Opinion: The Five Trail Building Must-Haves

The legendary Kowalski Brothers are a trail building force of tsunami-esque power. They wash over the forest, picks in hand, and when the tide recedes only perfect singletrack is left behind. We thought we’d ask Des Kowalski (aka Alan Vogt – the man behind the Kowalski Classic and the Mont 24) what his top five items were for any epic trail building session.


Kowalski’s build trail the old fashioned way – hand-tooled and all delivered with that quiet, brutal finesse necessary to dig the dirt and deftly pluck big rocks from one spot to somewhere much better. It is physical work and hard on body, tools and clothes. I am known to go full stick when building trail and will often come home a little shattered, bruised and certainly bleeding (just like an epic day ride!), but over the years I have fine tuned a selection of must-have items that accompany me into the forest for a day on the tools. They make me happy and range from the simple to the downright essential. Like a seat belts, helmets and underpants, it now just feels weird to be without them. If you suffer from a trail building disorder, then these must-haves may help make your day in the woods be an even better one.

1. Sock covers.

They may look bad but they have purpose.

A simple cuff of fabric (like the last 6 inches of a pair of pants) with elastic stitched around one end to hold them in place, these are the perfect device for stopping soil and little stones from getting inside your shoes as you clear the trail, dig holes etc. Standard uniform for landscapers, they are just the ticket to keep the grunge off your fancy racing socks too.

2. Good, grippy gloves.

Get good ones.

Swinging tools forms a big part of my trail days and in the past I have lost the odd tool mid-flight due to crappy gloves. Those budget leather gardening gloves are the worst, especially if they’ve ever gotten wet. Once that happens, even simple fine motor tasks become awkward and frustrating. I wear out a lot of gloves and have tried pretty much every model at the hardware store and I have found that well made leather, synthetic leather or the ones with specially moulded silicon fingers are best for trail work. They allow you to get a firm grip on tools and boulders etc. and they have great dexterity making them ideal for random acts of English dry-wall (making nice rock berms). Right now my favourite gloves are Mad-Grip. They grip… well, like mad.

3. Steel cap boots.

These are not steel toe and shortly after this photo was taken his toes were chopped off.

They might not be the most comfortable option for walking on uneven ground, but they are way better than MTB shoes, runners or Ugg boots on account of rocks. Kowalskis are known to haul disturbing amounts of rock around and many are the big heavy kind and they are not kind to feet. My toes might be stubby, but I kind of like the way they look so steel cap shoes are a must have. You can get away with sturdy hiking boots, but it helps to have reflexes like a cat if you do.

4. A tool box.

The trusty old tool box.

Kowalskis don’t build trail with just one tool, so it helps that I have a huge van – it is the best tool box ever. Sure, it’s a bit heavy and has a rubbish handle, but it never leaves me wishing i’d brought this and that. EVERYTHING FITS! In there right now are thirty trail markers, a wheel barrow, a rock trolley, five fire rakes, two hoes, three saws, two pairs of clippers, two block splitters, two landscapers rakes, three picks, a crowbar, three shovels, post hold digger, a trail compacter, timber, power tools, a case of soft drink, 15L tub of water, a box of snacks, a partridge, bikes and all the gear I need for a ride (should the urge to test new trails overtake the need to push forward).

5. The ultimate Smoko kit.

Wagon Wheels: massively under-rated. For too long have these biscuits lived in the shadow of the Tim Tam.
Wagon Wheels: massively under-rated. For too long have these biscuits lived in the shadow of the Tim Tam.

Kowalski’s burn a lot of energy as they ply their craft (especially our lot), so having an abundance of snacks on hand goes without question. But as with their taste for sweet flowing single track the Kowalski’s won’t stuff any old thing in their mouth – they know what they like – so we have it for them. Must-have foods: Weston’s Wagon Wheels*, Killer Pythons, sweet crunchy apples, bakers muffins, muesli bars and Chup-a-Chups. Must-have drinks: Coke, water, Up and Go and a thermos of tea with honey (that’s mine man, get your own!). Cafe furniture: milk crates, a plank of wood and tree stumps. These must-haves make for the perfect break wherever you happen to be working the trail. Note: Chocolate coated Scotch Fingers are a suitable substitute for youngsters who have no clue as to the mystical qualities of the Wagon Wheel. Kids these days…

Go with the flow son, go with the flow.


If you want to learn a little more about the Kowalski brothers then check out our feature on the whole crew.



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