There aren't many things in the world that are more refreshing than taking a nice, morning dump in the wilderness as you watch the sun rise. Here's what my view looked like in Colorado as I took that glorious, post-coffee shit in the Rawah Wilderness.
But you can't just poop on the ground. Leave No Trace means burying your poop properly so it will decompose and nobody else will have to see or smell it. To do that, you need a trowel. A trowel is just a small shovel that you use to dig a hole to poop in.
I'm going to break down all of the trowel options on the market and help you find the right one for you so your poop burying experience is as great as it can possibly be.
Why You Should Trust Me
I am a backpacking fanatic. I live in Michigan and have backpacked the Manistee River, Manitou Island, and the Rawah Wilderness in Colorado.
I've also taken many dumps in the wilderness. I've used trowels to dig my catholes and I've tested many different backpacking wipes. I know my shit and you will too when you're done reading this.
If you're in a rush and don't want to read the whole article, here's my top pick. The Tentlab Deuce of Spades weighs less than an ounce and is made of aluminum so it's more durable than a plastic trowel.
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Backpacking Trowel Materials
Backpacking trowels come in many different shapes and sizes. The trowel's material is equally important because it determines what kind of dirt you'll be able to dig in.
If you choose a soft plastic trowel, you'll be fine in most dirt but might have trouble with roots. A titanium or aluminum trowel will be able to cut right through roots and give you more flexibility in choosing a pooping location in the woods.
Plastic trowels are cheap and lightweight but can be tricky to use on tree rots.
My preferred method of pooping in the woods is to lean up against a tree or sit on a fallen branch so I'm not a big fan of plastic trowels.
They are cheap and lightweight though so if you're looking to save money, plastic can be a good option.
Aluminum is the best of both worlds between plastic and titanium. It's metal so it's durable and can cut through roots easily.
It's much more common than titanium so it's cheaper as well. It's not quite as cheap as plastic but it's a nice middle ground.
Since it's metal, aluminum trowels can easily cut through tree roots. Most aluminum trowels will have a sharp serrated tip or a small serrated section on the side for slicing and dicing through roots when you're digging your poop hole.
Criteria for Selecting a Trowel
These are the 5 factors I looked at when trying to figure out what trowel to get.
Since a trowel is one of my least frequently used pieces of gear, my primary criteria is that it's lightweight. I'll only use this a few times per trip so I don't want to waste any ounces on the trowel.
Hole Digging Ability
This is the main purpose of the trowel so it better do it well. A good trowel should have a serrated section on the tip or the side so it can slice through tree roots. The trowel also needs to be comfortable to hold but almost all trowels are so this doesn't really differentiate any of them.
Going back to what I said earlier about weight, this isn't a super critical piece of gear I'll be using 5 times per day (at least I hope not), so I don't want to spend much on it. I'd expect to spend around $5 for a cheap plastic trowel and $15-$20 for a nice aluminum one.
If I'm buying a shit hole digger, I want it to last a long time. This factor definitely tips the scales towards buying an aluminum trowel. They're much more durable than plastic trowels.
The trowel has to be long enough to dig a nice cathole. Catholes should be at least 6" deep, preferably closer to 8"-12". A trowel with a long handle makes the job much easier.
Nope, this isn't about style. This is about making sure you don't lose your trowel. After you dig your cathole you'll sit down for a nice peaceful dump and if your trowel isn't easy to see, you might lose it!
The Backpacking Trowel Contenders
Based on my criteria above, I narrowed my trowel hunt down to 4 main contenders. Here they are side by side:
Deuce of Spades
The Deuce of Spades is easily my favorite backpacking trowel. It's the right combination of low weight and a reasonable price. You'll be hard pressed to find any trowel lighter than half an ounce and since it's made of aluminum it will last forever.
The Deuce of Spades has a sharp serrated point for cutting through roots and comes in 3 different sizes so you can get the perfect sized trowel for your needs.
Coghlan's Backpacking Trowel
Coghlan's comes through again with a super cheap and relatively lightweight piece of gear. Their backpacking trowel is made of bright, orange plastic so it's easy to find and it's also the least expensive trowel I reviewed for this round up.
The only downfall for Coghlan's trowel is that it's not great at cutting through roots since it's plastic. I usually just tried to dig around the roots or find a new spot if I did run into any.
Vargo Dig Dig Tool
The Vargo Dig Dig Tool is a really cool take on the classic trowel design. It's made of titanium and has super sharp serrated edges for chopping through roots.
The Vargo isn't shaped like a normal shovel which means it's narrow shape can cut straight down much easier than some of the wider trowels out there.
The Vargo has a pretty reasonable price for a titanium trowel and looks cool to boot. The only downside is the lack of color which can make it a little hard to spot in your pack and on the ground.
Rounding out the bunch is a generic, stainless steel folding trowel. Jack of all trades and master of none, this trowel is priced in the middle of the pack, weighs 10x as much as the Deuce of Spades, looks ugly and has moving parts that can break.
There's no serrated edge but it is relatively sharp at the point which makes it a little better than the Coghlan's trowel. Unfortunately this trowel just isn't a match for the competition and I can't recommend it.
Poop Scoop Roundup
Finding the right trowel can be tough and if you choose incorrectly you'll be up shit creek with no paddle (haha k last one). Choose wisely and leave no trace! Bury that poop deep so the next hiker won't find it.