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.
Lithium Battery Powered
Whenever possible, we now highly recommend lithium battery powered tools. With many of our forests on the brink of fire, we recommend limiting the use of gas powered tools.
While there are great brands out there and some super economical ones on Amazon, we like the idea of picking one brand that has a bunch of different tools that use the same battery type. There’s nothing worse than having to pack 2 or 3 different types of batteries out to the woods.
The brands that come to mind are Dewalt and Makita. For the money and being an American brand, we really like Dewalt power tools.
Any links to retailers from this article provide a compensation commission back to OldGloryMTB.com for referring customers to their site that buy products. This helps keep us out on the trails checking out new gear to write about here on the site.
Recommended Trail Building Tools
Axe / Hatchet
Suggested Axe: Cold Steel Trailboss Axe
Ideal for chopping kindling and small- to medium-sized logs. Chops deeper with each swing to get more done faster. Perfected balance and power-to-weight ratio increases swing speed to multiply power, much like an aluminum baseball bat. Proprietary blade-grinding technique provides a sharper edge for better contact and cleaner cuts. Lifetime warranty. Low-friction blade coating powers through wood and prevents head from getting stuck
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.
Suggested Hatchet: Fiskars X7 Hatchet (14″), 14 Inch, Black/Orange
- Hawk Length: 6 1/2 – Inch
- Handle: American Hickory
- Overall Length: 26 – Inch
- Steel: Drop Forged 1055 Carbon
- Primary Edge: 4 1/2 – Inch
- Weight: 2.70 lbs.
Suggested Bucket: UST Flexware Collapsible Bucket
Buckets are always handy to move dirt around and carry things like rocks or water. This collapsible bucket is super handy to pack and get to your destination. At this size, get two!
- DIMENSIONS: 9” H x 12” W (expanded), 2 H x 12 W (collapsed), 2.64 gallon capacity (10 liter) and weighs 22.29 oz
- VERSATILITY: Can be used as a cooler, for watering bowls for pets, as the perfect food bowl or as a hauler tub for firewood, sticks, water, supplies and more
- DURABLE: Sturdy, plastic rim and base for added stability
- CONVENIENT: Fold-down carrying handle makes it easy to move when filled, it features a groove for smooth pouring and is collapsible for easy storage and transport
- MATERIALS: Thermoplastic (TPR) construction and is dishwasher safe
Suggested Bow Saw: Bahco
Easy to use hand saw for cutting limbs and small pieces of wood.
Brush Cutter / Weed Trimmer
Suggested Brush Cutter: Makita Brush Cutter
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. They are expensive for ones that actually work well, but they can quickly clear out dense or thick brush that a weed cutter won’t be able to do. Unfortunately, we don’t know of any good ones that are battery electric powered.
- Multi-position lubrication system enables engine to be inclined to any angle for continuous operation.
- Mechanical Automatic Engine Decompression for quicker, easier starts.
- Includes brush cutter blade for cutting small trees and heavy brush
- Compact design with less weight (only 12.1 lbs.).
- Commercial duty dual stage air filter with large sealing areas is replaceable and easily accessible
- Oil filling port and drain plug are easily accessible with oil level view window for easy checking and replacing of oil.
- Steel drive shaft for less vibration and longer equipment life.
- Captured control wires engineered to prevent snagging for improved durability.
- Tool-less filter access for faster maintenance.
- Translucent fuel tank with large opening for easier refueling. Primer engineered for efficient cold starting.
- Spark plug is easily accessible for faster maintenance.
- Easily adjustable handle configuration for improved balance.
- Less vibration, and molded throttle assembly with wide-grip throttle trigger for reduced fatigue.
- Meets or exceeds EPA and CARB exhaust and evaporative emissions regulations
- 9 Star blade (B-14118)
- Harness (123143-2)
- 4st. Engine Oil 10W-30 80cc. (195826-4)
Suggested Weed Trimmer: Dewalt 20v Weed Trimmer
Whenever possible, we recommend lithium battery powered tools to take out to the trails. They’re smaller, lighter, pack a punch, and much safer than gas. Gas in the woods could be a fire hazard, so if we can avoid packing it, we do just that.
- Brushless Motor maximizing motor efficiency and durability
- Dual 0.080 line with bump feed, with 13-inch cutting swath
- Variable trigger with speed control
- Patented gear drive design. With a 20V MAX 5.0Ah battery-DCB205,the string trimmer is easy to maneuver and puts less stress on the user
- Battery sold separately. Product arrives in two pieces and need to be assembled.RPM 0-4,600 / 0-6,000 rpm
- Battery & Charger Sold Separately
Suggested Chainsaw: Dewalt 20v Chainsaw
Smaller, lighter chainsaws with shorter bars (12″-16″) are easier to pack into the woods than big ones. They may take a little longer to get the job done, but packing them in and out of the woods are super convenient.
We also like going with lithium-battery packed accessories. No dangerous gas to haul or worry about running out. Bringing a huge lithium battery pack for recharges make for super safe work in the woods.
- Low kick back 12 Oregon Bar and chain: for construction and outdoor cutting applications
- HIGH EFFICIENCY BRUSHLESS MOTOR: maximizes run time and motor life
- Tool free chain tensioning and Bar tightening knob: for proper Bar clamping force
- Compact and lightweight design: Only 8.8 lbs. for maximum user control and comfort
- Part of the 20V max system of tools
- Chain Speed : 25.2 feet/second
Clinometer or Inclinometer
Suggested Clinometer: SUUNTO Tandem Compass and Clinometer
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.
- Liquid-filled precision compass and clinometer for surveyors, cartographers, and others
- Ideal for accurately measuring directional indications, heights, vertical angles, and slopes
- Offers scales in both degrees (0 +/- 90 degrees) and percent (0 +/- 150 percent)
- 90-degree edges for contact measuring; water- and impact-resistant aluminum housing
Come-a-long / Straps
Suggested Come-a-long: Maasdam Pow’r Pull
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.
- 2 Ton Capacity USA Made PowR Pull with 3/16 diameter cable. 6 Maximum Lift.
- Precision Fit, Steel Alloy Pawls & 1 Piece, Aluminum Alloy Ratchet Wheel provides safety & dependability.
- Notch-At-A Time Let for Positive control, trouble free let down
- OSHA Recommended Safety Latches – Hooks stay connected.
- Non-Slip Plastic Grip provides permanent, comfortable use and reduces hand fatigue
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.
- Classic military style compass with black powder-coated aluminum case
- Sighting-slit unit/top cover; sighting arm to magnify dial reading
- Liquid-filled compass with 2-degree increments
- Luminous points on rotating bezel
Flags / Flagging Tape
Suggested Flags: Swanson 21″ Steel Shaft
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.
- Industry standard safety and marking solution
- 2 in x 3 in flag, 21 in staff
- 3 mil PVC provides strength and weather resistance
- Flag glued to staff—not wrapped
- Ideal for construction field layouts, line location, landscaping, pet containment, & more
- High-carbon alloy steel staffs resist twisting and bending
- Available in AWPA-compliant colors
- Made in the USA
Suggested Flagging Tape: Presco Stripe
- 1-3/16 Wide x 150 Long
- Resists Cold-Cracking to -20°F.
Suggested Fire Rake: Council Tool 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.
Suggest Folding Saw: Bahco 396-LAP Laplander Folding Saw
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.
- General purpose folding saw with an 7-1/2 -inch blade, 7 teeth per inch, for cutting both green and dry wood, plastic, or bone.
- XT Toothing, 7 TPI. Blade is specially coated for rust protection and low friction.
- Two-component plastic handle for perfect grip, with leather strap.
- Specially designed for wildlife enthusiasts, hunters, and campers
- Equipped with safety lock for both lock-in and lock-out
Suggested GPS Device: Garmin GPSMAP 64csx
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.
- Rugged and water-resistant design with button operation and a 2. 6” sunlight-readable color display
- Preloaded with Topo Active maps (U. S. and Australia only) featuring routable roads and trails for cycling and hiking
- Know where you’re at with a high-sensitivity receiver with quad helix antenna and multi-GNSS support (GPS, GLONASS and Galileo) and 3-axis compass with barometric altimeter
- Wireless connectivity via BLUETOOTH technology and ANT+ technology available on GPSMAP 64sx and GPSMAP 64csx models
- GPSMAP 64csx adds 8-megapixel autofocus camera that lets you geotag photos
- Battery life: up to 16 hours in GPS mode
Alternative GPS Device: Garmin GPSMAP 64s
- Sunlight Readable 2.6 inch color display; Expanded Internal Memory 4GB
- Display type is transflective, 65k color tft; Display resolution is 160 x 240 pixels
- DUAL BATTERY SYSTEM Use with 2 traditional AA batteries, or the optional rechargeable NiMH battery pack that can be charged while inside the device.Weight 8.1 ounce (230 gram) with batteries: AA batteries required (best with Polaroid AA batteries)
- Receive Smart Notifications* and pair with optional ANT+ sensors, such as heart rate monitor, Tempe temperature sensor, speed/cadence, or use to control your VIRB action camera (64s/64st only)
- Wireless upload data to Garmin Connect and view on smartphone, plus share activities as they happen with Live Track (64s/64st only).Display size(inches):1.43 x 2.15
Suggested Machete: SOG SOGfari 18″ Machete MC02-N
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.
SOG SOGFari MC-02 – I especially like this machete because it has serrated saw teeth on the back for cutting thicker items
- Crafted from the highest quality materials
- Built for performance and durability
McLeod / Lamberton Rake
Suggested McLeod: Truper 33033 Tru Pro Forest Service McLeod Fire Tool
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.
- MAC, 48-inch professional grade premium North American white ash handle
- White ash handles give optimum ratio of resistance and flexibility
- Forest Service approved, fire tool for residential or commercial use
- Use on farm or ranch for a lifetime of use
- Truper 33033, Tru Pro the contractors choice for professional use
Pick Mattock / Cutter Mattock
Suggested Mattock: TABOR TOOLS 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.
Tabor Pick Mattock – I like the pick mattock more because I don’t need two blades or a rake
- MULTI-PURPOSE APPLICATION. This tool enables users to tackle medium to heavy-duty cultivating jobs well without straining or expending a lot of energy. It is a great design thats easy-to-use for home owners, gardeners and DIY enthusiasts. Great for archaeological projects, onion/carrot harvesting, and preparing flower beds.
- DUAL-PURPOSE HEAD. Pick/mattock head combo: use the pick’s action to break up, loosen and soil, or cultivate vegetable gardens. This tool will pick through hard pan soil and cuts through small shrub roots. PLEASE NOTE: Item needs to be assembled before first use. It takes approx. 1 minute to attach the head to the handle (easy); an instruction email for quick assembly will be send upon purchase of the mattock.
- LIGHTWEIGHT 35 FIBERGLASS HANDLE. The fiberglass handle absorbs strike shock and vibration to reduce body fatigue, transferring less shock and vibration than wood handles. The fiberglass handles are lighter and stronger than wood and virtually unbreakable! The handles offer high visibility: you will easily locate the bright orange tool in the grass. Handle and head can be easily assembled before use.
- COMFORTABLE RUBBER NON-SLIP GRIP. The rubber grip allows for improved handling and control, offering maximum comfort, while at the same time reducing hand and arm fatigue. The insulating grip captures initial strike shock before it can reach your hand
Pole Saw / Limb Lopper
Suggested Pole Saw: Fiskars 14 Foot Power-Lever Extendable 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.
- Ideal for cutting high branches without climbing a ladder
- Power-Lever technology maximizes leverage to give you up to two times more cutting power than traditional tree pruners
- Included 15 inch WoodZig saw blade powers through thicker branches
- Maximum cutting capacity: 1-1/2 inch diamater (pruner blade)
- Lifetime warranty
Pruning Shears / Loppers
Suggested Pruning Shears: Corona BP 3180D Forged Classic Bypass Pruner
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
- Easy cutting up to 1 inch diameter: fully heat-treated, forged steel alloy construction bladed designed for the professional gardener
- Sap groove keeps blade from sticking: cut efficiently without having to stop often to clean sap from the blade
- Re-sharpen while retaining hardness and strength: heat treated tool and cutting blade maintain durability season after season
- Close and clean cuts: the blade and hook of this tool are hand matched for precision, hook is slant-ground with a narrow profile
- Wire cutting notch for safety: Notch tool closed when not in use to prevent accidents
Suggested Lopper: Fiskars 32-Inch PowerGear Bypass Lopper
- PowerGear patented gear technology multiplies leverage to give you up to three times more cutting power on every cut
- Powers through thick branches that traditional loppers and pruners can’t
- Makes cutting dramatically easier than it is with other tools
- Maximum cutting capacity: 2 inch diamater
- Lifetime warranty
Suggested Pry Bar: Mayhew 40162 58-C Dominator Pry 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.
- Large Dominator pry bar yet, with a curved blade and a 58-inch OAL, will handle the toughest jobs you can throw at it
- Patented, two-composite, ergonomically designed handle provides a comfortable and secure grip and is oil, solvent, and temperature resistant
- Metal striking cap at the end of the handle is in direct contact with the shaft allowing the user to strike the tool without damaging the handle
- Black oxide finish for additional rust protection
- Made in the USA with a Lifetime Warranty
Suggested Pulaski: Nupla – 31676 PA375-LESG Pulaski Axe
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.
- Non slip grip assures usein slippery conditions
- Handle has a molded slug of tough engineering material allowing quick assembly
- Super strong and highly resistant handle to weather and insects
Suggested Rake: Bully Tools 92309 12-Gauge 16-Inch 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.
- 100% Made in the USA
- Commercial grade
- Limited lifetime warranty
- Extra thick 10 gauge steel
- 16 tine steel head
Rogue Hoe / Grub Hoe
Suggested Hoe: Rogue Hoe/Rake 7 Inch Blade
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.
- HANDMADE – Rogue Tool Line – quality tools built from recycled agricultural disc blades.
- DURABILITY – Holds up to heavy use.
- RELIABLE TOOLS – Designed with durable with long lasting sharp edges.
- GUARANTEE – Replacement head, if your tool head breaks within the first five years.
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.
- Manufactured by the #1 leading manufacturer of First Aid Kits in the USA. 100 pieces of comprehensive first aid treatment products.
- This Kit meets United States FDA Regulatory Standards as a Medical Device. Ideal for most businesses and perfect for family use at home or travel.
- Fully organized interior compartments provides quick access. The rugged, sturdy, high density plastic case is impact resistant
- Compact size case measures 7.5in x 2.5in x 6.8in, is portable and can easily fit anywhere.
- Features Easy Slide Latches that securely locks into place.
Suggested Safety Gear
- Cutting pants (for when using a chainsaw)
- First Aid Kit
- Shield / Safety glasses
- Steel toe boots
Suggested Shovels: Bully Tools 82515 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel
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.
- 100% Made in the USA
- Commercial grade
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True 14 gauge steel blade
- Welded I-Beam Construction prevents bending along ferrule
Suggested Tape Measure: Komelon Open Reel Fiberglass Tape Measure
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.
- 100-Feet by 1/2-Inch open reel fiberglass tape
- Double coated blade
- Shock absorbing rubber bumpers
- Versatile end hook
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
Suggested Wheelbarrow: 8-in-1 Wheelbarrow AeroCart & Wagon Kit Combo
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 Worx is a new type of wheelbarrow that is multi-purpose. Super handy when you’re in the middle of nowhere working on a trail.
- Highly versatile lifting and moving cart that instantly converts from wheelbarrow to dolly and more
- Highly versatile lifting and moving cart that instantly converts from wheelbarrow to dolly and more
- Flat-free tires mean zero maintenance…Heavy-duty steel construction can carry up to 300 lbs.
- Wagon kit included! – Kit converts your Aerocart into a hay wagon or garden cart in just seconds.
- Included seat increases comfort by offering a seated work position, while doubling as a convenient resting spot
Recommended: IUNIO Survival Off-Roading Tool Kit
The iunio is really a system that incorporates several hand tools into one unit. It is basically a survival tool but lots of bikepackers and campers find it indispensable.
- Multi-tool kit combo gets the job done! iunio tool heads with iunio extension tubes match the needs of a variety of outdoor jobs including firefighting, gardening, hunting, camping, hiking, off-road, disaster clean up, maintenance, camping, backpacking and more. Great outdoor gear with so many uses and every component serves as high quality equipment. No matter the outside conditions or task, get out there and conquer the mission with these tools and extensions!
- Survival tools that are simply built! Choose the tool head: shovel, axe, pickaxe, ice pick or trekking pole, to dominate whatever situation you encounter. Match the adjustable handle to the job and youre all set. There are no limits for length so you can adjust your custom tool to any desired length for different uses. The tube sections each have available space for small first aid kit components, fishing gear and tackle, survival gear or anything else you can imagine that will fit!
- The molle bag that these tools come with is high quality and well worth the investment! Every component of this set is machined with high quality standards, from the tools themselves down to the sheaths and the molle bag. Each head comes with its own sheath and all of the tools are secured very well in a convenient carrying case for easy handling. Super space saver! Great for the trunk, shelf or storage compartment in your home, vehicle (RV, 4×4, ATV/UTV).
- A perfect gift for outdoor enthusiasts like campers, hikers, hunters, firefighters, rescuers, off-roaders, motorcyclist, fishermen, survivalists, preppers, backpackers, archaeologist, or anyone needing tactical gear and practical tools for your car, SUV, truck, van, travel trailer or RV. This set not only looks cool but the tools actually work well too!
- Iunio survival off-roading tool kit lasts for life: Our tool kits are built to last! You take care of our tool kit and well take care of you! All replacement requests are supported by our awesome customer service team anytime!!!
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 Building Recommended Reading:
- 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.