Running at Night Tips

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Two runners, each wearing reflective gear and a headlamp, striding on a path toward distant city lights.

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:

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.

 

Gear Up to See and Be Seen

Everyone’s vision becomes compromised after dark, so you need a few essentials to aid both you and the drivers along your route.

 

Wear a Headlamp

Regular runners are adept at taking in subtleties in the approaching running surface and adjusting their footfalls to avoid hazards. A bright headlamp or handheld runner’s flashlight lets you direct illumination and boost night vision to avoid those hazards after dark. Don’t rely solely on streetlights either: That strategy restricts your route options and leaves you in the dark in places where the street lighting is poor or broken.
 
If you’re shopping for a new runner's light, look for one that’s small but mighty (at least 200 lumens of brightness). A handheld runner’s flashlight allows you to more precisely aim the beam, while a headlamp leaves your hands free and balanced. To learn more about lights and get recommendations, read How to Choose a Headlamp and Tested: Best Headlamps.

 

Wear Reflective Clothing and Safety Lights

Bright clothing (not grays and blacks) can help make you visible to vehicles during the day. After dark, though, colorful clothes aren’t sufficient. Crank up your visual volume when heading out after hours so you’ll stand out against low-beam vehicle headlights.
 
Make it so drivers find it hard to miss you by wearing the following:

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.

 

Be Wary of Traffic

Increasing visibility is critical, but you also need to up your vigilance around vehicles. Always assume that drivers can’t see you, and then run accordingly. Here are some additional traffic safety measures for nighttime running:
 
  • 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.

 

Plan Your Route Ahead of Time

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.)

 

Scout Your Route Ahead of Time

After sundown, hazards will be harder to spot. Head out for a few daytime runs in a new area to gather intel. Unseen steps along a path or subtle elevation differences between a paved trail and the surrounding ground can easily twist an ankle. Cordoned-off construction areas can be harder to spot at night, too.
 
The first time you run a new route at night, start out slow to get a feel for how things differ after dark. After you’ve run the route a few times, then it’s fine to pick up the pace.

 

Bring a Friend and Safety Essentials

Running with a partner might be a great way to share the fun of the run, but it’s also a great way to increase your margin of safety. A companion can get aid if you have a mishap and can help deter bad actors.
 

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.

 

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Contributing Experts

Bill Underwood

Lifelong runner Bill Underwood at REI’s Lincoln Park, Ill., store coaches USATF athletes and local charity teams. He’s run 20 marathons, 3 ultramarathons and—someday—the Western States 100. Bill also has way too many running shoes. Proudly.