5 safety tips for running in the dark

Running in the dark safety tips
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

I’ll start this article by saying this isn’t about not wearing shorts, or running alone on fall evenings. As a female runner, I don’t need reminding that running alone in the dark can feel scary, or that women face a disproportionately high risk of gender-based violence. While no head lamp or reflective leggings can change the stats, little tweaks to your winter routine can help you feel safer when running in the dark now that the clocks are changing. 

It’s also important to note that staying safe in the dark isn’t solely an issue for female runners. When running in low light, it’s imperative that cars and traffic can see you on the sidewalk, so investing in reflective running gear, or a head lamp, is a good idea. We’ve hand-picked some of our favorite items below to help you stay safe and be seen this winter. 

1. Use the safety features on your running watch or app 

In recent years, technology has improved to help runners feel safer on the move. Far more technical than just telling someone when to expect you home, nowadays, the running watch on your wrist can be a way of helping you stay safe. 

If you have one of the best Garmin watches, and run with your smartphone, you can turn on Live Track via the Garmin Connect app on your smartphone. This allows you to share your live location with friends and family members via email, Facebook, or Twitter. The downside with this is that you need to run with your phone (although this isn’t a bad thing when running in the dark as it allows you to call for help, should you need it). The Garmin Forerunner 245 LTE has a live tracking mode that can relay your position without needing a phone, and lets you send text messages to emergency services.

If you’re running with an Apple Watch 7, Apple Watch SE or an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, you can share your live location with someone before you head out the door. To do this, add your friend or family member to the Find People app on the Apple Watch and tap share my location. You'll be able to share your location for one hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely. Again, with this option, you’ll need to carry your smartphone with you, unless you have a cellular version of Apple’s Watch. 

Another app that works with most modern Garmin running watches and Apple Watches newer than the Apple Watch Series 3 is Strava Beacon. Strava Beacon allows runners to send a live tracking link to three different contacts. It’s completely free if you’re using the Strava app on your phone, however you’ll have to be a Strava subscriber to use it on your watch. Find out why, as a female runner, it’s the one Strava feature I’ve happily paid for in the past, and read my full Strava review here. 

2. If you can, run with a friend or a dog  

Since I’ve moved from London to the countryside, I’ve started running with my 35-pound cocker spaniel, Toby. He’s not much of a threat to anyone, but on evenings where I’m heading out on my own, he helps me feel safer on routes that are far quieter than my city runs ever were. 

3.  Invest in reflective running gear  

One way to be sure cars and traffic can see you as you run in the dark is to swap your all-black running wardrobe for something more reflective. It’s also well worth buying a head lamp, or chest lamp, to help you see the path if you’re not running in a well-lit area. We’ve hand-picked some of our favorite reflective running items here:

 REFLECT360 Women’s Running Jacket: $140 @ Proviz

 REFLECT360 Women’s Running Jacket: $140 @ Proviz
This is one of the most reflective jackets we’ve ever seen and is a brilliant winter running companion. It’s water-resistant, breathable, and windproof, and comes in a number of different reflective colors. The jacket is lightweight enough to let you stow it in your backpack should the weather change, and has two zipped pockets to carry all your essentials. You can also shop the men’s version here

Power Reflective Workout Leggings: $108 @ Sweaty Betty  

Power Reflective Workout Leggings: $108 @ Sweaty Betty  
These reflective leggings from Sweaty Betty are a go-to when running in the winter. The all-over reflective pattern can be picked up easily by car headlights, plus it doesn’t feel scratchy or uncomfortable against the skin. The leggings themselves are Sweaty Betty’s best-selling design — they’ve got a comfortable, high waistband that keeps everything tucked in as you’re running, plus there’s a drop-in pocket on the leg big enough for most smartphones, and a zipped pocket on the back for your house keys.  

 Beryl Pixel Clip-on Light: $28.98 @ Amazon  

 Beryl Pixel Clip-on Light: $28.98 @ Amazon  
This clever little light comes in handy if you’re running home and have forgotten to wear anything reflective. It can easily be clipped or strapped to a bag, jacket, or around your wrist. It also doubles as a bike light and can be easily switched to a red or white light that is flashing, or just on. It gives you 10 hours of light for a 1.5-hour charge, is waterproof, and can be recharged using a standard USB cable.  

 Brooks Ghost 14: $130 @ Brooks  

 Brooks Ghost 14: $130 @ Brooks  
Brooks has one of the best reflective gear selections for runners, and these shoes are no exception. They are the classic, comfortable, cushioned Brooks Ghost 14 running shoes, but with reflective elements to help catch car headlights as you run. The Brooks Ghost 14 made it onto our list of the best running shoes as it’s extremely durable and can cope with longer, easy miles, as well as shorter, snappier runs. Shop the men’s Brooks Ghost 14 here. 

4. Ditch one, or both, of your headphones 

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s important to be able to hear what’s happening around you, especially when you’re running in the dark. If you need that podcast or peppy running playlist to get you through a cold, winter run, try running with one earbud in. Some earbuds also have a pass-through mode that lets you hear what's going on around you, too. Need to upgrade your tech? We’ve hand-picked the best running headphones here. 

5. Never ignore your instincts 

Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right as you run through the park, it might not be, so turn around and stick to the sidewalk, or stop another runner and ask if they mind you running alongside them. Ideally, we’d live in a world where it was safe for everyone to run alone in the dark and feel safe, but until that day, no matter how confident you might feel, be sure you’re aware of your surroundings. 

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.