The best off-road shovel is the shovel you’ve got. We’ve dug out cars and trucks with items as varied as windshield scrapers and the nose of a snowboard. Which is to say that having a proper shovel handy can make life a lot easier.
Along with recovery ropes and jacks, off-road shovels are essential pieces of recovery gear. Freeing a buried wheel or high-pointed axle by shoveling away the offending substance, whether it’s snow, sand or mud, can mean the difference between spending your time recovering a vehicle or spending your time cruising the trails. If you are overlanding for multiple days and weeks, a shovel comes in handy for other functions as well, such as digging a latrine or fire pit or putting out a fire.
Like any piece of gear, you’ve got a range of choices in off-road shovels, from the classic wooden-handled hardware store variety to exotic multi-tools with interchangeable heads. Those options come with a variety of price tags, so your budget will in part dictate your choice. That said, over the long run, cheap shovels are more likely to break or rust. So buying a higher quality off-road shovel is suggested if you are planning to off-road and overland for years to come.
Like camping axes, shovels are as useful in camp as on the trail, coming in handy for digging latrines, putting out campfires, and many other uses.
Below are some factors to keep in mind in choosing an off-road shovel.
How to Choose an Off-Road Shovel
Off-road shovels are made with a variety of materials nowadays, including wood, fiberglass, stainless steal and aluminum. The cheaper varieties come in wood, and while typically adequate for most jobs, are less durable. Fiberglass and aluminum shovels offer the advantage of being light weight and strong. Stainless steel, while heavier, is super durable and weather resistant.
If your off-road shovel is too small, you’ll spend a lot of time on your knees. If it’s too long, it can be awkward to stow on or in your vehicle and can be difficult to get into tight spaces when digging under your vehicle. We prefer one that comes to about hip high from the tip of the blade to the handle. Generally, we’re skeptics of off-road shovels that fold up, as they tend to be too small for the strenuous work of recovering a vehicle. That said, the collapsing shovels made by DMOS (see below), offer an ergonomic length, sturdiness, and the ability to stow them easily.
Get a shovel with a spade shaped blade, something with a point that can penetrated dirt, sand, ice and mud and maybe even chop some roots or tree branches. Generally speaking, a square shovel is going to be limited in its application. Some of the more modern off-road shovel designs have sharp points (or multiple sharp points) that can help with particularly challenging obstacles, like roots or hard clay.
The shape of a shovel’s handle is somewhat of a matter of preference. That said, our preference is for shovels with D-shaped or T-shaped grips on the end of the handle. We find this more ergonomic and functional than an off-road shovel with only a straight shaft.
Bully Tools Round Point Shovel
Weight: 4.84 lbs
Extended Length: 45.75 inches
Construction: Steel, fiberglass, wood, polypropylene
The Bully Tools Round Point Shovel is an affordable yet hardy option for an off-road shovel. It was designed as a gardening/construction shovel, but is perfectly suitable for overlanding and off-roading recovery. It’s not as high-tech as the other shovels listed below, but for around $50 it’s good value. The blade is made of 12 gauge steel and the handle is fiberglass reinforced with wood. The handle grip is made of polypropylene.
DMOS Delta Shovel
Weight: 6 lbs 5 oz
Extended Length: 51 inches
Stowed Length: 24 inches
Construction: Steel, aluminum, nylon
The Delta Shovel by DMOS is the Excalibur of off-road recovery shovels. It’s light weight, durable, collapses to a small size and can be used as both a shovel and a hoe. The 3mm-thick blade is made of aircraft grade steel. The telescoping handle is made of aluminum and features an end grip made of nylon polymer. Made in Oregon, these are top-notch American-made products that cost around $220 as we write this. It’s pricey, but a solid investment.
Krazy Beaver Shovel
Weight: 4.49 lbs
Extended Length: 40 inches
Construction: Steel, fiberglass, plastic
Check out our full review of the Krazy Beaver Shovel
The Krazy Beaver Shovel was designed by a former New Mexico search and rescue team member. The off-road shovel’s gnarly teeth are its defining feature, designed to cut through hard ground, ice, roots, and other tough objects. The head is made of 13-gauge tempered steel, thicker than most shovels so the teeth are sturdy. The handle is made of fiberglass and the grip is made of plastic. The grip comes off, thanks to a lock pin, to offer a small storage area in the handle. The company sells a safety guard to cover those fierce teeth when the shovel is not in use. It will run you around $85 as of this writing.
Hi-Lift HA-500 Handle-All Multi-Purpose Tool
Weight: 28 lbs
Extended Length: Varies
The Handle-All Multi-Purpose Tool from the makers of Hi-Lift Jacks, is more than just a shovel. It comes with four different working heads, including a shovel, ax, pickaxe, and sledgehammer. The metal handle telescopes to provide added versatility. We’re often skeptical of multitools that claimed to combine many functions in one, but this a legitimate tool that’s made to last. It comes with a carrying case to store the tool when not in use.
Gerber E-tool Folding Spade
Weight: 1.5 lbs
Extended Length: 24 inches
Construction: Steel, nylon, aluminum
While we prefer a somewhat longer shovel for off-roading and overlanding, there are instances where a smaller, more compact shovel is more versatile. For instance, if you want to carry the shovel in a backpack or bug-out bag, a folding survival-style shovel will work for that purpose and can serve as your off-road recovery shovel. There are MANY option on the market for survival shovels nowadays and many of them are, frankly, cheap crap. The Gerber E-tool Folding Spade is a good quality option from a reputable manufacturer.
Once you’ve chosen a shovel, you need to figure out how to carry it or on your vehicle. This can be a simple as throwing it in the back with your other gear. But there are also some handy options for mounting it inside and outside your truck or SUV. Mounting it is preferable to having it loose in your vehicle’s cabin, as a shovel can do a lot of damaged flying around inside a vehicle during a roll-over or other accident.
Quick Fist Clamps
Quick Fist makes rubber clamps for holding equipment that can attached to many different platforms to hold an off-road shovel (or other tools). The inexpensive clamps are versatile and can hold your shovel on roof racks, tailgates and other parts of your vehicle. A pair of two runs about $10.
Rugged Ridge Spare Tire Rack
Rugged Ridge makes a handy rack for off-road tools with long handles that mounts on your spare tire. It’s made of powder coated steel and the tools are held in place with velcro straps. It will hold your off-road shovel and a couple of other long-handled tools. As of this writing, the rack runs about $160.
Smittybilt Axe and Shovel Mounts
Smittybilt makes a wide range of affordable off-road products. The Smittybilt axe and shovel mounts with roof rack adapter are heavy-duty universal mounting brackets that provide secure mounting for an axe and shovel. The Smittybilt axe and shovel mounts accept a standard padlock for security. The mount costs about $160.
Are overlanding shovels different than off-road shovels?
Not really. An overlanding shovel is really just an off-road shovel used on an overlanding expedition. One things worth considering is weight. Overlanding trips require more gear than a day out wheeling on off-road trials, which can quickly add up to exceed your cargo capacity, so all things being equal go with a shovel that is lighter.
How do I mount an off-road shovel to my vehicle?
Some companies, such as DMOS, make dedicated mounts for their shovels. These will fit the shovel perfectly and be very secure, but they tend to be pricey. Some rack manufacturers that cater to the off-roading and overlanding set, such as Garvin, Warrior, and Front Runner, also sell shovel and axe mounts that fit their racks. Quick Fist Clamps, mentioned above, are a more general option for mounting and can be used on a variety of different roof and bumper racks, with a little ingenuity.