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Three trail runners running on a grassy trail towards mountain peaks

How to prepare for a long trail run

So you’ve memorized all the local trail loops, you’ve worked up to a couple hours on trails (or more), and you want a new challenge. Sounds like you’re ready for a longer trail running adventure. Find out what gear you need for a half- or full-day trail run, what to know about picking a route, some safety considerations, and more.

Get a taste of what to look forward to on all-day trail run with MEC staffer Chris and Canadian Running magazine in beautiful Gatineau Park:

Read on for tips on how to plan your own trail running adventure:

Choose your route

Figure out your route in advance and consider the skill level/speed of your entire running group. After all, you can only go as fast as the slowest runner. Linking together a few familiar trail loops can be a fun way to build confidence as you increase distance and time outside. Point-to-point routes are also neat, since you can see just how far you can go on two feet (remember to set up your car drop or exit plan before you start).

If you’re heading for unfamiliar trails, study the elevation profile of the map to help you estimate how long it will take. Wherever you’re going, know your easy exit routes back to civilization or a plan B in case you need get out if something goes wrong.

“When I’m route planning, I’ll combine familiar areas with the odd new one. I might use a side trail that I’m not familiar with for an out-and-back section to add distance, but it’ll bring me back to a trail I know well.” – MEC Ambassador tip

Pay attention to weather

Watch the weather forecast as your long-run day approaches, and plan your gear appropriately. For example, if it’s going to be a hot sunny day, make sure you’ve got a hat, enough water and extra sunscreen (especially if your route isn’t in the trees). If the weather looks rainy, cold or a mixed-bag, be prepared with additional snacks and layers you can use to keep you warm.

Conditions can change quickly in the mountains; just because it’s your favourite running temperature when you leave the house doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way. Listen to your body and layer up, layer down, drink water or slather on sunscreen as needed.

Carry the trail running essentials

When you’re heading out for a long run, there’s a good chance something unexpected will come up. It could be something fun (a surprise blueberry patch) or a little more challenging (a missed turn at the junction). Be prepared for anything with the 10 essentials, and carry the following items in your trail running vest or pack:

  • Navigation: Map and compass or GPS
  • Sun protection: Don’t let a wicked sunburn wreck your day. Bring sunglasses, a hat and [sunscreen]/en/products/travel-gear/sun-protection/sunscreen/c/810).
  • Extra layers: Weather can change quickly in the mountains – bring extra running layers.
  • Headlamp: Make sure you have a fully charged headlamp. If you’re going into the night, bring a spare.
  • First-aid kit: A mini first-aid kit with moleskin, band-aids and safety essentials.
  • Firestarter: Because you never know.
  • Multi-tool: A lightweight multi-tool doesn’t take up much space and is handy.
  • Nutrition: Energy bars or gels to last the run, plus some extra.
  • Hydration: A full water reservoir and a water treatment method if you won’t be passing by clean water sources.
  • Emergency shelter: A “just in case” emergency blanket could make a huge difference.
  • Communication device: Your fully charged phone and a whistle.

“For a long run, always bring the 10 essentials, so matter what you think the weather looks like at the start of a day.” – MEC Ambassador tip

Leave No Trace on the trail

Trail running can serve up epic scenery like wildflower meadows, forests dripping with moss, lakes so clear you can see the bottom, and more. Pristine environments like these need respect. Follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles on the trail, which includes:

  • Packing out garbage: Yep, even the little tiny corners from your energy gel pack and the pits from your dates. Boost your trail karma by picking up anything you spot too.
  • Respecting animals and other people: Check out our trail running technique article for etiquette tips.
  • Taking pics over picking: Snap a photo of that cool rock or flower instead of taking it home.