10 Trail Running Safety Tips

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If you primarily run on roads but are interested in getting into trail running, then you may have some concerns about safety. Here are 10 tips on how to enjoy the pleasures of trail running without the stress and worry about whether you will be safe.

Know your path

Before you set off in the woods or atop a mountain, do some research, and plan your route. Many websites have details on routes, including mileage, elevation profiles and which tree markers to follow. If you start running and are still worried about getting lost, leave traces of rock or stick piles so you know where you’ve been—just be sure not to create any obstacles on the actual trail.

Start easy

The most difficult trails—called “technical” trails—can be very narrow and/or winding, have lots of rocks and/or roots and can have multiple hills. If you’re new to trail running, you probably won’t want to start out on a highly technical trail. Look for a route beforehand that’s recommended for beginners, and choose a short loop close to a road in case you need an easily-accessible exit.

Leave a note

Before you leave your home, tell at least one person that you are going for a run. Make sure to let them know exactly where you plan on going and what time you’re planning on getting back. Agree to call or text them when you return, and make sure they agree that if they can’t get in touch with you, then they should seek out help.

Know what to bring

Although you are unlikely to get cell service on many trails, you should bring it just in case. You should also carry a form of identification with you. One option of ID is a road ID, which is a bracelet that you can customize with your name, address and contact information. Other items that you may want to bring are a first-aid kit and some defense mechanism like pepper spray.

Hydrate and fuel up

Unlike running routes on roads or along sidewalks, trails typically don’t have water fountains. It is therefore important to know how much water you will need—based on the length of your run, outdoor temperature and other factors—and plan accordingly with handhelds, fuel belts and/or a hydration pack. And it might be a good idea to bring extra water and food—just in case you do get lost.

Enjoy the peace and quiet

One of the best things about running in trails rather than roads is the serenity of nature. Take advantage and don’t listen to music—listen to the birds, and breathe in the fresh air. But that’s just a perk of not wearing headphones; you should avoid wearing them for safety reasons. You want to be able to hear any potential dangers or warnings and other people with whom you might be sharing the trail.

But don’t tune out

Enjoy your surroundings on the trail, but don’t tune out. Be alert and aware of your surroundings. You’re likely to be sharing the trail with hikers and other runners, and part of trail etiquette is stepping to the side to allow those faster than you to pass. Depending on where you live, there’s a chance you might encounter large animals like bears or mountain cats for which you should be on the lookout.

Wear the right gear

Check the weather before you go, and dress appropriately. Wearing layers is often a good idea, especially if it is windy or if there’s a chance of rain. Make sure you have a good pair of trail running shoes that provide enough traction for uneven and/or slick surfaces. Wear dri-fit socks that cover your ankle to prevent blisters and dirt/mud from entering your shoe.

Don’t worry about distance

Don’t be discouraged if it takes you much longer to run one mile on a trail than it does on a road. If there’s difficult terrain and lots of hills, it may take you twice as long. So for the first few times you go out on the trails, it may be better to plan how long you want to be out, not how many miles you want to cover. Also, put more focus on your running form and breathing, rather than your mileage.

Know how to fall

It’s inevitable—at some point when trail running, you will fall. When you fall, first look at the ground, and try to avoid any sharp or dangerous objects. Prepare for impact by bringing your arms close to your chest with your palms facing out—putting arms straight out will likely result in injury. Once you hit the ground, roll, and return to standing.