Running in the Dark: Ways to Be Safe and Maintain Visibility

By , dealnews contributor

With the days rapidly growing shorter, those devoted to running have to choose between heading to the gym to jump on a treadmill or hitting the pavement in the waning hours of sunlight. And let's face it; treadmill running is an exercise in boredom.

However, running outside in the dark has its own challenges. Many drivers unfortunately pay more attention to their lattes and their iPhones than to pedestrians, who can be especially hard to see at night amongst oncoming headlights. But this safety concern shouldn't deter anyone from a good, long evening or early morning run. It just becomes essential to take precautions to ensure a safe outing.

Running Gear to Boost Visibility

The prime concern when running in the dark is, of course, visibility. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the majority of pedestrian deaths occur in the dark or at twilight, and at locations other than at intersections where drivers are not expecting to encounter pedestrians. To compensate for poor lighting, Patrick McCrann of Marathon Nation suggests donning strobe lights to catch the eyes of passing motorists. Think Christmas tree when planning your running wardrobe. What's more, glow-in-the-dark and reflective gear isn't expensive, either; the Nathan Clip-On Deluxe LED Safety Strobe ($7.04 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $3), for example, makes for an excellent taillight.

Other experts recommend wearing a reflective vest to improve his visibility to others. The North Safety Hi-Viz Orange Traffic Vest ($13.97 with free shipping, a low by $3) does the trick. It is made of polyester mesh, which allows it to breathe, and has generous strips of reflective material on front and back. But of course, the running industry is replete with specially-designed clothing for nighttime outings. The Brooks Men's Nightlife Essential Run Vest II ($54.95 with $7.85 s&h, a low by $12) comes in three bright colors with front and back 3M Scotchlite panels to boost runners' visibility. Likewise the pictured Gore Running Wear Men's Mythos Neon Vest (from $28.14 with free shipping, a low by $20) is also brightly colored and has sewn-in reflective patches for nighttime use.

More than donning a vest, wearing reflective material on both the arms and legs can also increase a runner's visibility to motorists, as the motion of these limbs is attention-grabbing. The pictured Nathan Tri-Color Ankleband ($7.39 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $6) and the Nathan Reflex Reflective Snap Bands ($10 with $3.99 s&h, a low by $8) are reflective up to 400 feet. Most running shoes, too, incorporate reflective patches to heighten visibility. The Reebok Men's ZigNano Fly 2 Sneakers ($44.95 with $6.95 s&h, a low by $33) feature a mesh and synthetic leather upper and reflective material that offers greater nighttime visibility.

But being seen is only part of the equation. Runners also need to see where they are going in low visibility conditions. Fortunately, there are modern headlamps available that serve this function well. Perhaps the best of them is the pictured Petzl NAO Headlamp ($173.88 with free shipping, a low by $1). Remarkably, it adjusts its intensity based on situational brightness, an ability that Petzl calls reactive lighting; the lamp will automatically burn brighter when pointed at the road than at a hand, for instance. This not only is more convenient for runners, but also extends the life of the battery. Dolomite Sport tested the light, and it raved about the 6 to 8 hour battery life. Trail runner Ellie Greenwood also tested the lamp in a recent 100km run, and, although she found it a bit heavy at 187 grams, wrote that "the NAO will be my light of choice because of its bright beam, smart battery use, and snug fit."

Other Necessities for a Safe Nighttime Run

Patrick McCrann of Marathon Nation also pointed out that another way to minimize the risk of low-light runs is opting for a well-lit route. This allows runners to both see and be seen, even if it means having to double up on a shorter route to make a longer run. FitSugar also recommends varying running routes to not become a predictable target to someone who may be out to do harm. But perhaps the most obvious precaution to night running is doing so with a buddy: it lessens the chance of possible harm and increases visibility.

Many runners also question whether to run with or against traffic. The issue of glare from headlights when running aganist traffic can lessen a runner's ability to see. However, according to, this is superseded by a runner's opportunity to recognize and react to traffic, which is only an advantage when running towards traffic.

The final element to minimize risk is to remain as vigilant as possible. This means, it's in a runner's best interest to leave the iPod at home in order to monitor the sound of traffic. But for those who absolutely must have a beat to run to, a single-ear headphone model like the Brite Buds Reflective Cord Single Earbud ($22.95 with free shipping via Prime) is a best bet. It not only leaves one ear free for ambient noise, but also has reflective glass particles embedded in the cord.

There's a certain joy that comes with running before daybreak, or ending a frenzied day with a peaceful jog. With a little planning and some specialized equipment, runners can enjoy their outing knowing that they can see and be seen, which are the keys to a safe journey.

Front page photo credit: Triathlon Competitor

Tom Barlow formerly wrote for AOL's WalletPop and DailyFinance, and in addition to his dealnews contributions, he currently writes about lifestyle topics for

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