6 Best Trowels & Shovels for Camping & Backpacking of 2019
|Top Pick: TheTentLab The Deuce #2 UL Trowel||
|Runner-up: QiWiz Big Dig Trowel||
|Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool||
|Budget Buy: GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel||
|Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel||
|Grizzly Peak Trowel||
We put 6 of the best camping and backpacking trowels to the test. After over a month of field testing and experiments, we determined that TheTentLab The Deuce #2 UL Trowel was not only our favorite for backpacking, but our top pick all around. Its thin blade cut easily into any soil while still feeling stable and relatively comfortable to use.
The handmade QiWiz Big Dig Trowel was our runner-up. It’s compact, lightweight, and dug surprisingly well for how small it is.
For anyone looking for a budget pick, we recommend the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel. It was the toughest and dug the best of all the plastic trowels we tested. It would be more than adequate for most campers.
Read on for our full reviews and tips on choosing the right trowel for your needs.
Top Pick: TheTentLab The Deuce #2 UL Trowel
After using The Deuce #2 across a variety of soils, we quickly came to prefer it not only as our go-to backpacking trowel, but also as our favorite camping trowel.
While other trowels with larger blades moved dirt a little bit quicker in ideal soil (loose and rock-free), this one still held its own and was reasonably comfortable to use.
We dug out a 6″ x 6″ cathole in just 44 seconds. It took us the same amount of time with the Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel, which was much larger and over 3 times the weight.
In more difficult conditions, The Deuce excelled. The only trowel that cut through the soil as well (maybe even slightly better) was the Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool.
But the Vargo trowel just couldn’t move very much dirt at a time. The wide blade of The Deuce easily picked up clumps and shoveled loose soil to clear out a cathole, making it fairly quick to dig with.
At no point during our testing did The Deuce ever feel like it was going to bend or break, even when we were driving it into some of the hardest dirt we could find.
On their website, TheTentLab talks about how you can use The Deuce upside down. At first, we didn’t really see the point. Once we hit some extremely tough soil and tried it out, though, we were sold.
Turning the trowel upside down and using two hands to grip the large blade while driving the handle into the ground really does make this thing glide into hard soil.
Really, the only negative we experienced was that the handle could dig into your palms a little bit. That’s inevitable with this style of trowel, so we can’t knock it too much.
At only 0.6 oz, this trowel is a no-brainer for any backpacker. It’s also durable and does such a good job of digging that it would be a great addition to anyone’s car camping gear as well.
- Weight: 0.6 oz
- Material: Aluminum
Runner-up: QiWiz Big Dig Trowel
The QiWiz Big Dig Trowel is handmade specifically for ultralight backpackers by a cottage industry gear maker, so we were excited to try it.
Our initial impression was that it felt a little flimsy compared to the other trowels in our test because the titanium is so thin.
In fact, if you put pressure on it the wrong way, the handle will collapse a little, but it immediately bounces back into shape.
Once we started actually digging with the Big Dig, we were impressed. For how slim and tiny it is, it is incredibly easy to drive into hard ground, through roots, and even through rocky soil.
We found that the rounded tip of the blade didn’t dig quite as easily as our top pick, but still did much better than we expected from looking at it.
Because of how thin it is, it takes a little bit of care and attention while digging to not pressure it the wrong way and cause the handle to fold. It was never a big deal if this happened, since it so readily popped back into shape. It’s also very easy to avoid once you’re aware of it.
The QiWiz Big Dig came in last in our Dig Time Test, taking just over a minute to dig out a 6″ cathole in loose soil. Because of its small size, it takes a little longer to move soil out of the way — it wasn’t hard to dig out a hole, it just took a little longer.
In rocky soil, though, it performed better and dug much quicker than every trowel in our test except for our top pick.
We also love that it comes with a detailed description of how to properly take care of your business in the woods, as well as instructions for how to re-do the coating on the handle if it comes off.
This is definitely geared toward ultralight, minimalist backpackers, and comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Our top pick, The Deuce, was the same weight, performed a little bit better in our dig tests, and was a good bit cheaper.
Still, we think this is an incredibly cool, useful, well-made piece of gear, and it’s a good buy for someone who wants something really unique.
- Weight: 0.6 oz
- Material: Titanium
Budget Buy: GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel
The GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel held its own with our top picks. For the price, we think it’s a great deal.
The Cathole Trowel’s long, scooped blade is easy and quick to dig with in loose soil. It came in second in our Dig Time Test, taking only 35 seconds to dig out a cathole.
We were impressed with the volume of soil it could move with one scoop. With its large, rounded handle, it was also one of the most comfortable to hold.
In harder ground, it still fared respectably. While it didn’t slice through roots and tough soil nearly as smoothly as the thin metal blades did, it still got the job done.
The slight serration along the edges of the blade allowed us to use a twisting and sawing motion to really drive it into the ground better than the other plastic shovels.
While both other plastic shovels had durability issues in hard soil, the GSI Outdoors Trowel felt burly and tough. We think it would take a lot to break it, even in very rocky ground.
3.2 oz is pretty hefty for backpacking, so we’d leave this one in the car camping kit. Still, for the price, it’s a durable, comfortable trowel that digs surprisingly well.
- Weight: 3.2 oz
- Material: Plastic
Reviews of the 3 Other Trowels We Tested
The Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool does a great job of digging in even the toughest ground. We liked it quite a bit, though it had a few shortcomings compared to our top picks.
This trowel cuts smoothly into hard soil, with the sharp point and serrated edges easily working their way through just about any obstacle. It feels extremely solid and durable.
Our biggest gripe with the Dig Dig Tool was how little soil it could actually move. It felt like scooping a couple of tablespoons of dirt at a time, which got pretty tedious.
It came in second to last in our dig speed test, taking 48 seconds to dig out a cathole in loose soil. Even in hard soil, we found that this required a lot more scooping and pushing dirt than the other trowels and shovels we tested.
At 1.25 oz, it’s more than twice the weight of the other lightweight trowels we tested. It’s still a great digging tool, and since it can double as a tent stake, it saves you a little bit of weight.
If you don’t mind taking a little longer to dig your cathole, it’s a solid piece of gear.
- Weight: 1.25 oz
- Material: Titanium
Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel — the classic orange camping trowel — performed decently in our tests, but not great.
It was just average in our Dig Time Test, taking 44 seconds to dig out a hole in soft soil. The blade is mostly flat, making it very difficult move dirt very fast.
Instead of scooping and lifting dirt, we found ourselves mostly pushing dirt out of the hole with this, which led to a slow and somewhat frustrating digging experience.
Its blade is sharp enough to cut through some small roots and to cut into hard soil with some effort and care. The lack of serration makes it more difficult, though.
It also felt much less durable than the GSI Outdoor Cathole Trowel, bending back substantially when we tried to lever soil out of the hole with it.
Still, it’s super cheap, only weighs 2 oz, and is significantly better than digging with a stick.
- Weight: 2 oz
- Material: Plastic
In loose, soft, rock-free soil, the Grizzly Peak Trowel was a champ.
Its large, shovel-like scoop moved the greatest volume of soil, allowing us to dig a 6″ by 6″ cathole in just 26 seconds.
Unfortunately, those aren’t the conditions most of us find while camping or backpacking.
This trowel broke in about 10 seconds in hard, rocky soil. The blade of the shovel initially bent before it even pierced the ground.
With some work and careful angling, we got it to dig into the ground. Unfortunately, the first rock it found chipped the blade severely.
We dug in this exact same spot with every other trowel in our test, and none of them had issues with the rocks there.
Unless the only place you camp is on very soft, loose soil, we’d recommend choosing a more durable option over the Grizzly Peak Trowel.
- Weight: 2 oz
- Material: Plastic
Here are the best trowels for camping and backpacking:
- TheTentLab The Deuce #2 UL Trowel
- QiWiz Big Dig Trowel
- Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool
- GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel
- Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel
- Grizzly Peak Trowel
How to Choose the Best Trowel for Your Needs
Types of Trowels
“Shovel” Style: This type of trowel resembled your typical garden shovel. They are most commonly made of plastic, although you may see some heavy-duty metal ones.
Folding: Designed to be compact, these trowels have a handle that folds up to allow them to pack smaller. They tend to be slightly less stable as a result, but can still be very durable if they are well-made.
Minimalist: For ultralight backpackers and minimalist campers, these tiny, thin, lightweight trowels are perfect. Although they are not as comfortable to use, they do the trick and weigh next to nothing. Also, because these minimalist trowels tend to be made of strong, thin material, they can often cut through roots and hard soil better than thicker plastic shovels.
Tent Stake: Some trowels can double as a tent stake, making them multi-use. It works the other way around, too — some tent stakes can double as a trowel. Snow stakes such as the REI Snow Stake are popular options because they’re wider than regular tent stakes.
Length & Width
If all other factors are equal, a shovel with a longer and wider blade will be easier to dig with than a smaller one. Also pay attention to the concavity of the blade — some blades we tested were nearly flat, making it difficult to move a lot of soil with them. Others were deeply curved, which made them a lot quicker to dig with.
Having a sharp, tough edge will make it much easier to dig. Metal shovels tend to do a better job in this category, since plastic generally has to be thicker in order to be strong enough to dig in hard ground. A lot of trowels will also have serrated edges to help them cut through roots and tough ground.
Plastic trowels tend to be the cheapest but are generally less durable and harder to dig with. Plastic just doesn’t slice through roots and tough soil the way a sharp metal blade can.
Titanium and high-quality Aluminum are both extremely lightweight. Because these materials are very strong, the blade of the shovel can be very thin and sharp, allowing it to cut easily into tough ground. These materials (especially titanium) don’t come cheap. For backpackers, however, titanium or aluminum offer the best balance of weight and function.
Steel trowels are heavy-duty and easy to dig with. They tend to be significantly heavier than trowels made with other materials, making them better suited to car camping than backpacking.
How We Tested
Dig Time Test
We wanted to know how quickly we could dig out a properly sized cathole (6″ deep and at least 6″ in diameter) with each of these trowels. We performed this test in loose, damp soil.
The Worst Soil in the World Test
We took these trowels to a spot with thick, clay-like, rocky, root-filled soil to test how they dug in rough conditions.
The GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel was the only plastic trowel we felt held up reasonably to those conditions. The Grizzly Peak Trowel broke almost immediately. All three of the metal trowels did very well in this type of soil. The results are described in more detail in each individual trowel’s review.
We brought these trowels with us on our camping and hiking trips for over month to try them out across different types of ground and different conditions.