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!
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.
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.
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.
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.