MTB Trailbuilding How-To: Work Smart, Not Hard

If youve been following the series on trailbuilding, youve read Choosing Your Line Part 1 and Part 2 and Trailbuilding 101. Congratulations, youve learned a lot about trailbuilding and youre almost ready to head out and start digging. But you need something to dig with and some friendly people to help, right? Otherwise youd just be that crazy guy digging alone in the woods with your hands. This article goes over the most useful trailbuilding tools and gives you strategies to expand your network of slave labor, er I mean friends.


Gather Tools and Building Supplies


Always use the right tool for the job to increase efficiency and reduce the chance of injury. Here is a list of tools I often use; I’ll provide details about what tools are needed for specific tasks in future articles.

1. Spade
2. Square shovel
3. Buckets
4. Wheelbarrow
5. Cutting Mattock
6. Pulaski
7. Chainsaw with sharpening and filing tools
8. Hoe
9. Rake
10. McLeod (pictured above)
11. Axe
12. Hammer
13. Battery powered hammer drill with 3 batteries
14. Folding saw
15. Pruners
16. Gas powered trimmer
17. Dakine Trailbuilders Backpack


It’s always a good idea to use protective gear when building new trails. I wear long pants, 8 steel toed boots, safety glasses and gloves whenever I build because you never know when or where you’ll encounter a nasty thorny bush, poison ivy, poison oak or just plain crap falling on you.

Find Building Partners

Contact your riding buddies and let them know that you are building a new trail. In all likelihood theyll be stoked and will want to help you build. Many hands make light work and its always good to have company on those long trail building days (plus there’s safety in numbers). Friends can also help you brainstorm new trail ideas too. Having others to bounce thoughts off of will help you decide which ideas to embrace and which to kick to the curb. Just make sure you bring along creative, positive helpers!


If you dont know many people who ride, dont worry! Just by getting out there building and riding you will meet people. Get the contact info of people you meet on rides and expand your network. Social networking sites like Facebook can help organize your contacts. Dont be shy about talking to other riders on the trails. Mountain Biking is a sub-culture where the passion for riding breaks many social barriers and theres always something to talk about when youre with other mountain bikers. At the beginning of the season, I didnt know most of the people I ride with and build with now. I regularly plan build and ride sessions through Facebook and expand my circle of friends nearly every time I ride. The Facebook page might be a good place to start finding local mountain bikers in your area.


Friends help make trail building more fun and its up to you maintain the positive vibe. Keeping the conversation light and positive helps the time pass more quickly. Ideally you will establish a core group of friends that can bring their own tools and will help you build regularly. Be sure to clarify your plans for the trail and ask them to consult you before they make modifications to the plan. When people work on your trail they are investing time and effort so they should be likely come back to build or ride because they have invested sweat equity.


Call Before You Dig

The last thing you want is to cut through a fiber optic cable or be electrocuted while digging. You dont know what lies underground until you call 811 (United States only) or your local “call before you dig” hotline. This is especially important if you live in an urban area.

Whats Next

Now youve learned to:

– Gather the Right Tools and Building Supplies
– Tell Your Riding Buddies Whats Up
– Expand Your Network
– Call Before You Dig

Now youre ready to start learning how to build!

Stay tuned for the next article in the series on trailbuilding. Next article will outline perhaps the most useful method of trailbuilding: benchcutting.

About the Author

Kevin Johnstone is an avid mountain biker from Ontario, Canada. He has been building trails across Canada for 4 years. He has worked with the worlds #1 bike park builder, Jay Hoots, to build a mountain bike park on the Sunshine Coast of British, Columbia, Canada. He spent 2 seasons improving the trails at Kelso Conservation Area in Milton. He is currently building downhill specific trails. Kevin can be reached by private message at

*Disclaimer*Kevin Johnstone and will not be held responsible for the consequences of illegal trailbuilding. Always get permission and build legally.