Trail Running Safety Tips

12 Trail Running Safety Tips [Stay Safe as a Trail Runner]

Written By: author image Kyle Cash
author image Kyle Cash
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.


Discover essential trail running safety tips to ensure you stay safe as a trail runner. From planning routes to wildlife safety, hit the trails with confidence.

Trail running is like the wild, adventurous cousin of road running.

It’s thrilling, closer to nature, and has its own safety precautions. I love hitting the trails as much as the next runner, but I also know that trail running throws a curveball or two at you occasionally, especially if you’re running alone.

This isn’t meant to scare you off — actually, the opposite.

Trail running can be incredibly rewarding and safe with the right safety tips.

So, whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or just looking to switch from pavement to dirt, I’ll cover everything from why having the right shoes is essential to carrying the right items to keep you safe on the trails.

Let’s dive into some trail running safety tips to ensure you avoid the dangers of trail running.

12 trail running safety tips

1. Know the trails or have a map

Taking that first step into the wild is an adrenaline rush of its own.

But as a trail runner, you don’t want to turn your adventurous trail run into a scene from a lost-in-the-wild movie. Here’s where knowing your trails or having a map steps in.

And I don’t mean a bulky paper map; a GPX file on your GPS watch or phone works just fine.

I always load my route into my Coros watch to quickly pull it up for easy navigation. Even if I know the trail reasonably well, it’s always nice to have a little safety measure just in case I wander off-trail while daydreaming about winning UTMB.

It’s an easy step and one that could help avoid disaster.

2. Tell someone where you are going

Whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or a road runner testing new grounds, sharing your plan is essential.

Shoot a text or a quick call to a buddy or family member, letting them know your running route and the estimated return time. It’s about having that safety net, someone who’d ring the alarm if you’re overdue.

I always let my fiancee know where I’m headed. She sees the route and how long it should take me, and she’ll even track my location on my iPhone as I run. (Talk about a safety net!)

Especially if you’re trail running alone, take the precaution and let someone know.

3. Train on easier paths first

It’s wise to ease into trail running.

The uneven terrain, rocks, roots, and elevation changes make a different ball game than the flat, predictable pavement.

Starting on easy trails is one of the best trail running safety tips so you can get used to the terrain

Start by running on easier, well-marked trails before you hit the single track or more technical, remote areas. This way, you can build your trail legs and improve your agility and reaction time to the unexpected bumps and dips on the trail.

It’s all about getting cozy with the trail running scene. We don’t need to pull a Drake and go zero to a hundred quickly.

And while you’re at it, grab a pair of sturdy trail running shoes.

They’ll give you the grip and support you need as you venture from easy to challenging trails.

4. Have a Plan B route

Before you lace up your trail shoes, find a secondary route.

It can be a similar distance, elevation, and technicality if you want, or something completely different.

Conditions change quickly, trails can be overcrowded, or any one of various other scenarios can happen. Having a backup route means you still have fun on the trails and aren’t left scrambling to find a trail last minute.

5. Run with a buddy

There’s truth in the saying, “safety in numbers.”

Running with a companion also means you have someone to share the navigation duties with, which reduces the likelihood of getting lost. Moreover, in an emergency, having two minds to tackle the problem is infinitely better than one.

And let’s be honest: some of the best moments in trail running are with friends.

If you love running alone for the solitude, consider joining a local trail running group for those longer runs. The camaraderie among trail runners is uplifting and could introduce you to new running trails and safety tips.

6. Bring more water than you think you’ll need

Hydration is your best pal on the trails, so never underestimate the water you’ll need.

It’s advisable to carry a water bottle or, even better, a hydration pack to keep frequent sips within arm’s reach. Just make sure to carry plenty of water.

A group pauses for a photo mid-run

The rule of thumb is to drink about a half to one ounce of water per pound of body weight. That means a 200-pound runner will need 100 to 200 ounces of water over an extended running period.

Also, check the weather. Higher temperatures or drier climates will demand more hydration, as will running or hiking in the backcountry.

So, take frequent sips from a water bottle or hydration pack to stay safe on the trails.

7. Carry safety equipment

When you decide to run on trails, you are heading into the wild, so it’s wise to carry some safety stuff with you.

Here’s a simple list to check before you lace up your trail shoes:

  • Whistle: A small whistle is a big help if you get in trouble. Blow it and call for help.
  • First Aid Kit: A small kit with band-aids and wipes can be handy if you trip over rocks and roots.
  • Bear Spray: Running in Bear Country? Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Map or GPS Watch: Trails twist and turn, making it easy to get lost. Bring a map or use a GPS watch.
  • Phone: Carry your phone for GPS, contact, or fun cat memes while taking a rest.
  • Sunscreen: Sunburns are no joke. Slap on some sunscreen to keep your skin happy.

These simple items make a big difference. They’ll help keep you safe and make your trail run much more fun.

8. Bring a headlamp

Heading out on a trail run as the sun is setting can be magical.

But running in the dark? Not so magical.

That’s where a headlamp comes in handy. It’s not just about seeing where you’re going; it’s about seeing roots, rocks, and the terrain under your feet clearly.

The author runs through a forest with a headlamp on at night

Some trail runners might think they’ll never be out on the trails in the dark. But sometimes, runs take longer than expected. Maybe you found a cool new trail, or maybe you just got a late start. Whatever the case, having a headlamp in your running gear can be a game-changer.

Ultimately, it’s small and doesn’t weigh much. So if you’re running close to sundown, throw it in your bag.

9. Check the weather

Whether it’s a sudden rainstorm or a drastic drop in temperature, being prepared for the weather conditions is a key part of trail running safety.

Rain turns trails into slippery slides, and a cold front can bring temperatures down quickly, especially at higher elevations. Checking the weather not only helps you decide if it’s a good day to hit the trails but also what to wear. It’ll guide you on whether to pack an extra layer, wear a hat, or slather on some sunscreen.

And here’s an extra tip: Don’t just check the current weather. Look at the forecast for the entire duration of your run.

Storms roll in quickly, and temperatures can change throughout the day.

So, take a minute, check the weather, and equip yourself accordingly.

10. Carry some calories

It’s easy to get caught up in the trance of the trail and forget about refueling.

But even if you think you’ll be back by lunch, always carry some calories with you. Your body will thank you.

Whether it’s a gel, a bar, or a good old-fashioned trail mix, having some fuel can be a lifesaver, especially if your run takes longer than expected. It’s not just about hunger; it’s about maintaining your energy levels and keeping your body and brain functioning optimally.

And remember, trail running is no different from road running when it comes to fueling.

Your body needs that energy to keep going, especially on challenging terrain and hills that require extra effort.

11. Be cautious of wildlife

Hitting the trails brings a chance to commune with nature, but sometimes nature bites back.

Encounters with wildlife like mountain lions, grizzly bears, or even a rattlesnake can be a bit too wild. It’s crucial to be aware of the local fauna and how to react should you meet them on the trail. This is why I advise you not to listen to music through headphones when you’re trail running.

Hearing a warning call from an animal or a rustle in the bushes could literally be life or death.

Staying alert and following wildlife safety guidelines ultimately keeps both you and the animals safe.

12. Get a proper pair of trail shoes

Heading out on rugged trails demands a good pair of trail shoes.

Unlike road running shoes, trail shoes are designed with a sturdy grip to cling to uneven, rocky, and often slippery surfaces. They offer the support and protection your feet need against rocks and roots, ensuring you don’t stumble around.

Investing in a quality pair makes a world of difference.

They’ll not only keep you safe but also enhance your trail running experience. When looking for the right pair, consider the shoe’s grip, protection, stability, and how well it fits based on whether you need wide shoes or narrow.

I personally prefer Salomon or Brooks for my trail shoes. But Hoka is another popular option for people who prefer a bit of cushion.

What other tips to stay safe on the trail do you have?

Keeping safety front and center ensures that every run is as enjoyable as the last.

Now that we’ve sprinted through these trail running safety tips, you’re set to hit the trails with confidence. Remember, being prepared is your first stride toward keeping yourself safe.

Got some trail running safety insights of your own?

Jog down to the comments and share your top tips with fellow trail runners, hikers, and other trail users.

author avatar
Kyle Cash Owner
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.