In the backpacking and hiking world, every ethical outdoorsy person knows the guidelines for the Leave No Trace principles. There are seven in total, and they elaborate on the idea that a place should be left as close as possible to the original state as it was before we got there. Our love for the mountains, trails, and forests should not take a toll on the environment.
That may seem like a challenge, but luckily some tools are made to help us achieve that. The trowel is the most important instrument for that – and the one you should prioritize in your packing. We don’t mean a heavy shovel or a long-handled spade.
We mean a trowel that is lightweight enough to carry around and sufficiently sharp to dig through hard soil. With one of those, we can dig a cathole to dispose of human waste, or, speaking candidly, poop.
Top 10 Best Backpacking Trowels
1. The TentLab Deuce
We highly recommend the Tentlab Deuce as a hiking trowel. It is one of the best minimalist trowels out there, made of thin metal and very light. Since it is so fine, it easily penetrates hard soil, but it is not sharp enough that you need to worry about hurting yourself. This trowel is compact, durable and efficient.
One thing to notice is that this is an ultralight model, and that means that it does not have a wooden handle. It is not ergonomic and can be bothersome if you are in a hurry, but otherwise not a big problem.
A fine detail – you can use the length of the trowel to determine how deep the hole should be, a practical feature. For this price, it is hard to find a product made in the United States with high-grade aluminum that lasts as much as this one.
2. VSMPO Titanium Trowel
As materials go, you cannot do better than titanium these days. It is stronger than any other useful metal and much lighter than aluminum. This is the selling point for this trowel, and one to consider if you know you’re hiking through hard soil. The VSMPO is a heavy-duty model, rustproof and non-magnetic – almost indestructible with proper use.
As a plus, the handle is holed so you can attach a stick to it and have an instant small shovel. The triangular shape combined with the material means that this trowel cuts even through roots and dry soil, so it is worth the investment.
3. Vargo Dig Dig
The Vargo trowel is known amongst hikers as a reliable tool. It has a unique long shape with serrated edges and it’s made of titanium. That gives it a more versatile trait, as it can dig through snow, roots, and rough terrain. The handle is rounded, like a U shape, making this a more ergonomic trowel than most.
You can use it with one or two hands – making this a portable trowel with the strength of a shovel. Additionally, the two holes on the lateral are perfect to anchor your shelter with a rope. This is the ideal trowel to get if you want to spruce up your tool collection.
4. IUNIO Military Portable Folding Trowel
The IUNIO trowel addresses a common issue among portable trowels, the uncomfortable handle. Many metal trowels are not ergonomic at all and end up digging through your hands almost as much as through the soil. But the IUNIO handle is square and covered with rope, which provides a great grip.
The blade is pointy and serrated and can be used to dig, cut and saw. Not many trowels have features, but this is not your regular trowel. If you own this product, you also own a ruler, a nail puller, a hex wrench, a saw, and some paracord. Impressive right?
5. UST U-Dig-It Light Duty Aluminum Shovel
UST built an impressive reputation over the past 80 years. The brand supplies some of the best adventure gear and the finest survival tools on the market today. This specific trowel is a very traditional model, made from aluminum in a triangular shape.
The hole on top is great for attachments and most people choose to hook it on the outside of their backpack. It weighs a mere 0.64oz, and it is on the smaller side. One concern to have in mind is that many people found the edges to be a bit sharp, making it hard to grip it. This is not an uncommon issue amid travel trowels, though.
6. UST U-Dig-It Folding Shovel
Another UST model, this one will appeal to those looking for a really compact trowel. This stainless steel tool is 9inches big but it collapses to half the size with the folding handle. Note that there are two versions currently being sold on Amazon, the Pro, and the Lite.
The Pro is a fantastic product made in the US with durable material. The Lite is a questionable trowel made in China with a flimsy feel. If you order the right one, expect a functional trowel with lifetime warranty and a nylon carrying case, a great deal.
7. Wilcox All Pro Trowell
The Wilcox Pro’s blade is made of stainless steel, while the handle is a rigged plastic that provides a good grip to backpackers. The trowel comes in 5 different sizes from 9 inches to 22 inches in length. This is a particularly rugged and heavy-duty towel with a durable stainless steel blade.
It will easily cut through hard soil in an instant. It also has a leather lanyard attached to the handle, useful for attaching the trowel to your bag or backpack when you are on the move.
8. Grizzly Peak Ultra Lightweight 11″ Backpacker’s Trowel
The Grizzly Peak Trowel is an extremely useful outdoor backpacking tool. This model is super light and weighs under 2 ounces – perfect for carrying in a bag on hikes. The handle is coated in a high-quality rubber than provides a great grip for steady control when in use. It also has a depth gauge feature so you know at all times how deep you are digging.
The material used for the end of this trowel is hard plastic, which means that this trowel is only really suited to digging in softer density soils. Overall, this model’s main advantage is its lightweight. It is a simple trowel for basic needs.
9. Fiskars Fiber Composite Soil Scoop
The Fiskers Fiber SCoop is made from a composite material that is ultra-lightweight by design and will be sturdy and longlasting as a bonus. The one-piece design is an excellent way to prevent bending and damage to the neck during digging. This model is very reliable and won’t break easily. The head is designed purposefully to be oversized as to move more soil on each dig, making life easier for you.
This product also comes with a lifetime warranty to give you peace of mind when considering this scoop. The choice to use plastic as the main material also means that the Fiskars Fiber Scoop won’t rust or degrade as steel scoops will.
10. Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel
The Coghlan’s Trowel is fantastically strong considering the measly 2 ounces in weight. It is made from a sturdy plastic that is durable in any weather and most soil densities, making it perfect for use when backpacking or hiking. The quality of the manufacturing on this model is plain for all to see.
The edge of the trowel is designed to have a super sharp point to be able to dig through even the toughest dirt and soil. Add to all this a very reasonable price point and this is starting to look like a no brainer of a deal. This trowel covers all bases without breaking the bank, the best choice for budget hikers.
How to Choose the Best Backpacking Trowel
Weight is a big issue for every hiking piece of equipment. Overpacking is dangerous and a heavy bag will have a negative impact on your adventure. Look for lightweight ones, aiming for less than 2 ounces.
When it comes to trowels, there are basically four materials you can choose from. They all have their positive points and drawbacks, so it is a personal choice.
- Plastic. It is light and highly portable, but not so strong. Suitable for soft soil and delicate terrain.
- Aluminum. The most affordable of metals, aluminum is a sharp and thin material, makes for convenient trowels.
- Steel. Stronger than aluminum, steel is also heavier, so you’ll have to assess what’s more important.
- Titanium. The holy grail of materials, titanium is as light as aluminum and much stronger than steel. If you can afford it, there is no reason not to get a titanium trowel.
Okay, we know a trowel is not the most exciting and feature-packed of tools, but there are still aspects to consider. Some trowels are your standard orange aluminum small shovel, and that is great. Some, however, are serrated, have a folding handle, an internal ruler and paracord wrapped around it. If you are looking for a multi-purpose tool, that can be arranged.
Possibly the most important thing to consider, durability is tightly connected to the material used. Make sure it is anti-rust, strong and sturdy and you’ll have a trowel for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Backpacking Trowel
What is the difference between a trowel and a shovel?
A shovel is a big tool with a long handle, used to dig trenches or big holes. It is not very portable and it is quite heavy. A trowel, on the other hand, is an easy to carry tool designed to dig catholes about 8 inches deep. You can use them with one hand only and keep them inside any small bag.
What is a hiking trowel used for?
It is primarily used to dig 8 inch deep catholes that serve as a toilet in the woods. They can also be used to dispose of pet waste, as a tent anchor or to clean rocks and small roots around the camping area.
How to dig a cathole in the woods?
Move at least 200 feet away from any water sources, campsites or trails. If possible, choose a sunny spot as that will help with deterioration, and with no big rocks or thick roots. Using your brand new trowel, dig an 8 inches deep hole that is at least 4 inches wide.
After you’ve done your business, fill the hole in with the original dirt and debris from the area. Only bury toilet paper if it is biodegradable.