This is a review of the best backcountry avalanche shovels.
Avalanche shovels are an irreplaceable part of the essential backcountry avalanche safety gear (beacon, probe, and shovel). Whether you are partaking in an avalanche rescue, snow camping, or digging snow profile, you need a reliable backcountry shovel.
My name is Kate. I’m a ski enthusiast. Together with Aspen, an NZSIA level 2 ski instructor, we’re going to look at some of the best backcountry shovels on the market. Plus, we’ll discuss all the things you should know before purchasing one.
The Ortovox Kodiak Shovel is our choice for the best overall backcountry avalanche shovels for the year. It’s UIAA Standard 156 certified, very durable, stable, and comes with a hoe mode that can save time during a rescue.
We will show you all of our recommended options in this article to keep everybody out there safe and sound.
Let’s explore some beautiful nature!
- Best Overall: Ortovox Kodiak Shovel
- Best Versatile: Backcountry Access D-2 EXT
- Best Budgeet: Voile Telepro
- Best Lightweight: Mammut Alugator Pro Light
- Best Large Volume: Black Diamond Evac 9
The Best Backcountry Shovels
- Best: Overall
- Key Features: D-grip, Automatic locking, Telescoping shaft, 90-degree Easy Plug function, Rubberized grip zone
- Dimensions: Extended Length: 34.65 inches (88cm) Collapsed Length (47 cm)
- Weight: 1lb 11.2 oz (770 g) Volume: 0.81 gallons (3,1 l)
- Material: Blade – Aluminum 6061 T6 (hardened, anodized) / Handle – Aluminum 6061 T6 (hardened)
Ortovox Kodiak is relatively lightweight for a backcountry avalanche shovel. It’s made from hardened and anodized Aluminum, which ensures high durability. The shovel is also UIAA Standard 156 certified.
The handle is designed with a D-grip, which is mitten-friendly, and an oval shape to provide better stability. The shaft is telescopic, and of course, it is not missing a non-slip rubberized grip zone.
Both shaft and blade are pack-friendly (and they fit into all Ortovox backpacks). Speaking of the blade, it has high edges and a pronounced center ridge which allows for an excellent capacity of 0.81 gallons and outstanding rigidity.
Kodiak features a clearing function (hoe mode) that can save time during avalanche rescue, and rescue sled function. Plus, the shovel is easy to assemble.
Some users noted that the rubberized grip started peeling off with heavy use.
- Best: Versatile
- Key Features: T-grip, Snow saw, Hoe mode, Oval extendable shaft
- Dimensions: Extended Length: 31.9 in (81cm) Collapsed Length 24.5 in (62cm) Shaft Length: collapsed 18 in (46cm) Blade:11 in x 10 in (27.9 x 25.4cm) Saw Blade Length: 7 in (18 cm) Saw Total Length: 15 in (38cm)
- Weight: 2lb 1.4oz (947 g)
- Material: 6061 T6 Aluminum (Blade/Shaft), 420 Stainless Steel (Saw blade)
BCA D-2 is a versatile backcountry shovel that was designed for “strategic shoveling.” This shovel is ready for action whenever you need to dig out a stuck snowmobile, perform avalanche rescue or dig snow profiles.
It has an integrated folding snow saw. The saw’s razor teeth blade is made from stainless steel. It comes in handy when trying to extricate a sled from the trees.
The shovel can quickly switch over to hoe mode, which makes it efficient for various situations. It is sturdy but can pack down very well.
An oval shape of the extendable shaft adds stability. The blade is manufactured from strong, highly durable, heat-treated aluminum. Additionally, D-2 can be used to build an emergency sled.
The cons of this shovel are its higher weight and a hefty price tag.
- Best: Budget
- Key Features: D-grip, Telescoping shaft, Rescue sled function
- Dimensions: Extended Length: 39.5 in (100cm) Collapsed Length 31.5 in (80cm) Shaft Length: collapsed 20 in (51cm) Blade (LxW):15 in x 10 in (38 x 25 cm)
- Weight: 1lb 14oz (850 g)
- Material: 6061 T6 Aluminum Blade
Voile Telepro is an old classic when it comes to backcountry rescue shovels. It’s considered by many to be a workhorse of avalanche shovels.
Its telescopic shaft and ergonomic D-grip handle allow for good leverage. And together with a tempered durable aluminum blade, they accommodate for digging in the harshest conditions.
The blade is large enough to move large amounts of snow fairly quickly, and it also features a rescue sled function.
Telepro is sturdy, yet it can compact down. Plus, it is easy to put together and use. It is a shovel that will last for many years to come.
The downsides are the missing features like hoe mode or non-slip shaft.
Another thing to note is that Telepro has a flat blade. Some people prefer a curved blade for avalanche rescues because it can make digging more efficient. At the same time, the Voile’s flat blade would be ideal for digging snow profiles.
- Best: Lightweight
- Key Features: T-grip, Automatic zipper locking, Oval telescopic shaft, Space-saving blade design
- Dimensions: Extended Length: 33.86 in (86cm) Collapsed Length 24.02 in (61cm) Shaft Length: collapsed 17.32 in (44cm) Blade (LxW):10.83 in x 9.45 in (27.5 x 24 cm)
- Weight: 1lb 6.8 oz (645 g)
- Material: Aluminum (hardened, anodized )
Thanks to the cutout design that lightens it up to 1lb 6.8 oz (645 g), Alugator Pro Light ended up being the least heavy tool on our list. Its most significant advantages are its compactness and fast assembly. On top of that, Pro light is UIAA 156 certified.
It may not be the lightest shovel on the market, but it is one that combines high durability and performance with relatively lightweight. You can rely on it in extreme situations, which can’t be said about the majority of its more lightweight competitors.
The shovel is designed with automatic locking for ease of use. A sharpened tilt-resistant blade is made from hardened, anodized aluminum for ultimate sturdiness and durability.
Alugator Pro Light has an oval-shaped telescopic shaft and a T-grip that together provides an efficient strength transfer. It also comes with a rescue sled function.
Unfortunately, it lacks a hoe feature and doesn’t have a non-slip coating on the shaft.
- Best: Largest Volume
- Key Features: D-grip, Dual-density grip, Telescoping shaft, Hoe mode, Lead-ins on blade
- Dimensions: Extended Length: 38.8 in (98.5 cm) Collapsed Length: 28 in (71cm)
- Weight: 2 lb (902 g) Volume: 0.9 gal (3.5 L)
- Material: Aluminum
Evac 9 is UIAA certified rescue shovel that provides an ergonomic D-grip with dual-density, which makes it that much more comfortable. It is mitten-friendly.
The shovel features both hoe mode and rescue sled function.
Besides the blade being anodized and durable, it has an impressive volume of 0.9 gal, making it fast and efficient for avalanche rescues. There are lead-ins on the blade designed to make the assembly and swapping of modes extremely quick and easy.
For some people, the volume of this shovel might be too big, in which case they can opt for a smaller version which is BD Evac 7.
Although the shaft’s design was updated to prevent jamming, it still lacks a non-slip coating. But the main drawbacks of the Evac 9 are its bulkiness and heavyweight, both of which are reasonable considering the shovel’s large volume.
What to Consider?
What things should you keep in mind when hunting for a new avalanche shovel for your backcountry adventures?
The most important features to look for in your avalanche shovel are nothing else than durability and strength. The shovel needs to perform flawlessly in harsh conditions. The last thing you need is your tool breaking.
Reliable safety gear could help you successfully get through stressful situations even if everything seemed to be lost at first.
Avalanche debris is hard. Thus the shovel needs to have a sharp, strong blade. It should be fused across the back for better stability, performance, and of course, longevity.
The shaft and handle should also be made from high-quality rigid material, and it can’t wiggle around.
The shovel’s primary function is to move snow. It can be done with regular shoveling or with a clearing function, the so-called hoe mode.
Hoe mode allows you to effectively drag the loose snow backward instead of digging it up. Shovelers use it at the back during avalanche rescue or to dig snow profiles. Keep in mind not all shovels have this function.
Other valuable features include non-slip rubber coating for better grip or holes in a blade for building an emergency sled (rescue sled function).
Preferable are shovels that are quick and easy to put together and don’t include several small parts that can easily get lost in the snow.
It is worth mentioning there are two main types of handles you can choose from. D-grip and T- grip handle.
D-grip is generally bulkier but also ergonomic and easy to use. T-grip can take a little getting used to but is lighter. For some people, it can be hard to use with mittens on.
Which one is better for you mostly depends on personal preference. It is good to note that the handle could bring more stability if it is oval-shaped and not round-shaped.
The safety shovels must be made from high-quality non-breakable material. They need to be extremely tough.
Aluminum makes for the perfect material, thanks to its lightweight and sturdiness. The majority of avalanche shovels you can find on the market are made out of aluminum.
It is even better if the aluminum is anodized, meaning it was treated to become corrosion-resistant, or hardened which means it was heat-treated to become stronger.
Another material you can often see used is plastic. However, this is a less preferable alternative as it is not as reliable as aluminum. It can be susceptible to cold temperatures and is often prone to breakage.
Size and Weight
I used to think the smaller and lighter the shovel, the better; after all, it is easier to carry it around that way. That was until I started paying attention to what experts have to say and thought about the main purpose of this safety tool.
We don’t buy avalanche shovels just to fill a space in our rucksacks. We buy them to perform when needed the most.
It is important to never sacrifice durability for lightweight nor volume (and thus performance) for a small, more compact size.
In case of an avalanche, it is needed to move large amounts of snow in the shortest time possible, as according to statistics presented in this PMC Journal, the first 18 minutes after the accident are the most critical. The blade needs to have a sufficient capacity to accommodate that.
The shaft should be extendable. It can create better leverage if it is longer. For the blade, it is important to have high edges, so the snow doesn’t fall from it during shoveling.
That being said, all the manufacturers indeed put effort into making their shovels lightweight and compact. But it is always a good idea to double-check whether they fit into your backpack.
In addition to all the already mentioned safety measures like sufficient capacity of the blade, quality material, extendable shaft, etc., there is one more aspect you can look into when searching for the highest safety standard.
UIAA (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation) published a standard dedicated to avalanche rescue shovels (Standard 156). If you see this certification, it is an indication of a good rescue shovel.
In order to get certified, the rescue shovel must meet UIAA’s requirements and pass a series of tests, where they check the shovel’s strength, stiffness, dimensions, and so on.
Safety tip: Even the best rescue gear can’t help you if you don’t know how to use it properly, and so practice with it often.