Staying Safe on the Trails by Colleen O'Brien (Lily Trotters Ambassador)

Staying Safe on the Trails by Colleen O'Brien (Lily Trotters Ambassador)

Staying Safe on the Trails by @Colleen_Obrien_

As a (usually) solo woman trail runner running in bear and cougar country, I often get asked about safety on the trails. In conversations, I have learned that many others, men and women, tend to feel intimidated running in the forest solo, knowing there are big animals around. To combat this, I have had to educate myself on staying safe on the trails. This includes safety on my local trails, and also safety on big mountain adventures. While there is overlap in some of the gear and essentials I carry, it does also vary, depending on the terrain, time of the year, and access to help if needed.

Things I always carry:

  • Small first aid kit - In case of small incidents on the trail. 
  • Bear spray - I practice bear safety by making noise while running. But, if I got into a situation with a big animal, I would be happy to have this.
  • Food and water - More food and water than I plan on needing, in case I end up spending extra time on the trail.
  • Cell phone - in case of emergency

As the weather turns and is more variable heading into late fall and winter, my list of gear grows. I carry the above and:

  • I always carry extra hot hands and a Buff in case I slow down and/or stop for some reason and end up colder than anticipated.
  • I wear quick dry layers under a windbreaker (or warmer jacket when winter hits) and de-layer as necessary.
  • Mittens and socks - good quality (Lily Trotters!), quick dry and warm are a must!

Headlamp - Light comes late and dark comes early this time of the year in Canada. Good for those early morning adventures, or in case dark comes quicker than expected.

My gear on long, high mountain adventures is similar to the gear I carry now - extra layers, extra food, and extra water. I make sure to be stocked up and have warmer gear than I think I will need (and I often need it). It’s rare for it to be super warm with no cold wind high in the mountains, even in the middle of summer. For bigger adventures, I always let somewhere know where I am going. A Spot or inReach device would also be super beneficial when out of cell-range in case rescue is needed.

I am lucky to live somewhere where I don’t have to worry about negative human interactions on the trail, as some people have to. I feel safe and have only ever had friendly encounters when running the trails. I never listen to music when I run, as I want to be aware of my surroundings, and I make sure to make noise as I move through the trails. I choose to be prepared and get out on the trails instead of living in fear about what could happen. My mental health and happiness is important, and hitting the trails is a huge part of that for me.

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