A gravity wall depends on the weight of their mass (stone, concrete or other heavy material) to resist pressures from behind and will often have a slight 'batter' setback, to improve stability by leaning back into the retained soil. For short landscaping wall, it is often made from mortarless stone or segmental concrete units (masonry units). Dry-stacked gravity walls are somewhat flexible and do not require a rigid footing in frost areas. Home owners who build larger gravity walls that do require a rigid concrete footing can make use of the services of a professional excavator, which will make digging a trench for the base of the gravity wall much easier.
Earlier in the 20th century, taller retaining walls were often a gravity wall was made from large masses of concrete or stone. Today, taller retaining walls are increasingly built as composite gravity walls such as:
- geosynthetic and with precast facing;
- gabions (stacked steel wire baskets filled with rocks);
- crib walls (cells built up log cabin style from precast concrete or timber and filled with soil);
- or soil-nailed walls (soil reinforced in place with steel and concrete rods).