If you’re out winter camping or backcountry skiing, you need to carry a snow shovel. Among other uses, it’s essential for setting up camp, constructing a snow cave, excavating snow pits to evaluate avalanche hazard, and digging out an avalanche victim should the worst come to pass.
When it comes to choosing an option, there are two critical features I recommend. First, go for a metal blade. Yes, it’s true that shovels with a plastic blade are lighter weight than their metal cousins, but they are vastly inferior and can be all but useless if you’re dealing with dense snow slabs, icy conditions (so common in the Northeast), or the cement-like snow that commonly occurs in avalanche debris once it has settled and sintered into place.
Second, go for a D-shaped handle rather than a T- or L-shaped option. It’s the only way you’ll be able to comfortably use the shovel while wearing mittens (which is my preferred and recommended way to keep your digits as warm as possible). In my experience, it’s also the most comfortable handle shape to hold even when wearing gloves.
With these two criteria in mind, here are my top four picks for backcountry snow shovels.
Voile has been making this proven and time-tested model for well over a decade. With its extendable handle (extended length 39.5 inches; collapsed length 31.5 inches); durable, removable shovel blade for easier packing; and excellent price point ($48), it’s hard to top. It’s the shovel I’ve used for years and one I routinely recommend. Weight: 1 pound, 14 ounces. A “mini” version is also available—it shaves off 5 ounces of weight (1 pound, 9 ounces) by reducing the blade length by 1.5 inches, the collapsed length by 3.5 inches (28 inches), and the extended length by 6 inches (33.5 inches). Also $48.
This option offers the flexibility of configuring the blade in a “hoe” position, which is particularly useful for pulling snow out of the entrance of a snow cave, among other uses. It’s also a better option than the TelePro for digging snow pits to evaluate avalanche hazards; the smooth flat-bottomed blade helps create the smooth, clean walls you’ll want to investigate the snow pack. Weight: 1 pound, 13 ounces. Extended length: 26.2 inches. Collapsed length: 28 inches. $79.95. A larger Evac 9 model is also available that features a 30-percent bigger blade and extra 1.8 inches of length. It’s 3 ounces heavier and costs $99.95.
If you need to move some serious snow, this is your best option. A huge, high-capacity blade and long extended length (40 inches) make this a workhorse that can be comfortably used for prolonged shoveling. It’s heavy (2.1 pounds) and bulky, which makes it difficult to stow in many smaller backpacks, but if you want to move a lot of snow quickly, it’s hard to top. $59.95.