In the woods morning routines change. Bladders become alarm clocks, artisanally roasted coffee beans are swapped out for instant powders, and certain urgencies increase.
Where at home the bowels may make a mere suggestion offering a long window for execution, on trail they seem to switch to, “and… NOW!” There isn't always the luxury of time to find a perfect spot with soft ground for digging a deep cathole. Anyone who has ever had to claw at hard packed, rocky earth with a twig knows how important an effective digging tool is when leaving no trace.
The Deuce Trowels by TentLab are ultralight, double-sided digging tools. At first their slenderness and rigidity are obvious but their utility might go unnoticed. It takes a few uses to really appreciate their ingenuity.
Slightly larger than the original, the updated #2 version still weighs less than three quarters of an ounce. It comes in an assortment of vibrant colors and now has four teeth added to the larger digging edge. The handle has ergonomic fluctuations to improve grip and it can be used as a digging edge as well when difficult ground demands more focused pressure. There is even an attachment point notched into the trowel if external fixation to a pack is desired.
What I Love About the Deuce #2 Lightweight Trowel
The New Teeth - The four sharp grooves on the leading edge boost the trowel’s ability to cut through small roots when digging into difficult dirt. They are large enough to easily sharpen in the field and the manufacturer recommends using a fine-grained rock for the job.
Sturdiness - Deuce Trowels are thin but surprisingly strong. I have come up against some unreasonably stubborn ground in my travels. Only once have I had to abandon an initiated hole to seek out a better spot. Armed with this trowel and some persistence there are few places one can’t dig. Applying force in all kinds of directions to maneuver around and dislodge rocks doesn’t bend it or affect the trowel’s form.
Double Sided - When digging seems nearly impossible, the Deuce can be flipped upside down. Doing so increases applied pressure and uses the handle to punch through solid soil. Outlining the circumference of a cathole this way breaks up inflexible ground and really helps start the job.
Dimensions - The shovel is 6.5 inches long, which is the perfect length to measure cathole depth. You will know when your pit is deep enough to comply with outdoor etiquette.
Practically Weightless - 0.6 of an ounce is a tiny price to pay for such and efficient digging device. It is an ultralight way to make our least favorite backcountry duty less of a bummer.
What I Don’t Love
That More Hikers Don’t Use Them - More than one forest ranger has had to suggest I change my intended camping location due to high levels of human contamination. Improper waste disposal contaminates water sources, spreads disease, increases the chance that other hikers will encounter it, and lengthens decomposition time. Lowering our base weight to the point that we destroy what we came to enjoy is taking ultralight too far.
The Bottom Line
There are those who will claim that a trowel is unnecessary. They say rocks and sticks will suffice. Chances are they hike where the soil is consistently soft or they are not burying their waste deep enough. I have seen too many beautiful places tainted by fecal contamination or become completely closed off to camping to let myself fall in with that crowd. I will happily carry an extra half ounce to do my part to protect the wildlife and places I cherish.
Mandy Esch is an international pro skater turned avid outdoorswoman who enjoys backpacking, camping, fly fishing, cliff diving and passing on what she learns along the way. In her backpacking blog, Mandy shares video trail reviews and trip planning guides. Follow her adventures at www.backcountrydirtbag.com.