Snakes and trail running. The two exist together for many trail runners. The chances of having a snake encounter on the trails are fairly high in many countries around the world. Now, this, for many of us, is a problem as snake phobia is one of the most common in the world and one that I suffer with. My fear is irrational, I know this and it comes from a lack of knowledge, understanding and my mother who was also terrified of them. The problem is, if you are a trail runner, the chances are, at some point (unless you live in Ireland) you are likely to happen across one. Only the other day, one of my running friends posted a picture of an adder on a trail close to my home. There was one on a route that we run often and I even stopped to watch someone pick an injured one off the road outside my house (from a safe distance of course).

I am UK based and I am fully aware that an adder is pretty much small fry in the ground scheme of things so I went on the search for real life experiences from other trail runners around the world and was lucky enough to get tonnes of photos and stories, along with tips and advice to help me write this article. The more I discovered, and the more informed I became, the less I shuddered every time I read a story or saw a picture. So, from all of the research and advice comes this article on snakes and trail running. But first – it’s only fair that the inspiration for this article gets a feature so please see the snake that my friend saw on his run this Sunday just gone. 

UK female adder seen on a trail path in Somerset

Step 1 – Educate Yourself

As runners, like surfers and sharks, we tend to just not think about them. If I did spend my day fearing the chance of seeing a snake, I wouldn’t get out of the door onto the local trails between the months of April and September. The trouble is, when we do come across a snake, we aren’t educated enough to know what to do. The harsh reality is that we need to be educated. We need to know how to avoid them, what to do if we stumble upon one and how to cope if bitten by one. So, do your research. Learn the following:

  • The types of snakes that are likely to exist on the trails around you 
  • The habitats that the indigenous snakes prefer
  • How to identify the different snakes
  • Which are venomous and which are harmless
  • What to do if bitten 
  • How to minimise your encounter 

For example, in the UK we have only two types of snakes – the adder and the grass snake. To the untrained eye one can be mistaken for the other however, the difference is one is venomous and can kill a small mammal and the other isn’t. Both would leave me running in the other direction though (something I am hoping writing this article might fix).

snakes and trail running

Top – Grass Snake
Bottom – Adder

Step 2 – Consider your safety 

With the threat of a snake unlikely to deter most trail enthusiasts, it is important to be safe. 

Run with a friend 

The number one tip for snake safety is to run with someone. We advocate this always over running alone. The benefits of running with someone reduce your risk of becoming stranded, being attacked, getting lost and, in this instance, spotting snakes – two pairs of eyes are much better than one. 

Cover your ankles 

I read a comment from an Australian runner that she runs with snake gators – if you are in a region where the snakes are deadly, not a bad shout but for most of us, high ankle socks or running tights will reduce the risk of getting a nip to the bear flesh of our ankles. While those low ankle socks reduce the silly tan lines and look cooler, higher ankle or compression socks are a wise idea. 

Don’t provoke them

If you do happen across a snake and you are the inquisitive type that is not scared, do not pick up a stick and start poking it. Don’t try and get close up thinking you are some sort of Steve Irwin snake hunter. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. It is very unusual for a snake to attack unless they feel really under threat.

Watch where you are stepping

Simple but effective. Keep your eyes on the trails ahead. This will help you spot uneven terrain, tree roots and sticks or snakes that look like sticks or sticks that look like snakes!

Step 3 – How to avoid snakes on the trail 

For some, this is not entirely possible. Especially, if you live in a country or region  that is heavily populated with snakes. If you do, it is very likely that you will see warning signs on the trail heads. They are there for a reason so take heed. In addition to this, there are other things you can do to minimise your chances of seeing them: 

Run when it is cooler

Snakes are cold blooded creatures and like to come out and sunbathe in the hottest parts of the day. You are far more likely to see a snake basking in the sun during the warmest parts of the day than you are first thing in the morning when the sun is just coming up. 

Avoid running at night 

Snakes are out in the day enjoying a bask in the sun but they hunt at night. While tricky to spot in daylight before they pop up on the trail in front of you, they are even harder to spot in the dark and you don’t want to come between a snake and it’s dinner. 

Choose well traveled paths

Snakes can feel the vibrations around them and the footsteps of runners and dog walkers are more than likely to scare them off. You will find well traveled areas are less of a welcome environment for snakes. 

Use maintained trails 

Most of us love to explore and it’s not long before we come across overgrown paths, long grass and areas that are less well traveled. Snakes largely like to go undetected to humans and predators and hide out in long grass, dry stone wall pockets, log piles and such. When it is really hot though, inevitably they love to venture out and sunbathe on hot, exposed paths and rocks. 


Snakes, like the Copperhead, can be in a range of habitats from terrestrial to semiaquatic, including rocky, forested hillsides and wetlands in northern Georgia and Alabama, north to Massachusetts and west to Illinois

Step 4 – What to do if you see a snake 

Even if you take all of the precautions above, the chances are, if you live in an area popular with snakes, and running on a really hot day, you are going to see a snake. So, what do you do? First, it is important to remember that they are just as scared, if not more so, as us. Give the snake a wide berth and be on your way. My approach is probably not the safest one – I like to leg it past as fast as I can and pretend I haven’t seen it. Panicking however will only lead to tripping over, stumbling and alarming the snake. 

If you are the type to want to stop and take a photo – do so with caution and from a distance. Better to use the zoom on your phone than risk getting attacked. If you corner a snake, you are going to make it feel threatened – this is when it is likely to attack you. Always choose the option to go quietly and carefully around it – its highly likely that it will just slither off into the bushes anyway in many cases. 

If you can’t find a way around it, or happen upon multiple snakes, go back the way you came. I have received a photo from one contributor of a nest of snakes however, I am not going to share that here – largely because it made me feel quite ill. 

NB – Hissing, rattling, coiling and huffing are all signs that you are too close! 

Remember – you are in their territory – leave them be. 

What to do if bitten by a snake

When it comes to snakes and trail running, unfortunately snake bites sometimes happen. When they do, it is important to know what you are dealing with and the threat that they pose. 


  • Try and suck out the venom – seriously – don’t! 
  • Don’t try and capture the snake to take it with you – this just increases the risk of further bites
  • Apply ice or immerse it in water
  • Apply a tourniquet
  • Drive yourself to the hospital – get someone to drive you, or wait for emergency assistance


  • Identify the snake – if you are calling for assistance using your phone and are able to, a picture of the snake would be really handy. 
  • Seek assistance immediately – do not wait to find out what happens – the more time that passes the longer any venom has to get into your system. If you are sure it is not a venomous snake, you still need to treat the wound to prevent infection. 
  • Call the emergency services – give them your location. Let them come to you if possible – you need to keep yourself calm and still 
  • Keep your heart rate down – this will slow the rate at which the venom enters your bloodstream and travels

It is important to stress that the envenomation by a snake can vary from relatively harmless to fatal. In Australia for example, prior to the availability of antivenom, death ensued in approximately 45% of tiger snake envenomations and more than 90% of taipan envenomations. This is why it is so important to be able to identify the snake. In the case of a copperhead, the bite is rarely fatal and a bite typically only happens when you step on the snake or touch it accidentally. The UK adder delivers a venomous bite but it is rarely dangerous to humans unless very young, ill or old – more so small mammals which is why you should keep your dog on a lead when out for walks. Medical attention should still be sought immediately. 

Tiger snake bite symptoms – Local swelling and bruising – sometimes the wounds can develop cellulitis. Non-specific symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headache and abdominal pain. Rarely collapse and cardiac arrest. Venom induced consumptive coagulopathy (VICC) both complete and partial occur early on in envenomation. It is important to seek emergency assistance and anti venom.

Thank you to all who contributed

I have been putting off writing an article about snakes and trail running for the longest time. Essentially, because I have an irrational phobia and I can’t even talk about them without shuddering. With the help of an amazing bunch of women on an international Facebook group, I have been given lots of resources about snakes and the dangers they pose and how to deal with a snake encounter. However, I am just one individual with very limited snake experience so if you find any of the facts in this article to be incorrect, or would like to contribute in any way, please do get in touch with me through the contact form below.