The sun has a relentless work ethic: rising—and setting—day after day. If you confine your running routine to the daytime, you limit your options. That’s especially true after the clocks turn back and daylight hours dwindle. It’s also true in the dog days of summer because daylight-only runners miss the coolest time to be out.
Beyond embracing long winter nights and avoiding sweltering summer days, some runners turn to running after dark to sync better with their work schedules or personal biorhythms.
Whatever your motivation, you should take a few precautions when running at night:
- See and be seen: Headlamps, reflective clothing and safety lights are a must.
- Be wary of traffic: Strive to make eye contact, but assume no driver sees you.
- Plan your route: Check apps/sites; seek advice and pick well-populated routes.
- Scout your route: Check it out in daylight to identify potential hazards.
- Bring friends: Carry a few safety essentials and run with a partner.
Running at night isn’t for beginners, and it can be even more intimidating for those who have ever felt unsafe. Always exercise caution and only venture out at night if you feel comfortable and fully prepared.
Wear a Headlamp
Wear Reflective Clothing and Safety Lights
- Running clothing that has reflective fabrics or trims
- A reflective vest, clip-on reflectors or armbands
- Flashing safety lights
How much safety wear is enough? More is always better. At a minimum, you want to be sure that a vehicle approaching from any direction will detect your reflective element or safety light.
Pay attention to the amount of reflectivity on your clothing. If it only has a small logo or minor trim, then add a safety vest plus additional reflectors. Attaching flashing safety lights is also important because blinking lights stand out more than static reflective materials.
- Look both ways at every street crossing (just like you do during the day).
- Watch for drivers running red lights. Never go ahead of a stopped driver who is waiting to make a right-hand turn.
- Give extra distance when crossing in front of an approaching vehicle (more than you would in the daytime).
- Be extra cautious late at night and right before dawn. Late-night drivers might be impaired; early morning drivers are often rushing to get to work.
- Always try to make eye contact with a driver before you cross paths.
Some runners have favorite routes and like to stick to those. It’s better, though, not to rely on a single route. Developing and running a variety of routes is good for your fitness, and it makes it harder for anyone to target you based on a predictable routine. Focus on routes in areas you consider to be the safest—even if that means driving to other regions to run those routes.
Running a route under the bright light of the midday sun is very different than running that same route after dark. So it’s important to carefully preplan your nighttime routes because it will be harder to navigate those routes by sight.
Websites for local parks and recreation areas can offer clues about places to run. Websites like MapMyRun and apps like Strava have rich databases of routes that have been logged by other runners. The apps also offer a way to share routes with friends, as do fitness electronics makers like Garmin. Be sure you research all of the privacy and safety settings that apps offer, too, because sharing can also provide public info you might prefer to keep to yourself.
To get more route ideas, plus intel about the safety of a potential new running area, talk with friends, running clubs or running shops in the area. Also consider heavily used running destinations if your city has them. (However, don’t assume that a popular greenbelt area in the daytime will automatically be bustling, safe or well-lit at night.)
COVID-19 makes running with a partner more challenging. Abide by local health department rules and social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and run at a safe distance from your buddy, or head out with a member of your household, if possible. You should also follow mask guidelines for your area.
These additional safety precautions are also worth considering for night (and day) running:
- Carry your cell phone so you can easily call for help; you can also use a tracking app to share your location with nearby family and friends.
- Carry your ID or a product like a Road ID that can provide vital stats to first responders and e-crumb trails to trusted friends.
- Think about carrying mace or pepper spray and/or another handheld protective device. (Check local regulations for legal restrictions.)
- Ditch the headphones. At night when vision is dimmed you’ll be relying more heavily on hearing to maintain awareness of your surroundings.
- Trust your gut. If something looks or feels amiss, it's wise to forgo the run, change course or call for help.
In many respects running at night is similar to many other outdoor activities. If you think ahead and take a few precautionary steps, you’ll be set up for success and can head out more confidently. After that, you’ll be hitting your stride in no time.
Depending on who you are or where you live, running at night may feel risky or intimidating, especially for members of communities that most often face barriers to safety outside such as women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities and others. Exercise caution when deciding when, where and how to venture out, especially at night. Local chapters of running organizations like Frontrunners and Black Girls RUN! can provide additional helpful information about how to run safely in your area.
Remember: Safety is your responsibility. No internet article or video can replace proper instruction and experience—this article is intended solely as supplemental information. Be sure you’re practiced in proper techniques and safety requirements before you engage in any outdoor activity.