skip to main page contentUSDA Forest Service logoPrivacy | Legal Table of Contents

Back | Next | Home | Cover Page
Forest Service Technology & Development logo
Technology &
Development Center

Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook


Tread Surface

Tread is the actual travel surface of the trail. This is where the rubber (or hoof) meets the trail. Tread is constructed and maintained to support the designed use for your trail.

Most trail construction revolves around making sure solid, obstacle-free tread is established and enough protection is provided to keep it in place. If you don’t do a good job of locating, constructing, and maintaining tread, the users will find their own pathways instead.

Outsloping is the first line of defense against tread erosion. An outsloped tread is one that is lower on the outside or downhill side of the trail than it is on the inside or bank side. Outsloping lets water run naturally off the trail. A 500-mm (2-ft) wide trail would have an outside edge 30 to 60 mm (1.2 to 2.4 in) lower than the inside edge. Tread is also the travel surface on structures like turnpike and puncheon. Tread, whenever elevated, should be slightly crowned to drain better.

Tread Creep

Does your sidehill trail display:

[photo] Tread creep on trail
Figure 14—Some classic signs of tread creep.
This trail needs help now.

All three are indications that the tread surface has been eroded and compacted by travel along the lower edge. Insidious tread creep at work. Tread creep should be arrested or the trail will eventually become very difficult or dangerous to travel.

What causes tread creep? The answer is simple. Most livestock, two-wheeled traffic, and some people have a natural tendency to walk the outside edges of sidehill trails. Sloughing makes the edge the flattest place to walk. As the tread moves downhill, it also narrows, with the result that more traffic travels closer to the outer edge. Other causes of tread creep are constructing a trail that is too narrow or with cutslopes that are too steep. Your job is to bring the trail back uphill to its original location and keep it there (Figure 15).

[diagram] Causes of tread creep
Figure 15—Tread creep at work—sloughing and soft fillslopes

One of the best ways to do this is to take advantage of large stationary objects (guide structures) to prevent animals and people from walking the edge. Trees, log ends, rocks, and stumps left close to the downhill edge of the trail will keep animals walking closer to the middle. Guide structures should be no more than 500 mm (1 ft) high so they will not catch animals’ packs.

Curb rocks need to be well anchored, and they should be placed at random distances so they don’t look like a wall or trap water on the tread.

Tread between these anchors will creep downhill creating a situation where the trail climbs over every tread anchor and descends again. At the bottom of these “dips,” water and sediment collect. This is the weakest portion of the tread and the most prone to catastrophic failure. The tread can be so soft that packstock may punch completely through the tread (called a step-through) or bicycles or dirt bikes may collapse the edge. The result can be a bad wreck.

Where soil is in short supply, you may have to install a short crib wall and haul in tread material. Thin tread on bedrock will not usually stay put without some support. If normal slough removal does not work on more substantial soils, the tread should be

benched back into the slope in the original alignment. Guide structures should be installed on the outside edge of the tread to keep traffic toward the center.

A note on guide structures: If you use a rock, be sure it is big enough that at least one-third of it may be buried (so people and bears won’t roll it away) and it will still be obtrusive enough that hikers and horses won’t walk over it (Figure 16). Log ends should be sawed back at an angle if the top edge of the log is more than 500 mm (20 in) above the tread. If you have really substantial berm to remove, leave 1-m (3-ft) long portions at 3- to 5-m (10- to 15-ft) intervals with the ends feathered into the fillslope to serve as guide structures.

[diagram] Guide rock used to stabilize tread creep
Figure 16—Guide rock properly installed to help prevent tread creep.

back to main page content


Back | Next

Table of Contents

Cover Page

UsableNet Approved (v. 1.4.1)
Visitor hit counter hit counter hit counter hit counter hit counter hit counter since August 25, 2004