Running at night has its risks compared to running during the day, but there are many benefits to running in the dark – some obvious and some you may not expect. The risks of running in the dark can be mitigated by having the right gear and exercising good judgment to help you stay safe and have an enjoyable run, whether trail running or running in the city. In this post I’ll cover:
The ultimate guide to running at night – table of contents (with quick-links):
- Why run at night? The benefits of running at night
- Whether running in the dark is more difficult than during the day
- How to run at night
- The dangers of running at night
- The essential gear for running safely in the dark
Why run at night? The benefits of running in the dark
- Fewer distractions – it is easier to gain focus and enter a state of moving meditation as you decompress at the end of the day, if you’re running with fewer people around and less going on in general. This is especially true if you are able to run on trails at night, when it may just be you and the nocturnal wildlife sharing the trail.
- More hours in the day to get your run in – Particularly in winter, it may be difficult to find time to run during daylight hours. Being comfortable and geared up to run in the dark means you can get your training in at any time of day, even if it’s nighttime.
- More adventure! There’s something about running in the dark that makes it seem more adventurous. Partially because you have less company, places look different in the dark, and fewer people choose to run at night as it is perceived as scarier and more hardcore than running in daylight. One of my most adventurous runs was an overnight race in the mountains in Italy – there’s something about focusing on nothing but your breath and the light of your headlamp (especially when running on the edge of a cliff) that makes dark night-runs seem more wild. Oh, and the reflective animal eyes looking out at you from the side of the trail helps, too 🙂
- Cooler temperatures – if you live somewhere that gets uncomfortably hot to run during the day, then night running (or early morning pre-sunrise runs) make it possible to run without getting too hot or sunburned.
I suggest making your night-time runs ‘easy’ and low intensity so that you are not too amped up and don’t need as long a time to wind down following your run.
Many people, including myself, find that if you do too much intense exercise too close to when you want to go to sleep that it can affect your ability to fall asleep quickly, whereas if it’s a calm, meditative run, then the opposite happens, you can get back from a run, eat, have a warm shower and be ready to sleep!
Is running in the dark better than running during the day?
In some ways running in the dark is better than running during the day. If you work a normal work-day, then by the time you get to the evening your body is already warmed up from a day of activity, which makes it easier for your body to perform and should make it less prone to injuries resulting from not doing a proper warm-up. I definitely notice my body is stiffer first thing in the morning but by the afternoon I’m more mobile and my system is running well after having a few meals and staying hydrated throughout the day.
It should be easier to see cars when running at night – assuming they have their lights on! If you have to run along a road, then running facing traffic (so you can see them coming) and looking out for headlights helps you stay safe and hopefully able to jump out of the way if needed.
Try to avoid running around dawn and dusk, because at these times:
- it is harder to see cars coming as their lights may be on but they don’t light up the sky in the same way as when it’s fully dark.
- the light is low (especially dusk when it’s fading), everything takes on a brown-gray hue, and it’s hard to gauge how uneven the ground is, and spot obstacles.
- wildlife, including predators such as coyote and mountain lions, are most active at this time.
So even if there is still some light, bring a headlamp to help you see, if you expect to be out when the light is fading, and try to avoid roads and quiet trails to reduce the chance of a vehicle/animal encounter.
How to go running at night: 4 things to remember
- Eat a small amount 1-2 hours before your run, not a full dinner – a banana or a Clif Bar is a good choice. Make sure you have a decent lunch, too.
- Don’t go home and sit down – get straight out. Consider running straight from work, or driving straight to the trailhead so you avoid the temptation to sit down / eat / drink and get too comfortable to go back out (especially when it’s cold and the weather is less than perfect!).
- Run slower, with smaller footsteps than you would during a daylight run. The reason for this is to reduce your risk of tripping on uneven ground, due to reduced light and depth-perception that comes with running at night. Night runs are a great opportunity to work on form rather than speed, as you are more likely to actually be running with good form if you focus on your posture (strong abs and glutes!) and smaller, faster footsteps to ensure a good footfall cadence.
- Know your route and the area – if you are visiting somewhere, make sure the park doesn’t fill with unsavory characters at night and make sure you’re not going to get lost or end up in the wrong place. I travel a lot for work and have learned not to use a night run as an opportunity to explore a new city or trail, but stick to popular paths and resist the temptation to find more ‘adventure’ than I may want to handle.
Is running at night dangerous?
Many of the risks of running at night are the same as the potential dangers you may face when trail running during the day, although the risk of tripping, getting lost and encountering potentially dangerous wildlife is greater (hopefully all three of those things don’t ever happen at the same time, that would truly be a Type 3 adventure!!).
RELATED POST: I’ve set out some ways to ensure your trail runs are as safe as possible in a previous post, which should help you plan your night runs and stay safe: Is Trail Running Dangerous? How To Stay Safe on the Trails.
As we run mainly on trails and in residential areas, the chances of an undesirable human encounter are not as great as if you run in an urban environment, including city parks where groups of people may sleep in or hang out at night. Whether your planned route is ‘safe’ at night or not goes back to the need to exercise good judgement, common sense, and knowing the area you intend to run in – or at least going with a group of runners, for increased safety and reduced chance of getting lost.
How to run safely at night: The essential gear
The key to running safely at night is to be able to see and BE SEEN by others.
If I had a dollar for every time I saw someone out running (or walking) with dark clothing and no reflective gear on then I’d be pretty well-off… it can be VERY hard to see people in the dark or low urban street-lighting when they don’t have light clothing and/or reflective features on their gear.
1. A quality headlamp worthy of trail running
For running in the dark, you need a headlamp that is up to the task. That is, it has to be lightweight, comfortable, have a good battery life and be suitably durable for running with. Therefore while any headlamp is better than nothing, it is worth investing in a headlamp designed for runners, rather than just the cheap one you have for occasional camping or power outages. I like the very affordable and lightweight Biolite Headlamp 330.
FULL REVIEW: – If you would like to learn more about the Biolite Headlamp 330, read Alastair’s detailed review of it here: BioLite HeadLamp 330 Review: The Best Value Headlamp.
You can buy a BioLite Headlamp from your preferred online store below but GET 15% OFF YOUR BIOLITEENERGY.COM ORDER WITH CODE: TRAILANDKALE15
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HEADLAMPS FOR RUNNING BUYER’S GUIDE: 5 Best Headlamps for Trail Running Buyer’s Guide
On that buyer’s guide you will also find a couple of other excellent alternatives to standard headlamps, including the Kogalla RA which is a multi-functional waist-torch for those who feel nauseous when using a standard headlamp – we love that the Kogalla Ra can be attached to anywhere on your person, such as around your waist or on the straps of your race vest / backpack, and maybe a good choice if you are planning long night runs. See here to learn more about the Kogalla Ra.
2. Reflective clothing and reflective running vests
Keep an eye out for reflective features when you buy your running clothing, especially if the items are dark-colored. You can also buy reflective running vests that are worn over whatever else you are wearing (the link takes you to one we like on Amazon, which is less ‘construction worker protective clothing’ and more ‘night-time athlete’ in style!). These are mandatory during some night races such as the Hood to Coast events.
SEE IT IN ACTION: Here’s a video of the event where you can see Alastair wearing the vest while running:
3. Reflective running shoes
Given your feet are probably the part of your body that will be moving the most, it’s helpful to have a pair of shoes with reflective material, especially on the heels, as the reflective + motion combination helps ensure you’re seen.
SHOE BUYER’S GUIDES:
- The Best Trail Running Shoes: The Ultimate Buyers Guide!
- The 10 Best Road Running Shoes
- 5 Best Waterproof Trail Running Shoes for Fall/Winter
4. Whistle or alarm
Take a small, but very loud whistle like the Fox 40 Sonic Blast on night trail runs – I have used mine to scare off coyotes – which tend to be the most active at dusk. A whistle is also useful if you fall or get lost, to call for help (especially when there’s no phone signal where you are). A more aggressive option is an attack alarm, and even more extreme (but maybe sensible depending on where you are running) is a small can of bear / pepper spray that can be carried in a pocket or hydration vest.
RELATED POST: Essential Trail Running Gear for Unexpected Emergencies
5. GPS running watch with incident detection and assistance features
Not an essential but very handy for a multitude of reasons, some GPS running watches like the Garmin Fenix 6 Series can share your location via automated text and email when either you need help or your watch detects that an incident has occurred.
Garmin Fenix 6 watches are available at the following stores:
13 new from $649.99
1 used from $769.99
As the days get shorter and the nights longer, don’t let the increased chance of having to run at night put you off. I hope these tips help you embrace the opportunity to still get out running, even in the dark… you never know, it may become your favorite time of day to have a peaceful yet adventurous time out on the trails.