The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running

Among other things, I love trail running mainly because they have different terrains and challenges, which are unique in their own way. Wide, groomed trails with a limestone base and neat surface can lay a good foundation for those setting out to road run.

Road running is a healthy but simple activity that requires little equipment. To begin your trail running experience, follow the steps below:

  • Choose the right type of shoes
  • Prepare necessary associated equipment
  • Decide on your running trail
  • Improve your technique

Step One: Choose the Right Type of Shoes

Running shoes, more than any other gadgets for outdoor activities, are a matter of personal choice and taste. You may love this type of shoe, but others may not. The task of choosing the right shoe is made even more difficult when spoiled for choice. The task may feel a little scary at first and you may feel lost in your hunt for the right pair. In fact, you can distinguish shoes for trail running versus road runners by looking at these aspects:

Good grip on rough terrain: With lugged soles, trail-running shoes improve traction and help you to move more confidently on your feet, regardless of mud, dirt, gravel, rock slabs or roots.

Foot protection: Various features, both external and internal, help protect your feet from rock or root impacts. Make sure the upper is made of durable materials that can withstand wear and tear.

Rigid construction: Trail-running shoes are constructed to limit extreme foot rotation. Plus, trail running requires you to take a more variable and shorter stride when adjusting to find your optimal footing. Hence, you don’t necessarily have to consider control on pronation.

To find your best shoes, it’s important to take these main points into consideration:

  • Midsole Cushioning: Try to find trail shoes that offer midsole cushioning. Although the cushioning is not as much as in road shoes, it’ll give you comfort on rugged terrain and help shield you from bone bruising. Just in case you intend to run on better maintained trails such as access roads or bike paths, you can choose lighter shoes with cushioning. You should bear this in mind, however don’t forget that your foot soles need more protection when you’re running on trails.
  • Traction: I’m sure you’ll love the added traction offered by shoes for trail runners, especially on muddy or wild trails. Apart from deeper lugs, trail shoes provide a stickier tread than that of road shoes. Because the outer soles are not appropriate for pavement use, they will quickly deteriorate if you run on roads. So, make sure you use these shoes on trails only.
  • Sole: As for trail shoes, their soles often come with deeper lugs compared to road shoes, but not so deep as hiking boots’ soles. Likewise, the shank fixed at the bottom part of trail shoes acs as a shield from rocks and roots. Yet, it is quite smaller than that of hiking boots.
  • Waterproof Uppers: If you are looking for wet or muddy exercise, which may sound crazy for many, then running on trails under rainy conditions is the perfect activity for you. However, for foot preservation, you’d better find shoes with waterproof and breathable upper parts.
  • Weigh: Similar to road shoes, trail shoes need to be as light as possible, and at the same time, offer the required protection. If your shoes are extremely heavy, they will cause sooner muscle fatigue and may force you to cut short your running time.
  • Hybrid Shoes: If you intend to set out to run on an asphalt surface before turning to trail running, I think it’s a good idea to have a hybrid shoe that can suit both terrains. Otherwise, your trail shoes will wear out much sooner than you expect.
  • Fit is the most important thing: When you try on shoes for trail running, remember to check 2 things. First, whether your toes feel comfortable when you go downhill (footwear ramps are specifically available in our stores to serve this purpose). Second, check whether your foot stays in place firmly when you’re wearing shoes. Also, make sure that your feet have sufficient room since they’ll swell a little during running time. Yet, too much room can make your feet slide around, which will cause painful blisters at the very least.

Step Two: Prepare necessary gears

Trail running is wonderful because it doesn’t require too much gear. If you go for a short, quick trail run, all you need to do is simple: pull on a T-shirt and shorts, lace up running shoes then shut the door behind your back. However, you can consider some gear suggestions below to add more joy and comfort to your run, particularly when you’re heading for a more challenging and longer trail.

Carrying Water

Water is a must-have for every run, even the shortest. You can consider some water carriers such as hydration vests, hydration packs, handheld bottles and waist-packs with bottles. It’s OK to bring with you a handheld bottle or a small-sized waist-pack for your shorter run. In that case, you can not only carry enough liquid for your run but also have room to keep some cash, a house key, and even an energy bar and gel.

If you're going to take a longer run, you should bring along a waist-pack of larger size, a hydration pack or a hydration vest. These carriers are spacious enough to store larger proportions of water, food, extra clothing, first-aid gadgets and miscellaneous items necessary for your adventure lasting from half to a whole day. If you choose hydration packs, seek one that is narrow and specifically designed for running, allowing your arms to swing freely.


If you decide to run for one hour at most, there's no need to carry about one or two energy gels. Yet, if you're outdoors for several hours, be sure to supply yourself with enough energy food like gels, bars or chews.

It needs some experimenting to find what kinds of food are suitable for your tummy during your run. In general, for short and highly intensive runs, you should go for simple energy food items such as chews or gels. If you plan for a higher mileage like an ultra-marathon, then healthier and "real" foods (nuts, jelly sandwiches, bars, peanut butter and the like) will sit better in your tummy. This is because you are running at a lower speed.

Stay Safe

It's never a waste of time telling somebody about the place you're heading and the amount of time you intend to be outdoors. Besides, don't forget to carry with you your ID card, your phone and a map in case of emergency. If you're going to stay till dusk, bring a headlamp. In case you go the wrong way and it quickly gets dark, you'll be grateful for your good preparation.

Navigation Tools

For unfamiliar running trails, remember to pack navigation tools, for example a map, a compass and a GPS unit as well.


A variety of watch options are available. A fundamental sport watch integrated with a stopwatch is for telling the time only. An activity tracker monitors help keep track of your steps. There is also a state-of-the-art GPS watch capable of tracking speed and distance and even capable of navigation. Among these devices, some come with heart-rate monitors to put the finishing touches to your effective workouts.


When you're heading for trail running, put on whatever clothes that suit the weather. All in all, you're outfitting yourself for the sake of the elements. On hot days, to keep a cool head, you'd better pull on synthetic shorts and a T-shirt that can whisk perspiration away.

When running under tree covers in some woods, you don't have to bother the scorching sunlight, however, bring along a hat if you run in the open areas. On cool days, a combination of extremely light shell, lightweight cap and glove liners is perfect for wind shield and helps keep you warm.

Sun Protection

You can have several options for skincare protection against the sun, including sunscreen (I suggest you use those with SPF 30 and plus), hat, sun-protective clothes and lip balm. One thing worth noting is, for people with fair skin, they are easily prone to skin damage after only 15 minutes running under midday sun.

However, if you run all the time under green tree covers, you may need smaller or even no amount of sun protection. But, if you follow the trail to a mountain top or along an open ridge, then make sure you are well prepared.


Fond of running at night time? Then never forget to pack a headlamp. This gadget may suffice but if you’re going to practice intensive running at night, my advice is go for a light that gives 200 lumens at least.

Besides headlamps, some runners also use hand-held flashlights to light up their night trail while still being able to navigate. It is necessary to choose a headlamp with adjustable beam shape. The setting of wide flood helps you get good peripheral light while spot setting allows you to have further vision down your trail.

First-Aid Kit

How big your first aid-kit depends greatly on where and how long you plan to trail run. If you run for less than one hour and on a trail that isn’t in the back of beyond, there’s no need to carry so much. However, if your run takes place on a bumpy trail and lasts for more than a couple of hours, you will treasure your simple kit in case of falling.

I highly recommend you bring essential items like antibacterial ointment and bandages for minor treatment as well as medications for pain treatment. In case you trail run in remote areas, don’t forget to carry emergency splint, emergency shelter, liquid treatment tablets, elastic wrap and other medical supplies to prepare for more severe injuries.

Also, make sure to include in your kit some specific treatment for foot problems, like athletic tape, moleskin and blister bandages.

Step Three: Decide Your Trail Run Location

When preparing for your first time running outdoors, one noteworthy thing is for the same distance, it typically takes you more time to trail run than road run. The more rugged terrain and bumpy trails may slow down your pace and challenge your muscles, so it’s better to start at a slow pace first and avoid bigger distances.

Local trails and roads: You can first start out trail running on some network of dirt trails or gravel roads common in many cities and towns. Seek some state or city parks in your locality or choose a tranquil gravel road. Those low-commitment locations will be great for you to get accustomed to the terrains and test your gear.

Guidebooks and websites: If you are willing to accept more challenges or to look further than the local trails, then online resources and guidebooks will come in handy. They provide you with everything you’re looking for: trail distance, difficulty, directions, elevation gain, trail features as well as other details like dog allowance. Also, some websites offer some reports on recent trips, which can help you have a better idea of how to plan your trip. Try to look further than specific resources for trail running only. A variety of backpacking or hiking websites and guidebooks also offer lots of useful information.

Trail Run Project: For suggestions on trails in your local area, consider Trail Run Project. This is a web page that provides you with 85,000+ trail-running miles and offers high-resolution images, maps as well as detailed descriptions.

Running clubs: Joining a local club of trail runners is also a useful way to explore various trails. You can find these clubs in many communities. They are not only a wonderful way to seek out new trails but also a great chance of meeting experienced runners and getting their tips and advice.

Step Four: Work on Your Technique

The undulating trail terrain is much more challenging than groomed surfaces. Logs, rocks or roots are some common obstacles. Practicing your specific technique for trail running will help you overcome such types of terrain.

Basic Trail-Running Technique

  • Take a stride as short as that of road running. Always maintain the place of your feet under you to keep balance over variable types of terrain. Do not over-stride.
  • Look down while scanning your trail ten to fifteen ahead of you to look for obstacles.
  • Let your arms swing, which helps you relax your body and maintain your balance.
  • A great deal of obstacles in front of you? Pick up a route that suits your footing the most, just like a goat does.


#Take smaller steps while going uphill.

When you run uphill, it's highly likely that your lungs will burst. This part seems to be the most challenging to track and road runners. You'll find it hard to take large steps when going up. You will also push more power to your forefoot in order to push off.

Such a force combination means you'd better:

  • Make your stride shorter
  • Move your legs
  • Elevate your knees to a higher level
  • Shift your body towards the balls of your feet

#Control your downhill running

When you run downhill, it's very easy for your speed to go unchecked quickly. The gravity force can make you rush downhill with such a long stride.

By stretching your legs, you run the risk of getting injured. Here is all you should do:

  • Maintain your feet underneath your body
  • Stay in an upright position
  • Try to lift your feet as little as you can off the ground

Swing your arms in order to push you forward

Your arms play a vital role in maintaining your entire trail running rhythm. And they are also important for your running efficiency.

  • Maintain your feet underneath your body
  • Stay in an upright position
  • Try to lift your feet as little as you can off the ground

Swing your arms in order to push you forward

Your arms play a vital role in maintaining your entire trail running rhythm. And they are also important for your running efficiency.

  • When you run uphill…you'd better swing both arms in sharp and short movements. Then move your legs with short and fast strides.
  • When you run downhill…control your pace with the arms. This helps you maintain your balance, control your movement as well as change direction quickly.
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