Experience is the driving force behind our day-to-day life lessons and teaches us what works and what doesn’t.
That said, we’re sharing our experience with this detailed guide to help you hit the trails safer, stronger, and more informed.
HOW TO FIND A LOCAL TRAIL SYSTEM
It takes time to find the trail that best suits your wants, needs, and preferences. To avoid feeling overwhelmed in unfamiliar territory, start simple:
- Start Online
Search the phrase “running trails in (your area).” From there you can do additional research about specifics regarding the terrain or distance.
- Check Out AllTrails.com, TrailRunProject.com, and Strava
Each platform provides details of well-trafficked trails. These online communities are a great place to get firsthand accounts of the trail.
- Join an All-Levels-Friendly Run Club
Run clubs are a great way to discover new terrain and connect with the trail running community. Run clubs are easy to search for online and often post schedules on social media platforms like Facebook, TrailSisters.net, and Instagram.
- Visit Your Local Running Store
Running store employees usually have recommendations and intel on trails in your area. A visit to the running store or gear shop can also help you build connections to the community.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
As you contemplate your next run, there are a few things worth weighing:
- Vertical Gain and Distance
Vertical gain references elevation—it illustrates how steep a trail will be, influencing the distance and duration of your run. For example, if a trail is five miles long and has 2,200 feet of elevation gain, it’ll take much longer than five miles on the road and will feel a lot more strenuous.
Your pace will be slower. Look at your run as time spent outside—a way to connect with nature and the world around you. Don’t let speed be the dictator.
- Keep Recommendations in Perspective
Trail reviews or recommendations are other people’s opinions. A trail that you find difficult might feel easier to someone else and vice versa.
- Trail Technique Tips and Tricks
Proper trail running technique requires you to look ahead, pay attention, and read the changing trail terrain. Just keep in mind that the first mile, no matter your experience, will always feel the hardest.
You don’t need to have perfect form to trail run. But small adjustments in stride or body position can transform your running experience into a positive, comfortable one.
Walking and Pacing
Want to know the secret to trail running? You can walk whenever you feel like it. Some sections of a trail will be better suited for fast-paced hiking, while others will be more run-able.
Tip: Pay attention to your footwork. If you’re tripping over obstacles, it might be time to slow down.
Hills are hard. Power hiking and short strides can make inclines easier. Remember, you don’t have to run them.
Tip: Engage your core and bend slightly at the ankles—not the waist.
You don’t want to fall when running downhill. Instead, focus on your core; take short, small strides, and avoid braking abruptly. This also helps reduce next-day muscle fatigue and allows you to react to obstacles. And don’t forget to relax and breathe.
Tip: Don’t “sit down” mid-stride. Slowing down this way puts pressure on your body and can cause muscle tightness.
Before you lace up your shoes, familiarize yourself with these important details:
Tell Someone Where You’re Going
You can’t predict a worst-case scenario, so tell someone where you’re headed and when you’ll be back. This way, in the event of an emergency, first responders will know how to find you.
Be Prepared for Inclement Weather
Check the weather before you go, and bring along a water-resistant layer and a headlamp, just in case.
Bring Water and Fuel
Even if you don’t think you’ll need water, bring it. As for fuel, energy gels and gummies or real foods like sandwiches or fruit are great options.
Stay Alert and Tuned In
While you might want to wear headphones, it’s safer to run without them. Running headphones-free allows you to hear what’s going on around you—be it other trail runners, wildlife, or an incoming storm.
Read the Trail Signs
It’s easy to get turned around, so be sure to read the trail signs both at the trailhead and as you run. A compass or GPS watch can be helpful—but don’t rely solely on your innate sense of direction or your GPS (as service can be spotty). Pay attention so you know how to get back.
Look for Trail Markers as You Go
Once you’re on the trail, watch for trail markers, blazes, or cairns. Each indicates trail direction.
For safety reasons, stay physically visible on the trail. Wear high-vis or brightly colored clothing, reflective gear, or a headlamp. This way hunters or other trail-goers can see you while you run.
What to Do When You Encounter Animals
Do your research about the animals regularly seen in your local trail system. The New York Times published an article on alligators, bears, and more, and the U.S. Forest Service has a website section dedicated to respecting wildlife.
- Leave Snakes Alone: They strike only at prey or when they feel threatened. Different types of snakes respond differently to stress—some shake their rattle while others play dead. If you see a snake, back away slowly and give it time to retreat to safety: don’t kill it.
- Be Bear Aware: Bears don’t like being startled. So, when in bear territory, periodically make yourself known by yelling “Hey, bear!” The Forest Service has a detailed section on bear awareness that’s worth a read, too.
- Give Moose a Lot of Room: Moose will either run away or react aggressively and charge you, so give them plenty of space. If a moose charges, run. Otherwise, just give them To find out more information about moose safety, check out this Appalachian Mountain Club article.
Trail etiquette is for the well-being and safety of you and others and is an extension of nature conservation.
Follow the Rules
Not all trails have the same set of rules and regulations. Some are open to horseback riders, bicycles, or ATVs, and others are closed off to dogs or foot traffic. Rules are usually posted online or at the trailhead, but if they’re not, follow Leave No Trace guidelines.
Leave No Trace and Stay on Trail
Practice Leave No Trace program guidelines and stay on the trail. This way, the trails remain wild and beautiful for years to come. If you encounter puddles, run through them. Walking on the edge of the trail to avoid them will cause erosion and damage the trail.
On Running with Dogs
If you choose to run with your dog, follow the rules. Trails may be closed to dogs or require them to be on a leash. These rules are for your dog’s safety. As always, please dispose of animal waste appropriately.
Maintain Communication with Others
A little courtesy goes a long way. If you want to pass someone, say, “On your left.”
Know Who Has the Right of Way
Like roads, trails have right-of-way guidelines:
- Foot Travel: Traffic going uphill has the right of way, and it is up to them to decide who should go, so default to their choice.
- Bikers: Hikers or trail runners have the right of way. That said, sometimes it’s easier for those on foot to move out of the way, especially if the biker is on an incline.
- Horses: In the event that you find yourself on a trail with horses, be sure to give them space, and don’t make sudden movements as you pass them.
To start, familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace guidelines regarding bathroom breaks. Next, make sure you know the trail’s rules or regulations regarding human waste.
- Note: Some trail runners choose to bring toilet paper and a disposable plastic bag (for used T.P.). Just remember: if you pack it in, pack it out.
Trail running should be easy and enjoyable, and hopefully this guide gives you the tips and tricks you need to get out there.