How to Handle a Snake Encounter on the Run

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How to handle a snake encounter on the run. How to Handle a Snake Encounter on the Run

Some runners swear by the trails. Running off the beaten track is their fix (present company included), and they won’t be caught dead plodding pavements. And while running in nature certainly has a whole range of incredible perks, it also comes with some risks. In addition to factors like uneven terrain, remoteness and en route obstacles, trail running may also bring you into contact with a variety of weird and wonderful creatures. And while some runners are lucky enough to live in areas free from dangerous animals, others are not.

So if you live in an area were snake encounters are a possibility, then this post is for you. Let’s have a look at how to handle a snake encounter on the run.

Before you head out

Knowledge is power, and this is no exception. Do your homework before you hit the trails. Empower yourself by learning to identify the snakes of your region, as well as whether or not they’re poisonous. And if you do share the trails with poisonous snakes, arm yourself with the knowledge of what to expect in case of a bite. How much time will you have to get to a hospital? And what are the common snake-bite symptoms?

Avoidance is best

Obviously getting bitten is the worst case scenario and, in an ideal world, one you’d want to avoid it at all costs. So how do you avoid running into a snake on the trails? Here are a few pointers:

  • Run at the coolest time of day. Snakes are cold-blooded and like to thermoregulate in sunny spots. So head out while it’s cool and early.
  • Mind the seasons. Ecologist Alan Williams says that a snake encounter is most likely from spring to fall. Be extra vigilant during this period.
  • Stay on the path. Most trail runners are adventurers at heart. And while it might be tempting to throw caution to the wind and head into the thickets, don’t. Snakes often prefer undisturbed areas with tall grass and protective boulders. Always stick to the path.
  • Avoid running at night. Even though snakes love sunbathing during the day, many of them are nocturnal hunters. Which means that an encounter is also possible after dark. So stick to running during the day, or take a strong headlamp and a friend with you if you can’t.
Some extra precautions

The above-mentioned tips for avoiding a snake encounter are, of course, not foolproof. You always get that one exception, right? So here are a few extra precautions to take when hitting the trails:

  • Keep your eyes peeled. Snakes are master camouflagers, so keep your eyes on the path in front of you. Be mindful of every foot placement and be extra careful of sunny spots – you don’t want do disturb a slithery serpent mid-sunbath!
  • Run with a friend. It’s always a good idea to buddy up when hitting the trails. Because not only is two pairs of eyes better than one when it comes to spotting a snake, but a helping hand will also prove invaluable in case one of you gets bitten. If no-one is available to join you, be sure to tell someone exactly where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
  • Carry a phone. A mobile phone can be a lifesaver in case of a snakebite in a remote (or any!) area. Find out which hospital in your area carries antivenom, and store its phone number on your phone before heading out. Also be sure to store your region’s emergency numbers on your phone before lacing up. While these numbers are usually short and easy to remember, you never know how you’ll react when in shock.
  • Sport some gaitersYes, they’re not the most fashionable running accessories around, and yes, they leave unsightly tan lines. But if poisonous snakes are a real threat in your area, a pair of gaiters may just give you that extra bit of protection in case a snake does strike.
  • Stay calm and back away, or give it a wide berth. Difficult as it may sound, try not to panic if you do cross paths with a snake. Stop running and slowly back away, or give it a wide berth if continuing in the same direction. The chances are good that the snake will retreat if left alone.
  • And whatever you do, do not provoke the snake. Snakes are notorious for their lightning fast reflexes, so you’re almost sure to come second if you do try to approach or handle it.

What to do if bitten by a snake

If all the above measures fail and you do get bitten by a snake, the following actions are recommended:

  • Phone the emergency services or ambulance immediately, or have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. The most important thing is to get professional help as soon as possible.
  • Keep as still as possible and do not run. Running will speed up the venom’s working.
  • Remove restrictive clothing and jewelry around the affected area.
  • Apply a splint to restrict joint mobility, if relevant.
  • Take a picture of the snake, if possible, for easy identification. If you don’t have your phone handy, be sure to take good mental notes. This will enable the hospital staff to administer the correct antivenom.

Things to avoid

David Phillips, a member of the San Diego Herpetological Society, says that there are also a number of things not to do in case of a snake bite:

  • Do not implement the old cut-and-suck method as seen in cowboy films. This can result in more harm than good.
  • Avoid applying a tourniquet to the wound.
  • Do not apply heat or ice to the wound.
  • Avoid applying tobacco to the wound.
  • Do not connect yourself to a car battery.
  • Try to avoid taking any medication or alcohol before reaching the hospital.
The takeaway

Remember that the chances of encountering a snake on the run are slim. And the chances of being bitten by one are even slimmer. Slim enough not be a reason for you to avoid lacing up and hitting your favorite trails. But being prepared never hurts, right? So if you do live in an area where snake encounters are a real possibility, take the time to familiarize yourself with these tips and recommendations. Better safe than sorry!


  1. Victoria Davis, 8 Snake safety tips for trail runners, Online publication
  2. Malle Proctor, Snake safety tips for runners, Online publication
  3. Lisa Jhung, Snakes!, Online publication