3 Things to Consider Before Running in the Dark
It’s that time of year again. Whether you crank out the miles before starting the rest of your day or struggle to fit in your run after the work day is over, you are likely relegated to running in the dark.
While running inside (whether on the treadmill, or by using one of the available local indoor running options) is definitely an option, I strongly believe that not getting outside to run in the darker half of the year is to miss out on a part of what makes our state so wonderful – the chance to see familiar sights prepare for winter!
3 Things to Consider Before Running in the Dark
With a little careful preparation, you too can enjoy the feeling of being the first to run through a fresh snowfall or take a running tour of your neighborhood’s holiday light displays. Consider these three things before running in low light:
If you have owned a bike at any point in your life, chances are it came with reflectors on the spokes of your wheels. The intent behind these small pieces of plastic is as much about reflecting light as it is making the reflected light appear to be traveling in circles. This is huge because it lets the observer see that there is a bike in front of them – even though their eyes likely can’t make out all of the details of the bike! Said differently, the position and pattern of the reflected light help your brain recognize that this is a bike.
In the same way, we should strive to make ourselves recognizable as runners – even if the full silhouette isn’t readily visible to the observer (like that car coming down the road towards you). We can take advantages of readily available clothing and running accessories to make ourselves more recognizable as runners, no matter the ambient lighting around us, by focusing on the key portions of our body which aid in this goal.
When we run, our legs and arms are moving the most, while our head and torso likely stay relatively static. Reflective accents on your chest and back, or on the trim of your stocking cap, are better than nothing but they don’t make you stand out as a runner, especially from any real distance. When looking to be seen and recognizable (at least long enough for someone to slow down and take a second look before flying down the road in their new pickup), focus on your legs and arms, especially as you get closer to your feet and hands (they tend to move the most, relative to your torso). Products like and are great ideas in this direction, as the light reflected/emitted is close to the parts of your body moving the most when you run (and thereby helping to make you more easily recognizable as a runner).
2. Passive Lighting vs Active Lighting
Now that you know which areas to focus on to stay visible, how do you know what to buy? We are here to tell you…it really depends!
Passive lighting (or reflective items) can be great at making you visible so long as another light source is nearby (street lights, car headlights, flashlights, etc.). Active lighting (or items which emit their own light) can be great at making you visible as long as the power lasts.
Admittedly, I own a little of both, and will often choose what to wear/bring on a run based on where I am going to be. If I am running in an urban setting with great lighting, I usually rely on a heavily reflective coat and tights, bringing only minimal lighting in case I head into a darker area. If I were going to be on some singletrack in the middle of the woods, I would worry less about reflectivity and focus more on a very bright light source (and some backup batteries just in case). Products like a pair of LED-adorned shorts from At Night Athletic would go a long way towards helping out in both scenarios, allowing you to be seen regardless of the ambient lighting (and we are looking forward to getting to try a pair out soon!).
3. Seeing vs. Being Seen
Unfortunately, all manner of reflective items and flashing LEDs won’t do much for you if you can’t see where you are going. Urban runners in neighborhoods freshly adorned with modern street lighting likely won’t have to worry as much, but for the rest of us the chance to avoid that big pothole coming up, or not trip on that next root, is a big part of making running in the dark enjoyable. While you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot, the location and duration of your runs should inform your lighting purchases.
Runners on flat, paved surfaces can get by with a basic AAA battery-powered headlamp. Those hitting more rough terrain might want to consider both brighter light sources (consider both advertised lumens – the higher the better – and beam patterns) and potentially doubling up (having light coming from your forehead and your waist can do wonders for being able to see fewer shadows/have better depth perception).
For runs of two hours or less, I have actually had great luck with a chest-mounted light like this one. It features a rechargeable battery, keeps the light out of my eyes (and saves me from the headache I seem to get from trying to find just the right strap tension to keep a headlamp from bouncing too much), has a red flashing LED on the back, and the fog pattern of the main beam does a nice job of illuminating the path in front and just to each side of me, plus the price is very reasonable! Night Runner 270 Shoe Lights also look like an interesting option for lighting the trail ahead of you and being visible to things coming up behind you, but we haven’t had the chance to try them out yet.
Time to Shop
We have talked a bit about some of the items in our running stockpile, along with some key concepts to keep in mind when heading out for your next evening run. Which products have you had good luck with? Which are you excited to try out? Sound off in the comments below, we are looking forward to seeing you out on our next snowy run!