An all-purpose shovel will surely come in handy for all sorts of digging projects, but having the best trenching shovel is the ideal go-to when you need to dig deep, narrow holes and the narrow, straight-sided channels known as trenches. Trenching shovels are not made for scooping up piles of dirt and gravel or for digging wide ditches, but their design makes them good at their specific purpose.
The blade on a trenching shovel is deep but slim—sometimes only 3 inches in width. Trenching shovels are designed with a sharp point at the tip, which allows the user to drive the blade into the ground better than using a shovel that has a rounded or a blunt blade. While all trenching shovels are similar in style, some offer features that better suit them to targeted tasks. Ahead, learn what to look for when shopping for a trenching shovel, and find out why the following models all scored a spot in this lineup.
- BEST OVERALL: Razor-Back 43 in. Fiberglass Handle Trenching Shovel
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Corona SS 64104 General Purpose Trench Shovel, 4-Inch
- BEST CUSHION-GRIP: Truper 33436 Tru Pro California Trenching Shovel
- BEST NARROW TRENCHER: Razor-Back 48 in. Wood Handle Trenching Shovel
- BEST FOR TIGHT SPOTS: Kobalt 40-in Fiberglass Trenching Spade
- BEST FOR CAMPING: Dartmoor Mini Folding Shovel High Carbon Steel
- ALSO CONSIDER: Bully Tools 92720 14-Gauge 4-Inch Trench Shovel
Best Uses for a Trenching Shovel
Despite their name, trenching shovels are not intended to dig trenches. These simple hand tools are easiest to use when the ground is slightly soft—even more so than other shovels because the long, narrow blade of a trenching shovel can break under digging pressure into hard soil.
The best way to dig a trench—usually for installing buried lines or creating drainage channels—is with a trenching machine, which can be rented from landscaping supply and home improvement stores. Once the machine digs the trench, a trenching shovel is employed to clean out the channels (i.e., remove excess soil). Typically, a worker follows behind the machine with the trenching shovel, easily removing the loosened soil.
However, a trenching shovel can be useful beyond the installation of sprinkler systems or wires. Gardeners will reach for a trenching shovel—as long as the soil is already tilled and soft—to quickly create a straight trench for planting flower bulbs or rows of potatoes or onions.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Trenching Shovel
When shopping for a trenching shovel, keep its various components in mind, including the blade, handle, grip, collar, and step plate.
The blade of a trenching shovel is narrow—3 to 6 inches wide—and the sides of the blade are straight and parallel. The typical trenching blade tilts to about 35 degrees, and it ranges in length from 6 inches up to 18 inches, depending on the desired depth of the trench. The tip of a trenching shovel blade comes to a sharp point, which helps to push the blade into the ground. When selecting a trenching shovel, opt for one with a steel blade instead of aluminum for added strength and durability.
Also called the shaft, the handle on a trenching shovel isn’t notably different from any other shovel. It’s usually made from hardwood or fiberglass. Both are durable, and although fiberglass is more robust than wood, either material can weather if left out in the elements, which can cause the handle to become rough or splinter. While fiberglass handles are typically the strongest, some users prefer the feel of polished hardwood, so either type of handle is acceptable.
Trenching shovel handles come in two basic lengths—short or long. Longer handles measure approximately 43 to 48 inches long and are well suited to cleaning trenches in a forward pushing and lifting motion. Short-handled trenching shovels (less than 42 inches) are used in tight spots and are well suited for use with a pulling motion to clean debris out of an existing trench.
To reduce hand fatigue and the risk of blisters, some quality trenching shovels have a nonslip grip with either padded foam or a rubberized coating. If the shovel has a traditional grip, users can protect their hands by wearing leather work gloves when using the shovel.
The collar on a shovel is where the handle connects to the blade. On most trenching shovels, a cylindrically shaped metal collar is molded to the blade and extends 6 inches or more above the blade’s top edge. The lower end of the handle fits snugly into the collar and is often secured with a rivet or a bolt. In general, a shovel’s blade will outlast its handle, so if the handle does break at some point, the rivet can be removed and a new handle attached. While some handles are secured with steel collars crimped snugly around the handle, this type of attachment is not suitable for replacing a handle.
One of the more significant differences between trenching shovels and other shovels are the step plates: the flat tops on either side of the blade that the user steps on to help drive the blade into the ground.
The total width of a trenching shovel blade is usually less than 6 inches, which is about the maximum width of a standard trench for installing a sprinkler system or other buried lines. This narrow blade width leaves less than 2.5 inches on either side of the collar for stepping. In fact, not all trenching shovels have side-step plates because the blade is so narrow. Some manufacturers remedy the situation by adding a molded ridge to the back of the blade called a kick step that allows the user to push the blade into the soil by stepping on it.
Our Top Picks
To qualify for a spot in this lineup, the following shovels had to conform to standard trenching blade dimensions—less than 6 inches wide with straight sides and pointed tips. These shovels are suitable for cleaning out and digging trenches of various widths; each model is durable, made from quality materials, and designed to withstand repeated use.
Those looking for a solid trenching shovel that will get the job done will want to check out the Razor-Back Trenching Shovel. It features a molded kick-step plate at the back of the tempered steel blade that allows the user to exert additional pushing force by stepping on the plate.
The blade is 6 inches wide, 13.25 inches long, and comes to a sharp tip at its point, making it well suited for digging and cleaning trenches for installing underground lines and piping. The Razor-Back shovel comes with a 43-inch fiberglass handle and a rubberized, nonslip end-grip. The collar and the shovel are a one-piece unit, and the handle is held firmly in place with a removable rivet, making it possible to replace the handle in the future if necessary.
- Blade length: 13.25 inches
- Blade width: 6 inches
- Handle: 43-inches, fiberglass with a rubberized grip
- High-quality tempered steel blade
- Nonslip grip
- Molded kick step
- No nonslip grip on the lower part of the handle
Get the Razor-Back Trenching Shovel at The Home Depot.
Getting the right tool for digging or cleaning out a trench needn’t be expensive. The nicely priced Corona 4-inch Trenching Shovel features a smooth 48-inch polished ash wood handle and coated steel blade that measures 4 inches wide by 11.5 inches long. The blade boasts a molded kick step at the top to allow stepping on the shovel for added digging pressure.
The blade features straight sides and a sharp pointed tip to make ground penetration easier. The collar is molded onto the blade, and the wood handle is held firmly in place with a removable rivet. The Corona trenching shovel does not feature a nonslip grip, so wear leather gloves to protect hands from blistering.
- Blade length: 11.25 inches
- Blade width: 4 inches
- Handle: 48 inches, ash wood with no added grip
- Coated steel blade
- Polished ash wood handle
- Added kick step
Get the Corona Trenching Shovel on Amazon.
Trenching by hand is hard work, but it won’t take a toll on hands when using the Truper Tru Pro California Trenching Shovel. The shovel’s 48-inch handle features two nonslip grips—a padded rubber grip at the top of the handle and a second nonslip grip located along the midsection of the handle so users can get a firm grip with both hands.
The alloy steel blade measures 4 inches wide and 7 inches long, making it well suited for digging shallow trenches, such as is necessary for planting rows of flowering bulbs. Instead of a rivet securing the fiberglass handle in place, the collar features a crimped steel ring that connects the handle with the blade—a connection unsuitable for replacing a handle. Still, the Truper’s handle will withstand up to 400 pounds of pressure, so replacement may never be necessary.
- Blade length: 7 inches
- Blade width: 4 inches
- Handle: 48 inches, fiberglass with 2 rubberized grips
- Strong fiberglass handle
- Molded kick step
- 2 cushioned grips
- The 7-inch blade depth is only suitable for digging shallow trenches
- Not suitable for handle replacement
Get the Truper Pro California Trenching Shovel on Amazon and at Sears.
The narrower the trench, the less turf and lawn repair is necessary afterward to cover the line. That’s where the Razor-Back 48-inch wood trenching shovel can come in. The Razor-Back trenching shovel has a slender 3-inch blade that’s 9.9 inches long and made from tempered steel for strength.
The shovel features a steel kick step at the back, and the collar and the blade have a one-piece construction for stability and durability. A rivet secures the handle, making handle replacement possible. This narrow shovel features a polished wood handle for a smooth feel, but it does not have a nonslip grip, so users may want to wear gloves when digging to prevent blisters.
- Blade length: 9.9 inches
- Blade width: 3 inches
- Handle: Polished wood, no extra grip
- 1-piece blade and collar construction for strength
- Kick-step feature
- Narrow 3-inch blade
A long-handled shovel can be cumbersome when digging in tight spots, such as between a fence and a shed. In such situations, the Kobalt 40-inch Fiberglass Trenching Spade is a smart choice. Its short 40-inch handle is less likely to get in the way when trenching in tight spots.
The blade on this Kobalt shovel is made from tempered steel for strength, and it’s also coated to resist rust. It features a kick step, measures 11 inches in length, and has a one-piece molded blade and collar. A crimped steel ring secures the handle; while this attachment method isn’t suited for handle replacement, the shovel’s ultra-strong fiberglass handle is made to last. In addition, this short-handled shovel comes with two padded nonslip grips—one at the end of the handle and one along the midsection.
- Blade length: 11 inches
- Blade width: 4 inches
- Handle: 40 inches, fiberglass with 2 nonslip grips
- Shorter for tight spots
- Strong fiberglass handle
- 2 nonslip grips
- Handle attachment not suited for handle replacement
Get the Kobalt 40-inch Fiberglass Trenching Spade at Lowe’s.
Tent campers and other outdoorsy types know the importance of digging a trench on the uphill slope of their campsite to divert rain runoff away from their tent. Full-size shovels take up too much space when camping, but the Dartmoor Mini Shovel is foldable for portability, making it suitable for small trenching tasks for those on the go.
The Dartmoor mini shovel’s carbon steel blade measures 4.7 inches wide, and when the handle is extended, the whole shovel is 18.1 inches long. The Dartmoor shovel is hinged at two spots—where the handle meets the blade and where the handle attaches to a sturdy hand-grip. When folded, the shovel is just 11.8 inches by 6.3 inches, and it slips into a handy carry case. A screw-down ring locks the components in place during use.
- Blade length: 6.3 inches
- Blade width: 4.7 inches
- Handle: 11.8 inches (entire shovel is 18.1 inches long)
- Compact and portable
- Comes with carry case
- Suitable for digging off-grid
- Not designed to replace a traditional trenching shovel
Get the Dartmoor Mini Folding Shovel on Amazon.
The sharp point and kick step on the blade of the 4-inch Bully Tool trenching shovel slices smoothly through soil to make digging trenches easier. The blade is an ample 11.75 inches long and made from powder-coated steel for durability and rust resistance.
This Bully Tools shovel comes with a 44-inch fiberglass handle that features a rubber grip at the end. The blade and collar are made with one-piece construction for durability, and the handle is secured with a rivet, making it easy to replace the handle if desired. The fiberglass handle is sealed with a polyester coating to help reduce the risk of splitting or splintering.
- Blade length: 11.75 inches
- Blade width: 4 inches
- Handle: 44 inches, fiberglass with a polyester coating and a rubber tip grip
- 1-piece blade and collar construction
- Coated polyester handle
- Rubber tip grip
Get the Bully Tools 4-Inch Trench Shovel on Amazon and at Lowe’s.
Any of the trenching shovels in our lineup are suitable for a range of digging and trench-cleaning chores. Still, the best overall pick, the Razor-Back 43-inch model comes with a tempered steel 6-inch blade, making it versatile in many trenching situations. If affordability is a priority, consider the Corona SS General Purpose Trench Shovel, which features a 4-inch blade for digging or cleaning out shallow trenches on a budget.
How We Chose the Best Trenching Shovels
We selected our lineup of the best trenching shovels by extensively researching dozens of models from numerous manufacturers. We looked for steel blades and kick steps to make trenching easier. We paid attention to popular brands, such as Razor-Back and Corona, but we didn’t exclude shovels from smaller or niche manufacturers if they featured quality components. We appreciated shovels with nonslip and padded grips for reducing hand fatigue and the risk of blisters, but not having them didn’t automatically disqualify a product, since wearing good leather gloves is a workable solution.
Digging is a physically demanding activity, but having a good shovel makes a difference. The optimal trenching shovel should feature a deep and narrow blade for digging and cleaning out trenches. Those looking to add their first trenching shovel to a tool collection may have some questions about usage, size, and durability. Check out the answers to these and other questions below.
Q. What makes a good, durable trench shovel?
The best trenching shovel will have a tempered steel blade, a sharp tip, a sturdy handle, and a nonslip grip.
Q. What is a trenching shovel used for?
A trenching shovel is used to clean out or dig narrow trenches—just 3 to 6 inches wide—for installing buried lines or sprinkler systems. They’re also among the best shovels for gardening because they create narrow trenches for transplanting rows of seedlings or bulbs. However, they are not the best tool for digging in clay because clay is hard and compact, which increases the risk of breaking a trenching shovel blade.
Q. What is the difference between an all-purpose shovel and a trenching shovel?
A standard shovel features a wider blade for scooping out dirt, and it usually comes with a substantial kick step for pushing the shovel into the ground with a foot.
Q. What is the easiest way to dig a trench?
Renting a trenching machine is the easiest way—and then cleaning out the trench with a trenching shovel.
Q. How deep can you dig with a trenching shovel?
About 2 inches less than the length of the blade. For example, a trenching shovel with an 18-inch-long blade can dig a trench about 16 inches deep.
Q. How wide is a trenching shovel?
Trenching shovels are narrow, with blades typically no wider than 6 inches. Some are as narrow as 3 inches.