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Trail Tools: Digging and Tamping Tools

Tools for Trails provides this list of the most commonly used digging and tamping tools with tips on using them safely and effectively.

by Tools for Trails

One of the most important steps in building trail is digging! After the surveying and placing the flagline, digging the base of the trail, or hogging, comes next. There are quite a few different tools used for digging, but what we love most about a lot of these digging tools is that many of them double up on their uses, like tamping. Tamping comes into the process a little later, but in the most basic of terms, is done to compact the tread (trail). What are these tools? Let’s dig into it!

Picks and Mattocks

While you might not associate digging as the primary purpose with these, picks and mattocks are great for cutting through hard ground and laying new ditches. These tools won’t move large amounts of dirt like other digging tools on this list, but they’ll cut through harder dirt with ease.

Shovels

Shovels are available in various blade shapes and handle lengths. Fire shovels and round-point shovels are most common for trail work and are used to move loosened dirt, dig holes and trenches, and remove weeds. They can also be used for cleaning waterbars, culvert outlets, and diversion ditches. There are two kinds good for trail work.

The long-handle shovel, best for digging holes, is generally 48 inches in length. The D-handle shovel, best for moving soil or digging in confined spaces, is generally 27 inches in length.

Shovels also come with different heads as well. The round shovel heads are great for digging and removing dirt from the tread. The round head can also be used for cutting through roots.

Square shovel heads are better for shaping, scraping, and removing the dirt. Square shovels can also be used to smooth trail tread. By bracing the shovel handle against the inside of your knee as you scrape the tread, you may be able to accomplish the work by using the strength of your legs rather than the muscles of your arms and back. The back of the square shovel can also be used for tamping work on the tread.

Safety tip: The most common injuries when using a shovel are back injuries. Bending from the knees instead of the waist will help prevent injury. Shovels shouldn't be used as a lever to pry rocks.

Hoes

Hoes come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them are combined with another tool to make it more versatile on the trail. This allows for trail builders to carry less weight, but still have tools that perform well at their job.

Hoe/Axe

We have this one on the list with a specific tool in mind, Prohoe’s 55HX ‘The Beast’ tool. These tools have the ability to move dirt quickly and efficiently when digging. This tool is one of the most popular for hogging and for moving debris. It doesn’t do much in the way of tamping, but when it comes to digging and moving dirt, the hoe/axe combination tool is a favorite for starting to clear the tread.

Hoe/Rake: One of the most popular tools you’ll see on the trail, the McLeod is a hoe/rake combination tool that has many uses. The backside works as a hoe to dig and move dirt, but can be flipped over and used for tamping as well. Other hoe/rakes have popped up, like the Rogue F70HR, which is better at digging, and the Backslope Tools Clyde. The hoe/rake combination tools are a popular tool for working the backslope and you’ll see some of them make appearance at bike parks, where they come in handy for shaping jumps.

Post Hole Digger

Used for removing soil from holes for footings or posts the post hole digger has clam like scoops attached to long handles. Soil should be lifted from the hole with leg muscles-not back muscles. Use a digging bar to loosen compacted soil, not the post hole digger. The post hole digger works best at removing loose soil. The scoops bend and break easily if used as a breaking tool.

Safety tip: Fingers can get pinched when the handles are closed-leather gloves are recommended.

Tamper

Sometimes, all you need is to perform tamping work. Tampers are designed specifically for this job and work efficiently. Though they don’t work for other jobs typically, when you have the ability to carry one out into the field, the tamper works well.

Digging-Tamping bar

A digging-tamping bar is about the same length as a rock bar but much lighter. It has a small blade at one end for loosening compacted or rocky soil and a flattened end for tamping. They work great for digging postholes and tamping the soil around a post once it is set. Some rock moving can also be done using this bar, although it is not quite as rugged or effective as a rock bar.

Safety tip: Never use to move large rock or logs.

Have more questions on what tools are best for your project? Reach out to Tools For Trails ‘to chat more on tools.

Published January 2004

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