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Selecting snow shovelling equipment

Welcome to Southern Maine Physical Therapy's guide for selecting snow shovelling equipment.  

We recommend a few general considerations for selecting your snow shovelling equipment in order to best protect yourself and minimize the potential for injury while tackling the snow.  


Buying the right shovel is the most important decision you can make when it comes to snow removal equipment. It is imperative that you buy a shovel specifically designed for snow removal rather than just using any shovel you have available. Different snow shovels will be better designed for people of varying heights, as well as for varying physical strengths.  Thus, when buying your shovel, it is necessary to consider who will be using the shovel most often and buy one best suited for that specific individual.  

Be sure that the shovel is the right length for you; with the blade on the ground, the snow shovel should come up to approximately your chest height. A longer shovel decreases the strain on the back because you aren’t required to bend as far, but a shorter shovel makes the efficiency of lifting the snow easier. For this reason, chest height is a guide; try the shovel out and pick one that feels right for you.  During the lifting portion of the trial, move one hand down closer to the blade while keeping the other hand on the handle in order to decrease the lever arm. Some snow shovels are designed with a bend in the shaft to decrease the strain on the back when lifting.  These shovels are an option but may not feel right for everyone, so be sure to try the shovel out and consider what is most important in your individual situation.

The blade of the snow shovel is generally made of either steel, aluminum, or plastic and each material has its own benefits. Steel is very durable and good for cutting through ice, but it is heavy. Aluminum is lighter and also strong and durable but can bend more easily. Plastic is lightweight but can shatter more easily if used under harsher conditions such as when breaking up ice.  Many snow shovels are made from plastic but have a steel reinforced edge which improves their durability and allows you to also use it to break up light ice. Heavier ice should be broken up with an ice chipper instead.  Blades with a slight curve in them allow you to lift more snow as well as push the snow into one place before having to lift it.  Special snow scoop shovels are designed specifically to only push light snow, so if your climate deals mainly with this type of snowfall, you may want to consider a snow scoop rather than a snow shovel.  Choosing a wide versus a narrow blade will depend on your physical capabilities to lift the blade when it is full of snow.  Ensure the blade you choose has been treated with an enamel type spray which will stop the snow from sticking to it. If you do notice that the snow is starting to stick to the blade you can use a non-stick cooking spray on the blade.

Again, in order to find a shovel that is the right weight for your physique and physical fitness, it is best to trial the shovel in the shop.  Ensure you can easily lift the shovel with proper body mechanics and remember that the weight of the shovel is only a portion of what you will be lifting once it is packed with snow.

Snow shovel handles are made from either wood, fiberglass or metal and are a triangular or D shape with a slight upwards curve.  The shape of the handle allows for easier gripping and the curve allows you to bend your back less as you shovel.  Find a handle that is comfortable for the shape and fit of your hand. Trying out the handle with your shovelling gloves on can give you an even better idea of comfort.

Boots and Socks

A good pair of winter boots is a necessity when snow shovelling for a number of reasons.  There are a number of essential qualities that the boot should possess and the
assistance of a knowledgeable store attendant can be very valuable when comparing different styles of boots.

Firstly, a good pair of boots must keep your feet warm and dry in both snow and wetter snow conditions such as slush. This is the most important characteristic of the boot; if your feet get wet, there is little chance that they will stay warm, and a wet inner boot means you aren’t able to wear them again until they are all dried out!  Choose a boot with a waterproof outer layer as well as a warm insulating layer that feels comfortable when worn with a thick pair of synthetic moisture wicking socks.  Cotton socks are not appropriate to wear as rather than wicking moisture from your skin, they trap the moisture and keep it close to your skin, which allows your feet to chill easily.  If you are prone to blisters, you may choose to wear two pairs of socks so the rubbing occurs between the two layers of socks rather than between your skin and the sock.  The first sock layer should be a thin synthetic wicking material and the second layer should be a thicker non-cotton layer aimed at providing warmth. With your socks on your foot should not slide in the boot nor should your toes feel cramped.

Secondly, a good tread on the boot is essential in order to avoid slipping in icy conditions. A sole made of rubber has better grip in the extreme cold than those made of plastic. In order to assist the ability of the treads, it is wise to throw salt or kitty litter onto the cleared path or driveway which helps to provide further grip on the slippery ground.

Lastly, be sure the boot is not too heavy.  Bigger boots are often bigger because they provide more warmth or higher waterproof protection, but they are no good if they are too heavy for for you to use for any length of time. Try the boot on with the socks you plan to wear when shovelling and walk around the store to ensure that the weight feels manageable for your physique.  


Gloves are essential when snow shovelling, despite the temperature. Even in warmer weather it is advised to don gloves in order to protect your hands from both the elements as well as to protect them from blistering.

A good pair of gloves should be warm and well-fitted. Choosing gloves with a warm insulating layer is important for obvious reasons, but just as important is choosing gloves that are well-fitted. Gloves that are too small will not provide adequate protection to your wrist and fingers from the cold, and gloves that are too big will cause you to grip the shovel more forcefully, which leads to stress in the muscles of the hand, elbow and forearm, and can easily lead to an injury of these areas.  Be sure the glove is flexible enough so you can maintain a grip on the shovel.  If possible, choose a glove that has grip treads built into the palm of the glove itself in order to assist traction and prevent rubbing of the skin or the shovel slipping out of your hand.

The warm insulating layer should extend right to the fingertips of the glove, and it should be sandwiched between an outer waterproof layer and an inner synthetic layer (rather than cotton) that wicks moisture away. An even better option is a removable inner layer which can be easily dried once they are wet. Wet skin is tough to keep warm in the cold, so once sweat builds up, it is wise to stop and take a break, dry your gloves, and then begin again. Remember that the fingers are one of the most common areas to get frostbitten, so heed warnings of pain, tingling, or numbness in the fingers and stop immediately in order to warm up.

Snow mittens are also a recommended option so long as you can maintain a good grip on the shovel.  The added benefit of mittens is that your fingers stay warmer from their own body heat as they lie next to each other.  The mittens should possess the same material qualities as discussed above, and fit well enough to allow proper gripping of the snow shovel.


It is imperative to keep warmly dressed in order to help the heart and skeletal muscles work and to avoid frostbite.  Dress in layers with a synthetic layer (rather than cotton) as the material closest to your body.  As mentioned above, synthetic material designed for moisture wicking (versus cotton) allows sweat to be wicked away from your skin into the next layer of material that you are wearing.  Cotton absorbs the moisture of sweat, which then stays close to your skin, and will quickly cause you to become cold as you begin to sweat.  The next layer after the wicking layer should be the insulating layer, usually made of wool, down, or fleece. Again, cotton is not recommended for this layer.  The outer layer will be your waterproof layer. Most winter jackets are designed with both the insulating and waterproof layers built into the jacket or with the insulating layer being removable.  Dressing in layers also allow you to remove a layer if you need to in warmer shovelling weather.  

When it is particularly cold, remember to cover well all body parts at high-risk of frostbite including your nose, ears, neck, face and forehead.  Breathing through a scarf around your mouth can help to warm the cold air before it enters your lungs, which will make it easier to breath.  When you stop for a break, remember that you will chill quickly due to the sweat you have worked up. If at any time you start to feel chilled, stop immediately and warm up indoors. When you return to shovel again, change the sweaty layer of clothes that were next to your skin in order to avoid getting chilled again as you return to the outdoors.

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