The Unspoken Rules of Trail Running

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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The Unspoken Rules of Trail Running

Trail runner etiquette is a tricky thing: There are obvious pieces of advice, like not littering, but there are also a few gray areas, like who has the right of way, not just legally, but logically. Here, trail runners, including pro runner and Under Armour ambassador Sarah Cotton, weigh in on their biggest etiquette tips for hitting the trails, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned running veteran.

1. YIELD TO FASTER RUNNERS

If someone is running at a faster pace, move to the right and let them pass. “Not letting people pass on single track trails who are running at a faster pace is not very cool,” says Cotton. “One time in particular, I remember running up behind a group of people and it was like they were intentionally speeding up as to not let me pass, which was irritating, and we all ended up sprinting for no reason.” If someone is overtaking you, just let them go. Take a second to grab a drink or snap a photo before you carry on if you know the competitive urge will make you want to increase your speed to pass back.

2. DON’T LITTER … EVER

This doesn’t just apply to the obvious wrappers that your food is in. Toilet paper shouldn’t be left behind, nor should dog poop. (Bag it and bring it out, or at least move it off the trail, says runner Cassie Maximenko.) And AC Shilton, a runner and writer, adds that it may sound obvious, but “make sure the top of your gel packet makes it into your pocket, too. I see so many of these littered about.” That may mean slowing down when you grab your snack, but even a small piece of plastic counts as littering.

3. SKIP HEADPHONES

Or, at least, keep one ear open. Wearing headphones and having no sense of your surroundings can create a huge problem — and detract from the natural beauty and meditation of trail running. If you need to listen to tunes for your run, stick to one earbud and keep the volume low.

4. DEFINITELY DON’T USE A BLUETOOTH SPEAKER

This sounds obvious, but there are plenty of runners and mountain bikers out there who carry a speaker in their pocket or backpack and blare music as they go. Great for them, bad for everyone else. Unless you’re on private trails, and no one else is out that day, keep your tunes to yourself.

5. OBEY DOGGIE ETIQUETTE AS WELL

If you’re hitting the trail with your dog, make sure it’s well-trained. “My pet peeve is big dogs who run full speed at you and 10 minutes later their owners stroll around and say, ‘Don’t worry he wouldn’t bite you,’” says runner Stephanie Cohen. This is a common issue — you may think your dog is great, but leash laws exist for a reason, and even if your dog is super friendly, there are plenty of people out there who are deathly afraid of your four-legged friend, especially when he’s barreling toward them. Only let your dog off-leash in marked areas where it’s legal, make sure he knows to heel or come when he’s called and keep him in your range of vision.

“I know we all love our dog children and think they’re above average on trail etiquette, but let’s not blind ourselves to reality,” says runner Parke Rhoads. “Communicate to others — who know nothing about our dogs — that we have control by using visible leashes.”

6. BE REASONABLE ABOUT YIELDING TO CYCLISTS & HORSES

Often, you have the right of way if you’re a runner. But that doesn’t mean you should be rude about it or stand your ground for no good reason. Trail runner and cyclist Chris Mcgovern says, “I just wish different user groups would work together and not pit against each other … We all will lose access like that. I don’t mind getting out of the way of a big squishy bike, I get it, it’s a lot of fun to let it rip.” He’ll let cyclists pass when it makes sense, but expects the same courtesy of them. Don’t let yourself be trampled (metaphorically, or literally in the case of horseback riders), but be reasonable about letting faster people go around you.


READ MORE > 5 REASONS TO LOVE TRAIL RUNNING


7. BE KIND TO THE TRAILS

“Don’t run during freeze or thaw cycles on warm winter days when the trails are muddy,” says runner and cyclist Ian Kennedy. “Trails get widened and footprints become frozen craters.” Those ruts are hard to fix and will take even longer to become fun to run again. Most of us can recall at least one trail that’s been ruined by runners or riders who headed out too early after the snow melted and made the trails impossible to use.

8. REMEMBER: COMMON COURTESY

It never hurts to be reminded of the golden rule: Treat others as you’d like to be treated. “On top of littering and loud music, it’s not fun when you’re on the trails and people don’t follow general human etiquette,” says Cotton. “Like, a simple ‘hello!’ or ‘have a good one!’ is great to hear. It’s sad when other trail runners and bikers are noticeably unfriendly. We should all be having fun out here, so act like you’re having fun!”


Under Armour teamed up with POWDR Resorts to create the UA Mountain Running Series presented by GORE-TEX Products, an experience of a lifetime for trail running enthusiasts at the most iconic and beautiful mountain resorts in the United States. The race course locations feature diverse climates, four distances and varying elevations built to push athletes to their personal limits at every level. Register now for a summer you won’t forget.


About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside, travel and athletic style on TheOutdoorEdit.com, or she’s interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at @mollyjhurford.

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