Even people with a snow blower need to shovel sometimes, and our snow blower testers have plenty of advice on which snow shovels work best. When shopping, keep in mind that lighter weight means easier lifting, a rigid shovel is best (in the store, push a corner of the shovel into the floor to test for flexing), and a cheap shovel won’t be great. You’ll probably need to spend $30 or $35. Beyond that:
The handle: “Ergonomic” may not mean easy. Bent handles can make the pushing angle hard to adjust, and twisting the shovel to toss snow aside can be difficult. A shorter handle makes snow-throwing easier; longer is better for pushing—you can better tweak the shovel’s angle and use your weight. A wood handle is handsome but heavy, metal is cold, and plastic or fiberglass is often just right.
The grip: D-shaped. Be sure it fits your hands, especially if they’re unusually small or big. A padded grip is nice, as is an extra grip lower on the handle.
The scoop: Sturdy. Metal is generally more rigid than plastic but heavier. Steel on the leading edge can extend a shovel’s life and make it more effective in hard-packed snow, though the edge may scratch a delicate surface such as decking. A scoop about 24 inches across is good for a few inches of light snow; narrower is better when snow is deep or wet and heavy. A deeply curved scoop can clear a lot of snow; a shallow scoop is OK for pushing snow but spills when lifted. High scoop sides contain snow and can reduce flexing.
Bottom line. Look at our lineup below, and consider buying more than one shovel depending on anticipated need—one for lifting, another for pushing, for example, or one for dealing with regular snow and another for an icy plow pile at the end of your driveway.
- Versatile. Throws, lifts, or pushes. Scoop sides keep snow from escaping. Fiber core handle is lighter than wood.
- Garden-variety. Slices heavy snow and is good for other outdoor work, but the wood handle is heavy and short.
- Cheap, plastic. Plastic may flex too much and wear over time. Without a steel edge, the scoop won’t bite well into icy snow.
- He-man heft. It could actually be too big. You can use your foot to push it into a plow bank, but it takes a very heavy scoop.
- Wide, wobbly. Quickly fills with snow, and the one we tried wobbled. OK for a little light fluff on a hard surface.
- Ergonomic handle. The bend makes it hard to maintain an effective angle and awkward to throw to the side. You’ll need strong wrists.
- Yellow midsize. An ergonomic handle that’s better than the dogleg version; and you’re not forced into one grip.
- A pusher. The width and lack of sides mean it isn’t good for lifting snow. It will do for up to 4 or 5 inches of light snow.
Try to shovel when the snow is still light and powdery. Also:
• Dress appropriately. Light, layered, water-repellent clothing provides both ventilation and insulation. It is also important to wear the appropriate head coverings, as well as mittens or gloves and thick, warm socks. Take a break if you feel yourself getting too hot or too cold. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles.
• Use good timing and technique. When lifting snow, bend your knees, keep your back as straight and vertical as possible, and stand up. The closer your hand is to the scoop, the lighter the load will feel. When pushing snow, keep the handle low, in your hip area, and push using your legs. Take small amounts of snow. And do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side—the twisting motion can stress your back.
• Pace yourself and watch for warning signs. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you feel pressure or pain in your chest, or discomfort spreading to your shoulders, neck, jaw, arms, or back, call for an ambulance immediately, chew and swallow an aspirin, and lie down. You could be having a heart attack. People often shovel first thing in the morning, when heart attacks are more likely. That's why the American College of Emergency Physicians advises against shoveling if you have a history of heart attacks. In this case, it’s probably best to enlist someone to remove the snow for you.
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