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7 Essential Tools For Running Safely in the Dark

Running in the dark can be a challenge and presents some unique challenges. Running in the dark can also be very exhilarating, especially when you run in a group.

Basic Questions

There are basic 3 questions that you need to answer before you head outside for your early morning or late evening run.

  • 1.    What sort of terrain are you going to be running on?
  • 2.    How much light will there be on the route you plan to run?
  • 3.    How safe is the route you plan on running?

Terrain

Will you be running on the roads or will you be running on trails or a track? If you will be running anywhere that there is traffic, then you need to be sure to make yourself as visible as possible. Any time that you are out running with traffic, you need to assume that they can not see you. Very few drivers will look for runners out after dark. After all, it seems as if few enough lookout for runners during the daylight hours!

Ambient Light

Does the route that you are planning on running have regular street lights or house lights that can show you your path? Are the moon and stars bright enough to allow you to see where you are placing your feet? If not, then you will want to bring some sort of illumination with you.

Safety

How safe will the route that you are running be? It can be dangerous to run through an area with rocky terrain. You may also need to worry more about predators at night, both two-legged and four. I have never felt a need to carry any sort of weapon when I ran, but I am male and have lived in relatively safe cities for most of my life and most of my trail running after dark has been with a group.

Basic Tools

Once you have answered these questions, you will need to decide what you are going to carry with you. Here are a few items that you may need (I recommend that everyone get the first 3 if they ever plan on running in the dark or in inclement weather):

  • 1.    Get a reflective vest or jacket. Preferably a bright one in some unnatural color like fluorescent yellow or orange. You may look funny during the day, but I never let that bother me. Having been hit by a car, I like to make sure that I stand out against my surroundings. You may not need to wear this if you are not going to be running where there is traffic.
  • 2.    Get a headlamp. They are pretty cheap these days. You can start with a $20 (or less) pivoting headlamp at your local hardware store that will work well enough on the streets (that is what I currently have.) If you are going to be on trails or running in the dark regularly, then you will want to get a brighter one that is made for running. The ones that are made for running generally have a little extra support, the battery is located at the back of the head, and there are 6-8 white LEDs. Unless it is very bright where you are running, you are going to want to wear your head lamp on all of your runs in the dark.
  • 3.    Get a red strobe light. I use one that I bought for my bike as a tail light, but it came with a strap so that I could wear it on my arm. I have used it running more often than I have used it on my bike. It has 8 or 10 red LEDs that are very bright and that flash in 6 directions (3 horizontal and 3 vertical). You may not need to wear this if you are not going to be running where there is traffic. I have found that this does the best job of getting me noticed by traffic when there is any, though. Almost every one of them sees me if I have all three of these items on.
  • 4.    You may want to carry some mace. You will need to be careful not to accidentally spray yourself or somebody you are running near, but it can come in handy if you are mugged or if a dog or some other animal begins to chase you.
  • 5.    Bring some friends. Running with a group in the dark is a great shared experience, and it can be a lot safer than running solo. You are less likely to be hassled than if you run alone and traffic is more likely to see a crowd than a single person. If you fall and hurt yourself, there will be somebody there that can take care of you or get help.
  • 6.    Bring a cell phone, especially if you do not bring any friends with you. If you get lost, get hurt, or just get tired and lazy you will be able to call for somebody to pick you up or emergency services to come rescue you.
  • 7.    Bring identification. You should carry some sort of identification with you any time that you leave the house.

Weather

The last thing that you should consider before you leave your house is the weather. If it is foggy, slippery, raining or snowing really hard, or extremely cold then you may want to avoid running in the dark. Your visibility may be impacted and it can be easy to get lost or step on something that you can not see. Especially on roads, you need to worry about people driving that won't be able to see any lights or reflective material that you are carrying. When it is really cold or has been snowing, there may be no shoulder for you to run on and a driver may not have adequately cleared their windshield so that they can see where they are driving.
Days where the weather makes it too dangerous to run outside I will bite the bullet and run indoors or cross train. It is never a good idea to miss a workout, but if you can not get home safely from the workout then it is worth trying to find some other activity to do or even changing up your schedule a bit to accommodate the weather.
Running at night can be safe and enjoyable, and there are a lot of tools that make it easy to get out in the dark. Make sure that you have an extra helping of common sense and that you can see and be seen, and have fun playing out in the dark!