What Is Considered Trail Running? | Hikers University

Looking to expand your exercise beyond your comfort zone? Trail running might just be the next challenge you need. But what is considered trail running?

When you think of trail running, what comes to mind? Many people may picture someone wearing a heavy backpack, hiking through the woods and up mountains. While this is considered trail running, there’s much more to it than just that.

Trail running is considered any form of running that takes place off the pavement and on trails. This could mean anything from running on a dirt path at your local park to scaling a mountain! In other words, trail running is running on natural paths for a more focused and natural running experience.

However, this makes trail running harder as you run on uneven paths filled with obstacles and rough terrains. Most people prefer running uphill, so it consumes more energy and stamina in a shorter stint. But you can make it worthwhile with the right equipment and gear.

As trail running enthusiasts, we know all about it and have put together this guide to help you understand everything about trail running.

Table of contents


What is Trail Running?

Trail running is a sport that has exploded in popularity in recent years. And it’s no wonder why – trail running offers a unique and exhilarating way to experience the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking for a new challenge or simply want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, trail running is the perfect activity. But what exactly is trail running?

In its simplest form, trail running is running off-road on natural surfaces such as dirt, sand, gravel, grass, soil, or mud. This can be anything from an easy forest trail to a more challenging mountain path. It can also include a combination of these surfaces as the trails are unpaved.

Trail running has many benefits over traditional road running. For starters, it’s a great way to explore new places and get off the beaten track. And because you’re running on natural surfaces, it’s much kinder to your body than pounding the pavements.

What’s more, trail running is an excellent workout for your mind and body. With fresh air and stunning scenery, it’s the perfect way to de-stress and clear your head.

So whether you’re a seasoned runner looking for a new challenge, or a complete beginner wanting to try something different, give trail running a go – you won’t be disappointed!

Does Trail Running Require a Specific Running Technique?

If you’ve ever attempted to run on a trail, you know that it can be quite different from running on pavement. The uneven ground, rocks, and roots can make it challenging to keep your footing, let alone maintain a good pace. So, does trail running require a specific technique?

The short answer is yes. Because of the challenges posed by trail running, you’ll need to use a different technique than you would on the pavement. Here are some tips to help you master the art of trail running:

  • Keep your head up. This will help you spot obstacles in your path to avoid them.
  • Lean forward slightly from your ankles. This will help you maintain your balance and prevent tripping over roots and rocks.
  • Use your arms for balance. As you run, pump your arms back and forth to help you keep your balance.
  • Shorten your stride. Taking shorter strides will help you maintain your balance and prevent tripping over obstacles.
  • Be flexible. Because the trail is constantly changing, you’ll need to be able to adjust your stride and pace on the fly. Be prepared to slow down or speed up as the terrain dictates.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to master the art of trail running in no time!

What Gear Do You Need for Trail Running?

Whether you’re just getting started in trail running or are looking to add to your existing collection of gear, it’s important to have the right equipment for a positive experience. Below, we look at the equipment needed for trail running.


There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing clothes for trail running. First, you’ll want to dress for the weather. If it’s cold out, make sure to wear layers that will keep you warm. If it’s hot, choose lightweight, breathable fabrics to help you stay cool.

Second, you’ll want to pick clothing that won’t get too dirty or sweaty. Avoid cotton fabrics, which tend to hold on to sweat and dirt. Instead, opt for synthetic materials or wool, which quickly wick away moisture and dry. And if you’ll be running in the dark, be sure to wear reflective gear so you’re visible to other trail users. With these things in mind, you’ll be able to choose the right clothes for a comfortable and enjoyable trail run.


Wearing the right shoes is crucial for any runner, but it’s even more important when running on trails. Trail running shoes are designed to provide extra traction and support on rugged, uneven terrain. They also have special features to protect your feet from hazards like rocks and roots.

If you do a lot of trail running, it’s best to invest in dedicated trail running shoes. But even if you only hit the trails occasionally, it’s still worth using a specifically designed shoe for off-road running. In general, trail running shoes offer more protection and stability than road-running shoes, and they can help you avoid injuries.

When shopping for trail running shoes, there are a few things to consider.

First, consider the type of terrain you’ll be running on. If you stick to well-groomed trails, you can get away with a less-aggressive shoe. But if you’re running on technical trails with many rocks and roots, you’ll need a shoe with a more aggressive tread and added protection.

Second, think about the fit. Trail running shoes tend to be slightly roomier than road-running shoes to accommodate for thicker socks and give your toes extra wiggle room. But they should still feel snug and secure on your feet.

Finally, take into account the weight of the shoe. Heavier shoes can be more challenging to run in, but they offer more protection from the elements. Lighter shoes are easier to run in, but they won’t provide as much protection.

No matter what type of trail running shoe you choose, make sure it’s comfortable and fits well. And remember, you can always bring along a pair of road-running shoes for the easy sections of your trail run.


Most people think that water is only important for long-distance runners, but it’s just as important for trail runners. Here’s why:

Dehydration can occur more quickly when running off-road because of the added heat and humidity. When your body temperature rises, you sweat more to try to cool down, and this causes you to lose fluid.

Additionally, sweat evaporates more slowly in humid conditions, so you may still be dehydrated even if you’re not feeling thirsty. That’s why it’s important to drink water before, during, and after your run, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

If you start to feel thirsty while out for a run, it’s a sign that you’re already dehydrated, so make sure to drink water as soon as possible. Dehydration can cause fatigue, cramps, and even gastrointestinal issues, so properly staying hydrated while running is essential.

Carrying a water bottle with you on your run is the best way to make sure you stay hydrated. If you’re going on a longer run, you may want to consider carrying a portable water filter or purifier if you need to drink from a natural water source.


Unlike road running, you will likely be doing more uphill running and, therefore, need more energy. There are a few different things to consider when choosing the right food for your trail run.

First, you want to make sure you have enough calories to fuel your run. This means choosing foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Second, you want to choose foods that are easy to digest so that you don’t end up with an upset stomach during your run. Finally, you want to make sure that you have a variety of foods, so don’t get bored and quit halfway through your run.

Some great options for trail running food include energy gels, chews, and bars. These are all easy to carry with you and will give you the energy you need to make it through your run. Another option is to bring along some fruit or nuts. These can provide you with extra energy and are also a healthy snack.

Navigation Tools

Navigation is another vital thing to consider when trail running. After all, you don’t want to get lost in the wilderness! A few different tools can be used for navigation, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

The most basic form of navigation is using a map and compass. This can be tricky, especially if you’re not familiar with reading maps. However, it’s still a good option to have in your repertoire, just in case.

Another option is to use GPS. This is great because it’s very accurate, but it can be expensive if you don’t already have a handheld GPS unit. You’ll also need to ensure that you have a clear view of the sky, as GPS relies on satellite signals.

First-Aid kit

A first-aid kit is an essential part of gear for any runner, but especially for those who hit the trails. Why? Because when you’re out on the trail, you’re often far from help if something goes wrong.

A well-stocked first-aid kit can help you deal with minor injuries and ailments and potentially even save your life in a more serious emergency. So what should you include in your trail running first-aid kit?

At a minimum, your kit should include:

  • Bandages
  • Antiseptic wipes or spray
  • Adhesive tape
  • Pain relievers
  • Antihistamine
  • Tweezers
  • Safety pins
  • Matches

What Physical Requirements Do You Need for Trail Running?

If you’re thinking about taking up trail running, you might be wondering what physical requirements you need to do it. Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll need to be able to do:

Be Able to Run for Long Periods

This is the most important requirement for trail running. You need to run for long periods without getting tired to complete a trail race or just enjoy a long trail run.

Be Able to Run Uphill and Downhill

Most trails have some hills, so you need to be able to run both uphill and downhill. This can be tough on your legs, so make sure you train for it before hitting the trails.

Be able to Run on Different Types of Terrain

Trails can be rocky, sandy, muddy, or have roots and other obstacles. You need to be able to run on all types of terrain to do trail running.

Have Good Balance and Coordination

Since trails can be uneven, you need to have good balance and coordination to run on them without falling.

If you think you meet all of the physical requirements for trail running, then you’re probably ready to give it a try! But what if you are not currently physically fit to meet these requirements? Don’t worry - you can lift your fitness level. Just remember to start slowly and build up your mileage gradually. Besides that, always be prepared for the unexpected by carrying a map and compass or GPS when heading out on the trails.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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