Should You Go Trail Running with Music?

Trail Running with Music

The majority of us enjoy listening to music while we run. Whether it’s calm and relaxing, fun and upbeat or well, Metallica, listening to your favorite jams while you run is a great way to stay motivated on a run. But, what about when you’re hitting the trails? Should you listen to music when you go trail running?

Running on a trail through nature brings about a much different set of circumstances than does running through your neighborhood. The need to be aware of your surroundings changes dramatically when you’re sharing a space with potential wildlife. Also, most often trails are much narrower spaces which changes how you we need to share our running space with other runners.

In this article, I’m going to talk about these issues as well as a few other things to keep in mind if you decide to take your tunes with you on the trail.

Are You Sure You Want Music?

Bear in the Woods
Even though rolling up on one of these guys is unlikely when trail running, it is possible. So, being completely oblivious to your surroundings may not be the best idea.

For the record, I am a music listener when I run. It helps keep me distracted from the fact that I’m running. I enjoy running just fine, just probably not as much as some of you love running. Getting lost in a good song can make the time go by much quicker. It also helps keep me motivated. Music can just set a mood to keep your spirits high.

Having said all that, I don’t always listen to music when trail running. A lot of times I find the sounds of nature to be better than anything I have on my playlist. If you have headphones in, you’re going to miss out on running water from a stream, birds chirping or just the calming, peaceful sound of silence that you can’t find our normal day to day.

So, before you decide if it’s safe enough to listen to music or is it bad etiquette, or whatever, first you should take a moment to decide do you really want music while you trail run.

Music and Being Aware of your Surroundings

Chances are that when you go for a run in your neighborhood the chances of being attacked by a lion or bear are pretty small. Sure you have to worry about cars and crossing roads, but sidewalks and ‘Do Not Walk’ signs generally help with those issues. And sure, the chances of being attacked by a cougar are still really small when trail running, but it is at least possible.

Having earbuds in can shut out the outside world, which most of the time is kind of the point. However, when you’re out in nature sound can be critical to alert you to danger. Whether that’s hearing something moving around you or even someone else on the trail attempting to call out to you.

How much this is really an issue depends heavily on the kind of trail you decide to run on. If it’s a well-maintained heavily trafficked trail then random dangerous wildlife popping up out of nowhere is not very likely. But, if you’re running on a more remote trail especially in places that are well known for their wildlife (think bear country) then you may want to think twice about cutting yourself off from the sounds surrounding you.

Sharing the Trail with Other Runners and Hikers

You’re much more likely to encounter other runners and hikers on the trail as opposed to wild animals. And while music doesn’t cause many issues with any traffic in front of you, it’s the traffic that may come from behind you that sometimes poses a problem.

Trails vary greatly in terms of terrain, elevation, width and footing. Because of all of the things, passing someone on a trail can be tricky or even dangerous. Almost all of us will do what we can to allow a runner coming up from behind to pass us safely. However, if you can’t hear them coming, or even calling out to you, then you have no way of knowing.

This could end up with someone trying to pass you in a tight, rocky, uneven – you name it – spot without you being aware until they are right next to you. Or, it could end up with you just looking and feeling like a jerk because you are holding up the runner behind you because they don’t feel safe to pass. Either way, these are situations that none of us would wish for.

Ways to Make Listening to Music Safer When Trail Running

I feel like I’ve been painting a doom and gloom picture when it comes to wanting jam out on your next trail run. Yes, I’ve been trying to make you aware of where issues may arise, but the truth is you can still listen to music while trail running. Here’s a few tips for bringing Dave Matthews with you on your next run:

Keep the Volume Low

The major issues that runners tend to run into are that their music drowns out any and all noise around them. By just keeping the volume low you can avoid all those potential problems. Think more ‘elevator’ and less ‘front row at Def Leopard’.

Avoid ‘Noise Canceling’ Headphones

If you’ve been reading along up to now then this point is pretty obvious. If the goal is to listen to music while still being aware of your surroundings then noise-canceling headphones is pretty counterproductive.

Pick Trails You Know Well

Picking trails you know well is good advice for any trail run, even more so if you’re going to listen to music. Knowing the trail well means you know where the trail is wide open and where the spots are where you need to exercise more caution.

Continuously Check Your Surroundings, Including Behind You

Because you are dulling one of your senses, try to be more alert and aware of your other senses. Stay aware of what’s around you, above you and of anything or anyone coming up from behind you.


Consider this my public service announcement. For the love of everything holy, if you are going to listen to music on a trail, wear headphones. No one, and I mean no one, wants to listen to music being played on your phone or even worse, from a speaker attached to your pack.

If you going to listen to music, make sure it is a concert for one.

Final Thoughts

Should you go trail running with music? Saying ‘should’ really comes down to preference. The better question is probably, ‘can you go trail running with music’?

Yes, you can bring your favorite tunes along with you on the trail. Just make sure to take a few extra precautions on your run. Turn the volume down a bit, pick a trail you’re familiar with and try to be more aware of your surroundings. If you follow these guidelines you shouldn’t have any problems getting in a great run while jamming out to some Styx.

Ryan H

I love hiking and being outdoors with Jen and our two rescue dogs, Chompers and Mia. I also enjoy a good weekend trail run. I'm also really enjoying sharing some of the knowledge we've learned along the way here on Zenful Hiking!

Recent Posts