Snakes and Trail Running: What You Need to Know
We love trail running as much as you do. It’s a great way to practice a variety of skill sets, including long-distance runs, inclines, and declines. It’s softer on the legs than surfaces like tracks and concrete, provides ample shade and, in many cases, provides a water source like a stream or lake to take a dip in after a hot training session. The benefits don’t stop there. Trails also allow running enthusiasts with demanding jobs and those who live in urban environments to relax, meditate and reconnect with their inner selves through the power of nature.
While there are so many reasons to find a trail in your community, you also need to run smart on this type of terrain. The American backcountry is full of dangers, including steep edges, navigation issues and both venomous and predatory animals. While it’s possible to encounter a bear, wolf or bobcat while running, athletes are more likely to come across a venomous snake. Since they slither quietly instead of trampling or roaring, you could suffer a bite before you even notice them.
Running should always be fun–not dangerous or scary. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to stay trail safe across the United States without skipping your favorite route entirely. The guide below was created especially for runners so you are empowered for your trail run instead of wary. Learn more below about the types of snakes you could see during your competition or workout–and how to prevent bites at any time of day.
The Most Common Venomous Trail Snakes by Region
If you live in the Southeastern United States, be on high alert. You’ll need to watch out for dangerous species such as cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins), timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes and eastern diamondbacks. The Western region also has a high prevalence of serpents with venom. Black diamond rattlesnakes, Western diamondback rattlesnakes, prairie rattlesnakes and Mojave rattlesnakes, live in states like Arizona and New Mexico. Though rarely seen, the tiger rattlesnake makes its home in Arizona near the Mexico border.
If you live in the Midwestern United States, you could deal with timber rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, prairie rattlers, Massasauga rattlers, Western pygmies and Western diamondbacks. Northeastern natives could share their trail with copperheads, timbers, Easterns, and Massasaugas.
If you’re a runner in Alaska, you’re lucky. You won’t have to worry about a venomous snake in this state. Most athletes in Hawaii will never come upon a dangerous serpent, either. The yellow-bellied sea snake has poison, but you’re way more likely to see them when surfing, snorkeling or swimming.
Venomous vs. Non-Venomous Trail Snakes
While venomous snakes can cause life-threatening injuries to runners, the good news is, most serpents you encounter on the trail do not have venom. While it’s best practice to avoid touching any snake you come across, there are a few general ways to determine if the animal you find is full of poison. According to reptile experts, many types of venomous snakes have slit-shaped eyes, two major fangs, a triangular head shape and more than two small holes near their nostrils.
Since some non-venomous creatures can also have these features, it is helpful to become familiar with the dangerous snakes in your area, so you know what they look like. Search the Internet for the full list of venomous snakes in your region and learn how to distinguish them from harmless species. Check for free or low-cost classes at your local nature preserve, park or library for more information about what to look for.
How To Avoid Snake Bites
Regardless of where you live, there are a few helpful ways to prevent bites on the trail. Wear high, padded ankle socks instead of low-cut brands, and if it’s not too warm, pair them with pants. Look for markers or signs at the start of the trailhead that cautions you to beware of snakes. If the presence of these creatures concerns you, consider running elsewhere.
Serpents are also most commonly found in warm areas and during the hottest parts of the day. Think about limiting your trail running to the coolest season of the year–or at least run in the early morning. Avoid racing in the wilderness at night.
If you plan on competing in an evening or overnight trail race, take every precaution possible. Run with a partner or team and wear a headlamp so you can see the terrain in front of you. If you do come upon a snake, keep going. Do not stop to look at it or try to kill it. Leaving the snake alone is the best way to avoid injury.
Consider bringing a buddy with you, even during the day, in case you do come into contact with a dangerous animal. This will give you the courage to run outside while allowing someone to call for help in the unlikely event that you do suffer from a bite.
What to Do If You Get a Snake Bite
As we mentioned, venomous snake bites are rare. However, if you do get bit by a snake, you don’t need to waste time trying to distinguish it from a poisonous or non-poisonous bite. Some of the most common signs of venomous injuries include severe pain at the site of the bite, swelling and bruising. You may also experience bleeding, tingling and stinging. Other symptoms include a tender groin, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle weakness and difficulty breathing.
In contrast, dry bites will still be painful and cause swelling, but you may not experience respiratory, neurological or digestive symptoms. No matter what, call 911 immediately. Always have a smartphone carrier or waist pack with you so you can dial for help as fast as you can. Have your partner explain your bite and symptoms so the medical team can explain first aid as necessary while preparing their professionals for your care.
If they direct you to do so, get to a hospital or clinic as soon as possible. When in doubt, always head for the nearest emergency room. There are also practical things you can do on the trail to ensure you stay safe and healthy. Add pressure immobilization bandages to your waist belt every time you run in the wilderness–and use them if you become hurt. Do not wash the bite area. Apply a tourniquet or try to suck the venom out in any way. If necessary, you or your running partner may need to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Staying Safe While Trail Running
The prospect of getting a snake bite can be scary but remember that it doesn’t happen often. If you know about the species in your area and stay vigilant every time you run on your favorite trail, you will drastically reduce your chances of being injured. Wear the right gear, avoid racing during times that snakes become active and learn proper snake bite first aid to enjoy trail running instead of fearing it. With this guide in mind, you can thrive in an outdoor environment and receive many benefits from it.