Logging With an All-terrain Vehicle

Next to owning a chainsaw, the most common piece of equipment used by woodlot owners is likely an all-terrain vehicle, or ATV. In this article, we will provide woodlot owners with some general information about using an ATV in harvesting operations, including a comparison of several ATV logging accessories (skid cones, logging arches, multi-use trailers, forestry trailers and loaders) that are available in the marketplace.

Using an ATV in your harvesting activities

Using a scale of one to ten, with the value of ten representing the use of large harvesting equipment, logging with an ATV would likely be rated somewhere between one and two. That isn’t to say that an ATV won’t do the job, it’s just a matter of the size of the logging operation. Mechanical harvesters are best for large commercial harvests. Logging with an ATV is better suited to very small logging jobs or hobby-type operations.

Safety First!

According to the Canada Safety Council, 2.5 million Canadians ride ATVs for recreational, farming or forestry activities. Every year, more than 150 Canadians are killed in ATV-related accidents and thousands of people are injured.

It is important to always keep in mind that safety comes first! Most ATVs were designed for recreational use and not for logging. The Farm Safety Association has developed an ATV safety manual that is also relevant for forestry workers. The manual is available from their website at <http://www.farmsafety.ca/manuals/manual-atv.pdf

This skidding arch has a small hand winch so a log can be winched into position (i.e., a choker cable is attached to the log, which is lifted by a winch located on the arch).1

Although ATVs have been primarily designed for off-road recreational purposes, a number of woodlot owners are using them successfully for harvesting because of their versatility and affordability. When combined with a skidding arch, the ATV can be used as an efficient means to remove small timber from a woodlot.

Here is a short list of the advantages and disadvantages of using an ATV as part of your harvesting operation:

  • Low capital and operating cost;
  • Can be used for multiple uses (forestry, recreation, etc.);
  • ATVs are highly mobile and can work in tight areas because of their small dimensions;
  • ATVs can easily be transported to the site either on a trailer or in the back of a pickup; and
  • High flotation tires allow ATVs to easily access low, wet areas with a minimum of disturbance.
  • Small load (towing) capacity;
  • May require more operator skill ( see maneuverability);
    Safety concerns (e.g., lack of safety devices such as a roll-over protection bar);
  • Can be difficult to maneuver in forested areas (e.g., banked trails, on slopes or when hauling a load);
  • Low productivity vs. tractors, skidders, etc.; and
  • Labour intensive.

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Purchasing an ATV for forestry use

There are a number of things that you should consider when purchasing an ATV for use in a woodlot.

Engine size – load size may be limited by the power capabilities of the ATV. A 300-cc engine is the minimum size recommended.

Drive train and transmission – a 4x4 ATV with a reverse gear is better suited for skidding. An ATV used for forestry work normally requires considerable power at low speeds, thus a transmission featuring low gears is advantageous. Because of its sturdiness, it is preferable to have a chain drive rather than a driveshaft.

Cooling system – due to the potential heavy workload at low speeds, a water-cooled engine is preferred. It is recommended to add guards to ensure debris doesn’t damage the cooling system.

Ground clearance – getting hung up is one of the main obstacles that you will encounter when using an ATV in your woodlot.

Tire dimensions and tire quality – this is important because there is a higher risk of tire punctures due to slash, stumps and rocks when undertaking forestry work (multi-ply tires are recommended).

Braking system – a disc braking system is preferred (e.g., when skidding downhill the heat is dissipated more readily by disc brakes compared to drum brake systems).

Winches – remember that the winch on your ATV is not intended to winch logs (i.e., the frame will not likely hold up to the stresses of winching heavy logs).

Tips when using an ATV for logging

ATVs do have their limitations. For example, the operator must remember that an ATV does not have any rollover protection (ROP). Here are some key items that you should consider before using an ATV as part of your harvesting activities:

  • To provide better traction, you can add weight by loading the tires with a 50:50 mix of antifreeze and water (or calcium and water mix used in farm tractors), or you may want to put on tire chains. 

  • To minimize rear tip over, you can add a counterweight to the front of the ATV. The counterweight should be attached in such a way that it can be easily removed to allow for other ATV uses. Remember, when you add weight to the front of an ATV, the steering becomes more difficult.

  • ATVs are more adaptable to drier conditions or on frozen ground and for use on moderate grades. You may encounter problems with traction when operating an ATV after heavy rain or snow.

  •  ATV skidding works best on level ground or going downhill. Heavier machines are better to hold their ground on slopes and are more effective in pulling heavier loads. Do not travel on hillsides or on steeper slopes – keep in mind the tip over factor if skidding uphill.

  • Cut logs of a manageable size. As a rule of thumb, the total load hauled should not exceed the weight of the ATV and its driver (remember to always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations).

  • Keep in mind that you have to consider the vertical force applied at the attachment point.

  • Add a skid plate to protect the underbelly of the ATV. You may want to design and fit something on your own, or most ATV manufacturers have designed skid plates as part of their line of accessories.

  • Extraction routes (skid trails) need to be planned and identified before work begins. Routes should be brush-free to reduce the likelihood of snagging, damaging the ATV or its tires and loss of traction. It is best to keep your ATV on main skid trails and to use a cable and winch to move logs out of steep or rough areas.

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ATV logging accessories

There are a number of different logging accessories that can be used with an ATV – tire chains, skid cones, logging (skidding) arches, trailers and loaders. A list of distributors of these accessories is listed in Table 2. Here is a brief description of some of the equipment available.

Tire chains – there are a number of different styles of chains available. For a smoother ride, better steering control and better traction, it is recommended to purchase tire chains that have ‘two link’ spacing (i.e., the cross chains are spaced every two links apart along the side chain). Some manufacturers (Nova Jack) have also designed diamond pattern chains (similar to skidder chains) that provide continuous ground contact for better traction. Cost: $50 and up.

Skidding cone – simple and affordable, a skidding cone reduces the drag of the load, making it slide over the ground easier. But there are some disadvantages. A skidding cone can only be used on smaller logs; it should be used on clear trails to ensure the log doesn’t catch and pull the ATV over, and a skidding cone is best suited for short skid distances. Cost: from $150 to $200.

Logging arches come in all sizes and different designs. This model is a the bolt-together arch from Hudson2. They work by lifting the logs off the ground to facilitate ease in skidding.

Logging (skidding) arch – this is a low-cost skidding alternative designed to skid small logs (<24” in diameter) over short distances in small harvesting operations. The skidding arch (a two-wheeled apparatus) can be pulled by an ATV. By lifting one end of the log, the arch eases the skidding operation and minimizes the impact of skidding on the soil and vegetation.

There are several different models of arches available from a number of manufacturers. The models vary in how a log is lifted into position using the arch and whether the log is dragged or lifted entirely off the ground during transport. Refer to Table 1.

Table 1: Types of ATV Logging Arches
Self-Loading This design of arch utilizes a cantilever movement to lift one end of the log off the ground. The arch is designed to raise the log off the ground as the log’s weight tilts the arch forward as the ATV moves forward.
Winch Loading Some arches have a small hand or electric winch whereby the log is winched into position (i.e., a choker cable is attached to the log, which is lifted by a winch located on the arch).
Fully Suspended Load Some arches are designed to pick the entire log off the ground, fully suspending it during transport.

Costs of logging arches vary, depending on the make, model and features, from $700 to over $1,600.

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Utilizing the tilt and winch features on the MUT trailer, the operator can load larger logs onto the trailer (right) or unload (left) with relative ease.3

Multi-use trailers – there are a number of ATV manufacturers that are building generic multi-use trailers that could be used in forestry activities. However, the majority of these trailers are lightly constructed and have space (10 cubic feet) and weight capacity (200 kg) limitations. Generally, they are okay for handling small loads of firewood.

Another alternative is to check out some aftermarket designs that are available, such as the multi-utility trailer system (MUTS). The MUTS is geared toward the heavier workloads associated with forestry activities (see photo). The MUTS system has a wide variety of options, including full dump capability, skidding arch attachment, slide out front and rear end panels to accommodate longer loads, and a self-loading feature using the trailer's winch. The MUTS also has larger load and weight capacities than many generic ATV trailers.

Costs of an ATV trailer vary widely, depending on the make, model and features, from $600 to over $1,900.

Available with either a single or dual axle (seen above), the MUTS trailer has removable front and rear end-box panels to accommodate longer
loads. 3

Forestry trailers – this type of trailer is geared toward the serious ATV logger. These units are specially designed and built for forestry purposes. Advantages include suitability for longer extraction distances, larger payloads (compared to the multi-use trailers) and they can be used for other non-forestry work. However, when fully loaded, forestry trailers may exceed the towing capacity of an ATV. These trailers often require good clearance to avoid hang-ups and are much more efficient if they have a loading mechanism (grapple loader), which is generally an option.

Costs vary widely, depending on the make, model and features, from $2,000 to over $5,000.

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The Anderson M90 forestry trailer (as seen above) features an optional hydraulic grapple loader. Other options for the M90 include a dump box and a high-hoe attachment. The trailer can be attached to an ATV, tractor or truck.

Grapple loaders – these loaders can be either a mast and a winch system with grapple or a light weight hydraulic crane with a grapple that can be used to pick up single trees or small bunches of logs for loading. The hydraulic models are powered by a gasoline engine that functions as part of the unit. These loaders are generally an optional accessory on forestry trailers (see the photo of the Anderson M90 trailer and loader above). Quick and easy to use, they dramatically reduce the labour needed to load the trailer. However, they can be an expensive option for the hobbyist.

Costs vary widely, depending on the make, model and features, from $4,000 (boom/mast system) to over $11,000 (hydraulic) for a forestry trailer equipped with a loader.


An ATV can be a very effective tool used to undertake various tasks in the woodlot. However, ATVs do have their limitations, and it is important that basic safety precautions are adhered to. For more information on using an ATV as part of your forest operations, you may want to read one of the following references listed below:

All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) For Forestry Work. Technical Note TN-109. Forest Engineer Research Institute of Canada. 15 pages. Available from FERIC, $15.00 for electronic copy or $45.00 for hard copy, by calling 514-694-1140.

Equipment for All Terrain Cycles. Report 2/94. UK Forest Research Technical Development Branch. 24-pages. 1994.

Handbook: Using An All-Terrain Vehicle To Produce Long-Length Logs. Pierre Cardorette. Office des Producteurs de Bois de la Region de Quebec (OPBRQ) and Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC), Quebec, Canada. 1995.

Small Scale Woodlot Equipment, a compilation sponsored by the Maritime Woodlot Extension Committee, Nova Scotia Dept. of Natural Resources in Halifax, N.S.; Dept. of Natural Resources and Energy, Fredericton, N.B.; and Dept. of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Charlottetown, P.E.I., 1996.

Photo Credits

1 Eli Sagor, University of Minnesota, Bugwood.org

2 John Hamley

3 Larry Edgar, Edgar Enterprises (MUTS Multi-Use Trailer System)

This article was featured in a past edition of the S&W Report, the newsletter of the Ontario Woodlot Association. 

© Ontario Woodlot Association, 2011 

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