Trail Running for Beginners:

5 Essential Tips

Does your run around the neighborhood block or on the gym’s treadmill feel a bit boring these days? Then it’s time to switch it up with trail running. Trail running offers a more engaging alternative exercise that keeps you on your toes and gets you outside. Trail running can even benefit your mental health.

Here are a few essential tips on trail running for beginners – from choosing the proper running shoes and attire to perfecting your running technique.

1. Choose Proper Footwear

Trail running requires durable footwear. Trail runners will experience everything from rough gravel to mud along the trail, so you need choose a running shoe that can handle it all. Whether you choose a minimal, light construction that allows you to feel the trail or a beefy, rugged cushioning to protect against hard landings, trail running shoes should offer better traction than your average running shoe. 

Make sure you get quality running socks that wick moisture and help prevent blisters by keeping your feet dry. Merino wool socks help your feet breathe and prevent uncomfortable sweating.

2. Carry a Hydration Pack

Instead of carrying a water bottle, keep your hands free by wearing a hydration pack, hydration vest or waist pack. If you choose to wear a backpack, opt for a running-specific design that’s unrestrictive and allow for full arm movement.

You can also store small items like energy bars, a lightweight outerwear shell, first aid essentials and your smartphone in the vest or pack’s pockets.

3. Dress in Layers

Wearing layers helps you regulate your body temperature and dump heat—or add insulation—as weather and elevation changes or when you stop at a windy overlook for a scenic break. The best material for keeping you both warm and dry is merino wool. Lightweight merino wool layers are breathable and ideal for hot summer days on the trail, as they wick moisture away from your body to prevent clamminess and chills while you’re resting.

A wool sport bra for women or a light men’s merino wool top can offer all-day support and comfort, and merino wool joggers provide the full coverage protection your legs need for both cool and wet weather. Remember that it’s harder to warm your body back up than to cool it off, so start with all your layers, removing them as needed and stuffing them in your pack. 

4. Start with a Good Beginner Trail 

Your average time running on rough terrain may be slower than your speed on pavement, so give yourself an easier trail when you’re just starting out. You’ll be surprised at what new muscles trail running engages, and you may get tired faster. 

Not sure where to start? Many cities have running clubs or outdoor stores where you can get trail beta from someone who’s already an expert.

5. Learn Basic Trail Running Techniques

Unlike solid pavement, a trail presents challenging obstacles that you’ll need to navigate quickly. While it’s part of the fun and a main reason why many prefer trail running, it’s still smart to learn basic techniques to keep you safe from injury. For starters, remember to fall back into a shorter stride, keeping your feet beneath you to help maintain your balance. Along the trail, be sure to keep a steady glance, 10 to 15 feet ahead roughly, to look out for limbs, rocks and the like you need to avoid. Swinging your arms will also maintain balance as well as relax your core.

When trekking up a steep bank or hill, you may even want to shorten your stride even more. Contrary to your body’s inertia, you want to keep your back straight, allowing you to breathe correctly. Headed downhill, the same applies. Avoid leaning back, as it can cause injury and unnecessary strain on your body.