While snow blowers are great for dealing with heavier snowfalls, especially for those with larger properties, they remain overkill in many situations. If you live where snows tend to be light and/or infrequent, or if you live on a property with just a short walk or driveway to clear, a snow shovel can be more useful, and certainly more cost efficient. However, walk into any large hardware store during the winter months and you can be overwhelmed by the number of different snow shovel designs you have to choose from.
We found a free article from ConsumerReports.org that is helpful in sorting through the various designs and claims to zero in on the things you should look for in a top snow shovel. The editors there say to consider the handle, the grip and the shovel scoop. Ergonomic handles are best, but beware of those with a pronounced dog-leg as they can make shoveling harder, not easier. Plastic or fiberglass offers the best balance between weight and comfort. The grip should be D-shaped, and be the right size for your hand. Padding is a plus, as is a second handle on the shaft. The scoop needs to be sturdy. Wide scoops are good for light snow, but narrower is better for heavy snow (think lifting weight). High sides keep the snow on the shovel when you lift.
There aren't a lot of testing-based reviews that look at specific snow shovels, but the folks at TheSweetHome.com do a round-up that includes testing by a panel of four who took turns shoveling driveways, walkways, steps, patios and more, along with follow ups that address new products and information on long term durability. The shovels are tested on their own, and with aftermarket accessory grips installed on the shaft for those shovels that lack a built-in one. A clear favorite emerges -- the 18-inch True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover (Est. $30) with the added Stout Backsaver (Est. $9) grip attachment. "On its own (without the added handle), the Mountain Mover was seen as above average, but with the Backsaver attached to it, the shovel testers went bananas," says Doug Mahoney.
The Mountain Mover has a plastic scoop, which makes for lighter lifting than shovels with a metal scoop. Durability is enhanced by a nylon wear strip. "As for long-term durability, I can personally vouch for the True Temper. It's the shovel that I've used for the past six New England winters and it is only now showing some signs of wear (we tested with a new model though)," Mahoney says. A November 2015 update re-affirms his choice, and he adds that the site's editors "still haven't found any that can hold a candle to our current pick."
However, while user reviews at HomeDepot.com are good, we did note a few complaints regarding durability; some say that the handle can come loose, and if that happens there's no practical way to re-attach it. Still, overall satisfaction is high as indicated by its 4.4-star rating following nearly 100 reviews; it is recommended by 90 percent of owners.
In spite of that, the Backsaver handle was the true star of this review. Though it teams up with the Mountain Mover to take first place, Mahoney notes one tester's comments that it can turn even a terrible shovel into a "decent tool." He adds: "After testing was completed, everyone in the focus group asked where they could purchase one." However, long term testing has revealed some durability concerns as well. "After almost two years of snow shoveling, the Backsaver handle that I have on my shovel has developed a crack down the side of it," Mahoney says. Though the vast majority posting at Amazon.com remain pleased, some durability complaints surface there as well.
The Bigfoot Powerlift (Est. $35) also has great ergonomics, including a built-in lower grip, but lousy durability. That keeps it out of first place in TheSweetHome.com's testing, and user reviews are only mediocre. Mahoney noted that the plastic connection between the lower handle and the shaft seemed to be a week spot, though it held up well enough in testing. However, reports at HomeDepot.com, where it earns a 3.6-star rating, indicate that it is, indeed, fragile, and its failure is a chief source of negative reviews there.
For light snowfalls, a pusher snow shovel like the Suncast SC2700 20-Inch Snow Shovel/Pusher Combo (Est. $30) can do the trick. Its graphite blade with steel wear strip is more durable than the plastic blades of the shovels above. The ergonomics are old-school, with a straight handle and no secondary grip (though you can attach an aftermarket second handle like the Backsaver). No professional reviews, but user feedback at Amazon is strong -- 4.6 stars following nearly 180 reviews. Most commend the solid build.
Large snow pushers are a different type of snow shovel, with a much wider scoop and, usually, a wider handle as well, meant to enable a two-handed operation. These are intended to act as people-powered snow plows. You scoop up snow, then push it to somewhere else to offload it -- dumping it out, not lifting, as the weight of the snow makes lifting a very bad idea. Professional reviews of these types of shovels are hard to come by, but in a free article, ConsumerReports.org notes that the Nordic Plow Perfect Shovel (Est. $100) is "surprisingly effective" for snowfalls of up to six inches, as long as it's not overly compressed. User reviews for this snow pusher are very limited, however. The Suncast SF1850 22-Inch Big Scoop Snow Shovel (Est. $50) is another option. We didn't see any expert testing, but it earns a 4.5-star rating at Amazon.com, based on more than 260 reviews. One ergonomic note -- several taller users complain that the handle is too short for them. Most applaud durability and effectiveness.