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Thread: Trowel test

  1. #1

    Default Trowel test

    So I've accumulated a collection of backpacking trowels. I got to thinking comparing them might be fun, or at least a way to pass the time. But I like to conduct objective tests (I'm a chemist by trade and like objectivity).

    I would like some ideas of what tests to perform. My first inclination is to get a 5 gallon bucket of sand and push the trowel into the sand using a luggage scale to measure force requred. This way it's not just 'it felt easier/harder'.

    My other thought is attaching weights to the end of each trowel to see when it bends to test prying strength. But I'm not keen on breaking them. Maybe just estimate prying strength needed and test that amount of weight.

    Other ideas?
    Thank you.
    Last edited by perrymk; 04-26-2020 at 07:57.

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    I would imagine that most of the time on the trail you would not use a trowel on sand, that is if making a cat hole.
    (I don't know why you would have one otherwise)
    So to get a good idea of how effective they are I suggest you dig on real soil and see how long it takes for each to make the same size hole.
    BTW, I use a sand stake (turned and used as a pick, not like a spade) because having that I also have a ...sand stake.

  3. #3

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    The bucket of sand is partly because I have a bucket of sand and partly to have a consistent matrix to repeat with each trowel. I have plenty of back yard but then one could argue the soil isn't consistent due to presence of roots, rocks, whatever.



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    Let's say your choose 4 different trowels to test. I would try digging holes in various types of soils/sands/whatever in close proximity with the 4 different trowels. That is the most realistic test and requires the least amount of interpretation of "lab results". I find that too often in science, excellently controlled tests are conducted and then in a glaring lapse of logic, the results of said tests are used to pronounce conclusions that are not in fact shown by the results. Far too many people, sometimes including scientists, seem to conflate correlation with causation.

    After recently breaking my plastic trowel digging my hole I bought a titanium one from Vargo.
    Be Prepared

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    I particularly don't like the idea of using a bucket of sand/dirt/whatever b/c it will not have any roots in it. Roots are often what make digging the hole so difficult and a root is trying to break through a root is what snapped my plastic trowel.
    Be Prepared

  6. #6

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    An 80 penny nail would probably penetrate better than any trowel, and be less likely to bend, but would make a poor cat hole digging device. Tests need to measure how well a device meets its intended purpose.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BlackCloud View Post
    I particularly don't like the idea of using a bucket of sand/dirt/whatever b/c it will not have any roots in it. Roots are often what make digging the hole so difficult and a root is trying to break through a root is what snapped my plastic trowel.
    Yeah, this...
    I do most of my camping in GSMNP where there are roots EVERYWHERE. Doesn't mater where you dig, the vegetation is so dense, you always hit roots. More than once, I've had abandon one hole soon after starting because there were just too many big roots I simply could not cut thru with my trowel.

    You also have to consider more than the pressure required to cut thru the ground. You would need to find a way of objectively comparing how comfortable the trowel is to use. I've been using the Sea to Summit Trowel that has a hollow tube for a handle. By comparison, the Duece of Spades is sheet metal with edges. So you would expect the Sea to Summit could be gripped tighter than the Duece.

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    For rooty, consistent conditions maybe visit a local nursery and see if they have something ready to hand, shrubs or bushes at the transplant stage or something. I agree that seems like a key requirement.

  9. #9

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    As a thought, another way to perform this test is enlisting the help of others around the US. Soil conditions differ greatly from one region to another, as such there is no one-place-fits-most test that can measure the more common variables, which can include:

    Soil that is highly compacted
    Soils with high concentration of rock and gravel
    Soils with high concentrations of clay
    Soil with heavy root structure concentrations from trees, shrubs, and plants
    Soils with high concentration of sand

    Proper cat-hole definition should be established so different people can dig similar sized holes to those specifications along with some kind of numeric scale that can be used to measure subjective ease/difficulty digging cat-holes in the above categories. However these would be fairly easy to put together.

  10. #10

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    Do you plan to limit the tests to the trowels most hikers would carry or might you include various gardeners trowels and hori hori soil knives?Amazon is full of garners trowels and soil knives that would put my Qui Whiz to shame I am sure.They look interesting until you realize what they weigh!

  11. #11

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    My focus will be on backpacker trowels, not garden trowels. I may include on mini-entrenching tool simply because I already own it. But it weighs about a pound so an unlikely carry candidate. I have two QiWiz (different sizes), a Deuce, another Ti that I don't recall the name of, a classic orange plastic, a Vargo Ti stake/trowel, a couple of generic Al sand stakes, and a MontBell on order. And maybe one or two more.

    I realize no series of tests will be perfect but hopefully I come up with some valid points of comparison to consider.
    Last edited by perrymk; 04-28-2020 at 05:46.

  12. #12
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    You can pick up a collection of trowels to test along the first 100 miles of the trail.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swjohnsey View Post
    You can pick up a collection of trowels to test along the first 100 miles of the trail.
    Makes me wonder if these people are digging proper cat holes.

    Seems like when ever discussions like this come up, someone chimes in and says "I just use the heel of my boot". And based on my experience in GSMNP, you AIN'T going to be digging no proper cat hole with the heel of your boot. The ground is too tough with too many roots.

    Now if you are talking about a collection of those crappy plastic trowels because people are upgrading to a real trowel, then I can understand. I tried to use one of those on my 1st camping trip ever. The cold March ground just ate that trowel up.

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    This reads to me like there is a bit of putting the cart before the horse sorta speak?
    1) What are the qualities of a turd trowel that are important to each of us in what order of priority?
    - Comfort of pushing into hard soil?
    - Comfort in cold weather?
    - Ability to chop through small roots?
    - Ability to move larger volumes of dirt with each lift?
    - Weight?
    - Beauty and/or color options?
    - Packability?

    2. Some aspects of value are quantifiable, some are not, some maybe sorta are in some situations.
    3. Don't be afraid of the muddy subjective value assessment, just present it honestly so the rest of us can compare our subjective sensibilities to yours.
    4. Then, yeah, measure the things you can with enough replicates to have statistical meaning and don't measure stuff just to get a number and then claim that one number is better than the next. Instead of sand for consistency, use five or ten soil locations and a real statistical comparison. After all, the difference between a wide spade and a narrow one might not be significant in sand but critical in hard clay? And, who cares which spade takes more pressure to push in if the handle is so uncomfortable on the easy pushing one that the hard pushing one is actually easier to use?

    Good luck and have fun. I think this is a noble cause. Or is that Nobel these days? ;-)
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  15. #15

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    One thing I have noticed is that the makers of backpacker's trowel expend no weight in the comfort handle department because their product would weigh more than the competitor's and stay on the shelf.So we all buy one and then wrap another oz or two of tape around it to make it usable.So far my little Qui Whiz has done fine and
    I always have a hand pruner,knife,1 oz saw,and a hiking pole available...........

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    Given the intended purpose might want some gauge of constipation relief effectiveness as well. Sometimes ya gotta dig before ya dig

  17. #17

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    If you do doo it, VVVVVVVV This VVVVVVVV

    Quote Originally Posted by nsherry61 View Post
    This reads to me like there is a bit of putting the cart before the horse sorta speak?
    1) What are the qualities of a turd trowel that are important to each of us in what order of priority?
    - Comfort of pushing into hard soil?
    - Comfort in cold weather?
    - Ability to chop through small roots?
    - Ability to move larger volumes of dirt with each lift?
    - Weight?
    - Beauty and/or color options?
    - Packability?

    2. Some aspects of value are quantifiable, some are not, some maybe sorta are in some situations.
    3. Don't be afraid of the muddy subjective value assessment, just present it honestly so the rest of us can compare our subjective sensibilities to yours.
    4. Then, yeah, measure the things you can with enough replicates to have statistical meaning and don't measure stuff just to get a number and then claim that one number is better than the next. Instead of sand for consistency, use five or ten soil locations and a real statistical comparison. After all, the difference between a wide spade and a narrow one might not be significant in sand but critical in hard clay? And, who cares which spade takes more pressure to push in if the handle is so uncomfortable on the easy pushing one that the hard pushing one is actually easier to use?

    Good luck and have fun. I think this is a noble cause. Or is that Nobel these days? ;-)
    willin'

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    The bucket of sand is partly because I have a bucket of sand and partly to have a consistent matrix to repeat with each trowel. I have plenty of back yard but then one could argue the soil isn't consistent due to presence of roots, rocks, whatever.

    That will give you a very good test of how they work on sand but tell you nothing at all of how they work in the bush.

  19. #19

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    I think the idea of comparing cathole trowels is really cool. I can dig it. My own experience is that thinner trowels dig better and cut small roots better. They will also go into sand in a bucket with less force, but I agree with many who claim that this will not be great test of how a trowel will dig in real backcountry settings. I'll mention that an often overlooked aspect of trowel performance is how easy it is to scoop out loosened soil from the hole - for example, some tent stakes might loosen soil OK enough, but will be less good at scooping out the dirt so loosened.

    Everyone thinks that rocky soils and rooty soils are a tough test (and they are), but one of the toughest scenarios I have encountered is digging a cathole in a grassy meadow where the soil is just a thick bunch of matted roots several inches deep. If your trowel does not have a really thin edge to cut through the mat, good luck! One of your testing scenarios could just be a mature lawn around your house. Relatively challenging and relatively consistent spot to spot.
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    After using my heel, sticks, my trekking pole (IF it was not holding up my tent) I decided to just make one from some on-hand stock. My trowel is 7.5" x.75" x .125 Hi-carbon steel the end has 3 cutting surfaces. The long end 7.5" is chisel sharpened on the end and the "inside" edge. The short end 7" with a chisel sharpened end. Roots do not stand a chance and has stood up well to sand and small rocks. It weighs 2oz but I like to make stuff and for now willing to carry it.


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