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5 Best Leave No Trace Trowels of 2017

SectionHiker Best LNT Trowels 2017

Using a Leave No Trace trowel is one of the most responsible things you can do to preserve the backcountry for others to enjoy. While there’s nothing quite as satisfying as having a good bowel movement outdoors in the crisp morning air, surrounded by white-capped mountains and wild flowers, it’s important to leave no trace of your “passage.” In order to preserve that wilderness feeling for others, you should bury your poo, so it can biodegrade properly and not become an eyesore.

But many Leave No Trace trowels sold today are too flimsy for use in backcountry terrain. That’s why my recommended list of trowels includes many metal ones which are durable and can dig through tough ground filled with rocks and roots.

I hope this post helps you find a good Leave No Trace trowel. For more of my top gear recommendations, have a look through these other SectionHiker Recommended Gear links:

KEY FEATURES

PRICE – Leave No Trace Trowels are not that expensive, but I provide a full range of options below at different price points if you want to save money and still get a good product.

WEIGHT – Owning a lightweight trowel increases the probability that you’ll bring it with you on your trips. Heavy trowels are a “pain in the ass.” Pun intended!

COLOR – Trowels should be brightly colored so you don’t lose them in wilderness settings. It’s easy to put down a trowel and lose it against a background of green or brown, but less so if it has a garish color that’s not normally found in nature.

MATERIAL – The material that a trowel is made from matters. If preserving the wilderness is your goal, it doesn’t make much sense to buy a product made from petrochemicals that won’t decompose if you throw it in a landfill.

DIGGING EDGE – A good Leave No Trace trowel needs to be able to dig through a variety of different soil types from ones with dense root networks to hard-packed soil and mud. Having a durable edge, capable of busting through tough soil conditions and levering out rocks is a must.

LENGTH – The recommended depth of a Leave No Trace cathole is 6-8″ deep. To dig that deep, you need a trowel that has a long enough handle and blade.

DURABILITY – A trowel is a critical piece of backcountry gear that should be able to withstand years of harsh use, UV damage, and when you accidentally drive over it with your car.

MADE IN USA – Let’s face it, the United States is on the way to becoming a third world country because we’ve off-shored our manufacturing base. If remaining the most powerful nation on earth is important for you, you’ll buy products made in the USA.

BUYING ONLINE – Check the seller’s return policy before you buy, but you can almost always return an unused trowel within a certain timeframe after purchasing. I recommend buying your top choice, testing it at home, and returning/exchanging it if it doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve been buying lightweight trowels online for years and I’ve yet to have a single problem.

BEST LEAVE NOT TRACE TROWELS

QiWiz Big Dig

WEIGHT: 0.6 oz (15 grams)

FEATURES: Brightly colored so you can’t lose it with a sharp end that’s capable of cutting through roots, chopping through packed mud, and levering out stones. A full 7.25″ long, you can easily dig a cathole that’s the requisite 6″ deep and verify its depth using the trowel. An added lanyard hole makes it easy to clip to your backpack. The painted handle is not sharp and easy to hold.

BEST FOR: UL Backpackers who want a hand-fabricated titanium trowel made by a one-person cottage gear company in the USA.

Trowels320

The QiWiz Big Dig (pronounced “chee-wiz”) is a handmade titanium trowel made by Leave No Trace Master Educator, Rob Kelly. Considered the “Yoda of trowels”, Rob, who’s trail name is QiWiz, is 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. Super hard and durable, but ultralight, the titanium Big Dig will last a lifetime and can serve double duty as a tent-stake.

MORE: QiWiz sells two other handmade titanium trowels. The “Original” weighs less than 0.4 oz and is 6″ long and the MEGA DIG which weighs just under 1 oz and is 8.25″ long.

View at QiWiz.net

The TentLab Deuce of Spades

WEIGHT 0.6 oz.

FEATURES: Featherweight aluminum is durable and long lasting. Available in multiple bright colors so you won’t lose it. Lanyard hole lets you clip it to your backpack. Sharp and tough enough to cut through roots and lever out stones.

BEST FOR: Budget-oriented UL Backpackers.

Deuce of Spades

The Deuce of Spades (clever name) was designed by Michael Scherer, one of the most respected backpack and tent designers in the USA. Made using DAC aluminum, the Deuce was designed in the US, but is manufactured in Korea (South Korea, I presume). This cleverly designed 6.8″ tool can be held at either end, depending whether you need to dig with the narrow end or scoop with the wide end. The edges are a bit sharp however, so it’s best to wrap the handle with duct tape for added comfort.

View at REI  View at Amazon.com

DutchwareGear Deuce Scoop

WEIGHT: 0.75 oz. (22 grams)

FEATURES: Titanium trowel with a comfortable handle. Includes a lanyard hole so you can clip it to your backpack.

BEST FOR: Backpackers who want a titanium trowel with a conventional shape.

DeuceScoop

The DutchwareGear Deuce Scoop is a 7″ long x 2″ wide trowel made from Aerospace Grade 5 Titanium. Precision cut,  they are run through a vibratory tumbler so the edges are smooth and then bent on a specially-made jig to increase strength and optimize scooping power.

View at Amazon.com  View at DutchwareGear.com

Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool

WEIGHT: 1.25 oz (36 grams)

FEATURES: Titanium LNT Trowel with serrated end for cutting through roots with a comfortable, rolled-edge handle.  Can serve double duty as a sand, snow, or tent stake. Has a lanyard hole so you can clip it to your backpack.

BEST FOR: Backpackers who you need to dig through thick roots or rocky ground and need a trowel with a serrated cutting edge.

Vargodigdig320

The Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool is a multi-purpose titanium trowel designed by Brian Vargo, a backpacker and titanium manufacturing specialist who’s probably designed more titanium backpacking gear than anyone else on the planet. While heavier than the other titanium trowels listed above, the Dig Dig is by far the easiest to use as a tent stake or snow anchor, a dual-use benefit that is seldom realized by other Leave No Trace trowels.

View at Amazon.com

GSI OutDoors Cathole Sanitation Trowel

WEIGHT: 3.1 oz

FEATURES: Serrated edge helps cut through vegetation. Measurements on blade help measure cathole depth. Lanyard on handle lets you clip it to your backpack.

BEST FOR: Budget oriented backpacker that digs catholes in less challenging soil conditions.

GSI Cathole Trowel

The GSI Outdoors Cathole Sanitation Trowel is one of the most popular and least expensive backpacking trowels sold today and often used by Leave No Trace educators when teaching LNT awareness sessions. It’s made from recycled plastic, making it strong enough for the less demanding soil conditions found in many designated campgrounds and recreation areas. A full 10.3″ long, it’s easier to dig with than shorter trowels, especially for children.

View at REI  View at Amazon.com

MORE INFORMATION

If you enjoyed this list of recommended trowels you’ll probably like my other gear lists as well. Here are some popular resources from the SectionHiker.com:

Disclosure: I have received some of the products listed above from manufacturers while purchasing others with my own money. I am a Leave No Trace Master Educator and teach Leave No Trace awareness classes.

Support SectionHiker.com, where we actually field test the products we review. If you make a purchase after clicking on the links above, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.

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18 comments

  1. Nice to finally get the “scoop.” ;)

    Thanks, Philip.

    HJ

  2. Nice to see the GSI trowel there as it also serves as a road excavation tool when needed

  3. I’ve been using the QiWiz Big Dig for several years. It handles “deeds done dirt deep” very well and replaced a heavier GSI Outdoors combination cathole/road excavation tool.

  4. Phil, I’m pretty sure that the Deuce of Spades is made from aluminum, not titanium.

  5. I have all but the GSI. I’ve tended to switch between the Big Dig and Deuce Scoop depending on whether I thought I’d need cutting power or rock leveraging power, but I’m excited to put my recently acquired Dig Dig through its paces. Seems promising to handle both situations exceptionally well, and here in the mid-Atlantic it’s always one or the other or both at the same time! Another option that looks interesting at a great budget price is the stainless steel Zerogram Cathole Trowel available from the LNT.org store (https://lnt.org/shop/product/zerogram-cathole-trowel). Haven’t ordered it yet, but at $5.60 and reportedly ~1 oz and ~6 inches, I plan on getting a couple extra to loan out to trip partners who havent yet seen the light on using a UL trowel.

  6. I bought the QiWiz trowel about a month ago after reading your review. It is every bit as good as described and well worth the cost.

  7. I do most of my hiking on the AT. I’m currently using a Duece of Spades. It is sharp enough to get through most roots,, but digs into my hand, even with duct taped wrapped on it, which also adds weight. Does the QiWiz really cut throught roots, even though it doesn’t have a pointed end?

  8. In some areas of the west, even digging a cat hole into fragile soil is invasive and damaging so the Wag Bag becomes the best choice for LNT.

  9. TentLab Deuce of Spade user here.

    The aluminum does show wear and the anodized color does come off as you use it. However, it has never failed to make the impression I require of it. Just in the terms of wear, dings, etc, I’d likely look for a Ti replacement when the time comes.

    Only thing I wish was that the ‘shoulders’ were a bit more pronounced so that in really hard soil I can get a better grip with my foot to get that initial bite needed to break up a tough ground.

    If you get a chance to test anything better, be sure to give us the drop. (^_^)

  10. Dig it. Thanks so much for the trowel beta.

  11. No matter what one uses to make a cathole don’t you think people need to learn to pack out their ass wipe? It’s common courtesy to mark your dump site but not with TP.
    By the way, I like my QiWhiz a lot.

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