Mountain Bike Trail Building Tools Guide

Mountain Bike Trail Building Tools Guide

Mountain Bike Trail Building Tools GuideBuilding 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.

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Any links to retailers from this article provide a compensation commission back to 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.

Comprehensive Trail Building Tools List

Recommended Trail Building Tools

Axe / Hatchet

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

Ames True Temper Axe


Suggested Bucket: EcoSmart 5 Gal

Buckets are always handy to move dirt around and carry things like rocks or water.

Eco Smart 5 gallon bucket

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

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 cutter

Husqvarna 323 brush saw


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

the Stihl 170 is a popular small chainsaw choic

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

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

Maasdam Pow’r Pull

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

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

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.

Fire RakeFire Rake

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

Bahco Laplander 9″ locking folding saw

GPS Device

Suggested GPS Devices: DeLorme PN-60, Garmin Oregon 600

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

DeLorme PN-60 GPS


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.

SOG SOGfari MC-02 SOG SOGFari MC-02 – I especially like this machete because it has serrated saw teeth on the back for cutting thicker items

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

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.

Ames True Temper Pick MattockAmes True Temper Pick Mattock – I like the pick mattock more because I don’t need two blades or a rake


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

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

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 71

 True Temper Steel 71″ pry bar


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.

Napula Pulaski

Napula Pulaski


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 fiberglass handle bow rake

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

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 kitMedique 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
  • Gloves
  • Helmet
  • Shield / Safety glasses
  • Steel toe boots
  • Sunscreen
  • Water


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

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.

Komelon 100ft measuring tape

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.

Topofusion software

Topofusion software


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.

Ames 4cu ft wheelbarrow

Multi-Tool Tools

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 MAX multi-purpose tool

The McLaski – Combines the best features of two traditional tools; the McLeod and the Pulaski.

McLaski tool

McLaski tool

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.

Trail Boss multi-tool

Trail Boss multi-tool

Trail Boss multi-tool

Trail Boss multi-tool


Where to Buy The Tools Online:

Where to Learn About Building Trails:

Trail Building Recommended Reading:

Training / Seminars

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.

3 Responses

  1. Sam Frankelli says:

    Have any tips for building on rocky land? I live in Bear Creek mt in NEPA and it is all rock. Not an inch of dirt to be found anywhere. Am I wasting time even thinking about this? I’m right on top of the mountain and my backyard leads into some epic Dirtbike/quad double track in the power lines. My turkey mound (septic) in backyard has a nice drop-in leadin to the woods. as soon as we started digging; rock, move ahead a bit; rock, a little further; rock. The terrain is killer and is beggin for some trails. Maybe I should just use the land to my advantage, clear what I can and start riding. Only thing i can think short of hauling several tons of dirt over the next few months as I do want some berms and jump features. Any help or advice is appreciated

  2. John says:

    I am going to assume explosives are not an option. we usually start by drilling deep holes in the rock in fall. Then in winter the holes fill with water in winter and freeze, cracking the rock. Then in the spring we pry the chunks of rock that were fractured in winter by the ice out with rock bars, and digging bars. It may take several years to compleat a trail this way. If it does not get cold enough there you can replace the freezing water with using feather and wedge. An other option is an electric or pneumatic jack hammer, however it may not always be cost effective to take a generator or compressor to location. There are also a wide variety of expanding concretes designed spacificaly to break rock. If all else fails you can always rent a small excavator with a hydraulic demolition hammer attachment. this is the quickest but also the most expensive(and my favorite) way to build trails in rock.

  3. John Petry says:

    Thanks for providing so much practical and useful information.!!!

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