Whenever I teach people how to dig a cat hole, they’re always amazed at how hard it is to dig one, especially in New England, where the ground is full of roots and rocks.
Now imagine you’re in a hurry to get a cat hole dug. The last thing you want is a trowel that’s not sharp enough to cut through tough soil and roots, or snaps when you need to lever small rocks out of the way. That’s pretty much all of the time in New England, and I’ve had some funny and not so funny experiences with cat hole trowels that can’t even scratch the surface of the ground because it’s so hard and compacted.
That’s one of the reasons why Rob Kelly, founder of QiWiz UL Gear, developed the Big Dig Ultralight Titanium Trowel. He’s an ultralight backpacker and a Leave No Trace Master Educator, who’s passionate about teaching people how to minimize their impact when backpacking and camping.
A chronic tinkerer, Rob made a titanium trowel for himself out of scrap metal for his personal use. When other hikers saw it on the trail, they offered to buy one from him and now he’s sold hundreds to backpackers and thru-hikers.
Rob sent me the Big Dig model to try out last month (a smaller “Original” is also available) and I’m a convert. Truth be told, I don’t really care that it’s made out of titanium or that it only weighs 0.5 ounces (15 grams). All I care about is the fact that it makes it easy for me to dig a cat hole just about anywhere on the first try.
Compared to other commercial trowels, the Big Dig is a no frills tool. It’s about 7 inches long, which makes it easy to size the depth of a 6″ deep cat hole. It comes with a small hole in the handle so you can easily clip it to the outside of your pack and the handle is painted yellow to make it easier to locate on the ground, after you’ve finished “your business.”
I think the effectiveness of the Big Dig stems from the thinness of the digging blade, which can cut through roots easily, even though it doesn’t have a sharp edge. The titanium makes the trowel more durable than the plastic that a lot of other commercial trowels are made out of and helps the trowel maintain its shape when you need to lever small stones out of a cat hole.
The only potential gotcha with the Original and Big Dig trowels are their cost: $29 and $36. That’s a bit on the expensive side compared to the plastic trowels they sell at REI for $5-$21. Of course, those trowels have a tendency to break in harder soil or fail to penetrate hard ground when you can’t wait. They also weigh several more ounces if you’re counting.
Perhaps another perspective is to think of a titanium trowel as a finely honed tool (it can also be used as a tent or tarp stake), that will last a long time and be a joy to use. Let’s be honest: you’re far more likely to use a finely crafted tool like the Big Dig when you need to take a dump, than you would a trowel that works only part of the time. If you care about reducing human impacts in the backcountry or setting an example for others, then owning a titanium trowel seems like it would be a very worthwhile investment to make.
Who knows, maybe Trowel Envy will convert the people who don’t bother to dig cat holes in the backcountry into model citizens.
Disclosure: QiWiz provided SectionHiker.com (Philip Werner) with a complementary Big Dig Trowel for testing and review.