universal trail assessment process


universal trail
assessment process

the original trail assessment

The Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) is a manual process which has been used since the early nineties and is foundational to all methods of trail assessment. A number of product options are available for a UTAP package.

package details

click on any of the tools for more information

click on any of the tools
for more information

UTAP tools

UTAP Tool Kit

The UTAP Tool Kit provides all the tools necessary for an accurate assessment process, including a complete array of inexpensive and easy-to-use tools to facilitate trail assessments and keep your costs down. All items fit into a sturdy carrying bag, with plenty of room left for gear and granola bars. UTAP Tool Kit items can be purchased separately or as a kit. Each kit includes:

2 Suunto compasses to determine the trail direction
2 Suunto clinometers to measure the typical grade between two points of the trail;
1 SmartTool™ Level with SmartFeet to measure trail sections for maximum grade and maximum and typical cross slope in percent, degrees, or rise:run (displays digitally for ease of use and to improve accuracy);
1 Rolatape™ to measure trail length and the distance between stations, obstructions, and points of interest.
1 good old-fashioned tape measure to record tread and clearance widths and the magnitude of obstructions
1 set of pre-printed marking flags, master copies of the Trail Data Forms, and a permanent marker for writing on marking flags.

The Minimum Kit includes all of the UTAP Tool Kit items for one bundled price.
The Preferred Kit includes everything in the Minimum Kit, plus two clipboards, backpack, and a first aid kit.

UTAP wheel

The UTAP wheel is our base model digital measuring wheel. This roll-a-wheel has a steel frame with digital measurement that will stand up to harsh conditions. The digital wheel is water-proof and unaffected by the elements, making it a perfect choice for outdoor assessment.

SmartTool™ Level with SmartFeet

The SmartTool™ with SmartFeet is a waterproof, dustproof, and backlit digital level with added feet for a wider stance to reduce the possibility of tipping and imbalances. The SmartTool™ offers objective and detailed slope measurements in degrees, percent slope, and pitch to 0.1 degree of resolution and accuracy. Using a standard 9-volt battery, this inclinometer also features audio sound at both level and plumb.

The SmartFeet are precision-machined feet added to both ends of the 24-inch (60-cm) SmartTool™ level to prevent teetering on uneven surfaces. Teetering can cause significant measurement errors and is common on all types of surfaces. The position of the feet can be moved to the end of the SmartTool™ to measure a grade or cross-slope over a distance of up to 24 inches, representing the stance of a typical person moving across a path of travel, with or without the use of adaptive equipment. One of the two feet also provides a wider base and thus creates three points of contact to reduce tipping in the lateral direction. A SmartStrap is also included, enabling easy measurement without the need to bend over.


Using the Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) manual assessment methods, two clinometers can be used by two assessors to verify typical grade between the two operators. The typical grade of a trail segment provides information about the steepness of a trail between assessment stations. More instruction on how to use a clinometer for a trail assessment are included in the UTAP/HETAP Training Guide below.


As an optional manual method of determining the direction of a trail from one station to the next using the Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP), two compasses may be operated in a similar manner as the clinometer. More instruction on how to use a compass for a trail assessment in included in the UTAP/HETAP Training Guide below.

station marker flag

Trail Access Information (TAI) stations serve as reference points along the trail during an assessment. These stations identify points where the characteristics of the trail change or represent regular intervals if no apparent changes are evident. Station marker flags identify these stations when performing a manual assessment using the Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP). Each flag contains information to discourage other from removing them during and an assessment and also provides a location for recording the current station distance. Station marker flags come bundled in groups of 100.

tape measure

A tape measure is an essential tool for any trail assessment–whether automated or manual–providing dimensions of tread width, features, obstructions, and more. Though we include a tape measure in our UTAP package, any typical tape measure is sufficient.

cross slope illustration

UTAP/HETAP training guide

The UTAP/HETAP training guide provides all of the detailed instructions needed to use the UTAP tools to practice and learn the Universal Trail Assessment Process. It also contains the information needed to perform the High Efficiency Assessment Process. The guide is fully illustrated with over 100 images and illustrations. The guide contains all the information needed to pass the UTAP/HETAP Certification exam which is required as part of getting certified by Beneficial Designs and American trails as a certified trail assessment coordinator.

trail assessment methods

click on an image below for more information