Basic Recovery Tools

Winches, straps, kinetic rope and other recovery equipment seem to be standard in many offroad vehicle packing lists, but sometimes all it takes is a a good old shovel to help you get unstuck. The tools that you may need to perform a recovery operation of a vehicle will vary based on terrain, vehicle(s) involved and most importantly the skill of the operators. The last thing you want is a person not familiar with how to use a winch or a strap using it wrong and hurting or killing someone in the process.

Shovels are pretty basic, but they can be very useful in many recovery situations. The U.S. Military has included a shovel as a basic issue item (BII) for many Military vehicles for years because they truly understand the importance of being able to self recover a vehicle and equipment. Years ago, it was not uncommon to see shovels and other recovery equipment mounted on the sides of vehicles, in the engine compartment or tucked into a back hatch. As the High Mobility Mulitpurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or for the civilian (non-military) version, the Humvee was introduced, a compact set of tools known as a Pioneer Kit was included in the BII. The Pioneer kit came in a rack that stowed neatly under the rear of the HMMWV and included a shovel, an axe and a pick-axe. All three of these tools are basic, but greatly compounded the ability of the Servicemembers to perform self-recovery and other tasks.

pioneer_toolsPioneer Tool kits for the most part, are being phased out and replaced with a more compact set that offers more tools, but they can be found on sites such as or The equipment sold or auctioned on these sites are typically old equipment that is no longer being used by the Military or has reached the end of it’s lifecycle.

I have known some people that were lucky enough to purchase a pallet of pioneer tools at a great price and offer some of them to their buddies or members of their offroad club for very cheap. With a little ingenuity, the Pioneer Toolkit could be mounted on or in a vehicle to safely hold these tools and keep them from getting tossed around or lost on the trail.

max_tool_350The U.S. Military is moving away from the Pioneer Tool Kit and has since adopted a smaller package of tools that actually provides more options called the MAX™ Multipurpose Tool. The military version is OD Green in color, but it has the same contents as in the photo shown on the right. Here is the description from the makers of the MAX™ Multipurpose Tool:

“When assembled into its various configurations, the MAX is full size, strong, and reliable. Unassembled, the ax and attachments are remarkably compact. They can be stored easily in cars, vans, pickups, and disaster preparedness supply caches, or on any emergency response vehicle or heavy equipment.

The MAX is really a system that incorporates seven hand tools into one unit. It is based on a three and a half pound Hudson Bay style ax/sledge mounted on a 34″ fiberglass handle. The complete tool menu includes an Ax/Sledge, a Mattock, a Pick, a Shovel, a Broad Pick, and a heavy-duty reversible Rake and Hoe. These metal parts are made from tempered carbon steel. The attachments are quickly locked into a beveled socket on the back of the ax head for use. They are further secured with a hitch pin or thumbscrew and bar for safety. When not in use, they are kept in a sturdy carrying case that has strap handles and pack loops. The entire unit, including the ax, weighs 12 pounds, and fits together for one-handed transportability.”

e-toolIf you don’t want to have a shovel and other large tools taking up space and want to shy away from spending the money on a set such as the MAX™ Multipurpose Tool, there are other options available to give you the benefit of having a shovel and also a cutting surface to help cut out roots or small trees. The E-Tool, or as some may refer to as an “Entrenching Tool” is used by the U.S. Military as a small, portable and lightweight shovel to be carried by the troops. These have been used to not only dig out fighting positions and field latrines, but also to aid in the recovery of vehicles and equipment. The E-Tool folds down to about the size of the shovel spade and will take up little room as shown in the photo to the right. The E-Tool is available at many stores in the camping sections for a low price, but I want to caution you that this is one of those items that you get what you pay for. In my experience, the cheaper store bought E-tools will not last as long as some of the more expensive versions out there or the U.S. Military Issue E-Tools that you may find at Army Surplus stores.

The serrated-like portion of the blade is not the ideal cutting tool, but will make it possible to chop your way through small roots and trees with a little bit of effort. If you are on the trail with a broken axle and need to make a splint from a tree in order to hold the tire in place to get your vehicle off the trail, you may find that you are more than happy with the cutting abilities of the E-tool if you have no other options to assist with cutting a small tree or branch.

When it comes to recovery equipment, only you will really know what you may need on the trail. If you don’t have something you need and are lucky, someone else may have it in their vehicle, but when it comes to some of the most basic equipment that you can have to aid with self recovery, you should seriously consider a shovel. Whether it is used for digging you out, helping to clear a line or prying some rocks away to help make a trail more passable, the shovel and maybe even some of the other tools above may prove invaluable.