The Best Snow Shovel
Last winter, we selected the True Temper 18-inch Ergonomic Mountain Mover as the best snow shovel for most people looking to clear walkways, steps, and small driveways. A year later, after a fresh look at the competition and a test of four new shovels, the True Temper remains our main pick because it has the best blend of size and features out of all the tools we tested.
Its handle is a durable, lightweight aluminum that gloved hands can grip anywhere, the 18-inch-wide poly scoop is just the right size, and the nylon leading edge won’t gouge up your deck or catch on your brick patio. Its curved shaft, an unusual shovel design, makes moving snow easier, as it requires you to put less work into each swing. Also, it’s built to last. I’ve had mine for six years and counting.
We came to these conclusions after more than 40 hours of research (much of which was spent reading studies on shoveling ergonomics) as well as 26 total man-hours of actual snow shoveling. When it was all over, our team had tested out 18 shovels (14 last year and 4 this year), many of them with and without a supplemental aftermarket handle, resulting in a total of 29 different shovel configurations tested.
This is in addition to the countless hours I’ve personally spent standing behind a snow shovel—I grew up in Vermont at the end of a two-mile dirt road, and I’ve lived the majority of my life in New England, 10 years of which were spent doing construction work. That decade of carrying lumber and plywood, combined with my odd height (6-foot-5), has given my back the personality of a grumpy old man. It doesn’t take much snow shoveling for the aches and pains to get going—so, in addition to serving our readers, I have personal reasons to get this one right.
Our top pick is even better with the addition of a Stout Backsaver Grip Attachment ($10), a second handle that improved ergonomics and reduced the risk of injury. This second handle changes the mechanics of your body’s shoveling motion, greatly reducing the strain on your back and lowering overall exertion. It just makes shoveling easier, whether you’re scraping snow off steps or scooping it from the ground.
But if the Mountain Mover is unavailable, we stand by our runner-up pick, the Bigfoot Power Lift—this is another 18-inch-wide poly-bladed shovel with a built-in second handle. It’s good, but it’s straight handle isn’t as easy to use as a curved one, and it lacks the nylon wear strip that adds so much durability to the blade of the Mountain Mover, our first choice.
For this 2015 version of the guide, a new round of testing gave us two additional recommendations: The True Temper Aluminum Combo Blade Snow Shovel is our pick for anyone who’s only shoveling hard, flat surfaces like concrete and asphalt, and the Voile Telepro is the small snow shovel we’d keep in a car trunk for winter roadside emergencies.
If you’re only going to be shoveling snow and ice on flat, scratch-proof surfaces like city sidewalks and paved driveways, consider the True Temper Aluminum Combo Blade Snow Shovel. This shovel has the same curved handle as our main pick, but it has a metal scoop instead of a poly one. This means that the shovel can easily knife under compacted snow and scrape flat surfaces clear. It’s also better at busting up ice. The downsides? Its metal blade leaves scratches on materials like wood decks or bluestone patios, and the leading edge is so stiff and sharp that it catches and abruptly stops on uneven ground, like a gravel drive or even a brick walkway. It’s also heavier than the poly version, which adds up over the course of a shoveling session.
If you’re looking for a shovel to keep in your car for emergencies, we recommend the Voile Telepro. It’s designed for backpacking and mountaineering, so it has a nice strong scoop and can be easily disassembled to fit underneath a car seat or in the corner of the trunk. It’s built to slice into frozen snow, so it’s unlikely to break in an emergency. The Voile isn’t cheap, but it was clearly the best in tests against four other car shovels, all of which were either too flimsy or too small to be trusted. It’s also a good option for someone living in a city apartment who has minimal shoveling needs and very little storage space.
Our 2015 update also includes recommendations for a few supplementary tools that you may want to consider in addition to your shovel. Snow pushers and snow sleighs are designed to clear driveways; a roof rake is good for knocking snow off a roof, which goes a long way to preventing ice damming. As of February 2015, we also have a new guide to snow blowers, which is yet another way to get snow off a driveway.
Table of contents
- The best show shovel
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- The best snow shovel for concrete and pavement
- The best car shovel
The best snow shovel: our pick
We investigated nearly 75 shovels and had a four-person crew test 14 of them in the winter of 2014. After a fresh round of research and testing for this 2015 update, we’re still convinced that the Ames True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover with the added Stout Backsaver handle is the best snow shovel for most people. Even without the added handle, the Mountain Mover was above average, but with the Backsaver attached to it, our Massachusetts crew of shovel testers went bananas.
“Yeah, this is it, this is what we’ve been looking for,” one of them said, picking up this tool after about two hours of moving snow with the other shovels.
First, let’s talk about the shovel itself. The Ames Mountain Mover combines several features we found essential to a good snow shovel. It was the only one we tested with a curved shaft made of light and durable aluminum, which allows your back to stand straighter while shoveling, and also gives full flexibility of hand positioning up and down the shaft. It make your scooping motion stable, eliminating the pendulum effect you feel using shovels with bent shafts1. 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 is an 18-inch-wide flexible poly scoop with 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 wooden 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.
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.) The corners of the scoop are beginning to crack a little, but it’s nothing that I’m particularly alarmed about.
The True Temper is a good shovel in its own right, but adding the Stout Backsaver really made a big difference. It’s a secondary handle that attaches to the shovel shaft and allows your body to stand straighter while shoveling. And it doesn’t work on only the True Temper. For about $14, you can add one of these to just about any shovel you already have lying around, instantly and significantly improving the shoveling experience. 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.
The Backsaver clamps to the shovel shaft with four bolts and wing nuts. It’s easy enough to take on and off, so the handle can be moved over to your garden shovel in the spring. The kit comes with a spacer pad that can be used for very narrow-shafted tools, and we recommend using the pad 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 a long flight of deck stairs much easier. When standing on a step and pulling snow toward you (like paddling a canoe), the extra handle adds a nice grip and lets you stand farther back from the shovel to clear off the steps. On level ground, the Backsaver really 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. I set-up my father with the ergonomic shovel and a Backsaver, and he told me, “Without that shovel and handle, your 83-year-old father simply would not be able to shovel snow anymore.”
We also tested the Motus D-Grip, another readily available aftermarket handle, but found it more difficult to keep tight on the shovel shaft. Plus, the grip area was smaller, giving larger gloved hands some problems. The Backsaver raises the hand away from the handle about 1½ inches higher than the Motus, so everyone was more comfortable using it.
So what happens when you combine two already great products? Snow-shoveling nirvana. For about $40 total ($30 for the shovel, $10 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.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
A slight downside to the Mountain Mover’s nylon wear strip—but one that’s worth the tradeoff—is that it’s a bit thick compared with its metal-stripped (or strip-free) competitors. This thickness makes it harder to knife the shovel under compacted snow or into a semi-frozen snowbank. But overall, having this strip is better. The shovels with the metal wear strips can really do some damage to non-concrete surfaces, and some of the ones without a strip already looked roughed up after just a few hours of testing.
In the six years I’ve owned this shovel, I’ve never had any issue with the wear strip’s thickness. Only with the True Temper tested alongside the metal-edged shovels did I realize that there was such a difference.
If you strongly prefer a thinner leading edge, we have a pick for a metal-bladed shovel that works well on concrete and pavement. It’s very similar to the Mountain Mover; it just has the advantages (and disadvantages) you get with an aluminum scoop.
After almost two years of snow shoveling, the Backsaver handle that I have on my shovel has developed a crack down the side of it. It’s still attached to the shovel, but I’ve been making sure to not bang it around or tax it too much. I’ve also been keeping an eye on the Amazon feedback for the item and there is a solid 5 percent of users that has experienced durability issues with it. We’ll continue to monitor its quality and report back.
If our pick is sold out—which can happen in the middle of a snowy winter—we recommend you get the Bigfoot Power Lift. This 18-inch poly-bladed tool provides strong 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 Power Lift has a lifetime handle warranty (not the scoop, just the handle) and can be replaced if any part breaks. It’s a nice gesture and shows that the company is willing to stand behind its tool, but if something breaks and you’ve shoveled only half your driveway, you’re probably just going to run to get a new shovel without dealing with the warranty.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Durability aside, there were some other problems with the Power Lift. 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 2 inches in diameter when the others are all 1⅛ to 1¼–the Power Lift 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. It’s also a straight shaft, which isn’t as easy on the back as the curved shaft of the Mountain Mover.
The best snow shovel for concrete and pavement
If you need to shovel only smooth, tough paved surfaces, we recommend the True Temper Aluminum Combo Blade Shovel. Because it has a curved shaft, it comes with all of the ergonomic benefits of our main pick (and can be used with the Backsaver), plus it has the added durability and sharp edge of a metal shovel. This means it’s a better tool for knifing under packed snow and scraping along a flat surface.
During our testing, this shovel scored high marks for its ability to chop into frozen and compacted snow. The scoop is metal, so the edge is much thinner and stronger than on the poly shovels. This also means that the Aluminum True Temper is good at breaking up ice. We did notice that by banging the shovel straight down into ice, the rivets that hold the scoop to the handle take on a lot of strain. We found that the shovel held up fine for occasional ice busting, but we wouldn’t recommend using it like this all the time.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
This shovel is not without its downsides. For one, it’s about 2 pounds heavier than the poly version. This may not sound like much, but with repetitive shoveling, this added weight quickly tires out your arms. Also, the weight is concentrated at the scoop end, so it feels very unbalanced when compared with the poly combo.
Like the other metal-edged shovels we tested, this one will catch on any uneven ground—forget about using it on gravel driveways, stone patios, or brick walkways. Even on an uneven paved driveway there were problems with the blade hitching on little bits of asphalt or snagging on the slightly raised blobs of blacktop patch. This is not only annoying, but it also causes a good jolt to the shoulders, neck, and back. We’re not the only ones to notice this with metal shovels in general—it’s noted as a common cause of injury in the second edition of Snow Removal Ergonomics, published by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Inc.
Last, the metal blade can leave scratches on more delicate materials like wood decks or bluestone patios. During our testing, we used another shovel with a metal wear strip to clear off a mahogany deck, and despite being extremely careful, still managed to scratch the decking. We also noticed that as the metal edge got some use, it became even more abrasive as the edge developed dents and burrs.
The best car shovel
The 2015 update includes a thorough look into the world of car shovels. After researching this category and testing four contenders, we found that the best one to keep in the trunk for an emergency is the Voile Telepro Shovel.
The tool, which is popular with snowboarders and people clearing backcountry trails, has a solid metal scoop and a two-piece handle that clicks together to form a very sturdy shovel. When disassembled, the three pieces can be tucked nicely under a car seat or in the back with the groceries.
I spent last winter with the Voile in my truck, and it came in handy more times than I can count. (It was our pick as a good small shovel in the last version of the guide, and we hung on to it for long-term testing.) Because I keep my truck in a second, unplowed driveway, I often have to clear a quick path for the tires in order to get in and out. While the Voile is too short to be a primary shovel, it’s fine for this kind of fast shoveling. It’s also ideal for slicing into the thick snowbanks and icy plow slush blocking your path when parallel parking on a city street. It’s impressive how well it hacks into that kind of frozen mess. In tests around town, the shovels with the poly scoops had much more trouble with this rugged, dense snow.
Additionally, if you are a city dweller and just need to clear off a couple of front steps, the Voile would be a good shovel for you. The short shaft won’t do your back any favors, but the fact that you can quickly disassemble it and tuck it in the back of a closet makes it ideal for those with zero storage.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
There’s no doubt that at $40, this is an expensive shovel to just have in your car ($10 more than our main pick). But a car shovel is an emergency tool, and we feel that the added durability is worth the additional cost. If your car slides off the road on your way home at night, you’ll want to dig yourself out with a shovel you can rely on and not one that might crack or break. Also, with a car shovel, you’ll often be coming up against compacted plow snow or semi-frozen slush, and for this, a metal shovel is going to be ideal.
We did look at three other car shovels, all less than $20, and were stunned with how flimsy they were (more details below). Another small aluminum shovel, which we previously dismissed as too expensive, has come down in price and is en route for 2015 testing. We should mention ergonomics as a flaw on any shovel designed for a car—they have to be small enough to fit in the trunk, so none are as comfortable to use as a big shovel like the Mountain Mover. Even though the Voile costs more than twice as much as those other car shovels, it’s 10 times the tool.
The best snow pushers and snow sleigh
When using a pusher, the point is not to scoop the snow, but rather to shove it along until you get to the side of the driveway. They look like push brooms, but with a curved snow plow blade instead of a broom end. In our tests, they maxed out their effectiveness at around four or so inches of depth. As True Temper’s Saffron told us, they’re very popular in Canada where it’s colder and the snows tend to be lighter and fluffier.
Because the edge of the pusher is in constant contact with the ground, most of them are difficult on uneven surfaces like brick walkways and gravel driveways, but they’re very effective on paved surfaces.
For a pusher, we recommend the 30-inch Snow Plow ($50). It has a thick (¼-inch) polyethylene blade that has no flex at all, so it’s also good at scraping up or chopping into compacted snow. The blade is so durable that it doesn’t have a wear strip, which is nice because even paved driveways have the occasional uneven crack or blob of asphalt patch, and the Snow Plow won’t catch on them. It also won’t scratch or gouge a deck. Even though this is a pusher and not a shovel, we still recommend using it in conjunction with a Backsaver in case you need to lift the pushed pile up and onto a snow bank.
The Snow Plow comes in a variety of sizes, from 24 to 48 inches. We tested the 24-inch model ($45), but were we to start over, we’d step up to the 30-inch size just to push that much more snow. Larger sizes would make it start to get difficult to lift the snow, which you may occasionally have to do depending on the height of your snowbanks. Regardless of which size you choose, the customer feedback of the Snow Plows is excellent. Amazon sells four sizes and they average 4.9, 4.9, 4.8, and 4.4 stars over a total of 57 reviews.
Sleighs are much larger than pushers and look like wheelbarrows without the wheels. With the handle tilted slightly back, a full scoop can easily slide around and even up a snowbank. This not only gives total flexibility on where you can dump the snow, but it also puts very little strain on your back. We tested two leading models and recommend the $45 True Temper Snow Sleigh (which is also sold under the Garant name). The handle has a bend in it that raises up the gripping area, so it’s very easy to move the sleigh around.
We used the sleigh to successfully clear a portion of a driveway that had about 20 inches of snow on it. The first few scoopfuls were tricky, but once a path was created to where we were dumping the snow, it got much easier. Had we used a shovel, we would have spent an exhausting day walking back and forth across the driveway carrying heavy scoops of snow. The sleigh also works as a pusher, but if you only get small accumulations, the lighter, easier-to-handle Snow Plow pusher is a better option.
The best roof rake
For this type of snow clearing, we recommend the 17-foot True Temper Telescoping Roof Rake ($50). Unlike most other roof rakes, the True Temper is a single unit with a three-part telescoping handle. The pieces slide freely once a release button is pushed, and the pieces can be clicked in place at a variety of lengths. Traditionally, roof rakes consist of three full-sized (non-telescoping) handles that can only click together end to end, making them awkward to use.
We tested this model out and found that the push-button system makes for very quick and easy length adjustments to the handle. This was a big help as we were coaxing a pile of snow down a roofline. We also like that the rake has a hole at the base of the handle, so it can be hung in the garage when not in use.
The True Temper Roof Rake has a stellar 4.8 customer feedback rating at Home Depot over 84 reviews; as of printing, 100% of respondents said they would recommend the tool.
How we picked and tested
All the parts that make up a snow shovel—the style, size, materials, and other details—add up to the single most important thing: ergonomics.
Ergonomics come first because shoveling snow is brutal on your body. A 2011 study by The American Journal of Emergency Medicine (the result of 17 years of research), found that Americans suffer an average of 11,500 injuries and emergencies each year due to snow shoveling. More than half of them (54 percent) fall under the category of acute musculoskeletal exertion, i.e. throwing out your back. It makes sense—consider this, from 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.
Here’s another great explanation from Joe Saffron, director of marketing and product development at True Temper, a leading manufacturer of snow shovels: Not only is shoveling snow an aggressive workout, but it’s also a repetitive motion not repeated 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—by adding a second handle attachment to our pick (or any shovel), you shift the workload more evenly to both arms as opposed to just the leading one.
We have some more findings on how hand positioning affects ergonomics, as well as how the shape of the shovel’s shaft2 can reduce strain for the shoveler. But for now, here’s how these findings led us to our picks.
When our research began, there weren’t a lot of comprehensive snow shovel comparisons to read over, so we knew from the start that our own testing would play a large role in our final recommendations.
To get an idea of what’s out there, we 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, we investigated upwards of 50 to 75 shovels.
For materials, the repetitive nature of shoveling means you should go with the lightest material. In most cases, that’s a plastic—polyethene, or poly for short. These shovels are lighter than metal, and they have the built-in flexibility to withstand sharp impacts on uneven pavement. Most have a reinforced edge (aka a wear strip) for added durability and longevity—it’s great for busting up ice or chipping into semi-frozen, compacted snow.
The wear strip protects the leading edge of the shovel scoop, and the nylon ones are the best option. They’re rounded over at the edge, so the shovel can easily slide over uneven surfaces without getting jammed up. They add durability, but they’re also soft enough to be used on decks and stone walkways without damaging the surface.
Metal wear strips are better at breaking ice, but they can easily scratch wood decks, brick walkways, and bluestone patios. Horgan Enterprises, a landscaping/snow removal company located in Boston said in an interview that they steer clear of metal wear strips for just that reason.
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 of uses, the edge can become rounded and heavily dented.
As for the style of shovel, there are 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. Our pick, the Mountain Mover, is a combo model. Its blade is 18 inches wide—a size we found to be in the sweet spot, roughly 18 to 20 inches, for shovels to be effective but not quite unwieldy.
Pushers, with blades often more than 2 feet wide, 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. They have a lot of fans—according to Saffron, Canada is a massive market for pushers—and we have several we intend to test in early 2015, as soon as we get enough snow in Massachusetts.
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 these, there are grain shovels, with large scoops and short handles, which are popular among the burly strongman crowd. This article, written by Mark Clement, tool expert and host of the MyFixItUpLife radio show, lists durability and a massive scoop size among their advantages. We’d add that they can shovel snow one minute and be used as a stand-up dust pan the next, so they’re popular on construction sites.
Avalanche shovels, designed for the backpacking and skiing crowd, are another option. With removable handles and metal scoops, they provide portability and the ability to chop into compacted snow in extreme conditions. The Voile Telepro, our pick for the best car shovel, falls into this category.
Understanding that a secondary handle would be a key addition to the chosen shovel, we first located all of the tools available that come with one attached: the SnowBow ($40), the Suncast Double Grip ($40), the Bigfoot Power Lift ($30) and the True Temper SnoBoss, which has a double shaft and a perpendicular handle ($35).
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 ($25), Dart BHS18 ($30) and Suncast SC3250 ($25). Two of them, the True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover ($30) and the True Temper Aluminum Combo with Ergonomic Handle ($33) had a curved shaft. Two were standard straight shafts: the Suncast Powerblade SCP3500 ($40) and True Temper Mountain Mover with VersaGrip ($30). Two were grain shovels: the Suncast SG1600 ($16) and True Temper Arctic Blast Poly Snow Scoop ($30).
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. Ten of the 15 shovels that we tested were combos.
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 feet; male, 5-foot-8; male, 6-foot-5; and female, 5-foot-10. Testing occurred over the course of six days and after three different snowstorms, which totaled about 18 inches of snow. 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.
Several new car shovels were among the tools we considered for this 2015 update. In addition to our pick, the Voile Telepro, we also looked at the Ames AutoBoss ($18), the Suncast SCS300 Automotive Shovel ($18), the Bigfoot Collapsible Car Shovel ($16), and the AAA 4004 Sport Utility Shovel ($20). After testing, we honestly wouldn’t recommend putting any of these in your car.
The Ames AutoBoss has an interesting folding design, but it’s so small that just loading the scoop requires you to bend over like you’re touching your toes. It folds up nicely for storage, but is difficult to use, even for short periods of time. The scoop is also plastic with a thick leading edge, so with it we had a lot of trouble knifing into and under semi-frozen snow.
The Suncast and Bigfoot both have telescoping handles similar to that of the Voile Telepro, but the overall quality of these shovels is so low that they reminded us more of beach toys than functional snow shovels. The connection at the midpoint of the handle is loose and wobbly, which is really annoying, but what’s worse is that the plastic scoops are so flimsy that they bend and flex while shoveling even slightly frozen snow. These are not tools that you want to rely on in an emergency.
The AAA 4004 ($20) has the same all-metal construction as the Voile, but it is an inferior shovel in all respects. It’s very short (only 32 inches) so like the AutoBoss, you basically have to be touching your toes to fill up the scoop. The overall build quality is not as good as the Voile; the connection points have more of a wobble to them and the T-handle is uncomfortable. The scoop is made out of a thinner metal, and during our testing, it already began to take on decent gouges. The scoop of the AAA 4004 has a slight point to it, sort of like a spade shovel, but we didn’t find that it sliced into frozen slush any better than the Voile. In fact, this made it tougher to scrape compacted snow off pavement.
The 2015 update also expanded our testing into sleigh shovels, pushers, and roof rakes. Here are the items that we dismissed.
The True Temper Poly Pusher ($36) has a very comfortable handle and a nice arc on the blade; in a pinch, it’s easy to use as a shovel. The downsides are that the blade is nowhere near as durable as the one on the Snow Plow. While we were trying to scrape up compacted snow, the Poly Pusher blade flexed so much we thought it might break. This flex also led to so-so scraping results.
The EZPlow ($40) has blade that’s at an angle to the handle, so its oriented like the plow on the front of a dump truck. In theory, this is a great idea, but the reality is that it is very difficult to keep the pusher moving in a straight line. We tested it on all different depths of snow and it would always veer off to the side no matter what we did. The odd angle also makes it impossible to scoop snow up onto a snow bank.
For sleighs, we also looked at the Suncast SF1850 Big Scoop ($58). It has a regular straight handle, so it was much more difficult to use than the True Temper/Garant model. We liked that the handle can telescope in for easier storage, but that isn’t enough to offset all of the bending over that you need to do in order to use the tool.
The Snow Wolf ($155), previously known as The Wovel, is basically a sleigh shovel with smaller scoop and a fulcrum wheel. Once snow is scooped up (or pushed), the Snow Wolf can toss the load with a quick downward thrust on the handles. This action puts very little strain on the back and all of it on the arms and shoulders. For lesser amounts of snow (under five or six inches), the Snow Wolf clears quickly and efficiently, but for deeper snows we ultimately preferred the True Temper Sleigh, due to its larger scoop, considerably lower price tag, and versatility.
First, we found that Snow Wolf is a serious upper-body workout. You really have to give the handles a good pop to get the snow to launch. Part of the motion includes leaning your body into the thrust, but the emphasis is still on the arms and shoulders. While there is no question that the True Temper sleigh takes some muscle to use, the repetitive quick snap of the Snow Wolf was particularly tiring.
It is also limited in that it’s not very easy to toss snow to the side. It can’t throw snow very high or very far—maybe only about five feet in front of the scoop. This makes it tricky to use on a walkway (much like the sleigh), but we also had trouble with it in deeper accumulation when it would take a good amount of effort just to toss the snow up on top of the snowbank. The larger scoop of the True Temper/Garant sleigh shovel can hold more snow, and with it, we could successfully “drive” it up a snowbank to deposit the snow where ever we wanted.
The Snow Wolf costs about $160, which is 3½ times more expensive than the True Temper sleigh. And honestly, we found that we could do a quicker job with the sleigh because it can simply carry so much more snow without limiting where we put it.
Snow Joe also has a telescoping rake ($40) that is actually longer than the True Temper, but it doesn’t score nearly as well with the customer feedback (3.9 with 17 reviews, 88% recommending). The Snow Joe uses a twist/lock system, which will likely be more difficult to use with snowy wet gloves than the push-button system of the True Temper. The Snow Joe also doesn’t have the hanging hole, so it could be a little more difficult to store.
Our 2014 testing included these eight other shovels:
The SnowBow is an interesting design. It has a secondary handle that runs parallel to the main shaft, coming off of 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 when clearing around the mailbox by the road, but it wasn’t enough for anyone to choose this one as a standout.
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 make adjustments 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 with 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, an old-school flat-bladed shovel that we tested as a control model. Compared with the others, it’s just useless. After using the other shovels, this one was literally laughed at by the testers; it had a short shaft, felt flimsy, and couldn’t hold much snow.
In 2015, we dismissed the following shovels without testing them.
The Poly Pro Titan ($39) has a straight shaft, which our research and testing proved creates more back strain than a curved shaft. The shovel also has a secondary handle built into the back end of the scoop. This puts your hand closer to the weight being lifted, which is good, but it also means that you basically need to bend over to the point that you’re touching your toes before you can lift it, which is not so good. The Poly Pro also has a relatively narrow scoop, measuring only 14 inches wide, so clearing snow will take longer than with the 18-inch True Temper.
Bosse Tools, recipient of almost $65,000 in Kickstarter funding, have released their Snow Scoop ($80). What they’ve done is add a rotating secondary handle part way down the shovel shaft of a grain scoop. It can be set to varying degrees of rotation, which could possibly aid in consistently tossing snow in one direction (say you’re shoveling a path and all the snow is getting tossed to your right). But the secondary handle is in line with the shovel shaft and not raised, like the Backsaver attachment is, so there will be more bending over and thus more strain on the back. Plus, the price is just more than we think most people would be willing to pay for a snow shovel.
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, and your back will thank you for years to come.
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.
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.
Director of Marketing and Product Development, Interview,
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.
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.
Ergonomic Evaluation of Two Alternative Handles for Shovels and Rakes Designed to Prevent Low Back Pain , Thesis,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.”
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.
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.
Originally published: January 23, 2015