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5 Best Leave No Trace Trowels of 2019

5 Best Leave No Trace Trowels of 2018

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 this list of trowels includes many metal ones which are durable and can dig through tough ground filled with rocks and roots.

BEST LEAVE NO TRACE TROWELS

1. The TentLab Deuce of Spades 2 Trowel

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 #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.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

2. Vargo Titanium Dig Dig Trowel

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.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

3. DutchwareGear Deuce Trowel

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.

Check out the latest price at:
DutchwareGear | Amazon

4. QiWiz Big Dig Trowel

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.

Check out the latest price at:
QiWiz.net

5. 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.

Check out the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

SELECTION CRITERIA

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.

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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.

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10 comments

  1. I’m a big fan of the Sno-Stake trowel. Mine weighs 36 g with a wine cork and handlebar tape to make a better grip. The narrow blade is great for rocky soil. It also works as a tent stake in soft soil. Or snow.

    https://observer.wunderwood.org/2010/06/22/ultralight-multi-use-potty-trowel/

    SMC stopped making the Sno-Stake, but REI makes the same thing for $2.95.

    https://www.rei.com/product/845328/rei-co-op-snow-stake

  2. Thanks for the review as I have been reconsidering my cathole digging model.

    I purchased one of the first QiWiz trowels and it was light but it felt like I was gripping a razor blade. Perhaps if wrapped in some tape it would have been better. Then I switched to the Deuce of Spades (made in South Korea). It worked pretty well. I started my AT thru hike with this but after about 500 miles I was bent on sending home everything possible to simplify my hiking gear. At that point I used my hiking poles. Those worked well for much of the trip. And I think for much of the trip they worked as well as the Deuce of Spades. If the ground was firm, I gripped the pole or in some cases both of them down low for more leverage. … However by the time I got to Vermont, I think the ground got harder still and I wasn’t always able to dig a 6″+ hole. So I have on occasion been guilty of not digging deep enough which is not good. This is timely as I’ve been considering the Vargo (heavier but appears more heavy duty) and the Dutchware. I’m leaning towards the Dutchware as it’s made in the US and lighter than the Vargo.

    • I’ve had the Dutchware trowel for a couple of years and would somewhat disagree that the handle is comfortable. It’s not razor thin and painful, but it is thin enough to dig into my hand when using it. I’ve considered wrapping it to make it easier on the hand. It is, however, crazy light and pretty doggone strong.

  3. Is it realllllly necessary to bury your crap in the woods? Animals crap in the woods. What’s the difference?

    Waste of money for these items.

    • Animals do leave deposits in the woods but they don’t have feelings the way humans do. Being considerate of others is reason enough.

    • Animals that live in the woods, eat the food from the woods, so their poop is more inline with everything around. We and our domestic animals eat food from all over the world. Our (and our pets) poop should be considered an invasive species.

  4. I’ve been using a generic plastic trowel i’ve had for years. It’s not designated as a “leave no trace” tool, but somehow, the holes i’ve dug with it still seem to hold what they’re supposed to. Being somewhat lighter, i may look into one of the newfangled versions, though.

    Considering one of the selection criteria: “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.”

    Sure enough. As with landscaping tools, if one thinks about it, for the the best conspicuity in the the widest range of seasons and environments, a bright blue is arguably the best color choice. Something like the pictured Deuce.

    During the growing season, green is out for obvious reasons. Autumn leaves rule out yellow, red, and orange. Brown and black don’t draw enough attention. There aren’t many blue things that cover the ground anywhere.

  5. I use the REI snow stake. Cheap and won’t break.

  6. I confess to never carrying a trowel, opting instead to camouflaging “the result,” away from trafficked areas, with leaves, rocks, logs or whatever. Conceivably, the greater available oxygen under a couple of inches of leaves will break the stuff down quicker than if actually buried. In any event, after one good rainstorm, one very hungry coyote, or in a couple of weeks, it’s gone.

    Mostly, I burn any used toilet paper on site, using due care and recognizing the potential fire hazard.

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