Learn Activities Hill Running: Trail, Fell & Mountain

Hill Running: Trail, Fell & Mountain


Trail running is an extension of the ‘fast and light’ approach, often using minimal and lightweight kit to move more quickly off-road, through hills and mountains. Although it’s called trail (or fell) running, most routes include a lot of ascent - and descent- and only a few elite athletes really run the whole way. It’s completely normal to speed hike the uphills, run when the terrain is easier, and it takes some practice to be speedy on the descent!

As a general guide, ‘trails’ refer to footpaths and tracks, fell to lesser-travelled routes on higher ground where there may or may not be an established path, often through heather or bog. Mountain running involves steep ascents on the highest hills in the UK, covering technical terrain - maybe even scrambling along the way.

You can cover more distance over a shorter period when trail running, however it generally demands a higher level of fitness and agility than hill walking. It’s also crucial to keep your energy up by fuelling properly and staying hydrated, especially if you want to enjoy a longer run. The skills involved in trail running are similar to that of hill walking, especially route planning and navigation. It’s equally important to carry the appropriate kit for varying weather conditions, and to be self-sufficient with emergency food and warm layers, since in the worst case it could take rescuers several hours to reach a point that you have run to in an hour or so.

Rather than walking boots, runners wear trail shoes. Usually very lightweight and fast drying, the main benefits of trail shoes are that they are significantly lighter and are designed to give comfort and grip over a variety of muddy, boggy or rocky terrain. Trail running kit is generally lighter weight than standard hill walking gear, but the same guidelines about layers apply. It’s best practice for trail runners to carry a map and compass, waterproof whole-body cover, hat, gloves, whistle, and emergency food. Many like to add an emergency bivvy bag and head torch with spare batteries. It might seem like a lot of kit to carry, but it’s important to have everything you need.

READ more about Layers For Hill Walking

Starting small is sensible and doing shorter routes closer to home on easier terrain will help build up the strength and stamina required for longer runs. Try starting out a faster pace than usual and go from there. Fell running has a friendly and welcoming community and joining a club is a great way to learn. Fell race routes also make really good walking routes, as they tend to take in a whistle stop tour of the best parts of an area!

You can find groups, upcoming events and other advice on the Fell Running Association or the Trail Running Association.