We’ve cleared the winter solstice, but we’re still on the short end of the daylight cycle. Working a full day means you’re leaving in the dark, and it’s likely dark by the time you get home. This could be an excuse for not getting outside, but you’re not the kind of person to collect excuses. However, adventures in the dark require a different set of gear than daytime excursions. You need to be visible, see where you’re going and stay warm. This means wearing adequate reflective gear, bringing a reliable source of light and smart layering.
Here are our gear picks for when you hit the road or trail in those after-dark and pre-dawn hours.
Reflective gear is necessary for all after-dark outdoor activities, but it’s especially crucial for running and/or cycling around traffic. Make sure your reflective gear has 360-degree visibility, so drivers can recognize you as a human, and not an errant flash of reflection bouncing down the side of the road.
Best For: Running, cycling
Grab two of these 1.5-inch bands and strap them around your ankles when you hit the road after dark. Wearing one around each ankle can create an easier pattern for motorists to track your movements, whether you’re running or cycling. Hook-and-loop closures and a soft lining make these bands comfortable and easy to adjust.
Best For: Running, cycling
The Amphipod Xinglet is a low-profile way to make sure you’re covered, with 360-degree visibility and easy-to-identify patterns. The straps are fully adjustable, the clips are simple and secure quickly. Throw this on over your layers and you won’t even notice it’s there. This handy piece packs down for travel and adjusts from 27 to 47 inches at the waist, and from 16 to 21 inches at the shoulders. Check your measurements to make sure this vest will fit.
Best For: Running
Nathan’s smallest and most powerful LED strobe clips to a pack, waistbelt, shoes or even the back of your headlamp. Four bulbs and multiple settings offer varying degrees of visibility, and the whole unit weighs under one ounce. The battery life lasts between four and 30 hours depending on the setting. If you’re looking for a slightly less-powerful strobe with up to 100 hours of battery life, check out the Nathan StrobeLight.
See Where You’re Going
If you’re hitting the trail, you’ll need a light with at least 200 lumens, and we recommend even more for cycling in traffic. Try mixing it up—some trail runners appreciate a combination of headlamp-plus-flashlight for maximum visibility options. Carrying a handheld flashlight allows you to quickly scan for obstacles and extend light range without turning your head, while the headlamp provides a steady source of illumination. Packing a backup light source or spare battery is never a bad idea either, especially if you plan to be out for more than a few hours. Learn more about how to choose headlamps and bike lights.
Best For: Cycling
Yes, you read that right. With more than 1,000 lumens, this light will make you feel like you have a car headlight clipped to the front of your ride. With five brightness levels and two daylight flash modes, you’ll want to keep this on your bike no matter the time of day or night. The rechargeable lithium ion batteries last six hours on the low setting, and 10 hours while flashing. The highest setting will kill your battery after only one and a half hours though, so keep track of your usage and the last time you charged it. This light can also be attached to your helmet with a separate helmet mount.
Best For: Running, hiking
This powerhouse of a headlamp boasts 200 lumens and a red taillight with a strobe setting to keep you visible from the front and back. Adjusting the brightness settings is easy with Black Diamond’s PowerTap technology. The over-head strap prevents the light from sliding down into your eyes, even with high-impact use or the most jolting descents. The battery is USB rechargeable.
Best For: Running
For those who can’t get used to a headlamp strapped around their skull—or runners who want two light sources for higher visibility range—this smart little rechargeable flashlight comes with a 24-degree downward angle to light the path without having to turn your wrist or adjust your grip. High, low and strobe settings are easy to adjust, and the rear-facing red LED keeps you visible from behind. The ergonomic strap fits over your hand so you won’t get pumped out gripping the handle.
Be smart with your layers. Start with a wicking base layer to trap body heat and keep you dry once you start to sweat. You’ll also want an insulating layer, which can be worn or stashed in your pack for periods of lower output. A shell layer will protect from chilling gusts, whether you’re cycling or simply outdoors in an exposed area.
Best For: Hiking, running, cycling
We love hooded base layers, and this form-fitting offer from Odlo comes with an integrated hood and face mask. Incorporating the hood into a well-designed top means (at least in moderate temps) that you can forgo the hat and face mask you’d ditch anyway once your heart rate increases. Body-mapped construction provides extra insulation where you need it, and mesh panels under the arms help with venting. The synthetic blend wicks sweat and prevents odor buildup. Men’s version found here.
Best For: Hiking, snowshoeing
This versatile, lightweight layer clocks in at 9.3 ounces for the men’s version and 8 ounces for the women’s, so it can be easily stashed in a pack as you warm up, then thrown back on during breaks or chilly descents. PlumaFill fibers comprise this garment’s synthetic fill, and will insulate even when wet. Pertex® Quantum shell fabric stands up to light precipitation and is entirely windproof. Women’s version here.
Best For: Hiking, snowshoeing, camping
This simple-yet-valuable piece of gear fits snugly over Nalgene bottles—or other 32-fluid-ounce bottles with a similar shape—and keeps your water from freezing. Do yourself a favor and pack lukewarm (or even hot) water for longer outings. This accessory will keep water in liquid form, but not forever, and packing warm water will help it last longer.