Although it’s no guarantee of absolute safety, wearing reflective gear should be the top priority when exercising before or after sundown. It’s particularly important during winter months when days are shorter. Runners, walkers, cyclists and all who exercise before dawn and after dusk should adhere to a simple motto: “Light up the dark.”
Dozens of options—vests, flashlights, blinking shoes, reflective strips, armbands, bike lights, reflective wheels—are available at most recreation-oriented retail and online merchants, apparel stores and via mail-order catalogs. Amphipod, Nathan and Black Diamond are among several companies specializing in reflective running gear. Bontrager, Topeak and Trek gear their night exercise products toward cyclists. Some products are ideal for multiple exercise groups.
“I highly recommend the Amphipod Strobe Plus LED Reflective Xinglet; it provides excellent 360-degree reflection,” says Russ Kozar, owner of the Fort Myers location of Fleet Feet, the national fitness chain stocking athletic shoes, apparel and accessories geared toward runners. “Pair that with an Amphipod Flash dot LED clip. Use reflectors for total visibility on the darkest mornings and nights.”
While any reflective gear helps, wearing it on your arms and legs, rather than on your trunk, is also important. Drivers are more likely to see the reflection or glowing light when it’s more noticeably in motion.
“See and be seen is the motto for dark runs and walks,” says Kozar. “As we know, being seasoned runners, nobody is paying attention like they should. Being lit up makes you more likely to be seen.”
Exercise in the dark presents potential vision problems for drivers, but runners, walkers and cyclists also have poorer performance in non-daylight hours. Potholes, branches, wire fences, slippery surfaces and parked vehicles are all difficult to see.
“What we sell the most of is a two-in-one pack by Lezyne,” says Alex Blackwood of B.C. Bikes in Naples Park. “It’s a $50 pack. It’s a front light and a rear light. They are 200 lumens each with multiple settings and rechargeable with a USB wall plug. It’s a great light to see where you are going and for people to see you. For a $50 price point, it’s pretty unbeatable.”
Beyond reflective gear, exercisers training in the dark will be well served to adhere to common-sense guidelines:
Run against traffic.
It’s easier to avoid traffic if you can see it.
Don’t wear dark colors at night.
White running attire is the easiest to see at night, but orange and yellow are also appropriate. Black, brown, dark blue or green are not recommended.
Run behind vehicles stopped at intersections.
Even if a car or truck has stopped at a stop sign, there’s no guarantee the driver has seen you.
Choose lighted routes.
When walking or running near your work or home, choose broad, well-lit streets and paths. Avoid cutting through parks, parking lots or narrow, dim streets, even if it means going the long way around.
Let your ears hear.
Leave the headphones at home when you exercise, particularly at night. Wearing headphones diminishes an athlete’s ability to hear a car horn as well as human and animal voices.
Wear a billed cap, clear glasses or a helmet.
The bill of a cap will hit an unseen tree branch or another obstacle before the obstacle hits your head. Clear glasses will protect your eyes from bugs and other unseen obstacles.
A potential attacker can watch for exercisers’ patterns and loom in a particularly dark or isolated area.
Avoid unpopulated areas.
Also steer clear of poorly lit or deserted streets and overgrown trails.
Carry a cell phone and identification.
Use strength in numbers.
Run or bicycle with a partner or in a group, such as a local cycling or running club.
Make connections with passing cars.
Try to make eye contact and acknowledge a driver.
Finally, trust your intuition.
If you are uneasy about a person or a location along your route, trust your feelings and avoid what is making you anxious. It could save your life.