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Why ultralight hikers should carry potty trowels

New ultralight technology makes it easy to carry a potty trowel and build proper Leave No Trace catholes
New ultralight technology makes it easy to carry a potty trowel and build proper Leave No Trace catholes

Like many ultralight hikers, I never thought I would carry a potty trowel. It was a piece of gear that seemed heavy and redundant, especially when a shoe, rock, or stick could do the job and serve multiple functions (or not need to be carried at all). However, after I tried my first ultralight potty trowel, I’ve become a strong advocate for potty trowels on trail. I believe carrying a potty trowel can improve the hiking experience, both for you, others, and the ecosystem for a near inconsequential weight penalty.

I first was willing to try carrying a potty trowel when I discovered that potty trowel technology now has multiple options available at less than an ounce. For me, it’s well worth carrying an extra 12 g to improve what was once the worst part of my hiking day.

Getting deep isn’t hard with a potty trowel
Getting deep isn’t hard with a potty trowel

Carrying a trowel has become even more important because of the increase in number of hikers, especially on the PCT. The damage (and just plain grossness) created by hundreds or thousands of hikers doing a cr@ppy job of burying #2 is mind boggling. Particularly for desert sections of drought-struck Southern California, heat, dryness, and soil-not-conducive-to-bacteria can make it so a turd will take decades to decompose. This means that each year, more and more hikers leave landmines in the sand at a rate faster than they can return to the earth. This is why digging a good hole—and carrying the equipment that can make digging a good hole possible—has become even more important.

Both American Long Distance Hiking Association-West’s President and Vice President advocate using potty trowels. It appears as if our trowels are the only thing that doesn’t match in this photo. Allgood is using a <a href="">Deuce of Spades</a> and I am holding a <a href="">Montbell Handy Scoop</a>
Both American Long Distance Hiking Association-West’s President and Vice President advocate using potty trowels. It appears as if our trowels are the only thing that doesn’t match in this photo. Allgood is using a Deuce of Spades and I am holding a Montbell Handy Scoop

Lastly, hikers need to admit to themselves that they are infamously bad at burying poops. Thru-hikers especially. When you’re trying to make miles, have to get to town before the store closes, and have reduced control over your bowels, digging a quality hole in lickity-split time using only a rock becomes nearly impossible.  The trowel can dig through all sorts of soils and build a fat cathole in a fraction of the time of many other building materials.


List of ultralight potty trowels

Qi Whiz—the one I use and the lightest on the market! It is pictured throughout this blogpost. The original model comes in at less than 0.4 oz or around 11 grams!

  MSR Blizzard Stake  is a stake but is as beefy as a trowel. Not sold at REIs, but can be ordered online.

The Deuce of Spades is the least expensive on the market and doubles as as stake!

Montbell Handy Scoop-the toughest of its size class, a Backpacking Light gear review described it as “far exceeded my expectations for digging performance–which is saying a lot considering I’m a soil scientist by profession.”

The Little Deuce Scoop-In the words of Swami, “.$20, .75oz and best of all, every time you use it you will be reminded of the following tune”


No matter how ultralight you may claim to be:

If you can carry a smart phone, you can carry a trowel.

If you can carry a book, you can carry a trowel.

If you can carry a backpack, you can carry a trowel.


Whatever potty trowel you carry, you will walk away from your business each day with the satisfaction of knowing you did a job right.

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.


Rob Kelly aka QiWiz

Hi Liz – Welcome to Team Trowel. Really pleased to see you getting down to business and promoting doo dilligence.

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Just doing my doo-ty!

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Hey Laps, Thanks for sharing your trowel! It is indeed a beautiful piece of engineering. I’m going to add it to the list of trowels in that post so that future readers can see a whole array of options out there. Really appreciate the new info! Liz

Jon Michael (Bolo)

Multi-purpose. It is good for creating deeper fire-pits. It excavates an uneven tent space; it is long and flat, it scoops. It can pry rocks (lots of those in Arizona, can’t seem to get away from them), making a deeper cat hole and saving pokes into the bottom of a tent. It helps scrape away under the bigger rocks to get a grip when you need something to tie to. It can be a threatening weapon. I bought it at REI for these above reasons, but sometimes an extra tent stake that holds extra well is handy, too.

It chips bark and can split rotten wood in conjunction with a pounding rock. It isn’t as efficient as an Estwing breaching tomahawk, or a fancy knife, but it doesn’t weigh a pound, or more. If I’m carrying just a small bag and a bottle of water strapped over my shoulder on a day hike, it justifies the small space that it needs and its nothing weight.

I haven’t done this, but those holes with string woven through them can be hung on a pack and multiple things hung to dry from it, like a clothes line, or daisy chain. Maybe multiple sun baked foods. It is just so handy, and I’m just scratching the surface (pun intended). I’ve wondered if putting two together with duct tape, that it could make music, like a flute….and on and on, first aide….

Dave McNeil

Liz – was great to see your post and the review of light weight trowels. Hopefully this will help more people “doo” a better job of properly disposing of their waste. I’ve been backpacking since the mid-70s and have always thought the issue of proper waste disposal was my greatest responsibility as a visitor in the wilderness in order to preserve the quality of the wilderness experience for myself and others. It sickens me to see the low regard that others have for this aspect of visitor stewardship. In MHO, these people have no right to be able to use and enjoy the wild lands we’ve been blessed with. In recognition of the increasing number of wilderness hikers, respect for the land and the trails is more important than ever, and accordingly, the importance of Leave No Trace camping. Years ago I made the decision to begin packing out my waste (see Unpleasant as this may seem, Loksak’s opsak odor barrier bags completely eliminate any concerns about objectionable odors. And while true that my pack weight won’t diminish after days of food consumption on the trail, I feel good knowing that I am doing my part to preserve the quality of the wilderness experience by not contributing to the ever increasing number of human waste land mines left by hikers for others to step or dig into (GROSS!!). Like you Liz, I enjoy teaching others on how they can be better hikers and campers, and like to lead by example in doing so. Packing out your waste is not the comfortable (lightweight) and convenient option, but then true leadership never is, right?!