Trail design is something I’d given little thought to until recently. I’ve enjoyed an amateaur hike here and there over the years, but had always just considered the trails as organically forged paths that emerged over time, which is apparently very much not the case in most instances! It’s fun to think of ourselves as Traveling with a Donkey in the Cévennes a la Robert Louis Stevenson, but the truth is often a bit more complex, with some serious design and engineering having taken place behind the scenes. This video from Vox breaks it all down.
Designing a hiking trail seems simple enough: It has to take a person from A to B, pass through scenic nature, and last through years of wear and tear. And for most of human history, trails did that without much intentional design at all.
But as trails shifted from essential transportation to a recreational destination, the way we make them did, too. Now, hidden in every trail is a carefully made design language of angles, alignment, and materials that keep them enjoyable for generations.
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