Floating somewhere between “awesome and perfect” and “impractical and insubstantial” lies the Gerber E-Tool.
In the word of collapsible shovels, it’s the best I’ve ever used, but that comes with a few frustrations we’ll go over below in this review.
Convenient, Sturdy, and Lightweight
Those are hallmark traits of just about any tool, and this Gerber product delivers.
It weighs in at just over two pounds (or just over one kilo), folds down to the size of a baseball cap, and takes a good beating with barely a scratch to show for it.
I can fit this shovel into a lightweight hydration pack next to a survival hatchet, knife, and a hammock and barely notice its presence. When I use it at work gardening and landscaping, it’s easy to bring along, tucked under my arm or in whatever carrying container I’ve got handy.
It’s proved useful for projects like digging out perennials, cutting through stubborn roots my soil knife can’t work through, weeding (this thing is a beast at clearing weeds and grasses), and even serving as a hammering tool.
Where It Shines, It Really Shines…
For smaller scale projects, the E-tool is incredibly useful. I thought a shovel with such a small blade would be useless, but I’m happy to say I was immediately proven wrong.
In tight quarters, a full-size shovel is just too much to use; even shorter shovels like the ones with the D-grip handle are too big.
I’m thinking of scenarios where I needed to transplant a tree and had to crawl around beneath dense undergrowth. These situations offer almost zero mobility, and a small tool like this one by Gerber is phenomenal.
Get a Good Grip
The D-grip handle makes it easy to apply force in these tight quarters, and the shovel blade is sharp and strong enough to easily cut through soil.
That serrated edge of the blade is pretty great as well; it easily cuts through roots and fibrous material.
Because of its small size, it’s a breeze to use as a clearing tool for weeds and ground debris. I’m used to using a soil knife or ho for these projects, but I’ve found myself using the E-Tool more and more often instead.
Because you can lock the blade at various angles, it makes finding the perfect cutting edge easy as can be, although I’d say that it’s at its best when in the fully extended position pictured below.
I’ve used the Gerber E-Tool to transport cement mix, fertilizers, soil, and grass seed from one bucket to another, and it’s pretty much the perfect size for these projects when you don’t have gloves handy.
Because the shovel blade locks at a certain angle, it’s also easy to get the scoop you need.
Best of all is how easy it is to transport and keep on your person. A sheath is available for purchase, (Amazon Link), but I think it’s easy and compact enough to travel anywhere you’ve got a few inches of room.
I keep mine in a pocket of my pack, or at work, I can easily toss it into a bucket, toolbelt, or any other container.
I’ve even fit it into cargo pockets (not advised, the serrated blade added a few new loose threads to my shorts).
Because of its compact size, it fits just about anywhere with ease, places like the trunk of your car, a backpack, or anywhere else.
… But It Doesn’t Shine Everywhere
To put it bluntly, this shovel is not the one you want for serious digging.
In my day-to-day, I dig a lot, and the E-tool is excellent for specific jobs: excavating a plant or object carefully, digging in tight areas without room to maneuver, and removing plant debris from the soil surface.
But when I have to dig an actual hole, you bet your bottom dollar I swap out for a full-size shovel. The Gerber E-tool is just impractical in every way for any serious digging.
But, hey, it’s better than nothing, right?
I haven’t put this tool through overly demanding “conditioning” because it strikes me as unnecessary. It’s got a carbon steel blade and 7075 aluminum handle, and it’s been put through a good bit of rough-and-tumble digging since it’s…well, a shovel.
I’m digging through the clay-filled, rocky, unforgiving soils of Philadelphia. The properties where I work are built on layers of stone, industrial trash, and no shortage of nasty roots.
The Gerber E-tool has scraped its way through plenty of everything and comes out with nothing more than superficial scratches.
I’ve used it as a light-duty hammer to drive in wooden stakes and to persuade boards to get back into place, and it works beautifully.
Easy to Open and Close (and to Hurt Yourself)
The Gerber E-tool folds into a compact little tool about the size of the shovel blade itself, then extends along two swiveling arms into the fully extended shovel I’ve come to rely on; that means this shovel consists of three connected pieces that assemble into one.
The Transformers would be proud.
Just a Little Twist
A good couple of twists on a “sleeve” of the handle lock the tool into place… just make sure it’s actually locked before using it.
I’ve noticed it has a tendency to stop tightening, making me assume it’s locked in place, but it’s not actually locked up. The first time I tried using the shovel, it collapsed on itself.
Easy solution: Once it’s tightened, simply check that the pieces are locked into place by wiggling the shovel blade, then tighten it up again. I don’t know why it never locks in place the first time, but it always locks in place the second.
I suspect that dirt and other particles get jammed into the locking mechanisms and need to be worked through to lock the shovel entirely into place.
Even after regular rinsing of the soil and such from the shovel, it still happens, so who knows.
Watch Those Fingers!
Closing the shovel is the same process, but for the love of God, be careful. Even now, I have to be very cautious when I collapse the shovel because it’s so very eager to offer the slightest resistance, then SNAP shut. My fingers have paid the price too many times.
It’s definitely something to be conscious of when you’re collapsing the shovel back into place. If you’re at home or working in the yard and bang up your fingers, it’s not a big deal, but in a SHTF scenario, that little bit of damage can add up.
The serrated edge of the shovel is pretty darn sharp, too, so just like any sharp-edged tool, make sure you’re being cautious with it.
I haven’t cut myself yet, but my cargo shorts have lost a few threads from those edges without me knowing it until after the damage was done.
Working in the Garden
Not an advertised use, but damn, it works.
The shovel blade can be locked into a bent 90-degree angle, allowing the shovel to take an “L” shape and then be used to scrape and drag material from the ground. It can also serve as an impromptu rake if necessary.
My hands are far more efficient at scraping away material, but there are scenarios where my hands are not a suitable option. Clearing broken glass or other sharp, stabby materials is far better suited to this shovel than my hands.
Likewise, there are simple weeds and other ground materials I’d rather not grab with my bare hands.
I used the E-tool as my primary weeding tool to remove a large patch of vinca vine. Slide the blade underneath the plants, grab the greenery, shake loose the soil, and move on to the next patch.
Weeding your garden might raise a few eyebrows for the purpose of a survival tool, but a survival garden provides plenty of food for the season and needs regular maintenance to be at its best. The E-tool works as a weeder, improvised hammer, and, of course a shovel.
Just Don’t Let It Out of Your Sight
The matte black color is nice and simple, and it’s discrete, too, but it can be tough to find if you take your eyes off of it in a messy outdoor area.
Some light leaf cover, messed up soil, and a few weeds are all it takes to almost lose the E-tool. Its nondescript appearance is beneficial if you want to use it and avoid detection, but it can work against you by being too difficult to find when you need it.
A simple circle of colored tape solves the dilemma without sacrificing the modesty of the E-tool.
While I’ve got this shovel firmly set into my gardening tool pouch, it’s perfect for any survival scenario.
Recommended Reading: 10 Best Survival Shovels Reviewed
It might come up short compared to a regular shovel in digging a hole, but it’s a thousand times better than a knife, a rock, or your bare hands. I used it for constructing my survival lean-to and was happy to have it.
It helped me dig my tires out of the snow a few times and could easily serve as a finger saver from freezing ice and wet snow.
My most recent use of the shovel was while camping. Luckily, I kept it in my pack because my buddy forgot to bring his trowel to dig a cat hole, an absolute wilderness hygiene necessity.
Other potential uses:
- Making a latrine
- Digging a trench
- Digging a temporary fire pit
- Leveling ground
As A Weapon…?
I mean, you could do worse when it comes to improvised weaponry.
The shovel isn’t large but it is solid, and the serrated edge is very sharp.
I’d trust myself to something besides a collapsible shovel, but when you’ve got nothing else around? This one’ll be effective enough.
It would be difficult to get a good grip on it to swing it effectively, but if a person were to practice with it for this purpose I think they’d find ways to adapt and succeed.
Would I Buy It Again?
Sure would. I’ve got zero complaints about the E-tool, and the only hang ups I have with it are simply its limitations. A full-size shovel would be the superior option in almost any capacity, but sometimes you can’t afford the weight or bulk of a shovel.
In those moments the Gerber E-tool shows off its value.
I don’t see it breaking down any time soon. It’s keeping strong through all of its intended use with no indication of failure, and for a collapsible shovel that’s enough.
Gerber has a generous warranty program for the shovel, so I suggest picking one up for yourself and putting it to work. I think you’ll find it a useful tool to keep tucked away somewhere.
If you’re in any sort of field where you dig regularly or work with shovels, I definitely recommend it as a purchase to make your life easier.