Safety First! A Guide to Seeing and Being Seen in the Dark

This Halloween, I’m handing out flashing lights like candy before I hit a runner while I myself am on my way to run. My morning runs are already noticeably darker, but with Daylight Saving Time kicking in November 3, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. (I mean, literally, we’re losing daylight until the winter solstice.)

According to our highly scientific Twitter poll, most respondents wear at least one piece of visibility-oriented gear. And yet … don’t we all know that one person who shows up to run in all black with not a single piece of safety gear? DON’T BE THAT PERSON. We’re here to help.

First, some rules of the road. (Also literally.)

  • Run on the left when you’re on the road! There are exceptions, but for the most part, you’re way better off running on the left so you can see what’s coming at you.
  • Develop some dark-friendly running routes — consider factors like ambient lighting, traffic, bumpy-ass sidewalks and your overall safety (if you don’t feel safe, don’t run there). Avoid busy roads and those without shoulders.
  • Don’t listen to music — this will forever be a hot topic but being able to hear your surroundings is, well, useful in every situation I can think of. If you must, please at least wear only one earbud or try something like Aftershokz.
  • Carry ID! Even if you’re running with others, having an ID with key information and emergency contacts is a good idea. I’m a RoadID girl. If you carry your phone, make sure you’ve set up your emergency info on there either via built-in features like Apple’s or by creating a contact called ICE (in case of emergency).

Running in the dark requires common sense but also some special equipment. I’ve fine-tuned mine through years of running overnight relays and many early-morning runs, but I’m always looking to find something I like even better, so make sure to tell us your favorites in the comments!

Illumination

These older Brooks shorts are also reflective!

Reflective gear only works when a light hits it, but with illumination, you are always visible! It can also help you see, which I promise is very helpful.

I suggest a blinky light — these from Amphipod are my favorite because they’re lightweight and magnetic. Easy to clip on to whatever you’re wearing.

Also, equip yourself with something so you can see where you’re going. Streetlights are great but not guaranteed, and in my opinion, being able to see more is always better. By carrying your own light, you can shine it at whatever you want. Is that a cat, an opossum, or a person? Hit it with 300 lumens and find out. Driver decides to run a stop sign? BAM, right in the eyeballs.

You’ve got options here. I used to be a flashlight girl, but I am now 100% a headlamp person. I even wear my headlamp when I need a light in the yard or need to fix something around the house. Your hands are free, and the light doesn’t bounce around like when you carry a flashlight. The light automatically moves towards whatever you’re looking at because it’s on your head. I’ve been using a Black Diamond Spot for years because it’s lightweight with plenty of power.

That said, Nathan has a line of “hand torches,” a flashlight with a hand loop similar to a handheld water bottle, and angled to point at the ground without you having to do much with your hand. I also like that some models have LED strobes on the butt end (see: my love of blinky lights), as well as an emergency siren. Another company makes Knucklelights, which are pretty much what they sound like they would be.

I’ve also seen hats with lights built into the brim, which I don’t own but am totally into. (Okay, I do actually have a winter hat with a light built into it headlamp-style that I wear while walking my dog in the winter. And I did pop off the LED to use on a run recently when I forgot my headlamp. I got it on Groupon. I LIKE LIGHTS.)

Honestly, a small flashlight from Target will work fine. I keep one in my car anyway and if I forget my headlamp or the batteries die, a small flashlight does the job, even if it’s less comfortable to carry. If you take nothing else from this article, it should be to put a flashlight in your car. (Or an entire jump box but maybe that’s just me?)

Reflectivity

I know I just said reflectivity only works in certain cases, but I still think it’s important. Your illumination pieces are small and generally put out light in one direction. Most reflective gear will generate a larger surface area of noticeability and 360º of it. If you just see a single light, it can be hard to determine what it is you’re seeing. Being wrapped in something reflective makes it more obvious that the light is attached to a human you should avoid hitting with your car. Plus, it’s easy.

I’ve run relay races in borrowed safety vests that had to be tied together to fit me, but I promise there are good options out there. I prefer the Amphipod Xinglet series (pictured above), which fits over pretty much anything and is easily adjustable for different layering situations. There are also options with pockets! I’ve worn mine with everything from a sports bra and shorts to full winter layers.

Photo courtesy Oiselle via Instagram

I’m also into reflective clothing.  If I have to wear it anyway, it might as well be reflective. Oiselle has some great looking and very visible pieces, although some sizes are out of stock and a company representative told me they will not restock this season. The downside to this is choosing pieces that will get worn frequently. When you run in the dark, do you often need a vest? Or are you in shorts? I love running vests but the likelihood of me running in the dark in weather that requires a vest is, well, not high. (You know where else you don’t slip on ice or get hit by a car? The treadmill.)

I’ve also seen some pro runners posting about PYR, a company specializing in performance reflective apparel. PYR was started by a mother-daughter duo, Geralyn Perkins and Rachel Young (an NCAA cross country All-American).

Both!

Not surprisingly, I love a multi-tasking tool. Products that combine both reflectivity and illumination are money, in my opinion.

Several of the Amphipod Xinglet series have lights affixed, and I’m also a fan of the Noxgear Tracer360.

One last tip: put your phone down while you’re driving. Here’s to safe driving this winter!

How do you deal with the shorter daylight hours? Tell us in the comments!

 

 

Started running in my early 20s and ended up running my first marathon 15 months later. Managed to break 3 hours in my 12th marathon. Pilates instructor passionate about the importance of your powerhouse in running and the mind/body connection. One husband, zero kids, mama to one Australian Shepherd.

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2 comments

  1. I love my NoxGear Tracer 360! Almost everyone I train with (at pre-dawn hours) has one, and anytime I see the others from far away I know it was a really, really good investment. I also have a few different headlamps that I’d never survive without.

  2. Thank you! I sometimes feel like this is my personal soapbox.

    I have an Ampihpod Xinglet, but just one of the basic ones – and I clip my lights onto it. I’m a believer in not having multiple points of failure, so I would rather have to replace the lights OR the vest, but not the whole dang thing. I did have to get a new vest last winter, as my running buddy pointed out that the reflective strips were no longer doing their job. So that’s something to watch for, that over time the effectiveness may not be as strong.