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Trail Work Tools

Find out what kinds of tools you'll be using on trail with WTA.

An array of trial tools

Grubbing Tools

ShovelRainy shovels. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

The shovel we use for trail work is a fire shovel. It differs from the garden variety in that the blade is sharpened and connects to the handle at an angle, requiring less bending from the user. This design makes it easier to chop through small roots and scoop and throw dirt efficiently.  If this tool is used to pry, the handle can break. 

Grub HoeGrub Hoe. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

This is a common tool for working on the tread of the trail. It works great to loosen soil and scrape away organic material. The blade is blunt, so it’s not great for chopping through thick roots, but can handle some small ones. It can withstand some light prying, but is not as sturdy as some other tools. The grub hoe is very handy when making new trail.

Green GrubberGreen Grubber. Photo by Charlie Wakenshaw.

The green grubber is similar to the grub hoe but has a broader blade that is sharper and curved. This tool excels at chopping through small roots and moving a lot of loose material around in a single stroke, but it’s not a great prying tool. If you need to break through a lot of organic material that's tangled up in roots and sticks, this tool is the one for you.

PulaskiPulaski. Photo by Charlie Wakenshaw

This is the iconic trail work tool. It’s named after the heroic forest ranger who invented it and remains a popular tool with wildland firefighters and trail workers today. It has an axe head on one side and an adze on the other. It can clear material at a quick pace: the adze digs and scrapes at dirt and rocks, and the axe chops through any roots that get in the way.

McLeodMcLeod. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

The McLeod shines when clearing drains and doing finishing work on the trail tread. One side has six sturdy tines that function as a rake and the other has a straight blade that can be used to chop through small roots or scrape dirt and organic material. It is unmatched in its ability to tamp down loose soil on a newly built trail. It is a heavier tool and should not be used to pry.

Cutting Tools

Corona sawHand Saw. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

This small hand saw cuts through medium-sized roots, branches and small trees. It only cuts on the pull motion of the stroke. When cutting roots, it’s important to clear any dirt or rocks from the surrounding area so the blade doesn’t get dull. Be extra cautious when using this tool because it is extremely sharp and always store it in its sheath when not in use. 

Loppers. WTA ArchiveLoppers

Loppers are used to cut through small branches and roots. They are essential for clearing brush that is growing into a trail corridor, but they have their limits; anything bigger than about an inch in diameter should be cut with a Corona saw instead.

Crosscut SawCrosscut. Photo by Carol B.

This tool is steeped in lore for good reason. The long blade has a handle on each end and must be operated by two people working in sync. It comes in handy when clearing fallen trees from the trail in areas where a chainsaw is either not allowed or impractical. A crosscut can only be used by a certified sawyer or under the supervision of a certified sawyer. 

Prying/Rock Work Tools

Rock barRock bar. Photo by Rachel Wendling.

The rock bar is a big metal spike used mainly for prying or leveraging large objects like rocks or logs. It is solid metal, which makes it extremely strong but also one of the heaviest trail tools around. Its slender shape also makes it ideal for getting into tight spaces to break up the soil around stumps or large rocks.

Pick MattockPick Mattock. Photo by Charlie Wakenshaw.

With a pick on one side and a mattock on the other, this heavy-duty tool is great at breaking up stubborn soil and prying. It can withstand some of the hardest tasks, and weighs in as one of the heaviest trail tools as a result. Reach for this tool when you encounter hard-packed rocky soil and you’ll get through it in no time. 

Sledge HammerSledge Hammers. WTA Archive.

The sledge hammer comes in handy during construction projects. It’s used to pound rebar into bridges or other structures, kind of like a really big hammer and a really big nail. A single jack is a lighter sledge hammer that can be gripped in one hand; a double jack has a heavier head and a longer handle that requires two hands.

Moving Material

BucketBuckets. Photo by Charlie Wakenshaw.

The modest 5-gallon bucket is an essential tool for trail work. Without it, moving large quantities of rock and dirt would seem impossible. Buckets are used to haul material like soil and rocks between different parts of the trail. An empty bucket also makes a great seat when you’re tuckered out from hiking rocks around. We only fill buckets halfway to prevent injury and fatigue.

Rock slingRock Sling. Photo by Charlie Wakenshaw.

Moving large objects into position is a frequent conundrum for trail work volunteers. The Rock sling is a great solution. Huge rocks don’t really come with their own handles, but roll them into the rock sling and a group of people can gather round, grab on to the net and lift together. Made from industrial webbing, the rock sling is extremely strong but also lightweight and compact.

For more information about trail work, check out this glossary of trail terms, this list of annual maintenance projects, and this list of trail construction projects