Trail Running in the Mountains

Trail Running is a subculture to regular road running.  Trail running in the mountains is even more specific subculture within trail running.  Obviously to do trail running in the mountains you must have……mountains!  Luckily for those of us in Southern California we have no shortage of mountains.  When trail runners consider San Diego, most would imagine beaches and sea level trails.  We have those too.  But only 45 minutes east of San Diego we have the Mount Laguna Recreation and Cuyamaca State Park with peaks reaching as high as 6200 feet.  There are literally hundreds of miles of trails including the famous Pacific Crest Trail which spans from Mexico to Canada.

Trail running in the mountains requires a slightly higher level of commitment, sophistication and preparation than if you were to run local trails.  You must know where you are always, have the proper gear, carry plenty of water and nutrition and be prepared for extreme weather.  If you follow the Dirt Devil Motto “Don’t be sorry, be prepared” you should be good to go.  Whenever a new trail runner asks me, “Should I bring (insert item here)” my response is, “if you have to ask just bring it”.  Of course, there are always exceptions but in general if it does not hurt you to bring it you probably should.  When you safely do trail running in the mountains it can add an element of fun and adventure that is hard to duplicate through any other type of running.  Let’s look at how you can transition to trail running in the mountains from whatever type of running you are currently doing.

Having the Proper Gear

Having a comfortable, adequate hydration system is critical to safely trail run in the mountains.  There are many types of hydration systems available such as hand bottles, waist belts and backpacks.  Most road runners are using to carrying hand bottles or using a waist belt.  These two systems are not typically adequate for trail running in the mountains as they do not provide enough storage for water or other supplies.  For these reasons having a comfortable backpack designed for running that can carry at least 2 liters of waters is recommended.  There are multiple companies that make these types of hydration systems and we encourage you to investigate and try a many as you can.  Orange Mud, Ultimate Direction and Nathan are 3 of the top running backpack retailers.  In addition to allowing you to comfortably carry 2 liters of water or electrolyte drink there is enough storage room for food items, keys, first aid supplies, phones/cameras and even extra socks, shirts or jackets.

Knowing where you are

I have found that most people are not adventurous enough to try trail running in the mountains for fear of getting lost.  This is probably a healthy fear.  One great way to avoid this is to tag along with a running group that can help solve that problem and act as your mountain tour guide.  San Diego Dirt Devils converts experienced road and local trail runners into expert mountain trail runners by leading mountain trail runs on weekends.  After running with an experienced group such as the Dirt Devils runners get to know the trails and the fear of getting lost is drastically reduced.  Other resources for getting to know your mountain trails are google maps, and  These sites will allow you to “explore” the trails ahead of time and print of map of the area you plan on running.  Another interesting site is which shows maps in 3-D and can give you a visual preview before you head out on your adventure.  Watch this Relive experience from our run down Noble Canyon

Don’t be Sorry be Prepared

Weather in the mountains can turn on a dime.  It is ALWAYS a good idea to check the weather in the mountains before you head out for your mountain trail running adventure.  Make sure to check the weather in the area you plan to run not the area you are currently in.  I have personally been in the mountains on a sunny day when suddenly, a storm rolled in and the temperature dropped to below freezing.  This type of occurrence happens frequently and can ruin your day quickly! Be prepared for the worst and you will always be ready even if the worst never happens.  Other items to bring that you may find useful are a lightweight jacket, anti-blister/chaffing products, food, flashlight or headlamp, salt tablets and a change of shirt and/or socks.  These items will easily fit into your backpack and can make your mountain trail running experience much more enjoyable.

Train for a Trail Race

Trail running in the mountains can be fun on its own.  It can also be used as a training platform for an upcoming trail race.  Southern California has plenty of trail races to choose from but here are a couple of great ones for you to try.

Dirt Devil Racing – Has 2 distinct trail running series.  For those new to trail running try the Progressive Series with a 5K in April, progress to a 10K in June, then a 15K in August and finally a Half Marathon in October.  All racers earn a technical fabric race logo run shirt, custom medal and logo beer cup.

For runners who like Half Marathon distance there is the Half Marathon Series which begins with a Half Marathon in April, another in June, a third in August and the last Half Marathon in October.  All racers earn a technical fabric race logo run shirt, custom medal and logo beer cup.

Pinnacle Endurance Trail Racing – Pinnacle Endurance specializes in long distance mountain trail running experiences.  Some races they offer are

Old West Trails Half Marathon & 50K

Oriflamme Canyon 50K

Pacific Crest Trail 50 Miler

The Peak Half Marathon, Marathon and 50K


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