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.
PRICE – Leave No Trace Trowels are not that expensive, but I provide a full range of options below 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.
BEST LEAVE NOT TRACE TROWELS
QiWiz Big Dig
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.
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.
The TentLab Deuce of Spades 2
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.
The Deuce of Spades 2 (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.
DutchwareGear Deuce Scoop
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.
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.
Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Tool
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.
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.
GSI OutDoors Cathole Sanitation Trowel
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.
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.
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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.Disclosure: SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that sell the products we recommend or link to if you make a purchase through them. When reviewing products, we test each thoroughly and give high marks to only the very best. Our reputation for honesty is important to us, which is why we only review products that we've tested hands-on. Our mission is to help people, which is why we encourage readers to comment, ask questions, and share their experiences on our posts. We are independently owned and the opinions expressed here are our own.
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