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Snow Shovel

Shoveling is an easier task if you have the right snow shovel.

It is important to keep walks clear of snow and ice. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
It is important to keep walks clear of snow and ice.

Snow Shovel

Not until the first significant snowfall is forecast, do many consumers give thought to buying a snow shovel. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, most storms last for 2 to 5 days, depositing an average of 2 inches per day. Most people living in this type of climate need at least one snow shovel for clearing sidewalks and driveways. Prudent drivers include a snow shovel in their winter emergency kit. The more adventurous carry snow shovels with them when camping during the winter to level camp sites, study snowpack conditions, create emergency shelters and dig their way out of avalanches.

Shoveling snow is arduous but also good exercise. According to the U.S. Surgeon General's Report, 15 minutes of snow shoveling qualifies as moderate physical activity; 30 minutes of shoveling can burn 200 calories. A typical shovelful of wet snow weighs 16 to 20 pounds. However, this exercise comes with a price: muscle and back aches, raised blood pressure from constricted blood vessels due to the cold and an increased risk of heart attack. The right snow shovel can be an asset to moving snow without causing unduly exertion.

Snow Shovel Blades

Snow shovel blades are made of steel, aluminum or plastics, such as polypropylene or polycarbonate. The blades of residential snow shovels may be made of any of these materials, while those used by backpackers are usually aluminum or polycarbonate. Each material has the following advantages and disadvantages:

  • Steel is the most durable metal, but is also the heaviest, and so is often used to create a wear strip for lighter-weight aluminum or plastic blades.
  • Aluminum is stronger and more durable than plastic, but more prone to bend than either steel or plastic and does not easily recover its shape when bent.
  • Plastic weighs the least and is less likely to have snow stick to it, but is more prone to shattering if the shovel blade is used to lift or chop ice.


Most blades for residential snow shovels are flat and measure from 14 to 18 inches wide. Wider blades scoop more snow and reduce the time spent shoveling, and narrower blades are easier to lift. Generally, a taller and heavier person should opt for a wider blade and a smaller and lighter person should opt for a narrower one.

Other shovels feature curved blades; these are designed to push the snow away instead of scoop and lift it and work well on driveways and long, straight sidewalks. Blades for collapsible snow shovels carried in the car or by backpackers tend to be more scooped; these shovels can also be used in tight spots around the home.

Some blades have ridged edges to hold the snow on the blade when scooping. Metal blades may be covered with Teflon or enamel to prevent snow from sticking to them. (Those without may be coated with floor wax or penetrating oil before shoveling.)

Snow Shovel Handles

The handle shaft is made of wood, fiberglass or metal. The latter two materials allow for ergonomically designed handles with an S-bend, which permits shovelers to stand straighter as they push the blade into the snow. Most household snow shovel shafts are 33 inches long; taller people may need longer handles with the bend further from them and shorter people may need shorter handles with the bend closer.

Snow shovels for the car or the backpacker have either telescoping or foldable shafts to make them easier to carry. Either kind should provide enough shaft length when extended for scooping with relative ease.

Handle grips are either metal or plastic. For most household and some backpack snow shovels, the grip is D-shaped, making it easier to hold in a gloved or mittened hand. Other backpack shovels use a T-shaped grip, which is grasped between the fingers and awkward to hold when wearing mittens, or an L-shaped grip, which is similar to the handle of an upright vacuum cleaner.

Other Snow Shovels

Two alternate designs exist for the household snow shovel. One is the snow pusher, which features a curved blade attached to either a straight shaft or to a large U-shaped handle and may also include a small wheel at either end of the blade. It works best in snow depths of 4 inches or less (the wheels may get stuck in larger drifts). The other is the wheeled snow shovel, which features a large-diameter wheel that serves as a fulcrum to lift the snow in the scoop blade by pushing down the lever-like handle on the other side.

An alternate snow shovel style for backpackers exists as well -- the handleless shovel. Composed of high-density polyethylene, it can be rolled up, but its lack of a handle makes it a poor choice to dig out someone buried in an avalanche.

Choosing the Right Snow Shovel

There is no ideal snow shovel, but some designs work better for some people than others. The person who will be using the shovel should hold it at the store, ideally wearing the same mittens or gloves that will be worn when doing the actual shoveling. Shovels should be fitted in the same manner for other members of the household who may be shoveling. More than one shovel may be necessary for different-sized shovelers (and to allow more than one person to tackle the snow simultaneously).

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