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13 Tips for Running Safely at Night

Busy schedules are one of the most common reasons running plans fall by the wayside. Life gets busy – for all of us. You want to run in the morning, but you have to get the kids out the door to school and yourself out the door to work. You want to run mid-day, but don’t have a long enough lunch break, if you get a break at all. You want to run in the evening, but you have to feed the family and get some work done, and your friends want to hang out, too. And so on.

It can be hard to sneak in a run if you’re working full-time and have a full complement of personal and professional commitments. Your only option during the week might be night runs. If that’s the case, more power to you!

However, you want to make sure that you’re taking the precautions necessary so that you’re running safely at night, and not endangering yourself. We’ve compiled a variety of tips for you to keep in mind when you’re running at night.

1. Wear the Right Gear

Two aspects of visibility are important: others need to be able to see you on the road, and you need to be able to see the road ahead of you. Thus, when you run at night, make sure you have the right gear. Wear reflective gear on as many moving body parts as possible so that motorists can see you.

Similarly, lighter-colored clothing is a better option than darker, because you’ll stand out from your environment better. Neon, light-reflecting running apparel and shoes designed for night runners are readily available, so make sure you add some to your wardrobe. You may even want to wear a safety vest just to make you that much more visible.

Finally, don’t forget a headlamp to see the road ahead of you. There are plenty of options available (we’ve found the top headlamps for runners here), and be sure to select one that is going to be bright enough for where you normally run.

2. Run in Well-Lit Areas with Minimal Traffic

Personal safety is just as important as visibility. No one wants an aggressive dog running after them. And stories abound of runners being physically assaulted in dark and secluded locations. While you shouldn’t be planning your runs around a sense of fear, precaution goes a long way. Your best bet is to run on routes that are well-lit so that you can stay as on top of things as possible. If you can, pick an area where there isn’t too much car traffic, but there is enough foot traffic that you aren’t alone.

The safest place for you to run at night is likely going to be along your local main street. You’ll see restaurants and a variety of other shops that are open later, meaning that there will be tons of people around and you’ll be able to see the road ahead of you with all the lights.

At the same time, if your local main street gets busy with traffic at night—this might be especially true on Fridays and Saturdays—you might want to select another safe and well-lit, yet less-busy option.

running with group at night

3. Bring Your Phone and Money

While it’s always a good procedure to run with your phone, it’s especially important at night. You want to be able to call someone if you’re in a bad position. There are a variety of apps available specifically focused on safely running at night.

The free bSafe app sends an emergency message, calls designated friends/family, and even locates you on a map. The free Road ID app displays emergency contact information on a smartphone even when it’s locked, as well as giving your family and friends the ability to track you via GPS with the additional feature called eCrumb.

You may also want to consider bringing money, which you can always tuck into your phone case. You never know when you might need cash.

4. Don’t Listen to Music

Many runners love to listen to music while they run—I am not one of them—but doing so at night is not the best idea for safety. You want to have all your wits about you. If you still feel the need to listen to music, just use one earbud so that you can hear oncoming cars with your other ear, or consider investing in bone conduction earphones that leave your ears open.

Remember that one of your senses—your vision—will be drastically impaired at night. Thus, you’ll be relying more on your other senses to guide you forward. If you’re listening to loud music, you’ll be impairing an additional sense. Don’t limit your hearing when you really need your ears to tell you what’s ahead and what’s behind at night!

Statistics show that night runners who wear headphones are more likely to be involved in collisions with cars (and even trains!). A number of these avoidable collisions are, unfortunately, fatal. While some of these accidents are the result of distracted drivers, some are also the fault of distracted runners. Leaving your headphones at home is an easy way to make sure you are paying the most attention possible to your surroundings.

If you are insistent that you want to use two earbuds to really focus, consider picking an audio book or podcast instead of music. Since there is only one voice in your ear, it is easier to hear the world around you. By contrast, with music, many sounds are drowned out, and it tends to over-stimulate, which isn’t great if you’re trying to settle down after your run and get to bed.

Although it’s ideal to run with nothing at all, use your time while running to multi-task and catch up on your favorite book or podcast instead of your favorite artist if you must wear those earbuds.

5. Bring your ID

Whether you use the Road ID app listed above, stash your driver’s license in your pocket, or don an ID bracelet, it’s helpful to have your personal information available if first responders need to identify you.

running at night in group

6. Run with a Partner or a Group, if Possible

Safety is greater in numbers. If you have to run at night, it’s almost always best to run with a group, if possible. See if one of your friends will run with you, or meet up with a running group for working professionals. This is especially true for women, who are more often targeted in assaults.

Try to look at this tip from a positive light, though. Instead of thinking, “Well, for safety, I have to find somebody to run with,” think, “Wow, I get the opportunity to catch up with a friend.” So invite one of your friends for a run, and kill two birds with one stone: staying safe and deepening your friendship. You might even turn some of your non-running friends into runners!

7. Tell a Friend/Family Member When, Where, and How Far You are Running

It’s always good to let someone else know where you’re going to run, when, and how far—even during the day—just so at least one person knows where you are. This is especially true for longer runs.

This advice rings even more true at night. If your roommate knows that you’re going for an hour run, and it’s suddenly turned into 1.5 or 2 hours, they know that there is a possibility that something has gone wrong and can seek help.

8. Use a Tracking App on Your Phone

In addition to telling someone where you are going, you should consider using a tracking app on your phone. This will let people you share the details with know exactly where you are. If an emergency occurs, your loved ones will know exactly where you are, and where they need to go.

Many running watches have the option of syncing with your phone via Bluetooth and sharing your running information with friends and family. If you have an iPhone, Find Friends is always a great option.

A side benefit of using a tracking app is that you can compare your night runs with your day runs. Runners tend to be slightly faster at night because the weather is slightly cooler and therefore better for running. Plus, we tend to be more alert and able to utilize energy better.

9. Run Where There are Few Obstacles Like Bumpy, Rutted Roads

The less to distract you during a night run, the better. Routes that have few obstacles and are as flat as possible are likely going to be the best options for running at night. This means that you need to know your route, so pick a familiar route, one where you have memorized every step along the way.

Knowing the exact details of your route ahead of time will give you that much more comfort and confidence running at night. Even if your neighborhood is very safe, don’t try a new route in it and certainly don’t try a remote trail. Stick with what you know!

running safely in the dark

10. Stay on the Left Side of the Road to be Visible to Oncoming Traffic

It’s always good to run on the left side of the road so that you can see oncoming traffic and they can see you. This is especially true at night. You want to see vehicles that are approaching so that you can move over more if they seem to dangerously close to you. Plus, they won’t be sneaking up behind you.

11. If Legal, Bring Pepper Spray, Emergency Whistle, or Personal Alarm

You should definitely look into all options that make you feel safer and more empowered. Again, this is particularly true for women. An emergency whistle is a small item that you can slip into your pocket, but it may be especially useful if a situation turns uncomfortable or dangerous.

A safety or personal alarm is similar to a whistle, except you pull a ripcord to emit a 100+ decibel alarm.

Pepper spray, where legal, is the even better option, as you can find it in portable carriers, and you can easily and effectively defend yourself if needed. Preparing for all contingencies means you will be as prepared as possible in the unlikely event that something does happen.

12. Follow Your Gut Feeling: If Something Doesn’t Feel Right, Get Away

It can be easy to second-guess ourselves, but that’s the last thing you want to do when considering your personal safety. If something feels a little weird, just turn around. It could be nothing, but it’s not worth risking it.

Make sure that you stay alert throughout your entire night run. You might be decompressing after a long day at work, zoning out, or even thinking about what you’re going to eat after your run, but keep that to a minimum.

At night, it’s essential that you pay attention to your surroundings. Just having your wits about you can make all the difference. Just like they talk about defensive drivers who are prepared for what could happen, be a defensive runner who is prepared for whatever might come your way.

13. Change Your Routes So You Don’t Follow the Same Pattern All The Time

While you want to pick routes that are familiar, make sure that it’s not the same thing, night after night. Repeating routes often makes it easier for someone who is looking to victimize someone to predict where you’ll be. Varying your routes and routines is the best way to go. Keeping it random will keep you safer. Just make sure that you have several routes that you know well, so that you can select from them. And alter which way you run routes—clockwise some days, counterclockwise others.

It’s also a good idea to run at different times throughout the week just to keep it random. Instead of consistently leaving the house at 7pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, change up the times and days. The less predictable you are, the harder it is for someone to track you and learn your habits.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner