HIKER TRAIL MAINTENANCE TECHNIQUES
There are some minimal maintenance techniques that you can perform while walking along, which may help significantly in keeping the trail visible, especially during the leaf-out season. We welcome any and all trail maintenance that daypackers and backpackers are willing to provide…
Branch & brier breaking (you need leather gloves and/or hand clippers)
For instance, if you take a pair of leather gloves, then when you approach a forest opening or an overgrown meadow where briers have seceded in, you can take a water/snack break, put on the gloves and continue through the briers. It is fairly easy to grab an offending tendril or cane with one hand, bend it double, and break it. Blackberries, multifloral rose, and autumn olive are all fairly brittle. Greenbrier is a bit tougher, but it will snap if you apply enough pressure. Brier-less branches that often grow over a trail corridor rapidly, but that are easily broken with hand pressure include those of striped maple (goosefoot), birches, mountain laurel, and great laurel (rosebay rhododendron). Some species that will only cause you to waste your time trying to break their extremely pliable branches are witch hazel, all hickories, elms, and hop hornbeam. Oaks and several maples can be somewhat fibrous and tenacious, but are easier to break than the others mentioned. I have known several trail maintainers who, while backpacking or daypacking, would carry hand clippers for such problem branches.
I also do not neglect watching out for high overhanging branches that might become pack grabbers. Some of the more brittle species mentioned above are fairly easy to remove with a little bit of elbow grease. Others will just cause you shoulder pain especially with a full backpack hanging on your shoulders. Leave those for the trail maintaining crews or daypackers who are carrying lighter loads on their shoulders. When hiking in striped maple and red spruce country, keep in mind that the seedlings/saplings at hip level will generally pull right out of the ground, removing the bulk of the rootstock and thus preventing re-sprouting. However, often dirt and duff come flying up with the tugged root, so you might want to wear gaiters over your boots if you hike in shorts.
Rocking and rolling (you need sturdy footwear)
If you have entered an area where loose rocks cause you to stumble, slow down and watch the tread more closely, then simply kick away some of the looser rocks that might become ankle-rollers. This technique does not prevent forward motion and it will help the next hikers who come along.
Litter debugging (you need grocery bags or other carrying devices)
Let us not forget litter pick up. Bending down frequently while carrying a backpack is usually not practical, but if you are daypacking, this should be part of your regular routine. Pack a few extra grocery bags or, if you are feeling particularly magnanimous, pack some larger garbage bags to contain your pickings in. Even if you just clean up around your rest stops, this can really improve the hiking experience for the next hikers passing through. Yeah—I know—it’s kind of bothersome to pick up what someone else should not have thrown down, but that is the way of the world and some of us run contrary to this disrespectful and irresponsible behavior. If you are one of those contrariwise individuals, thanks for going above and beyond your call of duty.