Blaze a Trail:
Tips for Getting Started Trail Running
Going off road
Finding your happy place takes some advance scouting. Search online for options near you and tap into the tight-knit trail running community by asking around at running events and your local running/outdoor store. In addition, runner-friendly social networks like Strava allow you to post, follow, and get insights from like-minded locals.
Trail finders like the AllTrails app and the American Hiking Society's "Hikes Near You" search feature can also help. Just know that while many hiking trails double as running trails, not all are created equal and a modest hike can easily translate into a difficult run.
It is always a good idea to prepare your body for a new running regimen. You can check out Columbia’s guide to training for trail running to get started.
- Short burst (30 minutes): A brisk run of about 1.5-3.5 miles round trip with some elevation gain/decline on mostly groomed trails.
- In the zone (30-60 minutes): Roughly 3-6 miles round trip with moderate elevation gain/decline across varied terrain with some obstacles (rocks, trees, etc.).
- Around the bend (60-90 minutes): This could be a longer run (say, 6-10 miles round trip) on moderate terrain or a run/hike mix for shorter but more rugged routes.
Give pace a chance
Look out ahead
Unplug for real
- Shoes. The differences between a trail shoe and a road shoe vary by the type of runner you are and the conditions you're running in but trail running shoes are typically designed for enhanced stability, traction, and performance on variable terrain.
- Running tops. Opt for a lightweight running shirt that allows for freedom of movement and has features like sweat-wicking fabric and built-in sun protection. For cooler and windy weather, a light running jacket provides extra utility and coverage.
- Running bottoms. You're not going to move particularly fast and light in jeans. Running shorts and/or tights are designed for a purpose and often include convenient features like a zip security pocket to stash small essentials like your keys, ID, etc.
- Water. For short outings (see Short Burst), you can go without or use lightweight hand-grip water bottles. For longer excursions (see In the Zone and Around the Bend) a hydration belt or backpack can keep you from running dry without weighing you down.
- Running pack. Running-specific packs are built for snug and secure lightweight storage and often feature built-in compartments for a hydration bladder.
- Nutrition. Lightweight energy gels, granola bars, and small snacks are all good fuel to keep you moving, particularly on longer runs.
- Navigation. Plan out your route in advance whenever possible. Trail markers can help up to a point but a physical trail map, the AllTrails app, or a GPS-equipped device can be particularly useful. Just remember a smartphone can get dumb quickly without a signal.
- Stash and dash. If you're parking at a trailhead, stow fresh clothes, extra water, and food—along with just-in-case items like a first aid kit—to greet you upon your return.