16 Safety Tips for Running at Night

June 07, 2023

Are you ready to embark on an awe-inspiring journey that leaves the timid behind? Step into the night and explore the adventure that can inspire runners to go those extra miles. As your feet hit the trail, feel the cares of the day evaporate as you disconnect from distractions and forge a deeper connection with yourself. Running at night is more than just a physical pursuit; it is a voyage of self-discovery. As the sun sets and the day turns to darkness, the night offers an ideal backdrop for thinking outside the box. Let the crisp air refresh your mind while the tranquility of the moonlight rejuvenates your spirit. In the solitude of the night, your focus sharpens, and your thoughts become clearer. So, take the leap and unlock the transformative power of running at night.

When you’re running at night, visibility is key. Make sure you can see and be seen by wearing a light, reflective gear, and avoiding dark-colored clothing. Pick a safe route and always let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back. And bring a phone in case you need some help.

If you want to experience what it’s like to run under a star-filled sky while the world around you is asleep, follow these 16 tips from night-running vets to keep it safe and have an enjoyable time.

Visibility is Key

Everyone wants to see and be seen, but when you’re running at night, visibility is key. Not only do you need to be able to see the terrain around you to be able to move through it safely, but you also need to be visible to others. Being highly visible to other runners, mountain bikers and especially other vehicles is paramount for safety. Stand out and get yourself noticed - wear a light, reflective gear, and avoid dark-colored clothing.

1. Wear a Light

While the stars and moon are wonderful companions to have during your evening run, they most often don’t provide enough light for you to run by. And while many roads are equipped with streetlamps, many are not. If you’ve ever taken a spill on asphalt because of a slight misstep or tripped over a tree root, you know that if you want to see clearly, you need to bring a light with you.

Pro Tip: The shadows cast by a light source from above your eyes will be hidden resulting in a very ‘flat’ view of the ground. When you wear your light below your eyes, like on a sternum strap or on your waist, the shadows cast by the light become visible and reveal the texture of the terrain. This dramatically enhances depth perception.

Those who have spent time running at night know that a good light makes all the difference. Being able to see what’s at your feet, to the left and right and several feet ahead will help you to navigate tough terrain to reduce falls, and keep you on the right path. A good light also dramatically increases your chances of being seen.

Etiquette Tip: While a bright light can be awesome for the wearing runner, it can be very irritating when focused on someone else’s wide-open pupils. Consider that others’ eyes may be adjusted to a much lower level of light. A simple way to not give someone several minutes of night blindness is to be aware of where your light is pointing and simply put your hand over it as you approach them.

Pro Tip: A light with wide dispersion will illuminate your peripheral vision and allow your eyes to work more like they do in the daytime, requiring less mental effort to see clearly. A light with wide dispersion is also more visible to others.

2. Wear Reflective Gear

There is a lot of awesome gear out there with lots of options to choose from. There are also some incredible materials that are super-reflective. For running at night, choose gear that has a significant amount of reflective material incorporated into it. Any light around you, whether it’s the headlights of a car, a streetlamp, or the lights worn by another runner, will reflect off of this material, making you visible to others. This tip is an easy one. Do it. It could save your life.

3. Avoid Dark-Colored Clothing

Ninjas and stagehands have known for centuries that to go undetected, wear black. Contrarily, since we need to attract as much attention as possible while running through the darkness, it is important to wear lighter colors at night. Light-colored clothing will increase others' visibility of you at night simply because light reflects off of lighter colors rather than being absorbed as it does in darker colors. And, it’s even better if your clothing has reflective material incorporated into it as well.

Pick a Safe Route

Pick a safe route, and always let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back. There are a number of elements for consideration that go into choosing a safe route for your night run. For instance, you probably would avoid running that knife’s edge or scrambling along a cliff in the dark. While these points seem obvious, here are three additional tips to consider when planning your night route.

4. Run a Familiar Route

You know those runs you can do while in your sleep or while blindfolded? This type of run is perfect for a nighttime excursion. In the dark, a lot of the larger but distant reference points are not visible. And without the sun, it's easier to lose your sense of direction. This can make route finding more challenging. Also, knowing about that tricky stream crossing to keep your feet dry, or that spring where you can refill your water can reduce the trepidation caused by uncertainty.

p class="blog">In a 2013 Nature Review Neuroscience paper, neuroscientists tell us that anxiety can result from uncertainty because uncertainty about a possible future threat disrupts our ability to avoid it or mitigate its negative impact. Familiarity reduces uncertainty and helps our mind to relax.

If you ‘need’ to run a route in the dark that you haven’t done before, Get as familiar with it as you can - virtually. Trail descriptions from blogs or popular trail sites along with maps, elevation vs. distance charts, and satellite pictures are a great way to get information about the route before you head out. Reducing the number of unknowns will increase your confidence. When the worry of getting lost or running into something unfamiliar is significantly reduced, you can more fully enjoy your nighttime run.

5. Vary Your Running Route

Don’t create a pattern that a would-be predator can use to cause you harm. Running a familiar route doesn't mean that you need to run that route every time. In fact, it is highly recommended that you have several familiar routes to choose from. This is due to the unfortunate yet true reality that unkind strangers who want to cause people harm do exist. Running the same route or even a pattern of routes, for example, doing Roger's Loop on Mondays and Deer Creek Trail on Wednesdays will allow someone to predict your future whereabouts. Vary your routine by starting at different times and places sporadically throughout the week. This will leave no pattern to follow.

6. Run a Popular Route

As awesome as it sounds to have the mountain and your thoughts all to yourself and to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before,’ choosing a popular route is usually accompanied by an increase in safety. There is likely more information in the form of maps, descriptions, GPX files, tips, etc. available about a popular route. It’s also likely that the often-trodden trail is better marked and presents less of a challenge in route finding. Just saying the name of a well-known route communicates a plethora of information that makes it easier to let others where you are going. And, the likelihood of seeing more people increases the chances of flagging down help if the need arises. Sometimes, it’s the ‘road more traveled’ that makes all the difference.

Keep Good Company – Be Good Company

It's awesome to be in a group of people who inspire and push you to achieve. It’s also a great feeling when you help someone stretch towards their potential. Shared adventures are often the basis of solid long-term friendships. There most definitely is strength and safety in numbers.

7. Run in a Group or With a Partner

Not only is running with someone or in a group more fun, but it can also help you stay motivated and improve your performance. The accountability to others might keep you from scrubbing your run when you feel a little off. Comradery and conversation also help to keep the mind awake and sharp during longer runs.

Research shows that groups, with their combined skillsets, tend to make better decisions which will help to keep you safe if something unexpected happens. Even if you never need it, it’s nice to have the promise of assistance with a problem or injury. And, in a group, you’re less likely to be bothered by others.

There is an additional bonus to doing something adventurous with a group - courage. A Psychology Today article indicates that being in a group can also help us feel more courageous. Who couldn’t use that little extra boost as we head off into the dark?

8. Tell Someone Where You’re Going and When You’ll Be Back

There may be times when you cannot have other people physically present with you when you run. Even so, it is important to let someone know where you’re going, and how long you plan on being out. This is particularly important while running at night because people are more difficult to find at night, should something go wrong. A simple note or text letting a loved one or friend know the route you plan to take will give you peace of mind that if something happens, others will know where to look for you.

Be Smart, Use Your Phone

In addition to the obligatory selfie, a phone is an invaluable tool that can help you be safer when running at night. It can help you plan, prepare, communicate, track, and route find. And if worse comes to worst, the flashlight on your phone just might get you across the finish line. However, it’s not going to be much use if it’s out of juice. So, make sure it’s charged and ready to go before heading out. That’s an obvious tip, so we won’t count that one. Here are a few more worth counting.

9. Bring Your Phone

Even if you’re really good about telling someone where you’re going to run, there is a chance that you might need to change your plans either unexpectedly or deliberately. Maybe you take a wrong turn by mistake, or the temptation is too great, and you decide to channel your inner Ferdinand Magellan. Maybe you start to feel sick mid-run and need to have someone pick you up. Having your phone with you will give you the ability to communicate. Even if you don’t end up needing it to reach out for assistance, it’s nice for both you and your loved ones to know that you can get in touch. Keep in mind, the safety net of being able to make a quick call is only as good as the local cell service.

10. Track Your Run

Sometimes running with others isn’t possible. Perhaps it is a scheduling issue, and you don’t have local running friends who can run at night. Maybe you haven’t connected with a local running group. And then there are those who just prefer running alone. Regardless of your reasons for running alone at night, it is still important to stay connected with others during your run, in order to stay safe.

Apps like Strava have a beacon that you can turn on and send to three “safety contacts.” This is equivalent to letting people know where you are headed, but a zillion times better. If you run into danger and don’t come home when expected, those who have access to your beacon can help locate you and bring you back to safety.

11. Check the Weather

Who would have thought that one day, your phone could give you weather updates right there on the home screen? Use your phone’s weather app to check the weather right before you head out because a calm evening run can turn wild and scary quickly when an unexpected storm moves in. Being exposed to elements that you weren’t prepared for even in the daytime hours can be terrifying, but adding the darkness to it makes it downright dangerous.

Make sure you check the weather even up to a few hours or even minutes before heading out, because in the dark it’s harder to see the weather changing before it gets to you.

12. Carry Your ID/ICE

Most smartphones have some way to put - In Case of Emergency (ICE) - contact and medical information into your phone in a way that can be accessed without needing your phone’s password. Include your name, age, current medications, allergies, and also, a primary contact and at least one secondary contact. Spending a little bit of time to put this into your phone is a good just-in-case investment. Whether you’re an iPhone or Android user, here’s a PC Magazine article that will walk you through the steps. You may also want to keep a printed version of your ICE info with you as well.

Have a Situational Awareness Mindset

Situational awareness is more of a mindset than a hard skill. In a 1995 paper, Mica R. Endsley broke it down into three key components.

  • Perception of the elements in your environment
  • Comprehension of the current situation
  • Projection of their status in the near future

Your brain combines these three components and decides to either just keep doing what you’re currently doing or take some additional action. Your level of attention, experience, training, and innate abilities will influence the quality of your decisions. Here are a few tips to help out.

13. Ditch the Earbuds

While bringing noise makers to deter wildlife predators is a good idea, bringing the kind of noise that only you can hear, aka, headphones is not a good idea. Headphones while running at night mutes out one more of your much-needed senses. You need to be able to hear what’s around you, especially when it is difficult to see. All of our senses work together to keep us safe from harm, and shutting things like hearing out, only makes it that much more of a challenge.

However, if you must have music, an e-book, or a podcast playing to keep your mind off your aching muscles or wandering crazy thoughts, try turning the volume down or leaving one earbud out to allow some outside sound to enter.

14. Run Against Traffic

If you run on the road at night, not only is it important to make sure motorists can see you, but that you can see oncoming cars. Running against traffic on the shoulder of the road will allow you to see a car moving abnormally which might indicate a distracted driver. It will also point your light in their direction so they can see you loud and clear. The better they see you, the better chance they have at giving you the space you need to run safely home.

15. Use Running Poles

Ascending and descending terrain can be difficult in the daytime, let alone at night. To maintain balance, our brain takes in signals from our inner ear, vision, and proprioceptors and processes them to figure out how we are moving and oriented in space. A Sports Health article explains that proprioceptors are soft-tissue sensors that tell the brain how much tension is on our muscles, tendons, and ligaments. For example, it is through these sensors that we can tell we’ve stepped off a boardwalk onto a sandy beach without looking. A handrail improves our balance because it allows us to get additional proprioceptive input when we go up or down a set of stairs.

Even with a good light, our vision is diminished at night. Running poles give our brain two additional sets of proprioceptive inputs that help us understand ground contours and our position in relation to them. This significantly improves our balance. And there is an added bonus. A 2010 Northumbria University study shows that running poles reduce the load on your legs, giving a physiological benefit in endurance applications. In short, running poles can help us move more safely, more quickly, and for longer through varying terrain.

16. Bring Personal Defense Gear

Nobody wants to think about the possibility of experiencing an attack whether it is wildlife or human-caused. However, in order to be prepared for that worst-case scenario, it is important to explore the possibility and take proper precautions to protect yourself. Depending on where you plan to go, whether it’s high mountain terrain, foothill fire roads, paved parkways, or your local neighborhood will determine what type of personal defense or protective gear to have on hand.

Mace will help ward off human and many dog attacks, and there are many small handheld options for runners. Bear spray would be something to bring in bear country. Many times, however, noise is your best offense to keep animals away. Simply by attaching bear bells to your shoes or pack will let animals know you are there, and to stay away.

Don’t Let Fear Stop You

Running at night can be an exhilarating experience, but it does come with added risk. Don’t let fear stop you. Fear is an emotion that tells you - there are important things that you should pay attention to. While this list is not exhaustive, we have tried to make it a good list of things to be considered.

  1. Wear a light
  2. Wear reflective gear
  3. Avoid dark-colored clothing
  4. Run a familiar route
  5. Vary your running routes
  6. Run a popular route
  7. Run in a group or with a partner
  8. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back
  9. Bring your phone
  10. Track your run
  11. Check the weather
  12. Carry your ID/ICE
  13. Ditch the earbuds
  14. Run against traffic
  15. Use running poles
  16. Bring personal defense gear

Follow Your Instinct

Here is one final tip that is so universal that we didn't give it a number. It applies to all the above tips and any other info on the topic. Listen to your instinct! Your mind is a powerful tool that works hard both consciously and subconsciously to keep you safe. If something just doesn't seem right, it might not be.

Please Leave a Comment

Tell us your favorite tip for running at night. It could be one on the list that you’d like to add to, or it could be one that we completely missed. We read all the comments and we’d love to hear from you.

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