Gear review: Deuce of Spades

I admit to having dug my hole with a boot heel. Really it was only half a hole. Who want’s to be a Half-Hole?                                  –  Gene Curp in the comment section below

Many of us go through an arc when it comes to backpacking.

We buy many gadgets in our exuberance as new backpackers.

Gadgets, tchotchkes, knickknacks, and doodads are purchased as “must have” items.

And ubiquitous among these items purchased is the orange potty trowel.

You all know the one.


Yes. This one.

About two ounces, a little bulky in size and about $5 at your local Dick’s, Sports Authority (well, not for much longer!), Wally World or similar.

We went forth and did what we had to do, dug a hole, covered it up and went forth again with our packs laden with other doodads, gadgets, knickknacks and tchotchkes.

Then we (allegedly) became smarter and more efficient. A tent stake, a hiking pole or even a foot was enough to do what we had to do.

Except maybe we didn’t dig that hole quite as deep as we should. Or we rolled a rock over what we had to do.

In the far remote backcountry and/or off-trail, some of these techniques don’t matter quite as much.

Sorta. Kinda.

But on the popular long distance trails or in high use areas such on-trail in Colorado, it is a crappy situation.  And, no, I am not making a bad pun… (OK, maybe just a little bit…)

Perhaps it is the Catholic guilt I was brought up with, and I feel sorry about some past transgressions, or maybe I’m maturing in my outdoor habits, but I now carry a trowel.

But not just any trowel. One that is lighter, more durable and less bulky than the orange trowel that I still have in my collection somewhere:  The Deuce of Spades.


From The Tent Lab.

Made by The Tentlab , it is a simple but effective design. Thinner than the orange trowel, I find it digs better. Smaller, so it is more compact and fits in a ziplock with hand sanitizer easily.  It has two ends so you can dig in both loose soil or rocky and rooty areas easily as needed.


From The Tent Lab webpage

The handle can be a little awkward to use…but you are only using it a few minutes a day. Some people have found this to be an issue; I have not.

Though more expensive at $20 vs $5 for the orange trowel, The Deuce of Spades really is more effective.  Digs better and more efficiently and in more varied terrain…in addition to being lighter.  And, per the website, it does indeed open a bottle of beer! Multi-use at its finest..if a bit awkward. But hey, try opening up a beer bottle with the orange potty trowel. 😉

….OK, just grab a church key instead. Please don’t tell a pas partner  I used the trowel to verify this fact as I was writing this article.  From Wikipedia Commons.

The Tent Lab will occasionally have “oops” sales where unbranded/off-color/slightly irregular trowels will be sold for cheaper. That is how I bought my trowel last year. Plus these irregular ones are lighter too (.4 oz vs .6 oz…at least for the “oops” one I bought).

There are other trowels that I have not used. These trowels, depending on the model, may be lighter but are a bit more expensive.

Besides being a good price-to-weight ratio, the designer is just down the road from me in a town next to Boulder. Plus he designed the Kelty Zen that I still have a soft spot for. 🙂 Call it local loyalty. As a bonus, The Deuce of Spades is made in the USA and is fabricated by Arrow Sheet Metal in Denver.  Very local indeed!

The Deuce of Spades is not glamorous or “cool.”  It is simply a well designed, light, durable and efficient tool for something that is becoming an increasing problem in the more popular backpacking areas.

Whether you go with the venerable orange trowel, The Deuce of Spades or another alternative, please consider going with some type of trowel.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to have a crappy situation.

Disclosure: I bought  The Deuce of Spades with my own funds last year. The first, er, field use was in the Little Bookcliffs WSA.  The scenery was grand. The hiking fantastic. And the trace left? Hopefully, little-to-none that was noticed.

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Another Kevin
8 years ago

Catholic guilt? Maybe, but Moses wrote down a commandment about carrying a trowel and using a cathole. Deuteronomy 23:13. Seriously. The previous verse commands using the privy. (Because the LORD is walking abroad in your camp, and you wouldn’t want Him stepping in your waste, would you?)

Nick Gatel
Nick Gatel
8 years ago

I have two trowels. An ancient orange plastic trowel weighing two ounces, just like your’s and heavy by today’s standards. It now resides in my day pack ready for use. I also have a high tech titanium trowel that weighs under .4 ounces for my backpacking trips. Not the same brand as your’s and It works better than my old one, but it doesn’t open a bottle of beer. I have nothing in my pack that can easily remove a beer bottle cap. But then I don’t bring beer on my hikes, and the trowel’s handle probably has “cooties” on… Read more »

8 years ago

I’m not a marketing genius, but wouldn’t “Spade of Deuces” be a better name? 😉

gene curp
gene curp
8 years ago

Duce of Spades is cool. It is soo light, and soo effective. Mine is red, and SweetBride’s is purple (a second, but it was her choice honest). 17 grams. Great stuff.

gene curp
gene curp
8 years ago
Reply to  gene curp

i admit to having dug my hole with a boot heel. Really it was only half a hole. Who want’s to be a Half-Hole?