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Ask A Gear Guru: What Do I Need For Running In Low Light?

As the days get shorter, we take a look at what every runner needs to stay safe and seen while trying to get in their fall and winter miles.

While you don’t always intend to end up running in low light, dusk, or the dark, we’ve all been there: You were going to get in your run at noon, but your officemate (your dog) was giving you side-eye about your lame lunch and so you replaced the run with a maple habanero chorizo burrito and an horchata. Once the burrito finally settled into your belly, it was nearly 4 p.m. and now your boss (again, your dog) is giving you side-eye about skipping the run. While 4 o’clock used to be an appropriate time for a run, now you’re pushing up against the sun, and you’ll need to be smart if you want to get a run in as it gets dark. Let’s look at what you need for running in low light.

Reflectivity Is Key

Before you even think about getting a really cool headlamp (we’ll get to that, don’t worry), if you want to run when it gets darker, you should have at least a few pieces of highly visible clothing. Depending on where you live, it could be a hi-vis jacket, shirt, or even some armbands and leg bands. Experts agree that movement is essential to catching motorists’, cyclists’, and other pedestrians’ eyes, and the more “person-like” the movement, the better. A bright jacket or vest is a start, but to really be seen, try some super reflective strips on your shoes or gloves—the two parts of your body that move a lot when you run.

Use Lights To Be Seen

While most people think lights are just about seeing what’s around you, even in well-lit areas, it’s super important to have lights to make others aware when you’re running in low light. In fact, well-lit areas can sometimes ease drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians into a false sense of security, dulling reflectivity, and making it harder to see the contrast of a runner coming down the sidewalk. Here, you should be thinking about a blinking, noticeable light with a big spread (I.e., not just right in front of you), that catches someone’s eye, but doesn’t necessarily blind them. A busy area is not the place to blast others with 750 lumens of hot white light.

Use Lights To See

This is a no-brainer if you’re out on a trail, but even some urban areas have big gaps in light coverage and require adequate illumination. Also, the faster you’re running (think: downhill), the stronger the light you’ll need, because the beam will need to track farther out ahead as you quickly cover ground. If you’re on flat ground that’s only occasionally poorly lit, you probably don’t need anything that’s over 300 lumens when running in low light, but if you’re screaming down dark trails at night, you might want as much as 500-700.

A Light Guide for Low-Light Running

Just as a quick rule of thumb, below are some tables to help choose how strong your light needs to be and to help you choose the best mode for running in low light (check out the brands’ lumen rating for each of their settings). Bear in mind that the spread of the light and the way it’s projected play a huge role, so different brands may have different recommendations:

10-50 lumens (~40m max)
Can be seen by drivers at night

~100 lumens (~60m)
Can be seen by drivers during the day

400 lumens (~110m)
Minimum for seeing during the night while riding on-road/running on- or off-road

700 lumens (~150m)
Minimum for seeing during the night while riding off-road

Now that you know a little bit more about how to be seen, let’s look at a few products that’ll help you run in low light.

RELATED: What Are The Best Lights for Triathletes?

Knog Quokka Run Headlamp

The Knog Quokka Run Headlamp is perfect for running in low light.

$35, amazon.com
Max Output: 100 lumens for 2.5 hours
Min Output (constant): 46+ hours
Weight: 49 grams

Though this isn’t the light for serious trail running, it’s the perfect solution for urban or suburban running in low light. It uses a super small battery and LED housing inside a translucent silicone strap (that won’t lose its stretch, by the way), and small lights facing inside the strap generate a “halo” effect that attracts 360-degree attention. Big bonus: The light itself acts as a novel USB charger plug, so no need for cables or a port.

Biolite HeadLamp 330

The Biolite Headlamp is perfect for running in low light.

$60, rei.com
Max output: 330 lumens for 3.5 hours
Min output (constant): 40 hours
Weight: 69 grams

We like this handy headlamp because it balances its light weight between a front light and rear battery pack, all on a very comfy strap system that encases the light itself. The fabric on the strap resembles the sweatband on a visor, and as such is breathable and wicking. The light not only angles up and down very easily with one hand, but it has four simple modes (dimmable flood, dimmable spot, red flood, and white strobe) that help things from getting complicated while you run.

Petzl Swift RL

This is the grandaddy of all running-capable headlamps.

$120, rei.com
Max output: 900 lumens for 2 hours
Min output (constant): 100 hours
Weight: 100g

This is the grandaddy of all running-capable headlamps. Boasting a ridiculous 900 lumen output in a very small size and a nice two-strap setup in the rear, this works for everything from urban running to hardcore offroad downhill ultrarunning. Not only is it insanely bright, but it has a unique “reactive lighting” mode that changes the brightness based on the surroundings to help extend battery life, giving you light when you need it and less when you don’t. 

Brilliant Iron-On Reflective Strips

Because not everyone’s favorite shirt, pair of shorts, or hat has good reflectivity, these super lightweight strips can be ironed onto most types of material to help with your visibility.

Starting at $15, amazon.com
Reflective for up to 500 feet away

Because not everyone’s favorite shirt, pair of shorts, or hat has good reflectivity, these super lightweight strips can be ironed onto most types of material to help with your visibility. Like our tips said above, think about putting these on sleeves or shoes or gloves—things that move a lot—for max effect. These are also available in sticker form if you’d like to brighten up your bike or helmet.

Nathan Lightbender RX Lighted Armband

$30, rei.com
Output: 6 lumens (8 hours steady, 16 hours flashing)

This USB-rechargeable armband fits snugly around an arm or leg to provide excellent attention for runners. Arguably better than a flashing light to be seen, the motion of a leg or arm—in combination with a colored light—is the perfect solution to running at night, at dawn, or at dusk.