Pat Cascio’s Product Review: Cold Steel’s Special Forces Shovel

Ever since I was a little tyke, which is going back many decades, I’ve had an interest in anything having to do with the military, especially military gear. When I was a kid, back in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, IL, my friends and I would play “soldier” or “cowboys and Indians” all of the time. These days, if kids are seen pointing toy guns at one another, the police are called. What a shame!

I was the envy of most of the kids on my block when I was a kid. I had a genuine U.S. military canteen, complete with canteen cover, pistol belt, entrenching tool, and the old “Castro” style military cap. I was told that if you could dig a hole deep enough you could dig your way to China. The backyard where I lived probably still has some holes that I dug with my entrenching tool. To be sure, all this military gear was purchased at an Army/Navy Store, which is something you rarely see any longer. When I was younger, even into my teens, I would haunt two Army/Navy stores in downtown Chicago, always, and I mean always, walking out with a military treasure of some sort.

These days, it’s getting extremely difficult to find genuine U.S. military surplus, thanks to some policies put in place by Bill Clinton when he was president. Most U.S. military surplus these days is either destroyed or sold or even given away to foreign governments for their militaries. How sad is that1? We, the taxpayers, have paid for this equipment and we should have the opportunity to purchase it back, if we want it. You can find U.S. military-style uniforms and gear, but the definitive word there is “style”. Also, we have companies claiming they manufacture military “plus” gear or military “spec”, but whose “spec”? It sure isn’t U.S. military spec. It’s all very misleading. The reader simply assumes these companies are selling U.S. military-spec gear and clothing, when it is made to military-spec of some foreign military.

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In my well-packed bug out bag, I carry a very small tri-fold shovel, and everyone should have a small shovel of some sort in their BOB. If you don’t, you aren’t prepared. Yeah, you can “dig” a hole with your sheath knife; however, it will dull, and you could possibly break the blade. It’s not an ideal digging tool. In my emergency box in my pick-up truck, and in my wife’s SUV, we have tri-fold shovels, and we don’t have cheap ones, either. They are some of the better ones on the market. I have had to use one of these shovels more than a few times, and it pains me to say that I had to dig out one of my SUV’s back in Colorado Springs, CO one day when it got high-centered in a high snow drift. The 4-wheel drive wouldn’t get me out, but the shovel saved the day.

My long time friend, Lynn Thompson, who owns Cold Steel produces an almost exact duplicate of the Russian Special Forces (Spetsnaz) shovel, and I’ve wanted one for the longest time. It is one of those products at Cold Steel that is forever on backorder. They can’t produce them fast enough to keep up with supply and demand. The Cold Steel Special Forces Shovel is, in my humble opinion, the absolute best-built military-style shovel in the world, and I use the term “style” only because I’m not aware of any military issuing this shovel. The Cold Steel Special Forces Shovel is an improved version of the Russian Spetsnaz shovel. It has steel that is twice as thick as that found on the Spetsnaz version, and a thick, hard-wood handle, that will take a beating. The SF shovel has a broad, flat head, that is sharpened. Yes, you read that right; it’s sharpened on three sides, and it is sharpened to an axe-like sharpness, which is a tough working sharpness. However, with some time, you can sharpen it to the sharpness of a knife. However, I recommend against that sharpness; it will easily damage the edge of the shovel’s blade. With the edge that comes on the SF Shovel, you can chop a small tree down, and it works great around my small homestead, cutting down blackberry vines.

A small shovel can do all kinds of chores that you wouldn’t expect. Most people think of digging a hole as the only use for a shovel. How about using it as an emergency paddle for a small boat or as a cleaver or hatchet? It could be used as a weapon, like throwing it as a tomahawk, or used as a defensive shield against a fist or a knife attacker. You can even use it as a shovel to dig fox holes, trenches, or a sniper’s blind.

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You need to take a few minutes to watch the above link and see all the different torture tests that Cold Steel puts this SF shovel through. It is eye-opening, to say the least. Several of the tests involve using the SF shovel as a throwing weapon. To be sure, I had to test my sample the same way, and with very little practice I could get my SF shovel to stick in tree trunks. The Cold Steel SF shovel isn’t a folding shovel; it is a fixed blade with a handle. You can’t fold it. However, it makes it all that much more sturdy. I’ve had some tri-fold and even bi-fold shovels collapse while using them or even break. The shovel only weighs slightly more than 26-oz, too, so it’s not too heavy to pack around. The blade is black powder coated to help protect the medium carbon steel blade from rust. However, the sharpened edges are bare from sharpening them, so put a coating of protective oil or some Birchwood/Casey “barricade” on it to help prevent those exposed edges from rusting. The SF shovel also comes with its own Cor-Ex Sheath that can be attached to a backpack, which is easier than storing it inside the pack, too.

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I honestly abused my SF shovel, throwing it, chopping with it, and digging with it. Under my soil and on my digs, there are many small and big rocks, so digging is a next to impossible task. However, the SF shovel was up to it. I guess I was really amazed, maybe shocked, that the shovel could chop as well as it did. It chopped better than any small hatchet I’ve owned, and it even works as a machete and better than most machetes do.

If you don’t have a small shovel in your bug out bag, or your emergency box in your vehicle, then this is the one you want to buy. Even if you do have another lesser shovel, I would still buy a Cold Steel Special Forces Shovel. I’m totally blown away with this product. It does so many things, other than being useful as a shovel. This is one survival tool you’ll want to have with you, especially in the wilderness. Full-retail is less than $37 and can be found for a bit less when you can find them. In my book, this is a deal and one absolute “must have” survival tool. My SF shovel is in my emergency box in my pick-up. If I ever have to leave my pick-up during a breakdown, my backpack will have the SF shovel in it.

– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio

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