A good quality camp shovel should be on any wild camper’s packing list.
In the winter, it’s an essential tool for moving snow and creating a wind barrier. You can also dig shallow trenches to help rainwater drain away from your tent. You can dig out a fireplace for a stealth fire, and you can even use the shovel’s serrated edge to cut firewood.
But let’s not beat around the bush. The main reason you need a shovel is to dig an appropriate hole before you go for a poop. You’re going to feel wild enough doing your business in the great outdoors, so there’s no need to dig out your toilet with your bare hands.
You don’t need to pack something that will weigh you down or fill up your backpack. We’re not digging foundations here! But you are going to need something strong enough to get through hard and frozen ground.
This article will recommend some of the best shovels for camping on the market right now. I hope you find what you’re looking for!
In a hurry? Quick View of the best shovels for camping.
Best Camping Shovels Review
One of the following six shovels should be perfect for you. I could have made the list a lot longer, but I’d just end up repeating practically the same piece of kit again and again. I’m not going to waste your time with that!
So, here you will find six shovels that are all great for different situations. They come in a range of prices, so there should be something for everyone!
Iunio Mini Shovel
The main reason I need a camping shovel is to dig cat holes. If I were camping in snowy conditions, I would choose something bigger for making camp, but for day-to-day wild camping, there’s no need to overpack.
This mini shovel is perfect for digging out your wild toilet. Inches are marked on the side so you can be sure to get the hole deep enough. This shovel is light, but it’s robust and great for digging in dry, rocky conditions.
The rust-proof stainless steel means it will last over time, and it comes with a pouch where you can store it when not in use.
The Iunio Mini Shovel is super compact and has a comfortable handle grip. The serrated edge might be appropriate for light use, but to be honest, I don’t think the saws on any camping shovel are really up to much.
If you’re going camping in a situation where you really need to cut wood, you should bring a proper saw or ax that will do the trick.
The downside of this tool is that it’s not a good choice for digging trenches or snow platforms. But most people aren’t going to need to do that!
Nilican Military Shovel
The best value camping shovel on the market right now is the Nilican Military Shovel. This titanium steel model is of excellent quality for the price you pay.
You can change the shovel position depending on whether you want to dig or break up hard ground. It has a comfortable soft-grip handle and sharp edges for sawing and chopping on the trail.
This small folding shovel won’t take up much room in your pack. It also has a couple of extra features like a built-in wrench to tighten nuts and bolts.
And after you’ve set up your camp, you can use the integrated bottle opener to crack open a cold one!
This would be good for digging cat holes as well as some basic trench work around your tent. But it’s still a mini shovel, so don’t expect it to move mountains for you!
Rhino Survival Shovel
I think the Rhino Survival Shovel is probably the best overall choice for most people. It’s a good balance between price, weight, and durability.
Some nice features are built-in, like a fire starter, whistle, pickaxe, bottle opener, and saw. (As I mentioned earlier, don’t expect these little saws to be as good as the real thing!)
This heavy-duty carbon steel shovel is big enough to dig your car wheels out of sand or clear a snow platform on a winter camp. But at 2 pounds, it’s still small enough to be appropriate for camping.
The triangular handle is easy to grip, and it’s much sturdier than some of the other options on the market. At the same time, you can’t expect a foldable shovel to perform the same as a titanium construction spade.
This will bend if you try to dig through solid rock, so don’t go too crazy. But users agree that the Rhino Survival Shovel is of great quality for the price. It will be more than strong enough for most people’s camping needs.
Iunio Folding Shovel
If you like gadgets, the Iunio Folding Shovel would be a great choice. It comes with a built-in whistle, flashlight, fire starter, compass, ice ax, and safety hammer, to name just a few features.
Also, screwdriver bits and a wire saw are tucked inside so that you can be prepared for any eventuality.
Let’s be honest; most campers aren’t going to need all this gear. But considering that it all slots together neatly, it won’t take up too much room.
Altogether, this tool weighs 4.84 pounds and folds down to 9.1" X 7.1" X 3.9".
I really like that, thanks to the telescopic handle, this portable shovel is almost a meter long when folded out. This makes it much easier to dig larger areas than when your shovel is barely bigger than your hand!
I find that a lot of multitool shovels are pretty poor quality. They seem to be more about the novelty factor than actually designed for the field.
But this shovel appears to be an exception. Users consistently report that it’s a durable and reliable piece of equipment.
So, I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to my dad, who loves having new gear to play with! It’s definitely a good choice for Father’s Day or Christmas.
But for me, a simple shovel for cat holes is all I’m really interested in. (Sorry, Dad, I must be such a disappointment!)
Camp Crest Snow Shovel
Some of the shovels I’ve already mentioned would be ok for winter camping. But if you’re moving around a lot of powder to set up camp, the Camp Crest Snow Shovel would probably be your best bet.
This is not the right shovel to dig cat holes in icy conditions because it’s not strong enough to break really hard ground. But the wide shovel head makes it convenient for building snow walls and clearing a sleeping platform.
The shovel is lightweight and collapses into two pieces to make it easier to carry around. Just bear in mind that a snow shovel like this isn’t going to fit inside your pack.
I would strap it to the outside of my backpack, leaving valuable pack space for my warm layers and sleeping bag!
Coming in at 5 ounces, this is the lightest shovel with a handle that’s ISMF-certified for ski mountaineering competitions.
Despite its lightness, the polypropylene blade measures 20x20cm. That will be a lot more valuable to you than a hand-sized shovel when you have a lot of snow to shift.
Overall, this is an excellent choice for mountaineers and cross country skiers. Just understand that it’s a snow shovel and it’s not supposed to be used for digging into hard ground. If you need to break ice, you should have an ice ax with you.
Tyger Heavy Duty Shovel
This heavy-duty tactical shovel is a bit pricier than the other suggestions in this article. But it’s considerably more durable and versatile than the low-budget options.
It is made of military-grade carbon and has 16 built-in features. To be honest, you’re probably not going to use most of those tools but the firelighter, knife, and icepick would all be pretty handy.
The handle is made of aerospace-grade anodized aluminum tubes. They offer a good balance between quality and lightness.
There seems to be a bit of confusion about where this shovel is made. Some company statements indicate a patent pending in the USA, but the product description says it’s manufactured in China.
That’s not the end of the world, but you might want to be aware of that if you are going out of your way to support local businesses. (Unless you’re reading this in China, in which case, all the better!)
I like the fact that this shovel is a good length when folded all out, so you can get your back into any digging work that you have to do. I wouldn’t bring this hiking with me, though. It’s the kind of kit I’d keep in the back of my truck in case of emergencies.
I’d also be happy to bring it car camping, but there’s no way I’m prepared to dedicate that much room in my pack to a shovel outside of the winter months.
If I were cross country skiing and dragging my stuff along on a sled, this could be a good shovel to go for.
Camping Shovels Buying Guide
If you still don’t think you’ve found the right camping shovel, you might be overcomplicating things.
There are indeed hundreds of camping shovels online, but most of them are pretty similar.
After scouring the web for honest user reviews, I could recommend only a small number of them in good faith!
But if you do want to keep searching for something different, be sure to read this buying guide first. It will give you some pointers, so you don’t end up with a dud!
You need to find a balance between weight and quality. The lighter the shovel, the less likely it will survive the hard ground without bending.
But you don’t want to bring a heavy-duty shovel if it weighs you down on your way to camp.
Look at the user reviews. Do people frequently complain that the shovelhead snaps off after a few uses? To be fair, a lot of people treat camping equipment very harshly. You can’t expect a lightweight snow shovel to go through a thick layer of ice and then complain when it breaks.
So, do read the user reviews, but try to read between the lines as well!
You can’t pick an appropriate shovel before you know what your intended use is.
Are you going to be digging cat holes in hard ground? Or do you want to have a survival shovel on hand in case your vehicle gets stuck in the sand? Will you be using this to dig trenches? Or are you heading to a winter camp in the mountains?
If you’re just digging cat holes, you’ll be okay with a super compact shovel. But if you’ll be digging out your snow camp, you’ll need a much broader shovelhead; otherwise, you’ll be there forever!
Tools & Features
Personally, I wouldn’t go for a shovel with too many built-in features. I know myself, and I wouldn’t end up using half of them. I’d rather grab a good quality flashlight, compass, and whatever else I’ll need, safe in the knowledge that I’ve picked them out myself.
But some people like having all their equipment streamlined. This means you can throw your shovel into your trunk, and you know you have everything you might need in an emergency.
It comes down to personal preference, so I can’t tell you which is better!
It’s definitely worth checking out the materials that your shovel is made from. Rust-proof metals are always better because your kit is bound to get wet at some point.
Some shovels are made of plastic, which is fine if you’re using them to move snow or sand.
But if you’re digging into hard ground, there’s a good chance that polypropylene will snap. In this instance, you’d want something like steel, which will hold up a lot better on rough terrain.
Country of Origin
Be aware that some camping companies will mislead you about the country of origin. I’ve seen outdoor brands printing USA flags on kit that’s made in Vietnam, and writing ‘USA Patent Pending’ on things made in China.
I’m not saying you should only buy things locally; I know that’s not always possible. I just want you to read the small print before you pay extra for something you aren’t really getting.
How to Use Your Camping Shovel
There are four main reasons you would use your camping shovel:
- Digging trenches in rainy weather
- Preparing a camp in the snow
- Digging cat holes
- Creating a Leave No Trace fire
I will briefly explain how to do these four things, so you know what to do when your shovel arrives!
It’s not always necessary to dig a trench around your tent, but it can be helpful in really wet conditions. Simply create a small, shallow ditch to guide the water away from your tent.
You want this to follow the direction that the water would flow off your tent walls. You might want to make it a few feet long and a few inches deep.
This can encourage rainwater to move off instead of hanging around where you don’t want it. If you don’t dig a trench, rainwater running off your tent roof can gather in puddles around your campsite.
Eventually, it will start soaking through your tent floor.
I don’t always dig a trench in rainy weather. I would do it only if the weather was going to stay wet for longer than a few hours.
And make sure to cover it back up before you leave so that the next person visiting the area doesn’t trip over it!
Digging Snow Camps
If you camp directly on the snow, it can melt under your body heat overnight. This means water can soak up through the groundsheet, but it also means your tent won’t be pitched on stable ground.
So, before setting up your tent, try to dig down to the ground. You can then use that snow to build snow bricks to shelter you from the wind.
You’ll find a lot more information about setting up a winter camp in this article.
Leave No Trace
The Leave No Trace principles are an essential part of enjoying the great outdoors.
This means we should aim to leave our campground as close as possible to how we found it. That’s not just by picking up our litter, but also by replacing the earth that we have disturbed.
For example, if you have dug a trench around your tent to redirect rainwater, you should fill it back in before you leave. You can scatter dried leaves or twigs over the disturbed ground to minimize the disturbance.
Leave No Trace Fires
It’s also important to cover up evidence of your fires. I recommend that you get a fire pit for camping, if possible.
Not only will this prevent fire scars on the ground, but it will also massively reduce the chance that you start a wildfire by accident.
Bear in mind that some places will ban campfires, even in a fire pit. No one made those rules to be a party pooper; the regulations are in place to protect you, the local wildlife, and fire crews.
But in some situations, it can be appropriate to dig out a fireplace so that your campfire leaves no trace.
For example, you might want to try making a Dakota Fire Hole, which will help you stay super stealthy, even when a campfire is going!
Leave No Trace Cat Holes
You can either dig a cat hole or pack out your poop in a plastic bag. Sorry to be so blunt, but there’s not a nicer way to say that!
If you go for the cat hole option, there are a few things to bear in mind.
- A cat hole should be at least 200ft from water sources and trails.
- You should not use the same cat hole twice. (But really, I don’t know why you’d want to.)
- Keep it a reasonable distance away from your camping spot for hygiene reasons.
- A cat hole should be 4-6 inches wide and 6-8 inches deep.
- Do not bury toilet paper, wet wipes, tampons, and any other waste with your poop. Instead, pack those out and dispose of them properly. (You’re probably going to want a zip-lock bag!)
- You don’t have to dig a cat hole for urine, but do try to pee on leaf litter, rocks, or sand rather than live plants.
- After you’ve filled in your cat hole, scatter dead leaves or twigs over the top to disguise it.
Making individual cat holes is much better than digging one big pit toilet.
The individual holes will spread out excrement more evenly, so you won’t attract any wild animals that want to dig down to the smell. (That is not something you want to wake up to!)
The type of shovel that you will need will depend on your plans. If you just need to dig cat holes, the Iunio Mini Shovel will be fine!
The Nilican Military Shovel is a little more versatile, and it’s a great value option for people on a budget.
But I think the best camping shovel would be the Rhino Survival Shovel because it offers an outstanding balance between durability, functionality, and price.
Plenty of other camping shovels are on the market, but many of them seem to break down after a few uses. So, don’t hesitate to check out user reviews, or you’ll end up sending the shovel back after your first trip.
I hope you found this article helpful, and I wish you many happy camping trips with your new gear!
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Rachel is a freelance adventure writer and founder of Highly Sensitive Nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found wild camping in the mountains and swimming in the lakes of Europe.