Here in California, snakes are a way of life. “Beware of Rattlesnake” and “Stay on Trail” signs can be found on nearly every hike or run while out on nature trails. Experienced and avid trail runners often have the same mentality about snakes that surfers do about sharks: They just don’t think about it. While that may well and good for the Chuck Norrises of the trail running world, the rest of us might still be searching for peace of mind and steps for how to achieve it.
One of the reasons why people in California, and around the United States, opt out of trail running is fear of being bitten by a snake. With their camouflaged bodies and quick reflexes, it’s understandable why snakes tend to make runners apprehensive about braving the trails.
These 8 safety tips will help you stay safe from the snakes while running on various types of trails and hopefully ease a lot of worry. You may have less to fear from snakes than you thought.
- Before you begin running, educate yourself. It’s important to know the types of snakes you might encounter on certain trails. This will help you be prepared if something does happen. For example, running on trails with Garter snakes is far less risky since their bites are not venomous. However, being bitten by a Rattlesnake could be deadly. You should always be aware of whose territory you’re entering into.
- Run with a buddy. The buddy system is something we all had engraved into our minds in elementary school, but the power of the buddy system can not be stated enough. Running with a buddy gives added security to your run. Two pairs of eyes are always better than one and your buddy can help you keep an eye out for our slithery friends. Plus, if you were to get injured, you would have a friend there to help.
- Hide those ankles. While low ankle socks may be more stylish, getting a cushy pair of high ankle socks will help protect your ankles from unexpected snakebites while running. You may look like you came out of a 80s music video, but at least you’ll be safer having a barrier between you and the snake. Make sure the socks are thick but breathable if you’re running in the summertime.
- Run when it’s coolest. Snakes are cold-blooded creatures and will be most active when the day is at its warmest and the sun is at its highest. According to ecologist Alan Williams, you are most likely to encounter a snake on trails from late spring through early fall. The warmer the season gets, the more active snakes get during the day, even in the mornings and evenings during the summer. Keep a weathering eye.
- Heed the warning signs. As surprising as this may be, the “Beware of Snake” signs are there for a reason. Always stay on the path. Though it may be tempting for the adventurer in us to brave climbing the big rocks, taking a shortcut through the high brush or check out that epic water fall, don’t do it. According to Williams, the crevices between rocks, tall thick grass, and mossy areas near waterfalls or rivers are favorite hang-outs for snakes. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of the wide-open areas and keeps them warm. If it’s not on the trail, steer clear.
- “Beware: Snake Crossing.” Keep an eye on the trail. According to David Joaquim, a hiking guide at My Arizona Guide team, snakes will often move on and off trails during the winter months to keep themselves heated. Though keeping away from foot traffic is preferable for snakes, their ultimate goal as reptiles is to keep the blood flow moving and their bodies toasty warm. Open areas tend to get the most sunlight as opposed to shaded grassy areas and under rocks, where you tend to find snakes in the summer months. As you’re running, watch where you plant your feet. You don’t want to impose on a sun-bathing snake in the middle of the trail.
- Avoid nighttime trail running. Snakes can be active during the day but are also nocturnal since they have to remain in motion on cold nights to keep their body heat up. Seeing a snake during the day is tough enough. The chances of having a negative encounter with a snake at night is higher since with you being unable to see where you’re stepping. Snakes also hunt at night since their heat sensors allow them to detect pray unseen. You don’t want to step in between a snake and its dinner. However, if you must run at night, run with both a buddy and a headlamp.
- If you see a snake, don’t panic. Slowly back away from the snake and either try to find a way around your slithery friend or just run back the way you came. Snakes tend not to harm people unless they are provoked and it’s important to remember that you are in the snake’s territory, not your own. Respect their space and they will respect yours.