Thanks to our above average snowfall so far this winter, you've probably had to take this snow and shovel it. Over and over again.
After shoveling hundreds of pounds of snow, you might be wondering if you have the best tool for the job. That's why we're offering our handy field guide, in which we review a range of shovels, from the old reliables to the new designs that claim to make this onerous job easier.
We've also enlisted the help of shovel tester Dave Peters, a 70-year-old retired Twin Cities journalist, author and longtime homeowner. He not only likes to shovel (he recently moved from a Minneapolis condo to a single-family home in St. Paul. "I just wanted to shovel sidewalks again," he said), he doesn't own a snowblower and has had some back issues. So he's a lift-with-the-knees guy who has to have a good shovel. Here's his take on a selection of shovels:
Cost: $12.98, Suncast, available at Menards.
Details: 18 inches wide, 2.3 pounds.
Pros: With a plastic blade, it's light and cheap. This rectangular, nearly flat design is so classic that conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp once turned it into a piece of sculpture. It's pretty much designed to do one thing: scoop up a load of snow so it can be tossed.
Cons: Its modest size and weight limits how much you can pick up with each load. While that may be better for people with back issues, those with shoulder issues, take note: It may multiply the number of throws you need to make. Also, it's not great for chopping or digging icy snow.
Dave's take: It's a good tool for light snow and steps, where it's easy to maneuver the small blade around tight spaces.
Cost: $34.99, Bigfoot Steel Snow Pusher by Emsco Group, Menards.
Details: 25 inches wide, 5.3 pounds.
Pros: With a wide, curved steel blade, these pusher-style shovels are designed to emulate the snow-removal mechanics of a snowplow, but they aren't so good at lifting snow.
Cons: Its weight makes it harder to lift. The steel edge gives a good scrape, but also creates friction, making it harder to push, especially on rough pavement. Also, the blade can be hard on wooden steps or decks.
Dave's take: "They're heavy and I never know whether I can lift with it or if I'm just supposed to push it off to the side."
Cost: $27.99, Rugg Pathmaster Ultra, Menards.
Details: 19.5 inches, 3.36 pounds.
Pros and cons: This compromise design is supposed to combine the features of a flat throwing shovel with a curved-blade pushing shovel. A plastic blade makes it lighter than a steel shovel, but a metal strip on the leading edge gives it scraping power. It's heavier but wider than a classic design.
Dave's take: "It looks a little flimsy. It's lightweight."
The back saver
Cost: $20.99, Rugg Pathmaster Ultra Back-Saver, Menards.
Details: 17.5 inches, 3.2 pounds.
Pros and cons: The bent handle is supposed to reduce the amount of bending you have to do when picking up a scoop of snow. But you may have to lift your hands higher to throw the snow when the piles of snow build. It's somewhat awkward to use. Also, it's a fairly heavy shovel, despite having a narrow blade.
Dave's take: "It saves my back." In fact, he opts for shovels with bent handles. His favorite is an after-market BackEZ handle attachment that he says offers better ergonomics.
The crack jumper
Cost: $27.99, U.S. Shovel Crack Jumper, Menards.
Details: 24 inches, 4.2 pounds.
Pros: A set of teeth on the leading edge of the blade is designed to help the shovel glide over cracks in the pavement. "That is one of the biggest frustrations of shoveling snow," said Dave, "hitting the damn crack."
Cons: It's a little expensive, on the heavy side and in our tests it was still catching on bigger gaps in the sidewalk.
Dave's take: "I'm genuinely enthusiastic about this." However, he noticed the protruding teeth prevent clearing right up to the edge of a step.
Cost: $39.99, Snow Joe Shovelution, Amazon.
Details: 20 inches, 3.13 pounds.
Pros: Shovelution by Snow Joe is advertised as a "strain-reducing" tool thanks to a "spring-loaded assist handle" attached near the back of the blade. The springy handle does seem to make lifting and throwing the snow easier.
Cons: We had a hard time finding one at a local store and the one we got delivered from Amazon required assembly. The divided grip makes it seem harder to push the shovel across the pavement.
Probably, there's no one perfect shovel.
No single design can scrape, chop, push and throw, said Barry Kudrowitz, a product design professor and department head at the University of Minnesota. That's why Kudrowitz has about nine varied snow removal tools at his Minneapolis home.
Dave, however, begs to differ.
"The best shoveling aid is the 13-year-old around the corner," he said.