The Best Snow Shovel

For basic snow shoveling needs, like walkways, front steps and even a small driveway, we recommend the True Temper 18-inch Ergonomic Mountain Mover ($26). We also recommend using a Stout Backsaver Grip Attachment ($14) for better ergonomics and to reduce the risk of injury (which can also be added to any existing shovel you’re happy with).

The True Temper offers durability, a good-sized scoop and a leading edge that won’t gouge up your deck or catch on your brick patio. It has a curved shaft that lets you stand straighter while moving snow. Adding the Backsaver handle attachment actually changes the mechanics of your body’s shoveling motion, greatly reducing the strain on your back as well as overall exertion. Also, it’s built to last. I’ve had mine for six years and counting.

I came to these conclusions after more than 25 hours of research (most of which was spent reading studies on shoveling ergonomics) as well as 19 total man hours of actual snow shoveling. When it was all over, our team had tested out 14 different shovels, many of them with and without an aftermarket handle, resulting in a total of 25 different shovel configurations tested.

l-r, True Temper Arctic Blast Poly Snow Scoop, Voile TelePro, Suncast SN1000, True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with added Backsaver, Snow Bow, Bigfoot Powerlift, True Temper SnoBoss, Suncast SC3250 with added Motus D-Grip, True Temper Mountain Mover with VersaGrip, Suncast SG1600, Suncast Double Grip, Dart BHS18, Rugg 26PBSLW, Suncast Powerblade.

From left to right: True Temper Arctic Blast Poly Snow Scoop, Voile TelePro, Suncast SN1000, True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with added Backsaver, Snow Bow, Bigfoot Powerlift, True Temper SnoBoss, Suncast SC3250 with added Motus D-Grip, True Temper Mountain Mover with VersaGrip, Suncast SG1600, Suncast Double Grip, Dart BHS18, Rugg 26PBSLW, Suncast Powerblade.

Why should you trust me

Between 10 years in construction, growing up in Vermont at the end of a two-mile dirt road and spending the majority of my life in New England, I’ve put in some significant time standing behind a snow shovel. Also, the decade of construction was not kind to my body. Days spent carrying lumber and plywood, combined with my odd height (6’5”), have led me to a point where my back now has the personality of a grumpy old man. I have no major problems currently, but it doesn’t take much shoveling for the aches and pains to get going. So, in addition serving our readers, I have personal reasons to get this one right.

How we picked

There are a lot of factors to consider when purchasing a snow shovel: the overall style of the shovel, what it’s made of, the wear strip, the scoop size and, most importantly, ergonomics.

Ergonomics come first because shoveling snow is brutal on your body. A study published in 2011 by The American Journal of Emergency Medicine (the result of 17 years of research), concluded that an average of 11,500 injuries and emergencies each year in the U.S. are due to snow shoveling. Many of these (34%) have to do with the lower back, and the majority of them (54%) fall under the category of acute musculoskeletal exertion, i.e. throwing out your back. As such, finding a shovel that reduces body strain, particularly on your back, is extremely important.

Consider this fact, presented by the Ontario Occupational Health Clinic: “If an individual were to clear a 16-foot by 30-foot driveway covered in one foot of wet snow, they would be moving approximately four tons of snow.” Yikes.

I spoke with Joe Saffron, Director of Marketing and Product Development at True Temper, a leading manufacturer of snow shovels, and he made the great point that shoveling snow is not only an aggressive workout, but is also a repetitive motion not replicated any other time during the year. In other words, your back and arms likely aren’t prepared for the exertion.

One thing that can really help the ergonomics of a shovel is a secondary handle placed about two-thirds of the way down the shaft. Multiple academic studies have shown that this can greatly reduce back strain and reduce the risk of injury. Our own testing also backed this up. Testers noted that the second handle shifts the workload more evenly to both arms as opposed just the leading one.

Unfortunately, there’s really nothing in the way of a comprehensive snow shovel comparison, so we knew from the onset that our own testing would play a large role in our final recommendations.

To get an idea of what’s out there, I checked out Home Depot, Amazon, Lowes, Grainger, WalMart, Sears, Northern Tool and the websites of the most prominent snow shovel manufacturers: EraPro, Dart, Suncast, True Temper and Garant (the last two are actually the same company; Garant is simply based in Canada). All told, I investigated upwards of 50 to 75 shovels.

Understanding that a secondary handle would be a key addition to the chosen shovel, I first located all of the tools available that come with one attached: the SnowBow ($40), the Suncast Double Grip ($39), the Bigfoot Power Lift ($31) and the True Temper SnoBoss, which has a double shaft and a perpendicular handle ($35).

I also discovered two aftermarket secondary handles, the Stout Backsaver ($13) and the Motus D-Grip ($13). These are designed to be attached to any shafted tool.

To fully explore the ergonomic possibilities, we decided to test a wide variety of regular shovels representing the different styles with and without the aftermarket secondary handles. Three of those shovels had bent shafts: the Rugg 26PBSLW ($22), Dart BHS18 ($30) and Suncast SC3250 ($23). One, the True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover ($26), had a curved shaft. Two were standard straight shafts: the Suncast Powerblade SCP3500 ($38) and True Temper Mountain Mover with VersaGrip ($27). Two were grain shovels: the Suncast SG1600 ($16) and True Temper Arctic Blast Poly Snow Scoop ($27).

As a control unit, we added the Suncast SN1000 ($11) to represent the old-fashioned grandpa shovel. We also included the Voile TelePro Avalanche Shovel ($40) in order to see where it fit in with the rest. We tested 14 different shovels and, with the secondary handles, 25 different shovel configurations.

A total of four people used the shovels to clear a driveway, four long walkways, three different front stoops, three decks, a long set of deck stairs (14 steps and one landing), a set of fieldstone steps, a stone patio and a brick patio. The shovelers varied in height and gender. They were male, 6’0”; male, 5’8”; male, 6’5”; and female, 5’10”. Testing occurred over the course of six days and after three different snowstorms. During this time, a wide range of temperatures caused a variety of snow density: light and fluffy, frozen and crunchy, and finally, melty and slushy.

Our Pick

“Yeah, this is it, this is what we’ve been looking for…”
Of the shovels tested, the True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with the added Stout Backsaver handle was by far the crowd favorite. On its own (without the added handle), the Mountain Mover was seen as above average, but with the Backsaver attached to it, the shovel testers went bananas.

Shovel
The Mountain Mover's polyethene scoop, light-weight aluminum shaft and nylon wear strip make it almost unstoppable come a blizzard.
“Yeah, this is it, this is what we’ve been looking for,” one of them said after about two hours of moving snow with other shovels.

First, let’s talk about the shovel itself. The Ames Mountain Mover is a really nice shovel all around, especially when it comes to ergonomics. It was the only one we tested with a curved shaft made of light and durable aluminum, which allowed the back to stand straighter while shoveling and also gave full flexibility of hand positioning up and down the shaft. It also offers stability in the scoop, eliminating the ‘pendulum effect’ of the bent shafts. The D-grip at the back end of the Mountain Mover is nice and large and no one had any problems fitting a chunky winter glove in the opening.

The business end of the Mountain Mover has a nylon wear strip, which makes for a durable and protected leading edge that won’t gouge or scratch your deck or walkway. I had no problem busting up ice and compacted snow on the deck steps with the shovel, and the steps came through the process un-marred. The wear strip is rounded, so it easily finds its way over uneven surfaces like the brick walkways or fieldstone steps.

The only downside to the nylon wear strip is that it’s a bit thick, which makes it harder to knife the shovel under compacted snow or into a semi-frozen snowbank. The shovel can still perform these tasks, but during side-by-side testing, there was a noticeable difference between the thicker Mountain Mover and thinner, strip-less or metal-stripped competitors. We feel that this is a worthy trade-off. The shovels with the metal wear strips can really do some damage and some of the ones without a strip already showed signs of wear after just a few hours of testing.

It’s the shovel that I’ve used for the past six New England winters and it is only now showing some signs of wear.
As for long-term durability, I can personally vouch for the True Temper. It’s the shovel that I’ve used for the past six New England winters and it is only now showing some signs of wear (we tested with a new model though). The corners of the scoop are beginning to crack a little, but it’s nothing that I’m particularly alarmed about. Also, over the years, I’ve never had any issue with the wear strip. Only with the True Temper tested alongside the metal-edged shovels did I realize that there was such a difference.

While we recommend the nylon strip, a company called Truper also makes a curved shaft shovel with a metal wear strip, the 33813 ($27). We didn’t test this model, but if you insist on the metal wear strip, it is likely that the Truper plus the Backsaver would offer similar benefits to the True Temper Mountain Mover.

The Stout Backsaver attached to the True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover

The Stout Backsaver attached to the True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover

“This thing can turn any old piece-of-sh*t shovel into a decent tool.”
But while the True Temper is a good shovel in its own right, adding the Stout Backsaver really made a big difference. And not just for the True Temper; you can add one of these to just about any shovel you already have lying around for an instantly and vastly improved shoveling experience for about $14. As one tester put it, “This thing can turn any old piece-of-sh*t shovel into a decent tool.” After testing was completed, everyone in the focus group asked where they could purchase one.

Handle
The Stout Backsaver Grip reduces your chances of getting seriously injured while improving your shoveling efficiency by turning you into a first-class lever with a higher hand grip and a straighter stance.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.
The Backsaver clamps to the shovel shaft with four bolts and wingnuts. It’s easy enough to take on and off, so the handle can be moved over to your spade shovel in the spring. The kit comes with a spacer pad that can be used for very narrow-shafted tools and we recommend using it on the True Temper. Because the shaft is curved, the Backsaver needs the additional padding for a snug fit.

The Backsaver handle also made shoveling the long flight of deck stairs much easier than with a traditional shovel. When standing on a step and pulling snow towards me (like paddling a canoe), the extra handle added a nice grip and let me stand further back from the shovel as I cleared off the steps.

But it is in the actual act of shoveling that the Backsaver pays for itself. While moving snow, everyone, regardless of their height, could feel the change in body mechanics and the reduced strain on the back. Shoveling snow is just plain easier with the added handle.

For what it’s worth, I also tested the Motus D-Grip, which is the other readily available aftermarket handle, but found it more difficult to keep tight on the shovel shaft and the grip area was smaller, giving larger gloved hands some problems. The Backsaver also raises the hand about 1 ½ inches higher than the Motus, so everyone was more comfortable using it.

True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with Stout Backsaver attached.

True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with Stout Backsaver attached.

So what happens when you combine two already-great products? Snow-shoveling nirvana.  At $40 total ($26 for the shovel, $14 for the handle), it may seem like a lot to pay for a shovel. But the reduction of back strain is worth the cost. Tired arms are one thing, a herniated disc is another.

The runner-up

Also Great
Ergonomically, the Bigfoot Powerlift decreases the strain on your back, arms and shoulders as well as or better than the Mountain Mover. With its lack of a wear strip and concerns about its spinning, secondary handle, however, it is not built to last.
This is perhaps one of the few cases where you might actually need something we recommend within a limited period of time. If our picks happen to be sold out, we recommend you get the Bigfoot Powerlift for about $31, which provides stellar ergonomics thanks to a built-in secondary handle, but lacks overall durability, partially due to the absence of any wear strip. One neat trick is that the secondary handle adjusts by spinning around the threaded shaft, which lets you dump a load of snow just by twisting your rear hand.

Everyone liked this tool, with one tester saying, “If this thing holds up, this is a real nice shovel.” But his concern for durability is warranted. Since the Bigfoot has no protective wear strip, the exposed poly blade showed significant amounts of damage after only three separate shoveling sessions; the corners became rounded over and the front edge sustained some serious dents. The plastic connection between the secondary handle and the shaft also looks suspicious. It performed fine during our tests, but everyone who held the shovel pointed it out as something they were worried about.

For what it’s worth, the Powerlift has a lifetime handle warranty (not the scoop, just the handle) and will replace it if any part breaks. It’s a nice gesture and shows that the company is willing to stand behind their tool, but if something breaks and you only have half of your driveway shoveled, you’re probably just going to go and get a new shovel without dealing with the warranty.

Durability aside, there were some other problems with the Bigfoot. One tester thought that the secondary handle was too loose on the shaft and said it was difficult to keep it steady while she scooped and tossed.

The large threaded shaft poses another issue. Because it is so fat–more than two inches in diameter when the others are all 1 ⅛ to 1 ¼–the Bigfoot is difficult to grip like a standard shovel with both hands on the shaft. When working in a confined area like the landing on the deck steps, the second handle isn’t practical, and with the main shaft too fat to grab on to, it’s awkward to  use.

Overall though, it’s a mighty fine shovel and could even be our pick if not for the reduced durability.

A small shovel for small spaces

Though our top pick and runner-up were our preferred shovels, at least one of the others we tested proved to be a decent pick for compact storage spaces: the Voile TelePro Avalanche Shovel.

Also Great
The Voile Telepro is a shovel for those who only have to clear a small amount of snow. Its short shaft is rough on your back and its size limits its capabilities, but it's great to have on hand in your car or small apartment or as an emergency shovel you can access easily.
 I chose the Voile based on its performance in an extensive (and very interesting) comparison of avalanche shovels done by the Austrian Alpine Club. Our purpose was to see what an avalanche shovel could bring to the table with regard to daily shoveling needs.

The verdict is that it is small. Really small. Really, really small and not practical for significant snow removal. But if you’re a city dweller and you only need to clear two steps and a little bit around your car, this might be something to consider. The short shaft won’t do your back any favors, but the fact that you can quickly disassemble the shovel to practically fit it inside a small pizza box makes it ideal for those with zero storage.

The compact nature of the Voile also makes it perfect for storing in your car or truck as an emergency shovel. Our research didn’t delve too deeply into car shovels, but there is no doubt that the Voile would make a nice one.

The competition

The SnowBow is an interesting design. It has a secondary handle that runs parallel to the main shaft, coming off it like the handle of a coffee cup. All of the testers liked the tool at a glance, but once they used it, they found it difficult to find a comfortable hand position. The secondary handle is a day-glo orange which everyone liked and thought would be helpful clearing around the mailbox by the road, but it wasn’t enough for anyone to choose this one as a stand-out.

The True Temper SnoBoss is just too massive to be a primary shovel. Landing somewhere between a combo shovel and one of the larger sled-style pushers, the testers concluded that the SnoBoss was too big for a shovel and too small for a pusher. “It’s unrealistic to lift that thing” one tester said. Its size (27-inch leading edge) also made it hard to use on the stoops and deck steps. One tester, a strong advocate for the sled-style snow pushers, said that since the mega size of the SnoBoss relegates it to a secondary shovel, you might as well forgo it and get a real pusher instead, like this one.

The Suncast Double-Grip has a bent shaft and an attached secondary handle, similar to the Backsaver. Going into testing, I thought that this one was a contender, but the build quality is so poor that it was quickly disregarded. The D-Grip has a seismic squeak and creak to it. Every time the shovel is moved it makes a noise. Every. Single. Time. Sometimes it clicks too. Dealing with 10 inches of wet snow is bad enough without having to listen to your shovel. I saw that many Amazon reviewers commented on the squeaks as well, so it wasn’t an isolated incident.

Beyond the aggravating noises, the D-grip is in a fixed position on the shaft, so there is no way to adjust if you’re particularly tall or short. Most of the testers felt that it was placed too close to the rear of the shaft, which made the tool uncomfortable compared to the True Temper/Backsaver combo.

The bent-handled shovels we looked at, the Rugg 26PBSLW, Suncast SC3250 and Dart BHS18, were liked but not loved. Our shovelers appreciated how they allowed for a straighter back, but the hand position was limited because of the bent shaft. With the Backsaver attached, they became more popular, but still the limitations of the bent shaft were there.

The straight-shaft shovels got zero respect during the shoveling trials. Compared to the others, they’re just too awkward to use. The tallest tester (me) had to bend over to at least 90 degrees at the waist just to load a scoop. The True Temper Mountain Mover with VersaGrip has a cool rear handle, designed for a two-handed grip while pushing snow, but it doesn’t offset the back-breaking exertion needed to scoop and toss.

The Suncast Powerblade SCP3500 is a long, straight-handled shovel, and even though no one picked it as their favorite (or even close to it), we do need to note that the claim that the blade is indestructible is no joke. Each tester took multiple swings smashing it against a driveway trying to crack or damage the scoop, but the result was nothing more than some slight scuffing. No one cared too much for the shovel, but everyone was impressed with its durability.

Among the straight-shafted shovels, the grain shovels (Suncast SG1600 and True Temper Arctic Blast Poly Snow Scoop) received specific scorn from our testers. The large scoops and short handles quickly added up to brutal back strain. One tester called them “old-fashioned backaches.”

But the true runt of the litter was the Suncast SN1000 old-school flat-bladed shovel that we tested as a control model. Compared to the others, it’s just useless. This is not a comment on the build quality of Suncast’s shovel, but rather a comment on the snow-moving ability of the overall design. After using the other shovels, this one was literally laughed at by the testers.

Snow pushers

Because we were looking for the best one-tool solution for snow shoveling, I didn’t go deep on larger snow pushers. That said, one of our shovel testers is a very strong advocate for them, to the point where he made me go to his house to demonstrate how kickass he thought his was. And honestly, it was totally kickass.

Shovel tester Terry and “Big Yellow” his Garant snow pusher.

Shovel tester Terry and “Big Yellow,” his Garant snow pusher.

They’re like wheelbarrows, but without the wheel, so once you scoop up a load of snow, you can sled it over somewhere else and slide it off. They’re capable of moving a massive amount of snow in a short period of time (our shovel tester does about half of his driveway with one, in areas the plow guy can’t get to).

…they’re not going to do your front steps, but for large areas like driveways, they have almost a cult following.
Suncast and True Temper seem to be the most popular manufacturers of these and the reviews over at Amazon are insanely positive. The Suncast version ($36) has 4.3 stars with 155 reviews and the True Temper version ($45) has 4.8 stars and 21 reviews (Garant has one as well ($150), but they have the same parent company as True Temper and their pusher looks too similar to True Temper’s to justify the $100 difference in price). Another testament to their popularity is that they’re both currently sold out as of writing this in late December.

They’re not going to do your front steps, but for large areas like driveways, they have almost a cult following.

What makes a good snow shovel?

To understand why and how we picked what we did, it helps to know a little more detail about our criteria.

Styles of shovel

Snow shovels are available in three main flavors; shovels, pushers and combos. Combos are the most versatile because they offer the benefits of the two other styles without any limitations. They can be used to scoop, toss and push snow, making them, as Saffron told me, the standard snow tool in the US.

Pushers are not designed for scooping or tossing. The small ones look like a snow plow on the end of a stick and the large ones take the form of giant, sled-style scoops. Pushers are popular in colder temperatures where snow tends to be drier and lighter. According to Saffron, Canada is a massive market for pushers, but they’re not nearly as popular in the US due to the warmer climate and heavier snow.

Shovels are the basic flat blade on a stick. It’s what you remember your grandfather using (Charlie Brown used one too). The scoop is one-dimensional and is in line with the shaft, so they’re not good at pushing snow (or anything else really, as our testing discovered).

Beyond combos, pushers and shovels, there are a few other variations that I looked at.

Marked by their large scoops and short handles, grain shovels are popular among the burly strongman crowd. This article, written by Mark Clement, tool expert and host of the MyFixItUpLife radio show, offers the best summary of their advantages (durability, massive scoop). Because they can shovel snow one minute and be used as a stand-up dust pan the next, they’re popular on construction sites.

Also available are avalanche shovels designed for the backpacking and skiing crowd. With removable handles and metal scoops, they provide portability and the ability to chop into compacted snow in extreme conditions.

Nine of the 14 shovels that we tested were combos. We added in two grain shovels, an avalanche shovel, a flat-bladed old-school shovel and the larger True Temper SnoBoss shovel/pusher, in order to see what they offered compared to the rest.

Scoop: plastic, aluminum, or steel?

Because of the repetitive nature of shoveling, we recommend going with the lightest material. This means plastic, or more specifically (in most cases), polyethene. Not only are these shovels lighter, but they have the built-in flexibility to withstand sharp impacts. Most of them come equipped with a reinforced edge for added durability and longevity. Cheaper plastic shovels can break in extreme cold, but more reputable models hold up better. I’ve personally had a True Temper poly shovel for the past six New England winters and it is only now starting to show a few little cracks at the corners.

Metal shovels offer durability, but with that comes weight. After 100 scoops and tosses, that added heaviness is going to add up to wear and tear on your arms and back. Also, as the front edge of a metal shovel becomes worn and dented, it can easily scratch decking and stonework (much like a metal wear strip, as I’m about to point out).

The wear strip

The wear strip is the reinforced leading edge found on most poly shovels. The purpose is to protect the edge and create a stronger blade for busting up ice or chipping into semi-frozen, compacted snow, such as the pile that the town plow leaves blocking the end of the driveway. These strips are either nylon or metal.

From left to right: Suncast SC3250 (metal wear strip), Bigfoot Powerlift (no wear strip), True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover (nylon wear strip). Note the nicks and dings on the unprotected Bigfoot scoop

From left to right: Suncast SC3250 (metal wear strip), Bigfoot Powerlift (no wear strip), True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover (nylon wear strip). Note the nicks and dings on the unprotected Bigfoot scoop

Nylon wear strips are the best option for a few reasons. They protect the edge of the poly scoop against nicks, dings and cracking, and at the same time, they reinforce it so the shovel is strong enough to chop into dense, compacted snow. Nylon strips are also rounded over at the edge, so the shovel can easily slide over uneven surfaces without getting jammed up. Lastly, shovels with nylon strips can be used on decks and stone walkways with minimal fear of damaging the surface.

There is no doubt that metal wear strips are the best at breaking ice, but they come with some major drawbacks. As Saffron explained to me, they can easily scratch wood decks, brick walkways and bluestone patios. I called Horgan Enterprises, a landscaping/snow removal company located in Boston, MA, and they told me that they steer clear of metal wear strips for just that reason.

During our testing, I used a shovel with a metal wear strip to clear off a mahogany deck, and despite being extremely careful, I still managed to scratch the decking. I also noticed that as the  metal wear strip got some use, it became more abrasive as the edge developed dents and burrs.

While it’s a risky situation using any shovel to clear 15 inches of snow from the hood of your car, one with a metal wear strip is going to show zero mercy if it comes anywhere near your nice paint job. A nylon strip will probably still leave a scuff, but the damage will be far less severe than with a metal one.

Metal strips are also extremely sharp and rigid, so they catch on virtually everything. When our testing crew shoveled off a barely uneven brick patio and walkway it was a disaster. Each time someone went for a scoop, the front edge of the shovel caught and jammed to an abrupt stop, jarring the arms of the shoveler. Even on a paved driveway there were problems with the blade hitching on little bits of asphalt or snagging on the slightly raised blobs of blacktop patch.

We’re not the only ones to notice this. According to the second edition of Snow Removal Ergonomics, published by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Inc, when this catching occurs, “the shoulders, neck and back are jarred from the unexpected abrupt stop. This can lead to an injury if you are working on these types of surfaces. Also the blade often catches and many users will bend over awkwardly to stop the blade from grabbing. This is why [metal wear strips] should be avoided.” Not a single one of our four testers liked the metal wear strips.

A third option is to not have any wear strip at all. This creates a nice sharp shovel blade with flexibility to handle uneven surfaces, but the trade-off is durability. The naked and exposed poly blade doesn’t stand a chance against gravel, rocks, asphalt or concrete. After only a couple uses, the edge can become rounded and heavily dented.

Shovels come in a variety of widths. An 18- to 20-inch wide shovel is the sweet spot between being too large for some people and too small to be effective for mass clearing.

Ergonomics, part 1: hand positioning

…the added handle actually changes the way your body works…
A number of academic studies show that by adding a secondary handle approximately two-thirds of the way down the shaft, raised above it and oriented perpendicular to it, the strain on your back will be greatly reduced. The second handle serves two purposes. Because the hand now grips the tool from above the shaft and not below it or beside it, the result is less bending down. But more importantly, the added handle actually changes the way your body works in order to reduce exertion.

With a secondary handle, you’re theoretically changing your shoveling body from a third-class lever to a first-class lever, which requires less effort to lift a load. Traditionally, a shovel is a third-class lever, which means that the lifting force (the hand on the middle of the shaft) is between the fulcrum (the hand at the end of the shaft) and the weight (the heavy, wet snow). By re-orienting and raising the secondary handle, this changes. Now, the lifting force is the rear hand and the fulcrum is the middle hand, located between the lift and the weight. See here for a visual representation of the different levers.

So how does this translate to shoveling? A 1993 study carried out by the University of Miami in conjunction with NASA compared a standard straight-shaft shovel (a regular shovel, not a snow shovel) to one equipped with a secondary D-grip handle, located on the shaft. The study found that the additional handle provided a “significant reduction in [muscle activity] of the lumbar paraspinal muscles and a consistent reduction in perceived exertion ratings.”  So basically, it not only caused less aggravation to the back, but the test subjects felt the difference and could work longer under less strain.1

Another study, an Ohio State University thesis paper by Kelly McAuley, also tested out secondary handles and discovered that they “significantly reduce twisting moment, twist angle, and flexion angle [of the back] during the shoveling task” and that they “have been shown to decrease some factors associated with low back pain while shoveling.”2

Our own testing confirmed that the secondary handle significantly relieves the amount of back strain, but the experience is not as black and white as “third-class lever to first-class lever.” What our testers felt was a more even distribution of the workload between the two arms. There was still plenty of lifting with the lead hand, but the added handle let the rear hand take quite a bit of the labor load.

Ergonomics, part 2: shape of the shaft

The design of the shaft also plays a role in the amount of back strain administered by a snow shovel. In addition to the plain old straight shaft, two other ergonomic designs are available: bent shaft and curved shaft. In both instances, the portion of the shaft that is typically gripped is higher off the ground, allowing you to stand straighter while scooping snow (but offering little in the way of mechanical advantage like the secondary handles do). At least two studies have revealed a downside to these designs. Because you’re standing straighter while scooping, you have to raise your arms higher in order to toss the snow. This results in less back strain, but more wear and tear on the arms (specifically the left, or leading, arm).3

Curved-shaft shovels rely on the same principle–allowing a straighter back while shoveling–but they eliminate some of the peripheral problems of their bent-shaft cousins. As Saffron pointed out to me, by removing the drastic angle of the shaft, the shoveler now has far more flexibility with hand placement and can “choke up” at the base of the scoop for a heavy load. The curved shaft also helps with managing a heavy scoop of snow. The scoop of a bent-shaft shovel basically pendulums at the bend in the shaft, resulting in more effort needed to stabilize the shovel while tossing.

From left to right: True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with Backsaver (curved), Rugg 26PBSLW (bent), Suncast Powerblade (straight)

From left to right: True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with Backsaver (curved), Rugg 26PBSLW (bent), Suncast Powerblade (straight)

In summary, the research indicates that the best shovel for your body is one that has a secondary handle raised above the shaft. This allows you to stand straighter and it converts you into a first-class lever, resulting in less exertion and more efficient shoveling. The shovel shaft should be curved for better shoveling posture and also full range of hand placement.

Wrapping it up

If you’re looking for a reliable, durable shovel that won’t devastate your back, we recommend the True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with the Stout Backsaver Handle added on. It’s a one-two punch that combines fantastic ergonomics with a durable shovel. If you already have a shovel that you’re happy with, then we still think you should get a Backsaver. Because it actually changes how your body shovels, your back will thank you for years to come.

Footnotes:

1. I spoke with Dr. Asaf Degani, the author of the study, and he made the point that when the secondary handle was fixed, the workers felt a strain in their wrist, but when a 30-degree free rotation was placed on the secondary shaft, the strain was greatly relieved. The rotation allowed the shovelers to basically hang the load off their leading hand and toss it without having to bend that wrist much at all (he likened it to the way a paddle works on a rowboat). Unfortunately, there are no snow shovels that offer a freely rotating secondary handle. Bosse Tools, recent recipients of $60,000 in Kickstarter funds, will be offering a shovel with a secondary handle that can be rotated and locked in place, but it isn’t designed to rotate freely.

During our own testing, I monitored for wrist strain with relation to the secondary handles and none of the shovelers had any negative experiences to report. This includes myself after logging 10 hours shoveling snow. Jump back.

2. The McAuley study looked at two different styles of secondary handle: one D-grip like the Degani study and another that runs parallel and in line with the shovel shaft, but raised above it. In terms of back strain alone, the author deemed that the two handle attachments created the same results and that the choice between the two styles would come down to preference. Of the shovels we tested, one had this style of parallel handle and all of the shovelers preferred the perpendicular style. Jump back.

3. A Canadian study compared a bent-shaft design to a standard straight-shaft shovel and actually found that “although it was expected that the activity of the back musculature would be reduced with the ergonomic shovel there was no significant change in the erector spinae EMGs.” Interestingly enough, what they did discover was that the straight-shaft shovel worked the thigh muscles, but relieved the arms, and the bent-shaft shovel worked the arms, but relieved the thighs.

Another study did a similar test pitting a bent-shaft snow shovel against a straight shaft. Appearing in the Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting and conducted by the Department of Industrial Engineering, University at Buffalo, it confirmed the bent shaft’s ability to wear the arms out. The authors found that “use of a bent-handled shovel tended to result in higher discomfort levels for the left arm.” But unlike the first study, this one found that overall, the bent-handled shovel provided a reduction in motion and bending of the back, which is “not surprising as one’s lower hand was expected to be higher from the ground during the scooping activity due to the design of the shaft.” But as they found out, the only problem is that the shoveler has to compensate for this with added arm exertion. Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Daniel S. Watson, Brenda J. Shields, Gary A. Smith , Snow shovel–related injuries and medical emergencies treated in US EDs, 1990 to 2006, American Journal of Emergency Medicine, March 26th, 2010
    Ergonomics comes first because shoveling snow is brutal on your body. A study published in 2011 by The American Journal of Emergency Medicine (the result of 17 years of research), concluded that there is an average of 11,500 injuries and emergencies each year in the U.S. due to snow shoveling. Many of these (34%) have to do with the lower back, and the majority of them (54%) fall under the category of acute musculoskeletal exertion, i.e. throwing out your back. As such, finding a shovel that reduces body strain, particularly on your back, is extremely important.
  2. Snow Removal Ergonomics, 2nd Edition, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc.
    Consider this fact, presented by the Ontario Occupational Health Clinic: “if an individual were to clear a 16-foot by 30-foot driveway covered in one foot of wet snow, they would be moving approximately four tons of snow.” Yikes.
  3. Joe Saffron, Director of Marketing and Product Development, Interview
  4. Mark Clement , The World's Best Snow Shovel, DIY Life, December 29th, 2010
    Marked by their large scoops and short handles, grain shovels are popular among the burly strongman crowd. This article, written by Mark Clement, tool expert and host of the MyFixItUpLife radio show, offers the best summary of their advantages (durability, massive scoop). Because they can shovel snow one minute and be used as a stand-up dust pan the next, they’re popular on construction sites.
  5. A. Degani, S.S. Asfour, S.M. Waly, J.G. Koshy , A Comparative Study of Two Shovel Designs , Applied Ergonomics , 1933
    So how does this translate to shoveling? A 1993 study carried out by the University of Miami in conjunction with NASA compared a standard straight shaft shovel (a regular shovel, not a snow shovel) to one equipped with a secondary D-grip handle, located on the shaft. The study found that the additional handle provided a “significant reduction in [muscle activity] of the lumbar paraspinal muscles and a consistent reduction in perceived exertion ratings.” So basically, it not only caused less aggravation to the back, but the test subjects felt the difference and could work longer under less strain.
  6. Another study, an Ohio State University thesis paper, by Kelly McAuley, also tested out secondary handles and discovered that they “significantly reduce twisting moment, twist angle, and flexion angle [of the back] during the shoveling task” and that they “have been shown to decrease some factors associated with low back pain while shoveling.”
  7. Ryan Lewinson, Gholamreza Rouhi, D. Gordon E. Robertson, EMG Comparison of Two Types of Snow Shovels , School of Human Kinetics, Department of Medical Engineering, University of Ottawa
    A Canadian study compared a bent shaft design to a standard straight shaft shovel and actually found that “although it was expected that the activity of the back musculature would be reduced with the ergonomic shovel there was no significant change in the erector spinae EMGs.” Interestingly enough, what they did discover was that the straight shaft shovel worked the thigh muscles, but relieved the arms and the bent shaft shovel worked the arms, but relieved the thighs.
  8. Chia-te Huang, Victor Paquet, Kinematic Evaluation of Two Snow-Shovel Designs, International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics , June 2002
    Another study did a similar test pitting a bent shaft snow shovel against a straight shaft. Appearing in the Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting and conducted by the Department of Industrial Engineering, University at Buffalo, it confirmed the bent shaft’s ability to wear the arms out. The authors found that “use of a bent-handled shovel tended to result in higher discomfort levels for the left arm.” But unlike the first study, this one found that overall, the bent-handled shovel provided a reduction in motion and bending of the back, which is “not surprising as one’s lower hand was expected to be higher from the ground during the scooping activity due to the design of the shaft.” But as they found out, the only problem is that the shoveler has to compensate for this with added arm exertion.
  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Great post.

    I use an Ariens snow blower for most of my clearing but there’s still plenty of shoveling to do.

    I have The Ames ergonomic shovel and I agree, it’s great. Metal strips on shovels can be a problem on uneven ground; they catch and if you’re pushing with a shovel when it catches it can knock the wind out of you if you’re not careful.

    I’m going to order the attachment, it looks great too.

    • Doug Mahoney

      Richard, thanks. I think you’re really going to be impressed with what the Backsaver adds to the shovel (I sure was).

  • Kari C

    I don’t see anything like thesnowplow.com, love mine. Comes in any width.

    • Michael Zhao

      I believe that would qualify as a pusher, which we address. Looks neat though!

      • Kari C

        It’s definitely more versatile than the pusher. The UHMW blade can scrape ice and it will do steps quite nicely by flipping the blade around and scraping from the top. The only thing it won’t do is throw snow like a scoop.

        You may have seen these in action during the outdoor NHL game on New Year’s Day.

        • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

          I have a very uneven driveway and can’t use a shovel or pusher with a metal strip on it as it catches on stuff. Will this plastic material catch like metal or does it behave more like softer plastic? It looks like a great product, thanks.

          • Kari C

            I use it on a brick paver patio & walkway and it works well. Definitely better than metal. It has a sharp 90 degree edge upon purchase but with use a radius will develop and make it less likely to catch on things. The material is somewhat soft but not brittle.

          • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

            Thanks Kari, I’ll give it a go.

          • rob

            I like my snowplow just fine, have had it for 3-4 years now. But unfortunately, this shovel definitely catches on a few uneven spots that have developed in my driveway over the years. (i.e., some of the “joints” between the concrete slabs)

        • rob

          “…and it will do steps quite nicely by flipping the blade around and scraping from the top.”

          Kari C, you just blew my mind!

          I have had my “snowplow” for 4-5 years but somehow this idea of flipping over the blade had never occurred to me. That suggestion has suddenly elevated this shovel to my go-to choice for “driven-on compressed snow that is on the verge of becoming ice.”

          thanks! :)

    • gmotter

      +1 on thesnowplow.com. I have the pusher and the combo shovel (Dominator). Absolutely love them, and they are built to last.

  • Ethan Montag

    One thing that bothers me about these shovels is that in order for the store to stack them, they have the shaft of the mounted in a raised ridge in the middle of the shovel. That means that the contour of the shovel is interrupted and holds less snow. Bad design.

    For a small amount of snow or cleaning up the residual after shoveling, a shovel shaped like a plow is great. Why lift the snow when you can push it.

    I also use the Sno-Wovel. It is a shovel on a wheel. You push the snow (not lift it) to the side and than launch it, using the axle as a pivot. The wheel bears the weight of the snow rather than your back.

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      Where I live (New England) it’s rare to be able to push snow although I must say this morning was an exception. It’s more likely wet heavy snow that needs to be lifted and the ergonomic handle on the Ames ergonomic snow shovel saves one’s back.

  • MisterWhiskey

    Concerning the “freely rotating secondary handle” strap a D-handle to the shaft. I don’t use a secondary handle, but I would imagine that using a strap between handle and shaft gives you unlimited freedom. If you really need something with limits, you’re increasing manufacturing costs quite a bit.

  • KanyonKris

    Thank you for the thorough review.

    My main snow tool is an EZ Plow (http://www.ezplow.com/). Works well for most Utah snowfall which is usually fluffy and 6 inches or less. I push the angled blade at a brisk walk and it directs the snow off to the side. Takes less time and effort to clear my sidewalks and driveway than a shovel. With deeper and wetter snow the EZ Plow doesn’t work as well (it’s difficult to push the blade straight, the angled blade wants to go left on you) so I’ll use a regular shovel then. I used my EZ Plow for 8 years before the plastic blade wore down far enough that I replaced.

  • Bruce

    How did you miss the Wovel? http://www.wovel.com/

    It is by far the best snow plow available. With it I can clear my driveway in less time than it takes my neighbor with his gas powered blower. I’ve had mine for three years and I enjoy using it. I’m 5’6”, never work out and I’ve never had back issues after using the Wovel. All the effort is in your shoulders. Seriously, please check it out and post and addendum.

    • Doug Mahoney

      Bruce, we did look at the Wovel and while it certainly looks effective, we were after the best one-stop shoveling solution. The Wovel is likely a fantastic secondary tool, but, as you know, it will struggle on deck stairs and front steps.

      • 0ttr

        That’s a really dissatifying answer and I think you are doing your users a disservice without a detailed review of it. This is an excellent device. It’s a suitable replacement for a snow-blower, which also cannot be used on “deck stairs and front steps”. The number of excellent reviews on amazon really suggest that you should have included it.

        After three years of dithering, I bought one this year and I couldn’t be happier. I complete a 45 minute driveway job in about 20 minutes, and I do so without hurting my back. It is especially effective in deep snow where regular snow shovels are terrible.

        I’m really surprised on your reasoning and genuinely believe it’s faulty. Please reconsider your decision as your criteria are narrow to the point of unnecessary exclusion.

      • Ash

        I normally dislike the “why didn’t you include” comments, but I have to say I agree with Bruce on this one.

        I don’t have a deck, and barely have stairs. I don’t think the ability to clear a deck and stairs is so obviously integral to the more general task of clearing snow. It seems like the “best shovel for decks and stairs” should be a subsection within a more general article about snow clearing equipment. In the same way, you don’t limit your vacuum cleaner review to only vacuums that excel at removing pet hair.

        I would like to know about the best devices for snow clearing in general, with some mention at least of gas and electric devices. And clever devices like the Wovel need some consideration too.

      • Bob Seawick

        Masi Polar Plus snow shovel that people in Scandinavia use. . Clear your driveway 50 %- 70% faster and safer on the back.www.ultimatesnowshovel.com blows away the wovel. It is manufactured in Finland and not China!!
        Description
        Your place for Quality Merchandise including the Award Winning Masi snow shovel designed and manufactured in Finland . Primoshop is the exclusive distributor in the United States and Canada for the most innovative and ergonomically designed snow removal system on the market

  • AaronStaker

    Seriously? Plastic poly shovels … not one mention of metal shovel? http://yeomanandcompany.com/

    Yeah this the only way to fly… ergonomics issues non-withstanding.

    • Doug Mahoney

      We did mention metal shovels (and why we decided not to include them in our testing). But if you’re a metal shovel guy through and through, you can still add a Backsaver handle and really take the load off your back.

      • AaronStaker

        Agreed on the back saver, that being said the logic behind a metal shovel being heavier is not really backed up with data or actual user testing. I also think the argument simply isn’t valid. A tool that doesn’t hold up just isn’t very good and I’ve yet to see any plastic shovel last as long or longer than it’s metal equivalent. My YoHo is a lifetime tool while these in the review are simply disposable, I’m just not into that. The other argument that a metal tool will damage decking or stone also doesn’t hold water… this is more of an operator issue, taking care with any tool is a must… for me the durability issues are the real concern. 5 years from now when you’re on your 3rd shovel I’m confident mine will still be as good as the day I bought it.

        • Doug Mahoney

          Right. I don’t think anyone is questioning the longevity of a metal shovel, but the high quality poly ones do just fine, in my opinion. Like I said in the piece, I’ve had one for 6 New England winters and I’m not exactly treating the thing like a Faberge egg. I understand your point on disposability though, but I think the high end poly shovels deserve a little more credit.

          I also get what you’re saying about operator error causing any deck scratches. I think that’s true to a point. When I tested the tools, the metal edged shovels very easily scratched the mahogany deck (refinished last summer). Clearing the deck was time consuming and I was being extremely conscious of what I was doing, but I was also trying to get all of the snow and ice off. The shovel with the nylon strip was fast, easy, and I could even scrape at the ice and keep the deck unscathed.

          Re: weight- my own experience as a carpenter using repetitive tools, like a hammer, is that a little added weight over the course of a day makes a huge difference on body wear. A couple ounces added to a hammer or a framing gun don’t sound like much, but at the end of the day, it’s a killer.

          Lastly, I don’t think there are any metal shovels available with either an ergonomic shaft or with a combo style scoop (I’m working off the top of my head here..YoHo seems to only have the flat bladed style). As you know from reading the piece, ergonomics was a central focus and that resulted in the decisions to go with an ergonomic shaft (for better posture) and a combo style scoop (to both push snow and scoop it).

          But anyway, I’m really curious to hear what you have to say about the Backsaver if you decide to go with one.

  • LuiseJasmine

    These are very amazing and mind Blowing show for the snow.
    https://bitly.com/1gCRsXm+

  • Brett Harris

    I’d love to see y’all review snow blowers. With the kind of snows we have been having in the north I think it is time I invest in one.

  • PeterLLLLL

    Too bad you only tested a couple of short-handled grain scoop shovels. I’ve got a Timber[something], the label has worn off, plastic grain scoop, a longer handle, best shovel ever. Have used it for 10+ years, no real damage to the scoop, and my not-so-great back is holding up fine. Wish I could remember where I bought it, would buy another one or two, be set for life. One trick — take a couple of Ibuprofen 30-60 minutes before shoveling.

  • DrMedicine

    The True Temper model is unavailable in the Chicago area, but I eventually found the similar Garant Yukon Ergo Mountain Mover at Ace Hardware. As noted, Garant is the same company as Ames True Temper. http://www.garant.com/html/en/produits/produit.php?idProduit=1003604&typeProduit=famille

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Your link is dead. Got a fresh one?

      • DrMedicine

        I guess their site doesn’t like hotlinks. Hit their search bar, model YM18EAKDVS and YPM18EAKD

  • Bob Seawick

    Masi Polar Plus snow shovel that people in Scandinavia use. . Clear your driveway 50 %- 70% faster and safer on the back.www.ultimatesnowshovel.com This by far the best snow removal products and that is why everyone uses this system in Scandinavia. This product is not made in China but manufactured in Finland with the best materials incluing recycable plastics from Germany. We have never had a return in the US or Canada. It is the best!!
    Description
    Your place for Quality Merchandise including the Award Winning Masi snow shovel designed and manufactured in Finland . Primoshop is the exclusive distributor in the United States and Canada for the most innovative and ergonomically designed snow removal system on the market

  • garbanzito

    i have 250 or so feet of relatively smooth sidewalk to shovel in Denver; the “snow” may be anything from fluff to ice; having grown up in Maine, where as a teen i shoveled for neighbors, and also owned a home in Minneapolis, i have tried many shovels; after 40 years of shoveling i have settled on an “ergo” (bent, not curved) handled shovel with aluminum blade and steel strip; plastic can’t get under the ice that often forms, often with above a thin melt layer from the Colorado sun, and plastic not really much lighter; i need the bite of steel, and i don’t have anything that will be nicked by it (one size does not fit all — some don’t want to nick a deck, some need to clear driveways, some live on an urban corner lot …)

    i have destroyed a few “high quality” poly shovels, and i’m not swayed by your review to revisit them; however i can still learn new things and will take a close look at the back saver – at 6’1″ the handles on most ergo snow shovels are just a little too short for me

    the one thing i wish you had covered was maintainable snow shovels — with replaceable parts; in 14 years at this address, i typically i have to replace shovels every two years; it is a toss-up whether the rivets or the corners of the steel strip wear out first; either way the steel then separates and distorts and the end comes quickly; it pains me to replace these when the handles are fine, and the aluminum blade would be fine if i could have conveniently replaced the steel strip; i suppose there is no money in that for a mass-marketer of snow shovels, but i’d expect a site like this to acknowledge this problem

  • kevin lee

    Here is the best show shovel ever!!! Snow shovel with ROBOHANDLE. Now you can use two snow shovels on each hand and you will get the job done twice as fast without killing your wrist, arm, and back!!! Check out these videos. You will not believe it!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQIQHVJBoBc, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gosHDoemDkA

    Even a child can clear snow faster than a men. What you are seeing are two heavy duty snow pushers (36″ wide blade) For more info. go to http://www.robohandle.com or http://www.ergonomictoolsinc.com

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Are you the owner/maker of this? Or just a customer happy with this product?

      • http://www.robohandle.com kevin lee

        I am the crazy inventor of this new product called ROBOHANDLE. It is a leverage handle that can be attached to any hand tools and it will give you a super human power!!! All other tool maker will try to destroy this idea because if people finally found out about the ROBOHANDLE, they will never use their snow shovel without it. ROBOHANDLE is all about leverage and torque generation. It is all about understanding the basic physics 101. With ROBOHANDLE you are now using your bicep, triceps, lats, and pec muscle to maneuver your tool poles. I will soon have a web site called robohandle.com and a Facebook page explaining all the benefit of this new invention product. Hope you read this soon before this site eliminate my comments again. Check out the attached photos. My twelve year old daughter is lifting two heavy duty 36″ Garant snow shovels. You would have this much control of your snow shovels. If you could only feel this power. Send me a email to kevinrobohandle@gmail.com if you want more information about this new product. Go to You-Tube and type robohandle and see all the other application of ROBOHANDLE. You will love it.
        Thanks.

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          Ok thanks for the reply! Looks neat. Just wanted to briefly let you know that your comment was overloaded with links & videos and was flagged as spam by 2 separate individuals in the Disqus system.

          I’ll try to get ahold of our expert researcher of the snow tools and see if he would be interested in discussing your product. Since this review is already done and winter will be over in a month (give or take), I can’t say whether this guide will see an update before next winter. But I’ll do the best I can in getting something to him regarding your handle. Thanks!

          • http://www.robohandle.com kevin lee

            Hi Tony,
            Thank you for the info.

          • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

            You are most welcome!

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