Staying Safe While Exercising in the Dark

Exercising outside after dark can be a safety hazard. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 80% of pedestrian traffic fatalities occur at night or in low-light conditions. That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t go out at night: Whether you want to avoid the daytime heat, short winter days are cutting into your schedule, or you simply prefer it, sometimes night time is the right time. It is in your best interest to take any step you can to increase your visibility, though, so you should always wear reflective gear when you run or exercise in twilight or after dark.

Happily, there is a growing range of athletic apparel with high-visibility elements to make sure drivers, bikers, and other pedestrians see you. Clothing in fluorescent colors helps, but reflective panels, which light up in the face of car headlights, make your presence well-known and keep you safe on a night run or walk. Your reflective exercise or running gear should include hats, pants, shirts, and more.

What to Consider in Reflective Running Gear for Safety

When planning an evening run outfit, you should think about how much reflective coverage you need. Some types of clothing provide more visibility than others, so you may want to mix and match. If you don’t want to buy dedicated night running gear, you can also buy a reflective accessory that you wear on top of your outfit, like a running vest. Once you know what kind of reflective clothing you want, there are a few details you should look at closely.

reflective vest

Reflective vs High-Visibility Clothing for Safety

There are multiple types of athletic apparel that are designed to make you more visible while running or exercising, but not all of it will help you at night. Many companies make “high-visibility” running clothes with bright colors and patterns, which can help grab a driver’s attention. Some high-visibility clothing will feature fluorescent colors, which may be more visible in twilight, but will not make you more visible at night.

Reflective running gear, by contrast, features a fabric that adds retro reflectivity, which reflects light back at its source. These panels, especially when placed on parts of your body that move while you run, ensure that anyone using a light will see you. Ideally, you should wear clothing with both high-visibility and reflective elements at night. Reflective panels will help illuminate you in the dark, while high-visibility clothing will help drivers register you clearly as a person, rather than a fuzzy “object” in their path.  Avoid wearing dark clothes while exercising outside. It makes it very difficult for a driver to see you and respond quickly enough to give you enough space.

Bright safety gear

Coverage of Safety Gear

Having reflective panels on your clothing is always helpful, but there is an art to placing them on a garment to maximize your visibility. Ideally, you should look for garments with reflective panels on areas that move frequently while you run, or that illuminate a large portion of your torso. Also, look for garments with panels on both the front and back, to ensure you will always catch oncoming light. More reflective material is always better, of course, but well-placed panels can reflect a lot of light if they’re in the right spots.

Lighting for Safety Gear

According to the University of Washington (where rainy, low-light conditions are a way of life), running apparel equipped with LED lights can be invaluable for runner/exerciser safety. While they suggest that any lighting is helpful, they particularly advocate a headlamp because it will be high off the ground and more visible than shoe lights. As with reflective panels, it helps to wear lights on parts of your body that move, such as the arms, wrists, or ankles, to draw a driver’s gaze. I also recommend looking for running lights that blink, which can’t help but catch the eye.

Light at Night

Materials and Fit of Safety Gear

In addition to assessing visibility, you should also make sure you’re buying comfortable, well-made running clothing. For running at night, in potentially cooler, wetter weather, look for garments that offer a balance between waterproofing and breathability. They should be able to wick moisture from your skin, and should fit comfortably.  

The time change is nearing and we will lose light earlier in the evening.  Make sure that you stay safe regardless of the type of exercise that you do during low light hours.  

layered gear

Other things to consider while exercising during dark or twilight hours:

Avoid going alone

Your safety is so important.  Find a buddy who likes to exercise or wants to start exercising.  It also may make the time go a bit faster!  If you must go alone, make sure someone knows your route, what time you are leaving and returning.  It’s a simple text or note left for someone.

Be Situationally Aware

ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings!  This is a good time to people watch, avoid looking at your phone (I’ve seen people watch a show while they walk), look people in the eye, avoid shortcuts through alleys or desolate paths.  Think about if something or someone looks out of place.  Cross the street, turn around, or duck into a business if something looks suspicious.  If you must listen to music, keep the volume low and wear your ear bud only in one ear.  You should be able to hear traffic noise, voices, and other noise that surrounds you.

Layer Your Personal Protection

Perhaps carry a pepper spray that straps on your hand, there are flashlights that have stun devices on them.  Consider a personal alarm that you can carry on your belt loop or key chain.  Criminals don’t like bringing attention to themselves.  USE YOUR VOICE! We were raised to be polite, but in these situations, use a very loud commanding voice telling someone to “get back”, “stop”, “get away from me”.  Oftentimes this may surprise them, and again, criminals don’t like bringing attention to themselves.  Some choose to carry a firearm for protection.

Regardless of what you may carry to help protect yourself while you are exercising outdoors, you must train and practice, understanding how to properly and effectively use these tools.  Find a reputable instructor, organization, or someone knowledgeable in the industry to teach you how to personal protection devices. 

avoid being alone

Stay safe and stay visible while you exercise outdoors!

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