186: TRAILS: A Little Light Trail Maintenance

Show Notes: Episode 186

Today on the First 40 Miles,  I used to believe that trails just existed and that they were just the well-worn footpaths created by thousands of people walking those same miles over and over.  Nope.  Trails are made and maintained.  Today we’ll talk about some things you can do to help.  Then, if you’ve always wanted to pack a chainsaw for clearing fallen trees on the trail, but just didn’t have enough room in your pack…we have a solution.  And we’ll share a hack that will upcycle your favorite old cotton t-shirt and give it some trail time.


  • Trails don’t just exist. They are created, cared for, maintained, and.
  • We typically think of trail maintenance as something that a crew comes in to do. They have two-man cross cut saws, wheelbarrows, and maybe a Pulaski or two.
  • But what if you have a little bit of that good Samaritan in you. Is it possible to do some vigilante trail maintenance while backpacking?

Top 5 Small and Simple Things You Can Do to Maintain the Trail

Stash the Trash

  • Including in fire pits…

Flick the Stick

  • Flick the stick off the trail
  • Doesn’t take any time and it makes the trail a better place

Knock the Rock

  • Just the “trippable” rocks
  • Some rocks are placed along the side of the trail to divert water or to hold a section of trail in place

Drain the Rain

  • Cut a little spot in the trail (with your trekking pole or shoe) where water has pooled up.
  • Let it drain…

Trim the Limb

  • You may want to bring clippers or use your pocket knife for this
  • You can also trim those high overhanging branches also known as “pack grabbers”
  • Cut branches off of a fallen tree that’s obscuring the trail

#6 Report problems…

  • Contact trail person at ranger office report or local ranger district office…report to one agency…any problems
  • Rangers have stewardship over 100 miles of trail.  They rely on the help and knowledge of others to help them maintain that trail.
  • Don’t rebuild the trail—just maintain it
  • FYI: You can sign a volunteer agreement through your ranger district office

 CAUTION: do not rebuild trail…they have strict parameters and specifications for trail.

Do not make structural, architectural or permanent trail changes or redirections.  Just make the existing trail a smoother path for those who follow.

 Glossary of Trail Work Terms:


Video about trail Crew Maintenance

SUMMIT Gear Review:  Sportsman Industries Pocket Chainsaw


  • Made of chainsaw blade with a handle attached at each end


  • Use it by wrapping it around a limb or fallen tree that you want to saw and pull your hands back and forth


  • Weighs: 5.8 ounces (166 grams)
  • Compare this to 8-15 pound traditional chainsaw


  • Oil in for long term storage
  • We had it dangling from our refrigerator for storage…


  • $20
  • 100% lifetime guarantee


  • Using a pocket chainsaw is pure fun and can be a little competitive if you use it with a trail mate
  • We went out to our BLM spot and wanted to clear some fallen trees off the trail. We brought: hatchet, two wire saws, bow saws, a folding Sierra saw and the Sportsman Industries pocket chain saw.
  • If you get a thrill from watching wood chips fly…this is the tool for you
  • Very effective, lightweight, easy to store, easy to pack, fun to use.

Backpack Hack of the Week™: Upcycled T Shirt Bandana

  • No sew, now hem, soft, flexible
  • Cut a big square out of an old large cotton t shirt
  • Softer than a traditional bandana, cheaper, good memories from your old t shirt

Trail Wisdom

“You’ve heard this before, my friend, but I have to say it again because this is my last chance to say it. You’re not going out there to prove anything. You’re not going out there to rough it. You’re going to smooth it. You get it rough enough every day!”

-Harry Roberts