Self-navigation while running adds an adventurous dimension to your workouts, but it requires some preparation and mindfulness to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Whether you’re exploring new trails or navigating urban landscapes, here are some top tips for self navigation trail running:

1. Plan your route in advance

Before you set out, plan your running route. Consider the distance, terrain, and landmarks. If you’re using a GPS watch or a running app, pre-program your route or familiarize yourself with the map.

2. Study maps and landmarks

Familiarize yourself with the area using maps or online resources. Take note of significant landmarks, intersections, and key points along your route. This knowledge will help you stay on track during your run.

3. Learn how to read a map

Phones are great but they don’t show the tiny trails and tracks that you can find on an OS maps and they aren’t any good when you have no signal! If you do have OS maps, make sure you know how to read them – spend a bit of time studying what the symbols mean. What are roads, tracks and where do the tracks join up? If you need glasses, take them! New to OS map reading? Have a look at this handy guide.  It’s also imperative that you have the right maps for the right area!

trail running self navigation

4. Take enough water

We did take water on one particular self navigation run, which we thought was enough however it turned it wasn’t enough and I ended up finding a little local shop and purchasing a bottle of water and an energy drink. Always take plenty of water – if you are going out for more than ten miles – fill up TWO water bottles. One is not enough!

5. Carry a snack for later

In addition to water, you are going to need a snack too! Don’t forget to pack something just in case. Even if you are going on a short run, you never know if there is going to be an incident where you end up being out for longer than anticipated. Concentrating on maps at the best of times is bad enough – try doing it when you are lost and hungry!

6. Expect to run further

If it says half – it means between 15-17 miles. Twice I have done this and twice I have exceeded the distance. The A to B point may have been 13.1 miles but you end up doubling back, taking a wrong turn, circling and generally ending up running at least a mile further than you anticipated.

7. Be nice to landowners

If you are crossing land that has public footpaths through someone’s garden, always be nice to the landowners. Even if you need to get through a field that may not be a public path, always be nice to the landowner.

8. Make sure you have an emergency contact

Save emergency contact numbers on your phone or, if possible, carry a small card with essential information in case of an emergency. Also consider how someone would find you if you got lost. I tend to use Find my iPhone and then let my nearest and dearest have access to that. If I do go missing, they can locate me. It’s a good idea to have hi-vis clothing and a whistle too, with a fully charged phone for emergencies.

9. Be prepared for all weathers

On our last self navigation trail run, when we left the house, it was raining. It had been raining all night. We had our waterproofs and hats and were all kitted out for getting very wet and cold. What happened? Twenty minutes in, the rain stopped, the sun came out and we were sweltering. Luckily we were prepared for this and had layered up.

10. Forget about pace

There were miles that should have taken us 9/10 minutes which took us 14/15. When you have to stop and study a map, it’s a lot trickier. You stop, get the map out, have a conversation about which way to go, turn the map upside down etc. 15 miles of trail running with 1500ft of elevation would usually take us 3 – 3.5 hours. This took us over 4 hours but we were looking for certain checkpoints.

11. Enjoy the views

It can be all too easy to get so lost in worrying about where you are and where you have to get to that you could fail to appreciate the views around you. Have fun and don’t take it all too seriously.

12. Trust your instincts

If you ever feel unsure about your location, don’t hesitate to backtrack to a familiar point or ask for directions. Trust your instincts and prioritize safety over pushing through uncertainty.

Do you have any experience of self navigation trail running? How are your map reading skills? We’d love to hear.