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DIY: How to Make an Inexpensive Ultralight Camping Poop Shovel

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Whether you call it a catholer, deuce digger, or turd trowel, a small shovel is an invaluable piece of gear if you head out into the wild for any length of time. We all joke about what the bear does in the woods, but there is probably little question whether you will need to “dod doo as the bears do” after three days of dehydrated backpacker meals and cowboy coffee.

And when the brown reaper comes knocking we want you to be ready for him!

This ultra lame DIY will show you everything you need to turn an ordinary tent stake into a high tech, ultralight space age, poop hole excavator and at the same time create a few extraordinarily weird gifts for friends, family, and coworkers. All for under 20 bucks!!!

If you are on a tight budget, an aluminum tent stake designed for snow and sand can function as a great ultralight, and ultracheap, backpacker’s trowel for digging catholes and small water diversion trenches around a tent.

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Why Do You Need a Turd Trowel Anyway?

That very first time you go out into nature trying to “get away from it all” and come across trash or damage left by others, really drives home the importance of the ‘Leave No Trace” philosophy. We are all stewards of not only our natural world, but the experience of being in it.

You don’t want your poop to be part of someone else’s natural experience.

This is where the dookie digger comes in. By digging a crater of the appropriate depth and dropping your bombs there, not only is your poop not part of the scenario, but it is dealt with in a way that allows it to break down most efficiently, keeps it away from animals, and keeps water contamination to a minimum.

That’s a lot of reasons! So be a good pirate and bury your treasure! 

A New Use for a Cheap Tent Stake

Unless you live by the beach or in a snowy climate, and go camping a whole lot, you may have never seen one of these bigger shovel-shaped tent stakes. Tents would typically not come with them, so they are almost always an aftermarket option.

As stakes, they work remarkably well in snow and sand – situations where standard stakes fail miserably. In the past there was only one decent quality snow stake out there – the MSR Blizzard.

Back then, these stakes cost a pretty penny so buying a set of twelve to use on a tent with guy lines was a bit tough on the wallet, but thankfully there are now a number of less expensive alternatives that are pretty close in terms of quality.

Considering that we are going to be using this tent stake as a small shovel and not relying it to keep our tent from blowing away on an Antarctic expedition, these cheaper stakes do just great.

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Modifying your Tent Stake Poop Shovel

Admittedly, this is not much of a DIY, but if you read our even lamer DIY: How to Make an Emergency Absinthe Fountain, then you already knew what to expect.

Basically, your new ultralight tent stake catholer is ready to go as is, but if you want to make it function better as a mini shovel, then the following improvements are worth doing.

Sharpening Your New Poop Shovel

Tent stakes designed to be pushed through snow and sand don’t have to be that sharp, so the most important modification you can make is sharpening up the digging tip of your new ultralight trowel.

A bench grinder will make quick work of sharpening up your stake, but if you don’t have access to one, a hand grinder or even a large file will work. Remember that you don’t have to get it razor sharp – as a shovel it will work best if the point is almost sharp enough to scratch a fingernail, but not thinned down so much where it would be damaged if it hit a small stone while digging.

Remember that you can always resharpen your ultralight trowel and you will probably want to occasionally just to keep it ready for action.

Making a Rubber Grip

Many of the snow stakes on the market have holes drilled into them for lightness and rigging, These holes already improve grip if you are using the stake as a shovel, but by adding the appropriate sized rubber grommet to these holes, your doodie driller will be much more comfortable in your hand.

To get the right size grommet, simply measure the diameter of the hole in your snow stake. This will be the Groove Diameter of the appropriate-sized rubber grommet. Rubber grommets don’t have to fit perfectly since there is a lot of give in the material, so if it looks close, it’s probably good. They are also cheap so you can buy the next nearest size just to be sure.

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While you can purchase rubber grommets online, you may find it easier to visit your local hardware or auto parts store. Bring along your snow stake and make sure the grommets are the right size before buying. 

If you think you may use rubber grommets in other applications, or would just like to have a box full to have around the house, then buying online is definitely the way to go since you can buy large kits for very little money. This kit on Amazon has most all the common sizes and is likely to have grommets to fit every snow stake out there.  

Adding a Handle

Another very cool thing you can do with your snow stake is lash it to a stick in order to get more leverage or make it easier to dig larger excavations like fire pits. You can use paracord to lash your snow stake to a stick or pole, but zip ties work very well too, and if you choose the reusable kind, you can take them back off and use them again.  

Choosing a Tent Stake to Use as a Mini Trowel

There are a ton of snow stakes on the market these days, and any of them should work well enough. But there are three things worth considering in making your choice: width, length, and price.

Width

Most all snow stakes are at least an inch wide and this is why they can function as a shovel. When choosing a snow stake, make sure it is at least this minimum width. And if you are not sure, an inch seems to be the minimum standard width for any stake designed for snow, so if it is a snow stake, you should be good.  

Length

Snow stakes can range from around 9” to 12” and the larger stakes tend to make better shovels with only a minimum increase in weight. The MSR Blizzard stake that I’ve been using for years as a catholer is around 9 ½” long and I have often wished it were a bit bigger when using it to excavate fire pits and other more major camping digging duties. If you want a more substantial ultralight mini camp shovel, keep this in mind when choosing what stake to use.

If you are backpacking, you may want to stick to a smaller, shorter tent stake that is not only lighter, but more compact.

Price

Price is only a factor here because you have to take into account that most stakes are only sold in sets of four, six, eight, or twelve. Since price is dependent on quantity, and you only need one, you may want to choose a stake that is sold in a smaller quantity. In most circumstances, even buying a set of snow stakes is still cheaper than the majority of the high tech aluminum catholers out there.

The best deal I’ve seen lately is the Aketek aluminum tent stake.This stake is sold in sets of four and is usually less than $12. 

Aketek Aluminum Tent Stake for Snow and Sand 

There are two big reasons why I think this stake makes a great cheap shovel (besides it’s low price): it’s 12’ length and the position of the holes.

As noted above, if you are looking for a larger camping trowel to use for other camping duties like digging out fire pits and creating water diversion trenches, this larger tent stake is a good choice.

But what is exceptional about this stake is the location of the holes. The holes are there to help lighten the stake, but by having them higher up, they can help considerably with grip. If you don’t mind adding a few grams of weight, you can even put rubber grommets in the holes creating a very comfortable rubber handle for your new camping poop shovel.  

You can also use the holes as a handy lash point to attach your snow stake to a stick to create a makeshift spear or extended digging implement. Use six or eight zip ties or paracord for lashing.

Below are the specs on the Aketek Aluminum Snow Stake: 

  • Length: 12 inch.
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  • Width: 1.38 inch. 
  • 6 Holes for a variety of rigging options
  • Diameter of the Holes: 0.42 inch. 
  • Weight: 1.76ounce
  • Material: Aluminum
  • A package includes 4 stakes.

Check Amazon for the current price. 

Share the Poop Shovel Love  

Do you have friends who enjoy the outdoors? Well, since you have to buy a set of stakes, why not make camping poop shovels for your best buddies? Even if you improve a set of four stakes by adding grommets to the handles you are still probably going to be spending less than $15. Keep one poop shovel for yourself and you have three “crappy” gifts to give friends! 

Make a Camping Poop Kit

Now that you have your camping poop shovel, why not make a camping poop kit? Generally this is nothing more than a Ziploc bag with some toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but it really makes things convenient when you need to stop by the “office” to “drop off some forms and do a little paperwork.”

Because keeping things dry can be such a challenge when camping, I always put my toilet paper in its own quart-sized freezer bag, and then put this in a larger gallon-sized freezer bag with my poop shovel and hand sanitizer. 

It is also wise to include a second empty freezer bag just in case you need a sanitary, sealable trash bag – a handy tip for outdoors women. It should also be noted that in many places, especially dry climates, leaving toilet paper behind is very damaging to the environment and in these instances you want to pack this back out. 

Your personal poop kit can include anything you want, including bug spray, a small penlight, reading material, a flask, a cigar, or anything else you may need to be comfortable while releasing the brown trout.

In the end, a camping poop kit doesn’t have to be complicated, it just needs to stay clean and dry and be designed to keep both you and Mother Nature clean and happy.

Other Ultralight Camping Poop Shovel Options

In case making a camping poop shovel out of a snow stake stills seems a bit heavy or you really need to move some dirt, we should at least go over a few of the other options out there. 

Some of the high tech catholers on the market are considerably lighter than one made from a snow stake, but are also considerably shorter, giving you much less leverage. They do have a wider scoop area, however, which makes them much more effective when having to move substantial amount of soil. 

They are also considerably more expensive, but their high quality and durability can easily offset the cost for some people. The two most notable brands are The Deuce of Spades and The Prairie Dog and you can’t go wrong with either of these.

Your cat is going to be so jealous.

The Deuce of Spades Potty Trowel

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The Deuce of Spades is the gold standard of camping poop shovels. Made by TentLab in the U.S. from aerospace grade 7075-T6 aluminum, this ultralight digging tool comes with a lifetime warranty. It can also be used upside down, allowing the “handle” to be used as a smaller digging tip for breaking through hard soil.

The Deuce of Spades comes in three sizes:  #1 at .45oz, #2 (The Classic) at .60oz, and #3 (The Heavy Doody) at .97oz. See the chart below for a break down on specs.

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The Prairie Dog Ultralight Camp Shovel

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The Prairie Dog is another ultralight option if weight is a serious factor. Like the Deuce of Spades, it is also made in the U.S. from 7075-T6 aluminum, has a lifetime warranty, and the “handle” end can be used for digging. 

A unique thing about the Prairie Dog is that it has dedicated holes for lashing it to a stick or pole, and even comes with four reusable zip ties. This could really come in handy for digging a large fire pit or a honey hole for a group expedition. Hey, someone’s gotta do it.

See the chart below for specs.

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Camping Poop Shovel Comparison Chart

SHOVEL WEIGHT LENGTH BLADE WIDTH GET PRICE
Aketek Stake 1.76 oz 12 in 1.38 in Amazon
Prairie Dog Shovel 0.7 oz 7.5 in 2.25 in Amazon
Deuce of Spades #1 0.45 oz 6.8 in 2.6 in Amazon
Deuce of Spades #2 0.60 oz 7 in 2.6 in Amazon
Deuce of Spades #3 0.97 oz 8 in 2.6 in Amazon

Final Thoughts

In the end, what is more important than the tool you use to dig a cathole is that you actually use it. Let’s keep our parks, public lands, and natural areas clean and beautiful for everyone that visits behind us – including the animals! 

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