What is Trail Running? Equipment, Best Season, Top Spots

Trail running in Greenland

If you’re an active runner living in a city, you probably go for runs on paved surfaces.  Maybe you run on the sidewalks of your neighborhood streets, or maybe you’re lucky enough to live near a park with a good concrete bike path. One of the things we all love about running is that you can do it practically anywhere.

Unlike road running, that is, running over paved surfaces like those sidewalks or bike paths, trail running is a way of get off the beaten track and build an even deeper connection with nature.  Trail running involves following routes that are not paved. It could be a wide lane of packed dirt, a muddy single track, or even a trail of loose rocks and gravel – they all count. Furthermore, trail running is practiced in all sorts of different landscapes, whether you’re near an ocean, desert, or prairie.

However, many of the world’s trail running hotspots are located in mountainous areas.  Not only is this due to the awe-inspiring beauty of alpine landscapes, but also the because of the challenging nature of the terrain. Trail running in the mountains often involves significant elevation gain or loss, forcing you to to test your endurance and build inner strength and discipline.  Trail running is less about speed and more about the mental, physical, and spiritual journey of the practice.

Trail running in the highlands of Scotland
Exploring the trails of the stunning Scottish highlands. Photo: Etienne Loisel.

When is the Best Time to go Trail Running?

 

Trail running is highly weather dependent.  Temperatures shouldn’t be too cold, nor too warm.  It is typically best to avoid extreme weather conditions such as rain, snow, or wind, as these could potentially be dangerous, especially without the appropriate gear or when running solo. In some places it can be practiced year round, while in other places autumn, spring, and summer are the best seasons for trail running.

What Equipment do you Need?

Trail running near Barcelona
Trail running in Montserrat, conveniently located near the metropolis of Barcelona. Photo: Francesc Claramunt.

In general, the equipment for trail running is minimal and easy to find in your local running or sports store.  At a minimum, you will need:

  • High quality moisture wicking active wear
  • Windproof running jacket
  • Layers that you can adjust if the weather changes
  • Running belt or vest so that you can store water, energy bars and gels

Most importantly, you should invest in a quality pair of trail running shoes.  These differ from regular cross trainers in that the treads on the bottom of the shoe are designed to give you better traction on irregular surfaces, just like all-terrain tires on a 4×4 vehicle.

Why Should you Hire a Guide for a Trail Running Trip?

 

If you’re looking to get outside and hit the trails, it is a great idea to hire a guide.  Many mountain guides are eager trail runners in their free time. They will take you to the best trail running spots you may not otherwise discover on your own. When venturing out and exploring an unfamiliar wilderness area, it is always a good idea to go with a buddy for basic safety reasons.  Plus, if you’re used to running on roads, trail running over technical terrain can be quite challenging and difficult, so it’s always good to go with an expert who can give you helpful tips and techniques.  Not only will the experience be more enjoyable, but you will learn valuable skills for all your future trail running adventures!

Trail running near Chamonix
Hit the trails with a group in the beautiful Alps. Photo: Caroline Freslon.

Top 10 Gorgeous Spots for your Next Trail Run

 

10) Greenland: Explore spectacular terrain near the Arctic Circle, including unique arctic vegetation and crystal clear arctic streams.

9) Gran Paradiso, Italy: Test your endurance by taking on the mountains of the Italian Alps in one of Italy’s most beautiful national parks.

8) Selvagio Blue trail, Sardinia Italy: Combine rugged trails with the azure waters of the Mediterranean  on one of Italy’s wildest islands.

7) Vosges Mountains, France: Enjoy the well maintained trails of Northeast France as you meander through peaceful hills, forests, and lakes.

6) Catalonia, Spain: Run through spectacular forests and mountains in one of the many national parks just outside of Barcelona.

5) Scotland, United Kingdom: Discover the otherworldly landscapes of the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye.

Trail running in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco
Explore the stunning Atlas Mountains on foot. Photo: Lucas Humbert.

4) GR20 Trail, Corsica France: Soak up incredible panoramic views of the island’s mountains on one of Europe’s most famous trails.

3) Belgium: Explore the wonders of this small country as you run through its varied landscapes.

2) Marrakech-Safi, Morocco: Venture through the charming Berber villages of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. For other ideas on trails to run in Morocco, check out this post.

1) Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, France: Hit the trails of this world famous alpine area as you explore the spectacular landscapes around Chamonix.

Want to know more about
Trail Running ?