How to Choose a Running Light

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Every runner should have a running light. Even if you don’t often run at night or in the early morning hours, having a small running light can be an invaluable tool for both safety and convenience.

But do you know how to choose a running light that suits your needs? Do you even really know what your needs are when it comes to the kind of light you’re using?

This article will go through the various features you should be looking at when considering purchasing a running light to help you find the most suitable one for you.

What Are the Most Common Types of Running Lights?

There’s a variety of different types of running lights, and the one you choose should be suitable for your needs. You may need to buy more than one type of light depending on when and where you run.

You can choose from the following types of running lights:

Headlamp

These lights are worn on your head, with the light sitting on your forehead. They are great for illuminating the area in front of you while keeping your hands free. Some have a rear light so cars and other people can see you from behind.

Chest-mounted lamp

Very similar to a headlamp but it’s worn around your chest. These typically are bright than headlamps.

Waist light

Almost like the chest-mounted light but it fits around your waist. Between the three, you should choose what feels most comfortable when you are running it.

Clip-on light

These small lights can be clipped onto a hat, shirt, shorts, shoes – basically anywhere. Primarily, they are so vehicles and people can see you. They don’t offer much to improve your own visibility.

Handheld light

Aka, flashlight or hand torch, these usually offer the most concise beam. But because you hold it, the beam will swing with your arms as you run. And some people may not want to hold something in their hands.

What to Look for When Shopping for a Running Light

Not all running lights are created to the same quality. Consider the following factors when you choose a running light.

Lumens Level

The brightness level of a running light is measured in lumens, and the higher the number is, the more light you get out of it.

If you want to run on trials in low light conditions, you should choose a running light of 300 lumens or more.

A good choice is 100 to 200 lumens. You can get away with a light of 40 to 50 lumens while running on neighborhood streets at night.

More light is always better when you are going to be running in low-light conditions. This will allow you to have better vision and stay safer on whatever surface you run on, but it will also help you be seen by drivers.

Halogen vs LED

Single-Bulb Halogen

Single-bulb halogen bulbs offer good brightness and a decent distance as well. But they may get warm, which can run the batteries down quickly due to the heat they give off.

You will need to change the batteries more frequently, but the bulbs may also not last as long.

Single LED

A single LED bulb provides excellent light, both in quality and in distance. Many LED bulbs come with a magnifying lens, which increases light output.

These bulbs stay fairly cool, so there’s no wasted energy due to heat. They last longer than halogen bulbs.

Multi-LED

Multi-LED running lights often include white light and another color, often red, but sometimes green or blue. They provide a good amount of light but often have a shorter beam distance than a single-LED light.

Combined Light

Some running lights use both halogen bulbs and LEDs. This usually allows you to switch between bulbs to get both excellent distance and great close-up illumination.

These lights are very versatile, being a great choice for running in almost any type of environment.

Headlamp Beam

Flood (or Wide)

A flood or wide beam doesn’t illuminate a very far distance in front of you. However, it does illuminate a wide area in front of you, allowing you to see to the left and right of you.

Although it does illuminate a lot of what’s right in front of you, you won’t be able to see very far in front of you as you’re running.

Spot (or Focused or Narrow)

A spotlight—also known as a focused or a narrow light—is ideal for illuminating a far distance in front of you. This kind of light is what you need for trail running but may be overkill for road running at night.

Flood and Spot

Some running lights contain both a flood light and a spotlight, which is the perfect combination for any and all types of running.

With an adjustable light, you can run anywhere you like, and you’ll have a light that suits your needs.

Battery Life

The battery life of your running light will indicate how long you can run at night on a full battery.

Some running lights have a built-in battery pack, while others run on standard batteries. However, some include both options to allow you more versatility.

Both heat and cold can drain the battery faster than usual, so be aware of that when looking at the battery life for a running light.

Your battery will also drain faster when using the solid light mode, but a flashing light mode will help the battery last longer.

Types of Power

Standard Battery

Standard batteries power many running lights, which are usually the more affordable types of lights. However, you may spend more in the long run as you will need to replace batteries unless you use rechargeable batteries.

These can be handy because you can carry an extra set of batteries with you to switch out if you’re on a long run.

Rechargeable

Many high-quality lights come with rechargeable batteries, or a rechargeable battery pack included.

This is handy as you don’t need to replace the batteries. You can charge the battery on the go, and most of them are also USB-chargeable.

This is an environmentally-friendly choice, as it reduces battery waste.

Dual-Power

There are running lights that come with a rechargeable battery and space for standard batteries to be used.

This is very versatile and means you never have to worry about not being able to find a place to recharge your battery!

You can let your fully-charged battery run down and then use a set of standard batteries to “top it off” until you can charge your rechargeable battery.

Other Considerations

Waterproof

Choose a running light that’s water-resistant at least, but if you can find one that’s waterproof it would be the best choice.

A running light should be rated at least IP44, which means it can handle dirt and a rain shower while staying safe and undamaged.

Rear Lights/Red Lights

If you prefer a headlamp, try to choose one that has a bright lamp in the front and a red light at the back.

This helps to increase your visibility from behind, so cars approaching from the rear can also see you.

White light may cause temporary blindness for a driver, so it’s safer to have a red light making you visible from the back.

You need to see what’s in front of you, so a white light is necessary. However, you don’t need to see what’s behind you, so you don’t need white light in the rear.

Fit, Comfort, and Usability

The running light that you choose should be adjustable enough to get a good, comfortable fit wherever you’re wearing it.

This will also allow you to wear the light over a hat in the summer or a beanie in the winter, so it doesn’t matter what’s on your head.

It should not be uncomfortable, heavy, or annoying when you wear it. However, don’t mistake thinking that small, inconspicuous buttons are the best.

If you are going to be using the running light on the go, larger buttons that you can operate easily by feel are more user-friendly.

Weight

The running light that you choose should be light enough for you to run with your head in its normal position. It shouldn’t feel like it’s weighing your head down.

If the light is too heavy, it may bounce when you’re running, leading to annoyance and an inconsistent light that isn’t helpful.

The ideal weight for a running light is less than 6 ounces—180 grams.

Price

You can buy a cheap light, which will provide light and make you more visible. However, it may not last very long, and cheaper lights tend to be less resistant to water, dust, heat, and cold.

Spending a little more on a high-quality running light will ensure a long-lasting, robust light that can handle environmental factors like rain, temperature fluctuations, and dust.

We recommend investing a little more and having a light that you can use for years than spending a little and replacing it in a few months.

Durability

It’s important to check the durability of your chosen light. Choose a running light that can withstand rain, cold, heat, and sweat.

You may also find lights that can handle a drop, and some may be resistant to dust. Choose a durable light and be sure to take good care of it.

Extra Features

Light Sensor

A handy feature that comes on some running lights is an ambient light sensor, which detects changes in the ambient light and dims or brightens your light as necessary.

This means that when you go from a place with a little bit of light to a very dark place, it automatically brightens so that you can see everything you need to see in the dark.

When you move into a lighter place, the light automatically dims so that it’s using less battery.

External Battery Packs

If you choose a running light with a rechargeable battery pack, you may be able to buy a separate battery pack as a backup. This means that you can still use a battery pack while the other one is charging, so you’re never without light.

Top Straps

Some of them offer extra straps that are designed to go over the top of your head for better stability on headlamps.

Some come with these straps from the start, and they’re removable so you can choose whether or not you want them on.

However, if your headlamp doesn’t come with this extra strap, you can usually buy one separately if you need more stability.

Battery and Rechargeable

The highest quality running lights usually have the ability to run off of both standard batteries as well as a rechargeable battery pack. This makes them very versatile.

It also means that you can carry a few standard batteries with you in your running belt or pocket so that if your battery pack happens to die while you’re running, you have an emergency backup battery solution.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.