Don't let a snow-covered walk turn into a slick mess. Here are some tips on finding the right shovel to help clear a safe path. Need to know: What's...

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Don’t let a snow-covered walk turn into a slick mess. Here are some tips on finding the right shovel to help clear a safe path.

Need to know: What’s comfortable for you. If the shovel you now own seemed heavy the last time you cleared snow from the sidewalk, head to the store for a new one. At the store, check whether the shaft is long enough for you to shovel while standing straight. The shaft can be made of metal or wood, but be sure the handle is D-shaped, so it can be held easily for longer periods, and can help leverage the load and be used to apply force for scraping ice.

Material world: You want even wet snow to slide off the shovel, so consider buying a metal one with a Teflon or enamel coating. Experts recommend metal (aluminum, usually) over plastic because metal tends to last longer and can support heavier loads of snow. Metal edges can dig down to the pavement and be used to scrape frozen meltwater from a sidewalk or driveway.

Operating manual: Most shovel blades range between 14 inches and 18 inches wide; blade width determines how many passes you’ll have to make to clean off the walk. Since most shovelers remove snow along the width of a sidewalk rather than the length, an 18-inch-wide blade will make shorter work of the job. Then again, it’s easier to lift with a 14-inch blade.

Some shovels are actually pushers, which require little or no lifting. One end of the blade is curved in the same manner as a snowplow, so that snow is pushed to the side.

What will it cost? Shovels run from $10 to $60, with plastic blades the least expensive and least durable. You might want to throw in a pair of work gloves, too, to reduce wear and tear on your hands and keep them warm.

Quality control: Shovels require a small amount of maintenance, especially after they’ve been used frequently. The bolts that attach the blade to the shaft often work themselves loose, but constant retightening can strip them. Eventually, they’ll need to be replaced. And the blade edge can get banged up and bent, especially if it is used as a chopper.

You can hammer the blade back into usefulness, and then sand the edge sharp for ice scraping.

An ounce of prevention: Shoveling snow is pretty strenuous exercise, not unlike running. Be sure you’re dressed properly, in layers, so you can remove one to prevent overheating. Wear boots or shoes with rubber soles, so you’re less likely to slip.

Both the cold and the actual work involved in shoveling put undue stress on the heart. So it’s a good idea to warm up first, by walking and stretching arm and leg muscles. And don’t rush to get the job done. Lift small loads of snow and take frequent breaks while you work, even going inside to get warm. If you feel pain, stop.

To avoid back injuries, the trick is to lift as much with your legs as with your lower back. When you throw the snow away from the walk, move your feet instead of rotating your whole torso.

Back troubles (disc injuries or inflamed ligaments) result because the spine is not meant to have weight put on it, then rotated.