Best Backpacking Trowel (Buying Guide)
It’s time to talk about an essential piece of backpacking gear, that some campers are reluctant to discuss in public. Yes, we’re talking about finding the Best Backpacking Trowels to dig a hole to poop in.
When nature calls, and there’s no toilet in sight, the recommended way to do your business is to dig a cathole. Once you’ve dug the hole and done your business, you refill the hole with the original soil, also known as the Leave No Trace method. The Leave No Trace method is recommended by leading authorities such as the National Parks Service, as it. allows human waste to decompose naturally. Plus, by burying your poop, you also ensure it won’t bother other hikers and backpackers.
We’re a big fan of the Leave No Trace philosophy, but there is one piece of gear that is truly essential if you want to dispose of your poop using this method: a quality trowel. The best poop trowel should enable you to easily, quickly, and effective dig a hole – even in tough grounds – when ‘number two’ calls. But with so many options on the market, it can be tricky to determine which trowels are worth the money, and which are – excuse the pun – simply shit.
Our experts have compiled a list of the top-rated, best-value Backpacking Trowels, that get the job done without hassle. We’ve ensured these lightweight trowels have heavy-duty performance, ensuring they require minimal packing weight, but offer maximum convenience.
Discover our favorite Best Backpacking Trowels below, and upgrade your backpacking gear with this must-have, Leave No Trace essential!
Best Backpacking Trowel – Overview
Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel
Let’s start this overview with one of the most affordable, basic options on the market: the Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel. Simple, yet functional, this lightweight trowel is a no-fuss, no-hassle design for those backpackers that want to spend as little as possible. The ultralight design only weighs 2 ounces and is made of styrene plastic.
The Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel features a classic shovel silhouette with a convenient handle. This digging tool’s handle contains a small hole, allowing you to easily attach it to the outside of your pack if desired.
The style’s biggest pros are its ultralight appeal and very affordable pricing. Hundreds of 5-star Amazon reviews confirm it is cheap, yet cheerful, and strong enough to use at most campsites. Do note that we say most, as the Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel is not the most heavy-duty and lacks the serrated edges needed to cut through roots. For rocky and challenging undergrounds, its styrene plastic silhouette may also struggle. That said, for the price listed, we reckon that’s a fair trade-off. If basic performance is all you need, this could be your budget-friendly match!
- Simple yet functional
- Easy-grip handle
- A hole for lanyard attachment
- Not heavy-duty
- Not the lightest
- Lacks serrated edges
- Plastic can break
Deuce Ultralight Backpacking Potty Trowel by TheTentLab
The Deuce of Spades is an innovative take on the classic trowel silhouette. The Deuce Ultralight Backpacking Potty Trowel can be used from both sides. The broader end is great for scooping out loose undergrounds, whilst the slimmer end can be used as a targeted probe to dig into tougher undergrounds.
According to the manufacturer, for digging in hard dirt/extra digging power, simply turn the Deuce Ultralight Backpacking Potty Trowel upside down, using the slimmer end (handle) to dig a cathole. This gives the design 4 times the edge pressure compared to when you use it scoop-down. Hold it either one-handed or two-handed and use the handle-end to cut the outline of your hole and lift out dirt.
The Deuce Ultralight Backpacking Potty Trowel is made of top-grade 7075-T6 aluminum, known for its strength and durability. A material even used by the aerospace industry, it’s light yet heavy-duty, allowing you to leverage dirt against the trowel’s spine without it bending. Another plus is that the Deuce Ultralight Backpacking Potty Trowel is available in 3 sizes, allowing you to pick the style best suited to your digging needs. It’s available in a small (0.45oz), a classic (0.6 oz) and a large – suitably named the ‘Heavy Doody’ – (0.97oz) variety.
The only minor con is that some backpackers report that the Deuce Ultralight Backpacking Potty Trowel is slightly trickier to use due to its lack of proper handle. That said, with dozens of 5-star reviews, most hikers and outdoor enthusiasts give the style a big thumbs up for its quality, digging-ability, and lightweight appeal. And if you’re not convinced, you might be persuaded by the manufacturer’s lifetime warranty, guaranteeing the durability of the trowel and issuing a replacement in case of manufacturing defects. Making this a risk-free choice to scoop a cathole anytime nature calls.
- Top-grade aluminum
- Dual-ended functionality
- Great durability
- Lifetime warranty
- The handle may be tricky to hold on to
- Not the most ergonomic
- Slightly more expensive
GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel
Another perk is that the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel comes with usage guidelines molded into the back of the design. These allow you to quickly gauge how deep the cathole is, enabling you to dig to the correct depth, as recommended for Leave No Trace human waste disposal. (A ‘correct’ cathole should be about 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter.)
We also like that the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel is made of recycled polycarbonate, giving it an extra environmentally-friendly appeal. Not only does this trowel allow you to be kind to nature by disposing of poop in a biodegradable way, but it’s re-purposed material also makes it a ‘greener’ choice.
If you’re looking for a trowel with a more classic shovel-silhouette, the lightweight GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel may be your perfect poop scoop!
- Sharp serrated edges
- Made of recycled material
- Environmentally-friendly choice
- Easy to use
- Ergonomic grip handle
- Relatively lightweight
- Depth guidelines molded on the back
- A bit bulkier in packing dimension
- Not the most heavy-duty
Vargo Dig Dig Tool
For those backpackers that want maximum digging power, the Vargo Dig Dig Tool may be the best backpacking trowel. This design is inspired by the Japanese Hori-Hori Knife, aimed to slice through roots and tough ground with ease thanks to its sharp, serrated edges. This heavy-duty, titanium trowel is slightly expensive compared to other models, but for its premium performance, it is worth the money.
The Dig Dig Tool by Vargo features an ergonomic design with a rolled handle and top end, making it easy to grip and use. The silhouette works like a full-sized shovel, without digging into your hands as other thin metal trowels might. The rounded top also enables you to use two hands to apply even more power and leverage when dealing with tough, solid undergrounds. The Dig Dig Tool also comes with a large hole and cleats for securely attaching guidelines, making it even more versatile as a digging tool.
This dual-use trowel & tent stake is made of ultralight titanium. This material-choice has various benefits. Titanium is lighter than steel, twice as strong as aluminum, more durable than plastic trowels, and highly corrosion-resistant. The Dig Dig Tool by Vargo Large measures 8.13″ x 1.7″, with a total packing weight of just 1.25 oz.
It may be pricier than basic backpacking trowels such as the Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel and GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel, but for its extra durability and performance, we think it’s worth the extra dollars. That said, for those backpackers that want a simple and affordable trowel, this may just be a bit too fancy.
- First-class titanium
- Very durable
- Ergonomic rolled handle
- Works like a full-sized shovel
- Won’t dig into your hands
- Suitable for every kind of underground
- Can cut through small roots and tough soils
- Too heavy-duty for some
AceCamp Stainless Steel Foldable Trowel
The AceCamp Stainless Steel Foldable Trowel features a classic shovel shape with a foldable handle that locks in place during use. The design is made of quality stainless steel, which is corrosion-proof and very durable. The trowel is on the small side, but still gets the job done when dealing with most undergrounds. Though the design does not come with serrated edges, the silhouette is still reported to be quite sharp, making digging easy and quick.
The Stainless Steel Foldable Trowel by AceCamp includes a carry case, ideal for storing it securely when on the go. Do note that this foldable trowel is slightly heavier than the other styles in this overview, weighing approximately 6.4 ounces when packed. Though this is still relatively lightweight, it’s not as ultralight as the Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel, which only weighs 2 ounces. If you’re super strict on packing weight for backpacking trips, it’s something to consider. That said, if the trowel’s packing dimension is a key buying factor for you, this petite foldable design is about as good as it gets!
Also good to know: the Stainless Steel Foldable Trowel by AceCamp also comes with a 30-day free return or exchange policy, so if you’re not fully satisfied with the design, you can always change your mind and return it (before use).
- Compact packing dimensions
- Comes with carrying case
- Easy to use
- Handle locks in place during use
- Made of stainless steel
- 30-day free return or exchange policy
- Not the lightest
- Not the most sturdy
- Not suited for extreme conditions
Every item on this Best Backpacking Trowel list is a great buy to bury human waste quickly, and effectively. Which is ‘the Best’ depends on the type of trowel you’re looking for, and where and when you plan to use it. If you want the most basic option on the market, the Coghlan’s Backpacker’s Trowel may the best for you. Very affordable, simple, yet functional: it gets the job done, providing you don’t use it on super-tough underground or rocky soil. For a trowel that can deal with any underground with ease, you may have to spend a bit more and upgrade to the Vargo Dig Dig Tool. That said, for most backpackers, this style may be a bit ‘too’ heavy-duty, and a mid-budget option such as the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel or Deuce Ultralight Backpacking Potty Trowel by TheTentLab could already offer enough performance, for a more attractive pricing. And if packing dimensions are a key buying factor for you, a foldable trowel such as the AceCamp Stainless Steel Foldable Trowel may be the perfect digger.
Rest assured: you can’t go wrong with any of these trowels. We’ve ensured every product in this overview scores top-marks for value and is highly-rated in Amazon customer reviews. Simply pick the style you like, and start digging those cat holes with ease!
Picking a winner is difficult, as each trowel has its unique appeal. That said, we do have a preference for the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel. There are various reasons why we rate this as our top choice. Not only is it super affordable, but also highly functional thanks to its sharp serrated edges and easy, a firm handle that provides a solid grip. We also like the inclusion of cathole depth guidelines on the back of the trowel, which can help you gauge whether a hole is deep enough.
Another reason we rate the GSI Outdoors Cathole Trowel highly is its material: repurposed, recycled polycarbonate. This means that not only is it a ‘green’ way to dispose of human waste in nature, but it’s also kinder on nature itself. That’s a win-win for us.
That said, every backpacking trowel in this overview is a fantastic choice, and worth the money. And we’d be just as happy to add any of the 4 other products to our backpacking gear collection!
Cat Hole – FAQ
Need some extra tips on where and how to dig a cat hole? We’ve got your sanitary needs covered! Below are a few main recommendations by the Leave No Trace initiative, also endorsed by our National Parks Service.
Where to dig a cat hole
- Locate cat holes at least 200 feet (about 70 adult paces) from water sources, trails, and campsites
- Select an inconspicuous site where other people will be unlikely to walk or camp
- Pick an elevated site where water would not normally go during runoff or heavy rainstorms.
- Try to find a site with deep organic soil. This organic matter contains organisms that will help decompose your poop more effectively (tip: organic soil is usually dark and rich in color)
- If possible, locate your cat hole where it will receive maximum sunlight. The heat from the sun will speed up the decomposition
How to dig a cat hole
- Dig a hole 6-8 inches deep (about the length of a trowel blade)*
- Ensure the hole is approximately 4-6 inches in diameter
- Dispose of your human waste
- When finished, fill the cat hole with the original dirt
- Disguise the cat hole with natural materials such as twigs, leaves, or branches
*Do note that if you’re pooping in the desert, a cat hole only needs to be about 4-6 inches deep to help it biodegrade quicker.
What about toilet paper?
The question of whether or not you can bury toilet paper in the cat hole is often debated by different authorities. This is what the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics writes about the use of toilet paper:
“Use toilet paper sparingly and use only plain, white, non-perfumed brands. Toilet paper must be disposed of properly! It should either be thoroughly buried in a cat hole or placed in plastic bags and packed out. Natural toilet paper has been used by many campers for years. When done correctly, this method is as sanitary as regular toilet paper, but without the impact problems. Popular types of natural toilet paper include stones, vegetation, and snow. Some experimentation is necessary to make this practice work for you, but it is worth a try!”
So, to summarize: you are allowed to bury toilet paper in a cat hole, though it’s not recommended.