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How We Plan Trail Routes and Activities

hand holding an iphone with google maps on the screen

Route planning, whether it’s for individual training, group runs or larger CapitalTrails projects, is one of the activities we enjoy the most. We see it as a skill that every trail runner should possess. It’s something that makes great use of technology, information and on-ground navigational sensibilities and helps tremendously with race planning.

Yes, nothing beats the old school exploration methodology. Just landing up and finding our way has a charm that can not be trumped. However, in a world where most of us are bound by time for various reasons, technology and other tools come in and help us plan trail routes like pros.

In this article, we let you in on some of our best kept secrets on how to plan trail routes. Hint - it's really simple!

Apps, Databases and Maps

GPS is a boon to mankind. A bigger boon is the plethora of technology and mapping platforms. Apps like Footpath actually let you swipe and draw routes with - in our experience - over 95% accuracy. Yes, these are obscure trails in remote areas that can be ‘planned’ by simply swiping on your screens. Gaia is another app where one can find community-drawn routes and maintain your own collection. There are community-powered apps like Fatmap where one can find athletes and routes in a particular area.

India is still at a very nascent stage where GPS is being used for recreational activities. Most runners aren’t even aware of the most basic features on their devices. While that limits what route information is available publicly, apps like Strava, Fatmap, Gaia and websites like FKT help in planning with whatever information is available.

Lastly, while not necessarily a part of route planning, we try to track our activities by using a very lightweight and amazing praivacy-focused app called Glympse. The app allows us to set up a ‘tag’ and the whole group can be tracked using the tag. This is extremely helpful because folks do get left behind or go in different directions. This trumps over WhatsApp because one doesn’t need to create a group.

map on gaia gps apps showing route segments with waypoint markers in delhi ncr india
Screengrab from the Nilgai Forest Trail 90k planning phase

On-foot Recce

While the mapping apps give a great starting point to the general routing, we always follow it up with on-ground recce of the routes. This helps us ensure that there are no gotchas and sudden blockades along the route. For us, this saves up to 80% on planning time and helps us focus on creating a story behind each route.

However, even with the most careful planning, there are walls and boundaries that come up randomly; or post-monsoon overgrown bushes; or blocked cattle trails. These unavoidable blocks end up posing many challenges - but on the other hand, they make exploration even more fun. More importantly, these situations lead us (and have led us multiple times) to discover better, more scenic places in the forests.

trail runner with backpack looking at a broken bridge over a trail in a forest
Nakul surveying a section of the Pali-Bharadwaj Lake connect


CapitalTrails’ Role and the Big Picture

As a way of returning something to the community, we contribute with whatever information we can - whether it’s creating Strava segments to enhance discoverability of trails, or writing blog articles, or topping up information on Google Maps, or creating and submitting new routes on FKT. In the same vein, our upcoming Project TrailConnect aims at building the most detailed database of trails and routes in NCR. Stay tuned for more updates.


Cover photo by Tamas Tuzes-Katai on Unsplash


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