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Trail Tools: Safety Equipment

The following trail work safety tips should be covered with volunteers and crewmembers before the start of any trail work.

by Tools for Trails

Tool Safety

Before starting on any project, whether as a volunteer or professional crewmember, the site supervisor should cover all tool safety tips with everyone who will be in the field.

Watch your surroundings. Both for people and natural hazards. When you are in the field, you want to be aware of any people that may enter your zone. This includes both other crewmembers and trail users, especially on trails that are in use. When you see someone coming, stop working and notify other crew around you while you wait until the person passes. When you are swinging your tool, you want to make sure that there are at least four tool lengths between you and another person on the crew. This makes sure that you won’t hit someone else, or their tool when swinging. You also have to keep an eye out for natural hazards, both overhead and on the side. A hazard is anything that could interfere with the complete swing of your tool. Keep your tool in front of you at all times. You should never need to swing the tool over your head.

Photo: Tools For Trails

Photo: Tools For Trails

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

When doing trail work or maintenance, you should carry your typical outdoor recreation gear (the 10 essentials), along with some specialized trail building gear.

First Aid Kit

A standard first aid kit should contain the basic components to handle minor incidents (blisters, splinters, small cuts, etc.) that may occur during a workday. We also recommend carrying quikclot kits to help with more serious injuries until medical personnel can arrive.

Two-way Radio/Cell Phone

In remote backcountry areas, a two-way radio or cell phone can save you in case of emergency. Radios should be assigned to crew leaders as determined by the number of crews, remoteness of the work site, and accessibility to emergency facilities.

Emergency locator devices from companies like Garmin can also be useful in cases of emergencies when cell phones would not have service.


Work gloves are necessary to grip tools as well as to protect the hands from blisters, thorny brush, poison oak or ivy, or any other minor scratches associated with trail work.

Photo: Tools For Trails

Photo: Tools For Trails

Safety Glasses

Safety glasses should be worn when using power tools, breaking rock, or anywhere flying debris is present.

Hard Hat

Protective headgear (hard hats) are used where there is a danger of falling debris from above the work area (tree canopy or falling rocks), or where one crew may be working above another, such as near a switchback.

Sturdy Footwear and Protective Clothing

Sturdy shoes or boots protect your feet from glancing tools and provide good footing when working. Thicker pants from brands like Carhartt are more durable and protect legs from flying debris, tools, and brush walking. Long sleeved shirts and hats protect against the sun.

Water and Food

All workers should carry adequate water supplies, and crew leaders should carry extra water. Workers should minimize or stop work if there is not an adequate supply of drinking water at the worksite.

Pack in your food for a full workday as well. You don’t want to be working while hungry.

Tool Repair and Sharpening


No matter how well you care for a tool, it eventually will break. Typically you’ll notice the handle breaking well before the metal head on your striking and digging tools. If you notice the handle has cracked or has other significant damage, you’ll want to replace it before using the tool again.

Depending on the tool, replacing the handle can be as simple as unscrewing and replacing, or it may need a full shop, as is common with some fiberglass handles.

Many saws have blades that are easily replaceable when they snap, and having a replacement on hand is great for when that happens.

The metal head can have its cutting edge dull down, potentially making it dangerous to use. Examine tools regularly and plan on filing the edges when they are dull. If the head is cracked, replace the tool.


You get the best use from your tool when it is sharp. A 10 to 12 inch flat mill, or a flat, single-cut bastard file is the simplest tool for shaping a bevel or giving a blade an edge. Because of the tooth design, files cut in only the forward direction. Dragging on the backstroke will quickly dull the file. If the file becomes clogged with filings, clean it with a wire brush or a file card.

Safety Tip: Watch for the sharp edges once you're done! Make sure your file has a knuckle guard and handle. It’s also a good idea to wear gloves and safety goggles, especially if using a power tool to file.

Photo: Tools for Trails

Published January 2004

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