Trail Running 101: What is Trail Running?

Is trail running harder than road running?

Running on a trail, you may encounter significant gains and loss in elevation. You may have to navigate rocks, roots, fallen trees, or other obstacles. You might run through loose, slippery gravel or sticky, heavy mud. All this requires a different kind of effort, and usually at a slower pace than running on a smooth road or sidewalk. Going trail running also usually means you’re farther away from help if something were to happen — like encountering an injury or a storm. That means trail running requires thought and preparation. Maybe even carrying more with you on your run.

Why would you want to try trail running?

Trail running can take you places road running never will. You may have to work harder to get there, but the views, the quiet, the solitude, and the sense of freedom and accomplishment that come from following a trail out into the wild seem to hook runners.

Do I need different gear to try trail running?

The short answer is, not at first. If you’re curious about trail running, you can go ahead and give it a try with the running shoes and clothes you already have. Road running shoes may feel a bit slippery on rocky terrain, especially if it’s wet. Choosing a trail that’s not too steep or rocky for your first trail run is a great idea, especially if you’re wearing road running shoes. Aim for a shorter distance than you’re used to running at first, and just watch your step along the way. If you like it and want to do more, then you might want to look into buying a few more trail-specific items.

The main piece of gear you will probably want as you dive into trail running is a pair of trail running shoes (more on that below). If you like running longer distances, a hand-held water bottle holder, waist belt, or running vest can help you carry the fuel, water, and extra layers you’ll need to be safe. Also, trekking poles can help on steep, uneven terrain — and are even allowed in many longer trail races.