Where In Blazes…
Paint blazes are the primary and most important method of unmistakably and permanently indicating the trail route.
Rectangular, white-paint blazes mark the Appalachian National Scenic Trail from Maine to Georgia. Rectangular sky-blue blazes indicate side trails from the A.T.
The Appalachian Trail shall be continuously and neatly marked using standard techniques in such a manner that the hiker unfamiliar with the area can discern the direction of the route and the location of drinking water and facilities. (Appalachian Trail Conference, 1979)
- Use PATC A.T. White enamel paint provided by PATC.
- Re-blaze every other year—more often to keep blazes visible or to replace missing or enlarged blazes.
- Remove excess or unnecessary blazes.
Metal diamond-shaped AT markers may be used only on the A.T. at trailheads where a National Park Service sign is not present, but should not be used in SNP.
- Use PATC Side Trail Blue enamel paint. provided by PATC.
- Re-blaze at least every three years; more often to keep blazes visible or to replace missing or enlarged blazes.
- Remove excess or unnecessary blazes.
See the section, George Washington & Jefferson National Forest Blazes, for more information.
- Use USDA Forest Service-approved enamel paint colors (yellow, orange, blue, white, purple & pink). provided by PATC or the Forest Service.
- Re-blaze at least every three years, more often to keep blazes visible or to replace missing or enlarged blazes.
- Remove excess or unnecessary blazes.
Poor Blazing Conditions
Avoid or mitigate these problems with blazes on your trail section:
Missing blazes: Especially at junctions, road crossings, or where the trail is obscure.
Faded or peeling: They are hard to see.
Poorly placed or overgrown: They are hidden from approaching hikers.
Oversized or undersized: They are hard to distinguish as standard authorized blazes.
Messy or irregularly shaped: They are unclear at a distance, unsightly, or hard to distinguish as authorized blazes.
Erratic: Placed at erratic intervals, so marking appears unreliable or hikers wonder if they are on the trail.
Too frequent: Too frequently placed, so that hikers find the quantity unsightly, defacing the natural setting.
Nonstandard: Employing other marks (such as arrows and directional indicators) other than the standard blaze; other symbols seem to deface trail-side rocks and trees.
Unless your government partner requires different standards, you should follow these general requirements:
- Paint 2- by 6-inch, vertical, white rectangles.
- Neatly paint, with sharp corners and clean edges.
- Renew every three years or as needed.
- Paint with high-gloss, outdoor, oil-based paint, exterior latex paint, or boundary-marking ink.
- Remove or neutralize old blazes with flat, natural-color paints on abandoned Trail sections.
- Place at eye height, facing approaching hikers, generally on the right side of the trail.
- Place at regular intervals.
- Frequency is determined by the character of the trail section and hiker safety.
- Where the trail is conspicuous, place a blaze at five-minute intervals, about 800 to 1,000 feet apart.
- In obscure areas, place blazes no more than 100 yards apart.
- Double-blaze (one blaze 2 inches directly above the other) before confusing turns, junctions, or areas requiring hiker alertness (not including switchbacks).
- Make visible immediately beyond any junction, road crossing, or confusing area; a second "safety blaze" should be placed 50 to 100 feet beyond.
- Place so that north-bound blazes generally split the distance between south-bound blazes.
Do not paint blazes on rocks.
- Pick prominent, large, living trees.
- Dark colored bark provides a better contrast.
- Choose trees that will remain prominent during periods of full foliage.
- Clip away protruding branches or foliage when necessary.
- On rough, thickly barked trees, carefully scrape an area larger than the blaze (approximately 3- by 8-inches vertically) on the bark.
- Smooth the bark; do not remove all bark or break through the bark.
- Do not scrape smooth, thinly barked trees; rub away dirt or lichen.
- When reblazing, scrape sides of blazes that may have widened with tree growth.
- Scrape away old paint flakes and dirt and repaint.
- After the paint dries, use a scraper to straighten the rectangle edges.
- Blaze walking in one direction at a time.
- Hike and blaze from one end of your section and walk back, blazing in the other direction. (The perspective will be completely different.)
- Obliterate blazes by painting over them with brown, green, or gray paint that closely matches the bark if the blaze cannot be completely scraped away without damage to the tree.
- Use a sponge blotting method to simulate lichen.
- Blot beyond the blaze edge to blend in to the bark. Brown and grey can be blended, both are latex to wear off as they weather.
- Olive green is for hard to cover areas.
- The PATC Tool Room has stocks of these paints.
- Small bucket with bail
- You can mix paint in it or use it to carry other small pieces of equipment.
- 1-inch paint brush
- Proper blaze paint provided by PATC
- 1-inch or 1½-inch paint scraper (or other edged implement, such as an ax)
- Small can or paper cup—Styrofoam deteriorates—to hold the brush when not in use
- Rags or paper towels
- Plastic wrap or aluminum foil is useful to wrap the brush if it must be cleaned later.
- Paint thinner for brush and hand cleaning
The Blazing Standard
The Lee District of the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest uses a unique blaze shape, called a “dotted-i.” This is a 2-inch x 2-inch square painted above a 2-inch x 6-inch vertical rectangle.
This blaze replaces the “hack-and-slash” that was made with an axe by early trail makers. Forest Service personnel who are marking tracts of land for timber sales, doing studies of tree growth, and such paint various other shapes on trees. The "dotted-i" blaze is easily differentiated from these alternate markings.
There are no other blaze configurations for hiker trails. That is, the "dotted-i" blaze is not doubled up to indicate a turn. “→” and “←” shapes are not used.
The Tuscarora Trail, a 250-mile long side trail to the Appalachian Trail, uses the Appalachian Trail blazing standard. The blue blaze of the Tuscarora Trail is a simple 2-inch x 6-inch vertical rectangle, without a dot. A sharp turn in the trail is signaled by painting two vertical rectangles, one above the other, with the top rectangle offset in the direction of the turn. This “stacked” blaze should be used sparingly in the Lee District of the forest since it looks like a poorly painted “dotted-i” blaze.
Since the Tuscarora Trail runs through the Lee District, hikers see two kinds of blazes, and the use of two blazing standards confuses many hikers. You should not add to the confusion by creatively combining the standards.
- The “dotted-i” blaze is not "doubled-up" to signal a turn. Just blaze more trees near the turn-using the standard blaze.
- Do not paint an arrow to indicate a turn.
- If a turn cannot be indicated by a few extra blazes, the Forest Service recommends that you obtain an “arrow” sign from them and affix it to a tree or post at the turn.
- If your trail section is part of the Tuscarora, use extra blazes to guide the hiker around the turn.
- Use the stacked blaze to indicate a turn only where the turn is very obscure and extra blazes just can't do the job.
- Only a long-distance backpacker on the Tuscarora is going to know the meaning of the stacked blaze.
- Other users will either not notice it, or will be confused by it.
Trailhead, Trail End, & Trail Intersections
- At the trailhead, trail end, and at each intersection (with roads or other trails), you should paint alert blazes to tell the passing traffic about your trail.
- Alert blazes are painted on trees that face each avenue of approaching traffic, within twenty feet of the intersection with your trail.
- Alert blazes guide users to your trail.
- Place extra blazes on your trail (in each direction at an intersection) so that perhaps three blazes will be visible to the user who is contemplating walking down the trail.
- These extra blazes help prevent the loss of all blazes at trailheads and intersections due to storm damage.
Preparing the Tree
- The blaze should go at eye level (between 5 and 6 feet above the ground).
- If there is an old blaze on the tree, remove it by scraping it off.
- If it comes off easily, remove it all and prep the tree as if it did not have a blaze.
- If the blaze adheres to the tree and is positioned correctly, try to put your blaze on top of it.
- You may have to scrape part of it off, so that your blaze will completely cover it.
Bark spreads as a tree grows, so old blazes are often wider than they should be. Do not scrape an old blaze if scraping will damage the bark.
- The blaze will be a 2-inch x 2-inch square, placed a couple of inches above a 2-inch x 6-inch vertical rectangle.
- Sometimes, you can locate the square above a knot on the side of the tree and the rectangle below the knot.
- On the Tuscarora Trail, the blaze is just a 2-inch x 6-inch rectangle.
- Scrape off the weathered surface of the bark, moss, lichen, loose paint, etc. You are trying to get a sound bark surface on which to put the paint.
DO NOT scrape through to the cambium or heartwood of the tree. That just opens a wound in the bark and causes the tree to go through a scarring process, which will destroy the painted blaze, as well as shorten the life of the tree.