(The Gear Loop) - There's something thrilling about setting off on a trail run in new territory, discovering new paths and seeing where your feet take you. It's worth plotting your route beforehand though, so that you don't end up missing a region's best bits and, more importantly, so that you don't get completely lost.
However, plotting a decent trail running route isn't quite as simple as it is for road runners, where a quick look at Google Maps will pretty much do the trick. A good trail run might take you across a variety of terrain types, from root-strewn woodland to open hillside, and across land that is a pleasure and a challenge in equal measure, such as rocky scrambles or river crossings.
You might visit places of supreme natural beauty, like waterfalls, lakes or gorges and ascend to summits that reward your effort with spellbinding views. You may even fancy tackling a hefty elevation gain, or seek a thrilling downhill scramble, or just make sure the run starts and ends at a welcoming country pub.
Whether you're plotting a run from home or in new surroundings, you'll need a tool that allows you to tailor your route, while giving you the statistical lowdown on what you're letting yourself in for. Enter stage left: Komoot.
Over the last few years, Komoot has firmly established itself as one of Europe's best online platforms for plotting and sharing outdoor adventures. Its straightforward interface and wealth of innovative features has garnered a huge following of over 10 million users. It's the ideal tool for plotting your adventures. Here's our guide on how to use Komoot to plan a trail run - although it's also good for hiking and cycling.
A guide to using Komoot: what is Komoot?
Created in 2010 by a group of outdoor loving friends in Berlin, Komoot is a route finding, route planning, navigation and adventure sharing platform for cyclists, hikers, runners and more. It functions both on the web and as an app, and its primary mission is to make outdoor adventure more accessible. The name "komoot" reflects this. Taken from the Austrian Kleinwalsertal dialect, it means practical, helpful and simple. Where some platforms focus on the competitive element of outdoor pursuits, Komoot is all about getting out there and having fun.
Users can find routes - called "Tours" - using the Discover feature, plan their own Tours using the Route Planner, download routes to their GPS device, or use the app to navigate while on the trail. Post-adventure, users can share their Tour with their friends and followers, share their stats on social media and add their own photos and descriptions. They can also create "Highlights" - usually notable landmarks such as summits, waterfalls, cafes, crags, bridges, pubs, lakes and so on - and supplement them with photos and written tips. These Highlights then appear on the platform for all users to view and add to themselves.
The pricing structure isn't the most straightforward and it's best to log on to the site to see exactly what you get for your money.
But as an overview, basic features are free, but to access offline maps and access the ability to export Tours you need to start purchasing "regions". The first single region is free and after that, single regions - such as South Powys or Allerdale (part of Cumbria) - are £3.99 each. Region bundles - such as all of Powys or the entirety of Cumbria - are £8.99 each. Alternatively, you can purchase the whole world for £29.99, so that wherever you are, you have access to offline mapping.
As well as this, there's Komoot Premium, which gives you access to features like the Multi-day planner, Personal Collections, Live Tracking, On-Tour weather and Sport-specific maps. This is £4.99 a month, which is billed annually, so a payment of £59.99 a year.
How to plan a route in Komoot
Firstly, Komoot's Discover feature enables you to find Tours already created by other users. Simply press "Find your next adventure", select "Running" and then choose whether you want to search in the area you are in or whether to search elsewhere. This takes you to a screen with a list of running Tours within a certain radius of your selected location. The Tours are displayed with a small map, key statistics and an indication of difficulty level.
You can expand the search area or make it smaller, before scrolling through the Tours and selecting the one you like the look of. Once selected, you can save the Tour to your profile or choose to "Start Navigation", more on this in a moment…
However, you might want to plan your own route from scratch, in which case choose the "Route Planner" if you're on the web or "Plan" if on the app. Routes are plotted using a series of waypoints, including your start and end points and everything in between. So, for example, if you wanted to plot a run in the Brecon Beacons starting in Talybont and taking in a loop of Talybont Reservoir, you'd use the search function to find Talybont, set it as both your start and end point and add the Talybont Reservoir Highlight as a waypoint. Just like Google Maps does with roads, Komoot automatically plots your path using known ways, such as roads, tracks, byways and trails.
You can continue adding waypoints to your heart's content until your route meets your exacting criteria. If you fancy heading "off piste" and leaving the trail, you can deselect "follow ways" when placing a waypoint and Komoot will plot a straight line between there and the next waypoint. On Komoot, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (regions where there is typically large areas of access land) are shaded dark green on the map.
Once you've finished your route, click save, give it a name and voila! You're then taken to an overview screen with a map of your route, how long it is expected to take, the distance, ascent and descent, a roundup of the Highlights with user tips and photos, the elevation profile and even the types of different terrain you are likely to meet underfoot. You can choose to keep the Tour private for your own use or share it with the wider Komoot community.
The "invite friends" button shares the itinerary with your running buddies and it allows them to RSVP. In the top right of the screen, you’ll find options to share on social media or download a GPX file for use on other GPS devices.
You can also use a GPX file as the basis for planning your route. On the Tours page, simply select "Import GPX" and the route will be created. You can then tinker with it as much as you please, editing the path or adding Highlights and so on. This is useful if you are planning to run a classic route and want to make it your own.
Using Komoot on the trail
The navigation function works just like a car’s sat nav, with your current location and the route indicated on the map and voice prompts to keep you on track. This can be useful if you are just wanting to run and not have to worry about navigating whatsoever.
However be prepared to attract a few odd glances looks when your phone starts talking to you on the trail - unless you're wearing earphones, of course. If you are, we suggest the Aftershokz Aeropex so you can still hear what's going on around you.
If you deviate from your plotted route, Komoot will automatically adjust the Tour to quickly get you back on track.
Share your adventures with Komoot
When you start your Tour navigation or use the "Record" function, Komoot keeps a track of your route using GPS, just like other running apps and smartwatches. Even if you don't use Komoot to record your run, if you've tracked it with your smartwatch, you may be able to sync your watch app to Komoot so that it uploads automatically to the platform. Komoot boasts compatibility with Garmin, Suunto, Apple, Samsung Galaxy and Polar smartwatches.
Once recorded, the privacy settings allow you to choose who can see your Tour in the Komoot feed. You can also use the "share to social media" tool to create a map or image view of your adventure, complete with the basic stats - great for sharing to Instagram Stories and the like. If you have a website or blog, you can insert a map view and your run's stats onto your page by copying and pasting an embed code.
Other route-planning recommendations...
As well as Komoot, there are plenty of other platforms that allow you to plot a running route. With more than 86 million users worldwide, Strava is a popular tool that will be familiar to most runners these days. With a subscription, you can plan routes, select whether you want to minimise or maximise elevation gain and even choose whether you want your route to follow paved or dirt surfaces. It also estimates how long the run will take you based on your average speed on similar workouts over the last four weeks.
Like Komoot, All Trails’ route mapper allows you to upload GPX files to create routes and you also having the option of planning new ones from scratch. You can then access your saved maps on your smartphone app. ViewRanger is another popular tool, boasting its Route Generation feature. Both Strava and Komoot use Open Street Maps (in essence the Wikipedia of the digital mapping world) as the basis for their maps, whereas one advantage of ViewRanger is the ability to plot routes using an Ordnance Survey layer. Of course, this only applies to use in Britain.