Campers and backpackers tend to go one of two routes: either a surplus entrenching tool of one incarnation or another, or a small garden trowel. Both have their plusses and minuses. E-tool’s are generally pretty inexpensive, fold up relatively compactly, and generally do a decent job at digging the types of holes you’re likely to encounter camping. While a lot better than carrying a full-sized shovel, they can still be kind of bulky and heavier than one might prefer. The garden trowel, and some of the folding trowels, are smaller, lighter, even cheaper and can also work for most basic camp chores but you certainly aren’t going to move a lot of dirt with one. They’re okay for looser soil, but they don’t give you much blade to move dirt with. And there isn’t much of a handle available to really get a purchase on when you really need to dig in, like when tackling hard clay or rocky soil. They’re pretty much a one-hand proposition. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were something in between the two that split the difference on the features? The ideal tool would be a compact form factor, reduced weight, yet will still allow for a substantial work to be done with the tool. Well, thanks to Gerber and their Gorge shovel, there is now such a model. The Gerber Gorge looks a lot like a slightly updated entrenching tool at first glance. It has a folding blade and a telescoping handle with a comfortable, polymer grip. It’s only when you take a look at the dimensions that you see that the Gorge is a lot more compact than a traditional folding shovel. Unfolded it comes in at a bit under 16”. Long enough to get two hands on it to dig with, unlike a trowel. With the blade folded and handle collapsed the length drops under 10”, not much longer than a fixed handled trowel, and shorter than some. The shovel blade is wider, so you’re going to move more dirt, faster, than you could with the trowel as well. Weight is 1.3 pounds, more than a trowel but over a pound less than a full sized tri-fold entrenching tool. Like most folding entrenching tools, the Gorge uses an adjustable collar ring to tighten the shovel in various positions. Fully extended you have a short, but stout, shovel suitable for two handed digging. With the blade aligned at a 90-degree angle to the handle, you can use the shovel as a pick, a hoe, or to hack and loosen up soil. While in this position you have a checked hammered head available to you that is handy for hammering in tent stakes and for other camp chores that might require a little “malletization” now and again. The polymer handle is well contoured for your hand and comfortable for basic digging chores. You can get more leverage with the Gorge than you can with a trowel and, while I wouldn’t want to dig any full sized fox holes with it, it’s well suited to the aforementioned fire pits, drainage trenches, and cat holes that you might need to construct while in the field.
Another thought I had was that the Gorge is just about the perfect size for kids too. Lets face it. Kids like to dig. Be at the beach, or in mom’s flowerbed when she isn’t looking, there’s not much greater joy to a kid than playing in the dirt. I can remember using shoddy sand toys and yes, garden trowels to dig for buried treasure when I was young, making roads and mountains for my toy trucks, and making rivers through the sand at the beach. I’d snag my dad’s old wooden handled entrenching tool as I got older because it was a neat piece of gear. By then, I’d moved on to building forts in the woods, and tunneling out snow banks, but it was still fun stuff. A folding Army shovel! That was great stuff to a kid. And it still is. The Gorge is just an updated, perfectly scaled, version of it. While certainly useful for adults, it probably will end up popular with the kids as well and it’s a perfect fit for a Scout who is going to be hitting the woods with some regularity during his or her childhood.So, where does that leave us? Well, the Gorge is a nice middle ground between an e-tool and a garden trowel. It lets you do heavier work than the trowel without having the weight and bulk of the bigger shovel. It’s also very affordable. I picked mine up from Cabelas for about $20 and that seems to be a pretty typical street price. Not bad at all for a rugged piece of useful kit, especially when you add in a tough nylon cinch sack that’ll keep your shovel from banging up your other gear, and keep the dirt out of your pack after you’ve used the Gorge. If you’re looking for a good tool for yourself, or something for the outdoorsman in your family, take a long hard look at the Gorge. I suspect you’ll really dig it if you give it a try! (sorry, couldn’t resist…)