Mountain Bike Trail Building Tools Guide
Building mountain bike trails is a very labor intensive task. Having the right tools can really help the process go a lot quicker and also be less impactful on the environment. A lot of tools that are used for trail building are also heavily used in wildland fire fighting and land management.
In this article I’ve gathered up a pretty comprehensive listing of all the tools you’d need to do most trail work. I’ve included power and manual tools as well as some software and informational resources that should help you greatly when building your next trail.
These tools may seem old school compared to using a chainsaw but they can be packed out to the trail easier and don’t need gas to work.
Ames True Temper Axe
- Buckets – Suggested Bucket: EcoSmart 5 Gal
Buckets are always handy to move dirt around and carry things like rocks or water.
EcoSmart 5 gallon bucket
- Bow Saw – Suggested Bow Saw: Bahco
Easy to use hand saw for cutting limbs and small pieces of wood.
Bahco Bow Saw
- Brush Cutter / Weed Trimmer – Suggested Brush Cutter: Husqvarna 323 / Suggested Weed Trimmer: Husqvarna 128DJx
Brush cutters are a lot like a weed trimmer except they usually have a large blade attached instead of string to do the cutting. They are very handy when trying to clear out thick brush and small saplings.
Husqvarna 323 brush saw
- Chainsaw – Suggested Chainsaw: Husqvarna 440E 16″
Smaller, lighter chainsaws with shorter bars (14″-16″) are easier to pack into the woods than big ones, however if you need to cut up a big tree you’ll need to pack in one with some power. Check out models from Stihl, Poulan, and Husqvarna.
the Stihl 170 is a popular small chainsaw choice
- Clinometer or Inclinometer – Suggested Clinometer: Suuto Tadem
It is an instrument for measuring angles of slope (or tilt), elevation or depression of an object with respect to gravity. It is also known as a tilt meter, tilt indicator, slope alert, slope gauge, gradient meter, gradiometer, level gauge, level meter, declinometer, and pitch & roll indicator. Clinometers measure both inclines (positive slopes, as seen by an observer looking upwards) and declines (negative slopes, as seen by an observer looking downward) using three different units of measure: degrees, percent, and topo.
Suuto Tandem Clinometer and Compass
- Come-a-long / Straps – Suggested Come-a-long: Maasdam Pow’r Pull – Made in the USA
Useful for more easily moving large and heavy objects like trees and rocks. The mechanism uses pulleys and ratchets to move heavy loads with much less effort.
Maasdam Pow’r Pull
- Compass – Suggested Compass: Silva Lensatic 360
A good compass is an essential piece of gear for navigating in the woods and orienting yourself and the trail you are building.
Silva Lensatic 360 compass
- Flags / Flagging Tape – Suggested Flags: Swanson 21″ Steel Shaft / Suggested Flagging Tape: Presco Stripe
Flags and flagging tape make it easy to mark where the proposed trail should go or special features. You can also mark hazards in the forest or other special areas that need to be marked off.
Swanson Trail Marking Flags
- Fire Rake – Suggested Fire Rake: 60″ 4 tooth
The fire rake is a lot like a McLeod/Lamberton rake but the teeth are shaped differently. Some have a preference for their shape for certain raking and brush removing tasks.
- Folding Saw – Suggest Folding Saw: Bahco Laplander 9″
Folding saws are handy because they’re much smaller than a bow saw and can quickly cut through small limbs and saplings. Check to make sure the blade has a locking mechanism for safety like the suggested Bahco Laplander.
Bahco Laplander 9″ locking folding saw
GPS Devices are a very nice tool to have the woods when setting up a new trail. The more advanced GPS models offer digital 3 axis compass with altimeter and accelerometer readings. Be mindful of cheaper GPS units as they are not as accurate or powerful.
DeLorme PN-60 GPS
- Machete – Suggested Machete: SOG SOGFari MC-02
A machete is a trail blazer’s go to tool for hacking through brush and brambles. By keeping the blade sharp you’ll find making your way through virgin territory is much easier.
- McLeod / Lamberton Rake – Suggested McLeod: Truper Tru Pro 48″
The McLeod and the Lamberton Rake are essentially the same tool (the Lamberton is available in some different varying blade sizes though). It has a hoe like blade on one side and tined rake on the other. There are a variety of uses for this tool during trail building from cutting to grading and even tamping.
Truper Tru Pro McLeod
- Pick Mattock / Cutter Mattock – Suggested Mattock: Ames True Temper Pick Mattock
The Mattock can come in a few different forms. The head is usually two sided with either a pick on one side and a blade on the other or a head with two blades facing opposite directions. I’ve also seen them with a pick or blade with a rake on the other side.
- Pole Saw / Limb Lopper – Suggested Pole Saw: Fiskers 14′ Tree Pruner
A pole saw is very useful in removing limbs above you on the trail. Sometimes low hanging branches come into the trail or they need cleared out to place a jump. A pole saw with a good sharp limb cutter is a good idea so you can remove small branches quickly to get to the main branch.
Fiskers 14′ tree pruner with power lever limb cutter
- Pruning Shears / Loppers – Suggested Pruning Shears: Corona By Pass / Suggested Lopper: Fisker 32″ PowerGear By Pass
For small jobs where bushes and little areas of brush need trimmed back a quick and easy tool to use is a set of pruning shears. For thicker items a set of loppers with more leverage can be used.
Corona By Pass Pruner – I like using a by pass type pruner because they cut through much better than an anvil type cutter where the blade stops on a hard surface
- Pry Bar – Suggested Pry Bar: True Temper 71″ Post Hole Digging Bar
Pry bars are used most often to lift up heavy pieces of wood and rocks. There are several types of pry bars available. Some have pointed ends, curved ends, or flat chisel type ends. I prefer the chisel ended pry bar to get under objects easily and use it as a lever to move them.
True Temper Steel 71″ pry bar
- Pulaski – Suggested Pulaski: Napula 36″ Power Grip
The Pulaski is much like the cutter mattock. It has an axe on one site of the head and an adze on the other. It is great for chopping and excavating.
- Rake – Suggested Rake: Eagle 53″ fiberglass bow rake
Rakes are an essential tool of trail building. They allow you to smooth the trail bed very easily and sweep debris away as you’re building the trail. I like using a metal bow rake for trail building because the tines are stiff and it can easily be flipped over to smooth out dirt.
Eagle 53″ fiberglass handled bow rake
- Rogue Hoe / Grub Hoe – multiple shapes and sizes – Suggested Hoe: Rogue Hoe 70H
When you ask about trail building tools this is almost always the first tool you hear people mention. The Rogue Hoe is a grubbing type hoe made in Missouri from agriculture disc blades. The steel used in these blades is extremely tough and durable. Rogue hoes are nice because they come sharpened on 3 sides of the head for excellent bite. Rogue makes a variety of head shapes and sizes and even offers heads with a blade and a rake.
Check out my contest to win a Rogue Tool F70HR hoe rake of your own by sharing your latest trail building story.
Rogue Hoe 70H
- Safety gear
This kind of goes without saying but you need to make sure you’re wearing some protective safety gear when building a trail. At a minimum you should be wearing gloves, protective eyewear, and have a first aid kit near by. Make sure you pack along water and sunscreen too.
Medique first aid kit has a lot of great items in it for most small on the trail injuries
Suggested Safety gear:
- Cutting pants (for when using a chainsaw)
- First Aid Kit
- Shield / Safety glasses
- Steel toe boots
- Shovel – Suggested Shovels: Bully Tools Fiberglass Round Point Made In The USA / Bully Tools Fiberglass Square Point Made In The USA
A good shovel is an essential piece of equipment for trail building. The uses are innumerable. It’s usually a good idea to have both a round point and a square point shovel on site. Both have their specialty uses.
Bully Tools round point shovel
- Tape Measure – Suggested Tape Measure: Komelon 100ft
When trail building there are lots of measurements to be made. Some measurements are small and some are much larger. A nice 100ft measuring tape is good to have on hand.
I like larger open reel 100ft measuring tapes because they have a large crank and are much harder to lose because of their size.
- Topographic Map
Having a good topographic map on hand really allows you to see the lay of the land and the grades within the trail building area. You can go with a traditional paper map that can be printed from online sources or found locally or go with a digital version that can be very detailed but usually costs more money for the software. I’ve included some open source solutions that don’t cost anything to use.
- USGS Topographic Maps
- MyTopo Printable Maps
- GIS Software
- Garmin BaseCamp
- Google Earth
- Trails.com Topographic Maps
- Wheelbarrow – Suggested Wheelbarrow: Ames True Temper 4 cu ft
Wheelbarrows make transporting dirt and rocks very easy. Wheelbarrows usually come in a few sizes. Smaller 4 cu ft wheelbarrows are easy to maneuver and don’t weigh as much to get out to the trail.
The MAX Multi-Purpose Tool – The MAX is really a system that incorporates seven hand tools into one unit. It is based on a three and a half pound Hudson Bay style ax/sledge mounted on a 34″ fiberglass handle. The complete tool menu includes an Ax/Sledge, a Mattock, a Pick, a Shovel, a Broad Pick, and a heavy-duty reversible Rake and Hoe. Made in the USA.
The MAX multi-purpose tool
The McLaski – Combines the best features of two traditional tools; the McLeod and the Pulaski.
Trail Boss – The Trail Boss is a easily packable tool with a segmented handle. The tool has multiple head attachments so you can work with one head and then switch to another for a different task. The system is nice because it is easily packable and can be made easily into short or long handled tools. Made in the USA.
Where to Buy The Tools Online:
- A.M. Leonard
- Ben Meadows
- Corona Tool
- Forestry Suppliers
- JR Fire Tools
- Tools For Trails
- Zac Tool
Where to Learn About Building Trails:
- Trail Solutions: IMBA’s Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack
- Managing Mountain Biking
- Complete Guide to Trail Building and Maintenance
- Lightly on the Land: The Sca Trail Building And Maintenance Manual
- American Trails: Library and Resources
Training / Seminars:
- National Trails Training Partnership Training And Education
- American Trails Resources and Library
- American Trails Resources by State
- IMBA – International Mountain Bike Association
- Subaru/IMBA Trail Building Schools Calendar
- Trail Building Seminar and Training Calendar
- Professional Trail Builders Association
- Singletrack Trails
- Kay-Linn Enterprises
I hope you have found this article useful. If you have any trail tools you like to use let me know in the comments. If you have any other resources for trail building knowledge I’d also love to share those with everyone.