Published Apr 28, 2022 4:21 PM
Camping shovels likely don’t come to mind when making a list for your backpacking or camping trips. While it may not be the first thing you think of, it does happen to be frequently used. Whether you are winter camping and need a portable snow shovel or something lightweight to dig catholes, a shovel is a handy tool.
Understanding the intended use of the shovel is a priority. Then, narrow down options from differences like size, weight, and durability. It may take a little bit of research to identify these things, but the process will ensure you invest in the best camping shovels for your needs.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Camping Shovel
The best camping shovels are the ones that are easy for you to use and fits the situation. Many survival shovels will be more complex than is necessary for many campers, while the cheap plastic trowels break easily and are difficult to use. Before jumping right over to our top picks for camping shovels, read through our buying considerations below.
One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves when buying any camping equipment is:
What am I going to use this for?
When you’re buying a camping shovel, you’re likely to respond with: digging. While this is true (and a bit snarky), it helps to narrow it down a bit more.
For instance, are you overland camping? Car camping? Backpacking?
What is the soil and terrain like where you will be digging? Is it for snow or specifically for digging small catholes?
These questions will help you identify what will work best for you, and then you can move on to other specifications like the materials, size, weight, and durability.
To find the best camping shovel, look at the materials. Many low-cost and lightweight shovels are made from plastic materials, but they won’t be the most durable or functional. These can work if you only use them a couple of times a year and strictly for things like catholes.
Most of the camping shovels on our list will be made of metal or plastic. The types of metal commonly used to make camping shovels include:
- Steel: Including stainless steel, carbon steel, and manganese steel, it is one of the most durable materials available for camping shovels. Stainless steel is rust and scratch-resistant. Carbon steel has excellent tensile strength. Manganese steel is durable, resistant to impact, and general wear and tear.
- Aluminum: A far lighter material than steel, aluminum is rust-resistant. Aluminum is often used for backpacking shovels because of its light weight. They are intended for simple digging tasks, making these shovels less durable than some tactical shovel options.
- Titanium: An expensive and durable shovel material, titanium can work well if you’re willing to pay for it. The only major downside to titanium is that it can be very expensive.
Some shovels may combine these types of metal with some synthetic components like a handle or grip. Usually, if the shovel scoop is a metal material, it will be more durable, but companies may try to cut weight by swapping out other parts for plastics. Although this does cut weight, they often do not last as long.
Camping shovels should be portable, but that can mean different things to different people. The portability of your shovel will be tied directly to the intended use. So, if you are looking for a shovel fit for bushcraft, it will differ from an ultralight backpacking shovel or a foldable shovel for car camping.
The overall shovel design and materials used also impact the portability, size, and weight. Many backpacking shovels are less than one ounce in weight, while more tactical or standard use shovels weigh more, and some of them won’t necessarily be intended to be carried long distances.
What features do you want in a camping shovel? Are you in need of a tool to strictly dig catholes? Or do you need a snow shovel that is lightweight enough to carry?
The versatility of the shovel is once again tied to the intended use. If you’re unsure how you plan to use the shovel since you are just starting outdoor recreation activities, getting a more versatile shovel can be beneficial. That way, you can adapt and change the activity without investing in multiple shovel designs.
If you’re still unsure which shovel design is right for you, you can also consider starting with what you have. A simple camp trowel can do a lot, and these often are not foldable and will only function well for digging small holes. These look a lot like a garden trowel, and if you’re starting, you can just pack your garden trowel to see how it goes.
Multi-functional shovels often fold and have other features allowing them to be used for things beyond digging like hammering or sawing. However, if you don’t need these features, keep things simple. A standard foldable trowel does the trick for basic camping endeavors, but as mentioned, identifying your needs and the right shovel design will become easier to pick.
Why It Made The Cut
The OKOOLCAMP Survival Camping Shovel is a versatile multifunctional shovel that you can use in and out of the field.
- Weight: 3.19 lbs
- Length: 28”
- Foldable: Yes
- Best Use: General outdoor use and camping
- Durable materials
- Versatile features
- Three year warranty
- Adjustable handle length
- Too heavy for backpacking
The OKOOLCAMP Survival Camping Shovel is our top pick for the best camping shovel. While it is a bit too heavy for backpacking endeavors, it is perfect for car camping, RVing, road trips, and as a basecamp tool.
The head of the shovel is larger than most portable shovel designs, making it versatile enough to dig holes and move snow. This shovel is way more than just a shovel, though. It has a long list of other features, making it an excellent addition to a road safety kit.
The survival shovel seems to have it all with an adjustable handle, fish spear, pickaxe, hoe feature, nail pick, emergency glass breaker, and ice scraper. The only thing that seems to be missing is a place to put a fire starter. Overall, this is a great shovel to have around. It is compact, easy to use, and multifunctional.
Why It Made The Cut
If you’re looking for an ultralight, durable, and functional trowel for digging catholes on the trail, the Tentlab Deuce Backcountry Trowel is one of the best possible options available.
- Weight: 0.45 – 0.97 oz
- Length: 6.5 – 8”
- Foldable: No
- Best Use: Backpacking
- Available in three sizes
- Durable materials
- Compact design
- Not very ergonomic
- Can take some getting used to
For the packers looking to cut out ounces anywhere, the Tentlab Deuce Backcountry Trowel is the camping shovel for them. It comes in three sizes with varying lengths and is designed to penetrate even the most compact soil, allowing for a functional cathole-specific trowel.
Although the aluminum shovel is very thin, it is durable enough to penetrate packed soil. Both sides can be used to dig, but the way you dig may be different than you’re used to with a traditional shovel or trowel. So, if you invest in one, be sure you understand how to use it and read the instructions thoroughly.
It is a very functional design and works well in most digging conditions. However, because it doesn’t have a handle like most camping shovels, it isn’t as comfortable or ergonomic to use. The best part of this trowel is that it essentially vanishes in your pack. It isn’t clunky or heavy, and the various color designs make it easy to spot among your other gear.
Why It Made The Cut
The Rhino USA Folding Shovel is a durable yet affordable camping shovel perfect for any car camping getaway.
- Weight: 2 lbs
- Length: 24”
- Foldable: Yes
- Best Use: Car camping
- Several style options
- Powder coated carbon steel construction
- Lifetime warranty
- Heavy for backpacking
- Not all instructions for use are clear
While it may be too heavy for backpacking, if you need a folding shovel that can stand the test of time and trials of outdoor usel, the Rhino USA Folding Shovel is worth a shot. Rhino has a few fantastic shovel options, but the compact design of their folding shovel sold us.
The shovel has a sawtooth edge that can be used for simple cuts,. When the shovel head is rotated to be 90 degrees, it can lock in place to make for a hoe or a pick. The powder-coated carbon steel ensures durability and long-lasting quality.
Rhino is dedicated to customer satisfaction and producing quality products as a small father and son team. They offer a lifetime warranty for their shovel and respond quickly to customer inquiries. So, if you’re looking for a folding shovel to keep in your camping kit or the car for emergencies, the Rhino USA Folding Shovel is a top-tier choice.
Why It Made The Cut
The ARVA Plume TS Shovel is loved by many as a backcountry avalanche shovel to move snow in emergencies, but also works well for winter camping.
- Weight: l.08 lbs
- Length: 24.4 – 30”
- Foldable: No, telescopic
- Best Use: Winter camping, backcountry skiing/touring
- Lightweight aluminum
- Compact blade design
- UIAA certification in progress
- Functional and easy to use
- May not be as fast to shovel snow as larger, heavier shovel designs
The ARVA Plume TS Shovel is the telescopic version of the ARVA Plume Shovel. These shovels are excellent snow removal tools, but the big difference is that the TS has a telescopic handle design making it more compact and lightweight. Although it is telescopic, the pin locking mechanism makes it exceptionally efficient to put together and use.
It has a very ergonomic grip, and even with a smaller blade than some other snow shovels, it makes up for it in efficiency and weight. If you plan to use it as an avalanche shovel, you’ll be happy to know that the UIAA certification for the standard 156 Avalanche Shovels is in progress.
Even if you simply want an efficient, durable, and lightweight snow shovel for winter camping or vehicle travel, this is an excellent choice. It is far more durable than plastic snow shovels, and the weight makes it easier to use, no matter the weight of the snow.
If you are traversing the backcountry in the winter months, be sure to follow the American Avalanche Association guidelines to stay safe. You can also read our winter camping and cold weather camping and hiking tips. Check out our guide on how to pick the perfect campsite and the top winter camping tents.
Why It Made The Cut
The UST U-Dig-It Folding Shovel is an affordable, functional, and durable trowel design perfect for beginner to experienced backpackers alike.
- Weight: 5.2 oz
- Length: 9”
- Foldable: Yes
- Best Use: Backpacking, camping
- Durable stainless steel materials
- Easily portable
- Relatively ergonomic design
- Very affordable
- Some confusion if it is still made in the USA
- Not all orders came with carrying pouch
Sometimes the simple products are the ones that fit our needs the best. The UST U-Dig-It Folding Shovel is not only our top budget pick, but it is also a straightforward trowel design. It is an excellent buy for any backpacker or camper that wants to have a shovel as a backup or if they only need to dig catholes.
The stainless steel construction makes it a durable product and works well even in compact soil. The handle is comfortable to hold, and the handle design helps cut down some weight.
It is a small shovel intended to dig small holes. It wouldn’t be a good investment if you need a heavy-duty shovel for digging fire pits or trenches, but it is an excellent buy for younger campers, beginner campers, or minimalist hikers. When it comes to the overall value, this one is hard to beat.
How We Made Our Picks
In my experience, the best camping shovel is the one that is portable and makes digging easier. Now, most of my digging needs consist of simple catholes and nothing as labor-intensive as a fire pit, so my preferred shovel choice will likely always be a lightweight trowel. Since trowels aren’t the best for all digging endeavors, to choose some of our other top picks, I evaluated options based on:
- Sustainability: There is a reason we left plastic shovels off our list. Plastic shovels are very affordable and lightweight, but they are not as durable, cannot be recycled indefinitely, and continue to shed microplastics. Materials used were the primary determining factor in sustainability, but other company practices, warranties, and sustainability claims were also considered.
- Ease of Use: The intended use of the shovel, along with how easy it is to use that tool. From portability, handle design, and digging ergonomics, we wanted to choose shovels that made digging less of a chore while camping.
- Customer Service: An additional factor in choosing products is a company’s dedication to customer satisfaction. If there are several reports of bad customer service, faulty equipment, or unmanaged complaints, their products will not be included on our lists.
Other research methods included verified customer reviews, company-specific research, firsthand experiences with some products, and interviewing other avid outdoor enthusiasts about their shovel preferences.
Q: Is a shovel useful for camping?
Yes, a shovel is useful for camping. You can use shovels to dig catholes, sumps, remove ash or coals, dig trenches, and do other camp chores that require digging. Shovels can also come in handy when driving to remote locations.
Q: Do I need a shovel when backpacking?
While you don’t need a shovel for backpacking, it will make certain tasks easier. The best backpacking shovels will be durable, compact, and lightweight. They will also help you dig with ease, even in hard to dig locations. Shovels are primarily used in the backcountry to dig catholes but can also be used for other purposes. If you don’t have a shovel, you can also dig using sticks and rocks.
Q: Do I need a shovel for winter camping?
Having a snow shovel for winter camping can be especially helpful to establish a camping area, provide insulation around your tent, and even for safety purposes. Snow shovels will differ from digging shovels and tend to be larger. There are still some great options for backcountry snow shovels, usually designed for avalanches, that can be used for winter camping.
Q: Why are there holes in avalanche shovels?
Not all avalanche shovels will have holes in them, but if they do, this is primarily to make them more lightweight. Some avalanche shovels with holes can also be used to build snow anchors.
Q: How big is a tactical shovel?
Tactical shovels or survival shovels range in size and weight, but all should be compact and portable. Most tactical shovels will be anywhere from 1.5-4 lbs with the ability to pack down or fold.
Finding the best camping shovel starts with identifying the intended use. A small, lightweight shovel like the Tentlab Deuce Backcountry Trowel isn’t going to work perfectly for everyone or their digging needs, but it is still an excellent backcountry tool. We hope you found a few valuable shovel options on our list, and even if you didn’t find the perfect fit for your next adventure, use our buying considerations to help you make the suitable shovel investment.