper spray, and plenty that don’t. The one thing they all have in common is they lived. I’ve drawn down on bears with both pepper spray and rifle. Luckily I never had to fire the pepper spray, but I have the gun. One black bear took two 30-06 shots to the gut, and three more 30-30s to its midsection and hindquarter before I got a clear view to put a fourth 30-30 into its head. Bear and moose hunting is probably the closest to African dangerous big game hunting as you can get in North America. Hogs might fit there too in the cheetah/lion category.

Bear spray is a deterrent to an attack. I might not thwart it entirely, but the painful sting of cayenne in the bear’s eyes and nostrils is a pretty good start. And accuracy, while helpful, is not required. Just aim in the general direction and let the cloud do the talking. However, wind, distance, expiration date, and duration of the spray all set limits on the experience for the bear. And, of course, when the spray can in empty, it might be game over unless you have a backup plan.

A Little Big
Enter the Ruger Alaskan. A massive handgun stuffed into a small package. The Alaskan, or Super Redhawk “Alaskan” as its billboarded on the right side of the barrel, is an overbuilt stainless steel six-shot revolver of excessive proportions except in barrel length. At only two-a-half inches, the barrel is frightening from the shooter’s side. When Dirty Harry was bragging about the power of his magnum, he had about six inches more out in front to weigh down the recoil and keep the muzzle somewhat in the same direction as the target after the bang. But surprisingly, the Ruger Alaskan is quite manageable, and due to its weight, balance, and heavy rubber Hogue grip, the Alaskan is nowhere near the squirreliness of snub nosed .357’s.

When shooting .44 shorts, you can double-action all six cylinders in a row grinning all the way. .44 magnum rounds certainly remind you that they are not for the weak or fainthearted, but again nothing to be scared of. However, the +P+ Buffalo Bore heavy loads do send a tingle up your arm. It’s not that the muzzle flips, but more like swinging an aluminium baseball bat into a brick wall. It takes a second or two for the recoil jolt to transform into a sharp sting. But if you ever do “need” to fire the Alaskan, you won’t notice the recoil. I guarantee it.

When talking blunt force trauma, the .44 is an ideal cartridge. But unlike hollow point bullets popular for those unfriendly human encounters where you want to disrupt organs and bleed out the foe, the idea behind a hard cast flat nosed bullet is pure bone-breaking concussion. If a bullet fragments early in its journey through an angry bear, it will have little to no effect in any time frame that matters.

As Isaac Newton penned 300 years ago, force equals mass times acceleration. That means that the force of a .44 magnum can approach that of a 30-06 rifle bullet if the .44 bullet weighs twice as much, say 340 grains compared to 165 grains, but only traveling half as fast, say 1400 fps compared to 2700 fps. So when playing at the upper tiers of pistol power, you are treading far into the realm of rifles.

And More
The Ruger Alaskan is more overbuilt than the other Redhawks in a couple ways. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Ruger Alaskan is that the entire main frame is one solid piece of stainless steel that completely surrounds the cylinder and extends to the muzzle. Traditional revolver designs have the barrel screwed into the main frame. Not the Ruger Alaskan. Another visible feature is the thickness of the top strap that runs from rear sight to barrel. So beefy is the top strap, among other parts, that it is one of the very few listed handguns that Buffalo Bore suggests can handle it’s most powerful solid cast bullet +P+ cartridges. Don’t bother looking for a Smith & Wesson on the list. There isn’t one.

Packing the Heat
For Alaskan carry in bear country, I have three solutions. The first is the standard Galco Dual Action Outdoorsman belt holster made specifically for the Ruger Alaskan. It is a beautiful piece of gunleather and the first choice of most Ruger Alaskan owners. 

My second carry solution is for more specific activities including hunting, backpacking, and fly fishing. It is the Galco Great Alaskan Shoulder System chest holster right for the Ruger Alaskan. A nearly identical holster to the belt version but with a trio of straps that snug the holster to your chest, belly or sternum depending on need. 

Often the belt space is hidden inside waders or under a backpack waistbelt, or occupied with other kit. And there is risk that you might not be able to reach your belt area depending on the turn of events. Plus with a belt holster you have to commit to a carry side, in my case on the right hip. Drawing the Ruger Alaskan with the left hand from a right hip is not easy under the best of circumstances, and if you “need” to do it, the circumstances are certainly not best.

Drawing from a chest holster with support hand is still not the quickest but much easier. The final solution I use is to plop the pistol into the Hill People Gear Recon Kit Bag. This critter is like a thin fanny pack that rides securely on your chest. I prefer this method of carry when on cross-country skis, snowshoes, or mountain biking.

For extra ammo (being optimistic) I use the Galco 2x2x2 ammo pouch
when carrying in leather, and orange Tuff stripper clips with the Recon Kit Bag. Unlike auto pistols, carrying a handy 18 rounds of .44 magnum is quite a bit. Of course if out in the sticks for  more than a week, I would up the round count to at least a couple dozen bangs depending on my other guns. If rifle hunting, not so much. If my only carry, then very much yes.

Home on the Range
Once you get the hang of the sights, the Ruger Alaskan will shoot all day long making a hockey puck-sized group. That’s from a rest, of course. On a bench or table, anything works. But for the open field, I prefer the Primos Gen 2 Bipod Trigger Stick. It allows me to hold the Ruger Alaskan at eye level, and I can quickly put all six rounds into a five dollar bill at 25 yards which is plenty good for hunting. Of course if I take my time, I can keep those shots around Abe. With a little work, you could probably feel comfortable deer hunting out to 50 yards with the Ruger Alaskan. And in a survival situation the ethics of fair chase take a back seat allowing you to push your luck. There are plenty of reports of Ruger Alaskan owners keeping everything inside a dinner plate at 150 feet.

For bears, however, there is a different equation at work. But first a joke: Do you know how to tell if a bear is really charging you or bluffing? Answer: If it's a bluff, the bear will stop. And within that joke lies the problem. You have very little time to decide if how you will respond. If the bear gets too close, it won’t matter how many shots you get off. If the bear is bluffing, or just curious but not an immediate threat, well then you can quickly mess that up. And having an injured bear running around is all kinds of bad.

Looking for Action
The trigger on the Ruger Alaskan is fine. Quite fine, in fact. In single action the trigger trips around five pounds. Expect a dozen or more pounds of pull to snap off a round in double action. But if you can hold this gun safely, you can pull a 12 pound trigger.

The cylinder on the Ruger Alaskan spins counter-clockwise so keep that in mind if you need to load one more round. I also played around with three different Ruger Alaskans in .44 before deciding on the one I liked. The cylinder play was a hair too much for my taste in the first two. Well one was quite a few hairs off. But the third locked up like a rock. When dropping almost a grand on a narrow use pistol, perfection is part of the deal.

Should the need arise to have a handgun with this kind of power be needed for chores other than dispatching pesky four-leggers, the Ruger Alaskan is up to the job. The list of guns for survival is as deep as it is wide. But there is a popular convergence around those calibers of the .22 variety and millimeters in the nine to ten range. Most lists would put the Ruger Alaskan outside the top ten so I would have suggest that this particular gun is more on the experienced preparation list, or for those living in the proper geography. 

Ruger’s naming this the Alaskan is no accident. But it works fine in Montana, Idaho, and parts of Wyoming. For those states whose bears are smaller than my dog, I would suggest something else. A 10mm perhaps. But when it comes to sheer firepower for close quarters combat in the wilderness, the Alaskan is in a class by itself.


Are You Drinking Radioactive Water?

Radiation is a popular word, but often thrown around for effect. The particular type of radiation of concern here is called ionizing radiation. Ionizing or charged particle radiation is different from sunlight that has commonly understood radiation such as ultraviolet and infrared radiation. The sun is often pointed at as a source of safe radiation in order to muddy the contaminated waters by those who have a selfish interest in underreporting the risks of radiation.

Whether around the world or in small town America, there seems to be an undeniable truth in that any news of detectable radioactivity discovered in drinking water will be 1) suppressed and 2) the quantity of radioactivity will be under reported when the news does go public. From Chernobyl to Fukushima, and especially to Texas, the story is the same.

The radioactive contaminants that we are concerned about in water are mostly alpha and beta particles. Alpha particles are from radioactive decay where essentially a helium 4 nuclei is released. Alpha particles are relatively large consisting of two protons and two neutrons but can only travel an inch or two in air. Paper can block alpha particles as can dry skin. Unfortunately if alpha particles are ingested or contact mucus membranes, they make a real mess of things especially cells and DNA.

Beta particles, on the other hand, are smaller than alpha particles and are either an electron or positron. The smaller mass of the beta particle allows it to travel further from the source, up to a few yards in air. Beta particles zip right through skin and a few sheets of paper, but can be blocked by thick plastic. However, the main risks from beta particles are from when they are ingested.

 Yea, but...
There are many natural sources of radiation in water, and groundwater sources are often more at risk than surface sources like reservoirs. There are also plenty of man-made sources and actions that increase the natural amounts of dangerous radiation in drinking water supplies. What makes this go from bad to worse is that the presence and quantity of radioactive materials in water are often either not measured in the first place, averaged over time or a cluster of wells, or wildly under reported through statistical and legal gymnastics. The bottom line is that the science does not lie, but the sources of the science can manipulate and withhold the facts when it suits them. And history has shown us over and over that it suits them.

Bone-seeking radioactive particles are no joke. They are cumulative and do cause cancer. There is no safe minimum consumption or exposure limit for them, and you absolutely cannot trust a government agency to monitor water systems for radioactive concentrations or even notify you if they are detected.  Even worse, if you are informed that there is a problem, it is very likely a long-standing issue and what you are told is most certainly underestimated. In fact I would bet that any reported level of contaminant in a water system that is barely under the threshold of concern is a fake number. There are statistical tricks and legal parkour maneuvers that provide any necessary adjustment to avoid expensive fixes in the name of public safety.

Sound the Alarm
Since it has been demonstrated many times over time and over continents that radioactive contamination in the water supply will go unreported, under reported, and downplayed. So it is up to the drinker of water to be vigilant and take precautions when necessary. And that’s you.

While there are 10-minute tests for other water contaminants like lead, testing for radioactivity takes a special piece of equipment as well as a deeper understanding of what the results mean. In fact, the Geiger counter comes in handy to test your water filter, if you have one and know how to use it. But sadly if you do detect radiation yourself, your life just changed; both inside and out.

Most traditional water filters are limited in their capabilities to handle radiation. But some are better than others. Since water itself does not become radioactive, the radioactive particles can be filtered out similar to other contaminants. But unlike a clogged filter filled with sediments, metals, and parasites, a filter filled with radioactive particles is itself now, to put it bluntly, a component that could be in a dirty bomb.

Activated carbon can remove a common radioactive element found in water namely iodine-131. But when the load capacity of the filter is reached, you might not know it. It seems the best bet for the consumer is a combination of active charcoal and a reverse osmosis filter like the Epic Pitcher.

In the News
One would go crazy worrying about invisible radiation in water given the amount we need to consume, cook with, and let flow across our skin every day. But there are indications when worry might be more necessary. Such as when there is a nuclear event in the news. Fukushima was a big one, but provided a test not unlike when a volcano spews ash and we can see how much lands and where. Globally, radioactive fallout from Fukushima was detected everywhere one looked. And even right here under my Big Sky. In this article from The Japan Times  ( it is clear that the Fukushima situation is far from over. In fact the February 2017 article states the radiation level in reactor 2 has reached its highest radiation level since core meltdown in 2011.

So even if you have no immediate concern about radiation, you should have a plan and the supplies to act on that plan.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Five Cheap Things that can get You Killed

There is no shortage of inexpensive survival items that can actually get you killed. Counting on your kit is essential when things go dark yet when it really matters, there is also no lack of folks who are fine with trusting their survival to the lowest bidder. And that doesn’t even include the issue of redundancy of cheap things. Of course it’s your call as to where you draw your quality and expense line, however less-but-quality always beats more-but-poor-quality. And that goes double in a survival situation.

Cutting to the chase, let’s take a look at five essential survival items that can get you killed if you err on the side of cheap because there is often a very good reason why quality kit costs more even though the higher price might only add a 10% increase in performance or accuracy. But it is in that narrow 10% where survival is found.

Compass: In reality, a compass only points north. That is its job with the rest of the navigation up to you. While usually no problem, a faulty compass can mislead you into a false sense of orientation. Unfortunately a compass will always point somewhere. Unlike a knife that doesn’t cut, or a flashlight that doesn’t turn on, a compass will behave as if all’s well even when it’s not. And worse, a compass may give incorrect information ranging from slightly off to completely backwards, and anywhere in between. This list started with the compass because it is the most likely to be sold in cheap kits.

Compass Rules of thumb: Stick with the brands of Silva, Suunto, or Brunton in that order. The bigger the compass, the likely more accurate and durable. Keep your compass away from shock, magnets and temperature extremes. If you are comparing compasses, keep them at a foot apart or they will alter each other's needle’s direction.

Knife: Cheap knives are a pet peeve of mine. Not that you need a high-priced custom blade, but since the knife is an essential component of any survival kit, cutting corners with your cutting steel is a bad idea from every angle. Like the compass, a knife can be deceiving. Even cheap blades can cut something. Where the cheap knife becomes dangerous is when the knife must perform under pressure. Quality directly affects steel strength, ability to hold an edge, and the obvious need to be resharpened. Cheap folding knives can snap in half, unlock when least expected, and fail in multiple mechanical ways. Cheap fixed blade knives can also snap in half, bend, chip, and dull quickly. And once dull, might not easily take a new edge. The deception with a cheap fixed blade is that until push really comes to shove, the true cheap nature of the blade may remain hidden. Spending more for a quality blade will yield many happy returns. But skimping on your primary blade is giving up before the battle even starts.

Knife Rules of thumb: Stick to USA made knives or known factories overseas from Finland, Japan, Germany, or England. Learn to sharpen your own knife, and keep it that way. But if your blade dulls easy, chips or rusts, start looking for another blade. Modern super steels are high performance and low maintenance. Leave the antiques for kitchen duty.

Flashlight: As the only electronic item on this list, the flashlight has more points of failure than other mechanical-only devices. Flashlights in the hundreds of lumens are available from a couple bucks found in the grocery store checkout line, to a couple hundred bucks from high-end manufacturers who cut no corners and only use the highest quality parts. With flashlights there are many things to consider, but the two primary concerns are 1) quality of the LEDs, and 2) quality of the circuits. The LEDs or Light Emitting Diodes, are the things that provide the light. They are made by the thousands if not millions, but not all are equal. When produced in mass quantity, there are vast differences between those LEDs that are rock-solid high performers, and those that merely look like LEDs but will fail rapidly. Failure often happens with the LED coming apart, falling off its panel, or burning up. Those companies that produce high end lighting tools test each and every LED ensuring only those with the proper performance pedigree get into the assembly line. And the circuitry connecting the LED to the battery is a solid electron pathway designed for not only the proper voltage, but also intense shock, water intrusion, corrosion, and general durability.

Rules of thumb: Buy name-brands like Surefire, Streamlight, 4Sevens, Pelican, and those lights with a reputable company behind the name. AA batteries are general purpose, but use the CR123 batteries for serious use. Avoid AAA unless you need a tiny light. Triple-A batteries are low power with short life.

Backpack: The humble backpack is often little more than an afterthought. A bag with straps. If it's a bag and got straps, then it’s good to go. The sad fact is that not only are backpacks unequal, but many are downright dangerous. As costs are cut, so are corners. But those cut corners don’t appear right away on the store shelf or online catalog. Instead those missing corners rear their ugly heads when needed the most. Straps tear. Hardware cracks. Seams rip. And zippers fail. Even the best packs can run afoul of Mother Nature, but a quality pack will fight to the end while a cheap pack already gave up the fight before ever leaving the store.

Carrying your life-sustaining gear is not a job for a second-rate pack. If you have to run flat out with your kit bouncing like a kangaroo on your back, any weaknesses will quickly start launching gear in all directions, And that’s assuming your shoulder straps don’t rip off leaving you with a little more than a laundry basket.

Backpack Rules of thumb: Quality, of course. But also avoid major zippers without stress relieving straps. It’s best to underload a larger pack than to overload a smaller pack. Carrying a pack over 20 pounds should have a padded waist belt that is used to hold a majority of the pack's weight. Load up your pack and take it for a jog. You will learn more in those five minutes than hours of thinking about it.

 Ammo: I know it’s tempting to pick up a box or two of shells when on sale or even stockpile a case of some obscure brand of obscenely low priced cartridges, but you might just be making the biggest mistake of your life. An exaggeration? Perhaps, but cheap ammo can be dangerous to both you and your firearm. Inexpensive ammo can only be made by cutting some serious corners. The powder may be impure or corrosive, the bullets asymmetrical and scratched, and the cases out of tolerance. And even if the gun cycles and goes bang, the cases may be non reloadable, the primers bulged, the velocity a variable, and the accuracy involves luck. Some would argue that cheap ammo is fine for practice, but you wouldn't use cheap gas in your Bug Out Vehicle when times are good, or run dime-store batteries in your valuable electronics just because you are safe at home.

Ammo Rules of thumb: Stick with new, name brand ammo. Keep it dry and cool. Practice with the same ammo you will count on when you really need it. Watch for sales, but always lean towards quality over quantity. Always.

This list of five cheap things that can get you killed is far from comprehensive, but many of the same lessons can be applied to the rest of your gear.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Crovel Elite: More Than Enough Tool For The Job

It’s quite likely that everyone reading this has firsthand experience with the old-school military-issue entrenching tools. In fact military digging tools have been with us since the Romans were in diapers. The dedicated trenching tool formally entered the soldier's loadout in WW1 as trench warfare ran the battlefield. And that is where the entrenching tool also entered service as a weapon. From there the e-tools got lighter, smaller, stronger, and more feature filled compared to the WW1 ancestors. The wooden-handled screw-collared three-position tools of much of the last century are fine for Boy Scout campouts, but in today’s serious survival world something better is needed.


The e-tools evolved along with battle weapons from crude shovels, to combo bayonet/trowels, to non-folding spades to folding diggers. Handles moved from none to wood to folding wood to metal to plastic all with varying degrees of success. But in way too many cases, the handle/blade connection was a weak point. My last two ex-military tools disintegrated at just that point. The wood rotted out like a fence post where it was wedged and bolted into the metal collar. And in both cases, I was out in the woods and the shovel snapped off without warning. Sure, one was my dad’s and he probably brought it back from Korea, but I am so done with wood.

Crowbar + Shovel = Crovel

The US-made Crovel Elite is a the latest member of the enormously successful and functional multi-tool family. The Crovel Elite is an arm-length tool with a hand-sized and very slightly dished shovel-shaped head of 4130 Chromoly Alloy steel. Depending on the temper, 4130 can have a Rockwell hardness of 90-96 or roughly twice that of a basic survival knife or half-again more than a high-end super steel blade like the Benchmade in my pocket. This is not your grandma’s garden spade.


The Crovel name (pronounced crow-vole not crov-all, but personally I prefer the latter) combines crowbar and shovel which is exactly where name and the thing for that matter came from in the first place. Inventor Tim Ralston once had a bad experience with a shovel and the solution he came up with was to replace the broken handle by welding a crowbar onto a shovel head. The idea caught fire and the Zombie fans poured more fuel on the Crovel fire. Demand outpaced supply and today the Crovel is a highly sought after solution for those whose preparedness needs has matured beyond The Walking Dead. You know, like survivalists, preppers, soldiers, outdoorsmen, 4-wheelers, and smart urbanites. As the Crovel product line diversified targeting more users and uses, it was inevitable that a smaller, more packable version would be made.

The Crovel Elite is considered the backpacking version, but as an avid backpacker, I would consider it more a Bug Out tool since my backpack errs on the lighter side. But then again, not everyone agrees with my definition of backpacking in that I often forgo such comforts as the tent, stove, and occasionally even the sleeping bag (think bivy sack, down coat, hat and thin foam pad). Hey, I didn’t say comfort, I said light.


Look Ma, No Thumb!

By the way, Tim Ralston might look familiar. Yes, he’s that guy who shot off his thumb in a Doomsday Prepper episode. Here’s a quick video about the incident:

But like all creative and ambitious inventors, stuff happens along the way, both good and bad. And on the good side, Tim’s company sold a million dollars worth of Crovels in its first year!

Coming Through!

The 4.5 x 6.5 inch shovel/blade/saw-end of the Crovel Elite is for more than just digging and trenching. It has a sawtooth edge, a knife-blade edge, a wedge-tip, and a general flatness making it an effective prying and lifting surface. The hammerhead is quite effective and performs much like a framing hammer, and quite a good one at that. However, if you find yourself building your bug out cabin in the woods, I’d recommend completely removing the shovel blade if ever you have more than a small handful of nails in need of pounding.


A tubular foot-long shaft connects the shovel-end to a handle that triples as a pry bar and hammerhead as well. Actually, it is more of a pry bar that has finger grooves and a flat inch-square hammering surface. One thing I would like to see is a hole in the pry bar end so a carabiner could be snapped into that end for various reasons. As a storage and anchoring solution, a hole would be welcome, but also the shovel end at 45 degrees makes an excellent hook that could sustain plenty of weight.


The Crovel Elite’s bigger brothers have been used as grappling hooks, and the Elite would work as such. Remember, this is a true survival tool so conventional uses are almost hardly worth mentioning. For example if I wanted to use the shovel at 90 degrees as a step, well then by gosh I need to anchor the pry bar and use the shovel as a step. And of course, if you flip it over, you now have a stool to sit on. I’m looking forward to spending hours on it later this fall during hunting season.

I could also envision using the Crovel Elite as an ice axe for crossing the unexpected snowfield or frozen water main leak. Having a handy lanyard hole will make the Crovel just that much better. Thirty feet of black 550 paracord provides the gripping surface on the handle shaft, but that amount could be doubled by a fancy paracord weave providing a more textured and contoured shaft. There are two small holes on the blade flanking the handle and opposite the shovel point. They make the Crovel Elite slingable should you want to wear it on your back like a rifle.


Lock and Load

A 2.5 inch detente pin with spring loaded ball bearing allows easy switching between the four different locking angles of shovelhead deployment over 180 degrees. In addition to full closed and full open, there are locks at 45 degrees and 90 degrees. A 5/8ths inch bolt with a nylon-threaded nut anchors the blade in its overbuilt swivel housing. Polished steel washers smooth the adjustable tension, and the whole mechanism is reversible for a preferred right or left orientation of the pry bar/handle jaw. Since the detente pin is not permanently attached to the Crovel, there is always the chance it could get lost. While the detente pin is the most versatile removable locking mechanism, in the off chance it is lost pretty much any 3/8ths inch or smaller bolt or shaft will also lock the shovel/blade in position. The pin comes from the factory with a three inch-long loop of black paracord. My first change to the Crovel Elite was to swap out the small paracord loop for a larger one in bright orange and of smaller diameter, 300 pound test I think.


Since the action of the detent pin is horizontal or perpendicular to the shovel tip, all is well when the Crovel is uses along the traditional up-down shovel motions. However, when you transition to using the Crovel as a chopper or saw, your side-slamming motions might now be in line with the pin’s release motion. Chopping can cause the pin to fly free of its home so you want to keep the pin’s direction in mind when you chop with the Crovel. Since most chopping will take place with the non-saw side of the blade, entering the pin from the saw-side will help prevent knocking the pin free when chopping.


Detail Shop

Fully deployed to it’s overall 22 inch length, the head points away from handle with the blade parallel to the handle. Fully closed, the blade folds against the handle shaft shrinking the overall length to a touch over 17 inches. The max width of the shovel end is four-and-five-eighths inches, and the width of pry bar grip is about four and three-quarter inches. Even under three pounds, the Crovel Elite does make a small dent in your bug out kit weight, but provides a massive upgrade compared to a old-school military entrenching tool or EDC prybar.


The edges of the shovel head are sharpened like knife blades, but not way too sharp. That extra filing is up to the user since it would be a bit of a liability to have 270 degrees of razor sharp edge wrapping the blade. The longer lanyard I attached to the pin helps when it gets stuck. I’ve even used my foot through the lanyard to pull out the pin because even the factory sharpness of the shovel is plenty to inflict some serious injury if accidentally drawn across skin while you’re fighting to pull the pin free. Of course the sharp shovel also makes a great edged weapon as it was designed.


The crovel is not a complete substitute for a shovel, or a saw, or a hoe, or a pry bar, or a knife, or an axe, or a hammer. But add up the weight of all those other tools and even if you only get one-tenth of the dedicated performance of each of those tools from the Crovel you will be far ahead with a 2.5 pound multi-tool that does each of those tasks even if not perfectly or at the volume of leverage of the dedicated tool. Further, you have all those tools in one hand at any moment. And for those who have done some deconstruction, or emergency rescue, having a reversible or rotatable tool that serves many functions may actually have an advantage compared to a whole shed of single-use tools.

At the end of the day...

Since any evaluation of a tool needs to be compared to other reference tools, I chose to put the Crovel Elite up against the Glock e-tool and the Ontario Spax. The Glock is a metal shovel/plastic handle with added saw blade, and the Spax is like a hatchet with small pry bar where the poll (or butt or hammer face) would be. I’ve carried a Spax for years in my truck and the Glock tool since my last wood-handled e-tool broke.

The Coval Elite is by far more beefy and utilitarian then either Glock or Spax. While the Spax does work well as a hatchet (but not much of a splitter due to its thin profile), I carry it mostly for its pry bar capabilities. Its shortcoming is found in the relatively short lever arm especially compared to the Elite which is a good third longer (but I’d recommend gloves when using the extended Croval Elite blade as a handle).

Where I live, ancient river sediments are the honest topsoil which means the dirt is mostly rock. After digging and bashing my way through the rocky dirt or dirty rocks, the Crovel showed some wear and dings, but nothing unexpected or that a few minutes of filing wouldn’t remediate.


Chopping wood with the Crovel was surprisingly effective. While hardwoods are rare around here and mostly only found within dining rooms and offices, I found I could blast my way through any chunk of wood I came across whether log, stump or branch. Sure, I’d rather have my Gransfors Bruks, but there’s no efficient way I could dig a hole with the fine Swedish iron. Nor would I want to.


The scoop size of the Crovel Elite is smaller than the Glock and about half the size of conventional spade so don’t expect to dig as fast as a garden variety shovel. But I’ve yet to meet anyone in the backcountry carrying a full-sized spade unless on a mule train or they work for the Forest Service or CCC.


The pry bar end of the Crovel Elite has finger notches to aid in holding it secure when digging and chopping. But the grip also makes the Elite a formidable weapon since control of twisting, pushing, pulling, and striking is made easy by having a firm grasping point.

Miller Time

It wouldn’t be a Crovel if it didn’t include a bottle opener. While the opener is not obvious, and in fact not deliberately included according to what Tim Ralston told me. However, I found that the Crovel Elite was as adept as a frat boy at opening beer bottles. From a blade-stowed position, just pull the pin and open the blade to about 30 degrees off the handle. Then kiss your brain cells goodbye since the leverage on this monster opener makes popping tops way too much fun!


And speaking of fun, I guess it’s a sign of success -and a dash of innovative design- when your product shows up as a weapon in a violent video game. In the Killing Floor2 an early generation but wickedly enhanced Crovel makes a cameo as the right tool when you need to lop off a mutant’s limb or head.


DIg it!

Having a large multi-tool in your kit is an obvious choice, but which one? The family of Crovels has grown from a practical dual-need to an engineered and refined design with ultimate survival in mind. I don’t expect the Crovel Elite to be sold at Costco or Sam’s Club, or included in entry level bug out bags because the Crovel Elite is a professional-grade survival tool with a three-figure price. It’s not under-built or for the faint of heart. The Crovel Elite is the lightest weight brute force survival violence tool whether your immediate need demands digging, chopping, prying or fighting. Leave Grandpa’s wood-handled trenching tool for the masses who just want a feel-good entrencher to pencil-off their bug out checklist.