Best Avalanche Shovels in 2018

Best Avalanche Shovels in 2018

Although an avalanche shovel is a fairly simple piece of equipment, every year there are small improvements made to shovel designs. They get stronger, lighter, and easier to assemble and take apart. This article will take a look at some of the best avalanche shovels currently on the market. If you’re looking for other avalanche safety gear, check out our articles about the Best Avalanche Probes in 2018 , the Best Avalanche Airbag Packs in 2018, and the Best Avalanche Transceiver (maybe ever).


How to Choose an Avalanche Shovel

In basic terms, an avalanche shovel is just that: a shovel. But with a removable (and often extendable) handle, an avalanche shovel is easy to fit inside a backpack for backcountry skiing. Although it’s a simple piece of equipment, it’s an important one for avalanche safety. Above all you want a shovel that you can count on in an emergency situation.

Weight

One thing you should always consider for backcountry gear is weight. Less expensive avalanche shovels use cheaper, heavier materials. Is it worth spending an extra $30 on the next model up to shave a few grams? Well that’s up to you, your budget, and how much you care about weight.

Blade Size

Choosing the right blade size for your avalanche shovel is an exercise in balance. Ideally you want the biggest blade possible, but it has to fit in your pack and can’t weigh 10 pounds. A bigger blade means you can move more snow faster, and this is key in a burial situation. The faster a buried skier is extracted, the better chance they have of surviving. So choose the biggest blade that you are comfortable with, and definitely don’t go with the smallest, cheapest avalanche shovel.

Handle Ergonomics/Extendability

Many avalanche shovel handles are extendable, meaning the overall length of the handle is increased when extended. This provides more leverage and ergonomics, which allows you to shovel faster and more efficiently. Not a ‘must-have’ but definitely close to it. If you’re a smaller person, this doesn’t matter as much.

Handles come in a wide variety of shapes. Look for one that fits nicely in your hand but still fits well in your pack. T-handles and L-handles are more compact and lightweight, but many users prefer a full D-handle. This is more personal preference than anything. Use what feels good to you.

Materials & Durability 

Take a look at the materials the shovel is made with. Plastic avalanche shovels typically don’t last as long as their metal counterparts. Most lightweight shovels are made of aluminum, which is stronger and more durable than plastic. Plastic blades also tend to deflect (move around) more when you’re shoveling. A plastic handle is pretty common, but make sure it feels solid before buying. You definitely don’t want your handle to break while you’re digging.


The Best Avalanche Shovels in 2018

Here we go…this list is our picks for the best avalanche shovels that are currently on the market. Each has its pros and cons, but there should be something here to suit most users’ needs. They are listed in no particular order, as what makes an avalanche shovel good for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for everyone.

Black Diamond Transfer 3

MSRP: $54.95
Buy now:
Amazon

black diamond transfer 3 avalanche shovel
Material: Aluminum
Weight: 692 grams (1 lb, 8 oz)
Handle style: Hybrid D/T
Extendable: yes
Blade Volume: 1.14 liters (0.3 gallons)
Collapsed Length: 61 cm (24 in)
Extended Length: 79 cm (31.1 in)

Overview

With a high volume anodized aluminum blade and a very solid extendable handle, this is a great example of an avalanche shovel. Black Diamond has smoothed out the back of the blade (mostly) to allow for better walls in snow pits when doing snow study.

Real world reviews haven’t found many downsides to this shovel. One user noted that it doesn’t do particularly well in wet avalanche debris, but no lightweight avalanche shovels are really great in that situation. Anecdotal, but I’ve used a Black Diamond avalanche shovel for years, and have been more than pleased, so I would heartily recommend giving this one a close look.

Note: Black Diamond uses an odd metric called ‘blade volume’ instead of blade dimensions. I’m not entirely sure how this is calculated, but is a good way to compare BD shovels to one another.


Black Diamond Deploy 3 & Deploy 7

MSRP (3/7): $69.95 / $74.95
Buy now: evo.comAmazon

black diamond deploy 3 avalanche shovel

Material: Aluminum
Weight (3): 565 grams (1 lb, 4 oz)
Weight (7): 700 grams (1 lb, 8 oz)
Handle style: Hybrid D/T
Extendable: no
Blade Volume (3): 1.14 liters (0.3 gallons)
Blade Volume (7): 2.65 liters (0.7 gallons)
Collapsed Length (3): 43 cm (16.9 in)
Collapsed Length (7): 47 cm (18.5 in)
Extended Length (3): 63 cm (24.8 in)
Extended Length (7): 68 cm (26.8 in)

Overview

The second offering from Black Diamond, the Deploy comes in 2 sizes: the Deploy 3 and the Deploy 7. The 3 and 7 refer to the blade capacity in gallons, and the Deploy 7 has a very generous sized blade in a compact package. With the handle removed, it is shorter than the BD Transfer 3, which has a smaller shovel blade.

Another neat feature of this shovel is that when the curved handle is removed, it can nest into the shovel blade, which keeps it secure and compact. This will potentially save you some time when assembling the shovel – you won’t have waste precious seconds hunting for the handle in your pack.

I highly recommend this shovel – as long as you aren’t super tall. Some people find the handle on this shovel too short, as it’s a bit more compact than other shovels. Get the Deploy 7 if you have room in your pack and don’t mind a bit of extra weight. The Deploy 3 is a great option for smaller packs like the Mammut Ride avalanche airbag pack.

Note: Black Diamond uses an odd metric called ‘blade volume’ instead of blade dimensions. I’m not entirely sure how this is calculated, but is a good way to compare BD shovels to one another.


Backcountry Access (BCA) B-1 EXT

MSRP: $59.99
Buy now: evo.comAmazon
backcountry access (bca) B1 EXT avalanche shovel

Material: Aluminum
Weight: 600 grams (1 lb, 5 oz)
Handle style: T-handle
Extendable: yes
Blade Dimensions: 24.9 x 25.4 cm (9.8 x 10 in)
Collapsed Length: 41 cm (16 in)
Extended Length: 57 cm (22.25 in)

Overview

According to BCA, this is their most popular shovel, and is extendable and packable (it wouldn’t be a very good avalanche shovel if it wasn’t packable, now would it). This is one of 2 shovels that I’ve used for the last few years, and can say with confidence that it’s solidly built, easy to assemble and moves a decent amount of snow. It’s on the lighter side of shovels this size, and the T-handle provides excellent grip when shoveling.

The shovel handle has an end-cap that prevents snow from building up inside the shaft. This is a thoughtful feature. I’ve had snow buildup issues with my Black Diamond shovel, and have been a bit annoyed at having to remove it.

When disassembled this shovel packs quite well, and with the handle fully extended it is a decent length for shoveling, but on the shorter side. The blade is medium sized – it moves a decent amount of snow and will fit in most packs. The blade looks pretty cool too, so there’s that.

There is also a big brother to the B-1 EXT – the BCA B-2 EXT. It’s slightly larger in all aspects, 120g (4 oz) heavier, and is significantly longer when extended. This would be a great option for taller skiers that like the style of the B-1 but need a longer shaft and a bigger blade.


Backcountry Access (BCA) D-2 EXT Dozer with Folding Saw

MSRP: $129.99
Buy now: Amazon

backcounty access (BCA) D2 EXT avalanche shovel

Material: Aluminum
Weight: 947 grams (2 lb, 1 oz)
Handle style: T-handle
Extendable: yes
Blade Dimensions: 25.4 x 27.9 cm (10 x 11 in)
Collapsed Length: 46 cm (18 in)
Extended Length: 81 cm (31.9 in)

Overview

BCA describes this as their most technical shovel, and I would say that’s accurate. This shovel has a couple of unique features, but let’s look at the basics first. The shovel blade and handle are heat-treated for strength, and the blade is one of the largest out there. It has a T-grip and an oval handle that is resistant to breaking when prying and slip-proof grips on the shaft. This is the heaviest shovel in the group, but keep in mind that it includes a folding saw and is quite large.

On top of being a solid, if slightly heavy, avalanche shovel, the Dozer has a folding wood saw hidden in the handle. This could come in handy in an emergency situation where you need to build a fire but would also be useful for clearing trails.

The other neat feature of this shovel is that it can be converted to ‘hoe’ mode (as in the picture above). This configuration is useful for rapidly moving avalanche debris. If you’re extracting a buried skier and you are behind the primary shoveler(s), hoe mode would be great for moving debris out of the way.

It seems like this avalanche shovel is geared slightly toward sledders, as it’s a bit heavy and bulky, but if you have room in your pack and don’t mind the weight, this would be a great shovel for backcountry skiing.


Backcountry Access (BCA) RS EXT

MSRP: $89.99
Buy now: evo.comAmazon

backcountry access (BCA) RS EXT avalanche shovel

Material: Aluminum
Weight: 715 grams (1 lb, 10 oz)
Handle style: Modified T-handle
Extendable: yes
Blade Dimensions: 25 x 28 cm (9 x 11 in)
Collapsed Length: 28 cm (11 in)
Extended Length: 64 cm (25 in)

Overview

The RS (rescue shovel) EXT (extendable) is similar to the D2 EXT above, but without the integrated folding wood saw. It’s much lighter overall, although still slightly heavier than both Black Diamond shovels in this group, and has a generously sized blade. It packs down to just 28 cm (11 in), so will fit in pretty much any pack.

This avalanche shovel, like the D2 EXT, also has ‘hoe’ mode for moving large amounts of debris with less effort. The heat-treated shaft is oval with a trapezoid shape near the top and the blade is lightly serrated to cut through stubborn avalanche debris. The back of the blade is nice and smooth which is great for digging snow pits.

One thing to note is that the handle is not reversible. One side of the T on the handle is longer than the other, so left-handed users may have issues. Interesting design choice.


G3 Avitech

MSRP: $69.00
Buy now: Backcountry.comAmazon

G3 Avitech avalanche shovel

Material: Aluminum
Weight (T-grip): 730 grams (1 lb, 10 oz)
Weight (D-grip): 770 grams (1 lb, 11 oz)
Handle style: T-handle or D-handle
Extendable: yes
Blade Dimensions: 24 x 26.5 cm (9.5 x 10.5 in)
Collapsed Length: 46 cm (18 in)
Extended Length (estimate): 66 cm (26 in)

Overview

Now we move on to a time tested option from G3 – the Avitech avalanche shovel. This is a more classic design, with a round handle and the option of a T or D grip handle. This is a reliable and very durable shovel from G3. It features a flat blade for digging snow pits, and an extendable handle for more shoveling leverage. The blade is on the larger side and is treated aluminum construction.

G3 also touts their Tig welded tube joining the blade and shovel shaft, and user experience has shown that this shovel will withstand years of abuse. The collapsed length of this shovel is on the longer side, so be sure it will fit in your pack before purchasing.


Backcountry Access Shaxe Tech

MSRP: $199.00
Buy now: Backcountry.comAmazon

backcountry access (bca) shaxe tech avalanche shovel

ShovelMaterial: Aluminum
Ice Pick Material: 420 Stainless Steel
Weight (shovel mode): 706 grams (1 lb, 8 oz)
Weight (axe mode): 436 grams (1 lb)
Total Weight: 902 grams (2 lbs)
Handle style: T-handle
Extendable: yes
Blade Dimensions: 24 x 28.5 cm (9.4 x 11.2 in)
Collapsed Length (estimate): 46 cm (18 in)
Extended Length: 68 cm (27 in)

Overview

This might be the coolest shovel ever made, because not only is it an avalanche shovel, it’s also a bad ass ice axe. The genius of this design is that the shovel handle can be used either with your shovel blade or with the included ice axe head. The axe head comes in its own separate pouch to keep it safe in your pack. Making the shovel handle dual purpose saves a few precious grams.

The shaft (formerly the shovel handle) in ice axe mode even has a spike on the bottom for grip and to penetrate ice if needed. The handle is slightly curved, so this is best suited for more technical climbs.

The shovel itself is solid as well. The blade is on the larger side, the extended length is long enough for tall shovelers and the T-handle provides ample grip. In terms of weight, this shovel is on the light end of the spectrum.

You may have done a double take at the price, but considering that you can pay this much for an ice axe on its own, this combination avalanche shovel/axe is actually great value. There is a slightly less expensive model that still has an axe head but uses a straight shaft: the BCA Shaxe Speed. The Shaxe Speed features an aluminum axe head, and is a lighter overall package, so have a look at that one if you don’t absolutely need a curved axe shaft or a stainless head.


Closing Thoughts

Although this list isn’t comprehensive, it should give you an idea of what the best options for avalanche shovels are right now. BCA and Black Diamond have quite a few other models that we didn’t cover here, so have a look at those if you’re keen. There are also shovels from other brands like Pieps, Mammut, and Ortovox, but none of them really bring anything terribly original to the table. That said, all of those companies make solid products and could be worth a look.

Get yourself a shovel that feels comfortable but above all is dependable and reliable. Stay safe out there.

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