Run Safety and Visibility: Gear to Stay Safe on Your Runs

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Run safety and visibility is a huge concern (or it should be!) for most outdoor runners this time of year. We don’t always have the option of running when it’s light out due to our life schedules.

During the fall and winter, when the sunrise is late and the sunset is early, running often has to take place in the dark or near dark.  So, it’s really important to keep in mind your safety and visibility when you’re out for your runs.

Man running on sidewalk at dusk without any run safety gear on.

Types of Visibility for Max Run Safety

There are really two types of visibility:

TO SEE: You need to be able to see where you’re going!

What do you need to be able to see?
  • the road or trail in front of you
  • oncoming traffic, or even more so, someone making a turn onto the main road from a cross road
  • the occasional animal making his/her road or trail crossing at dawn or dusk
  • obstacles on the road that might be in your path: a pothole, a fallen branch, a puddle, a crack in the sidewalk, a curb, someone’s trash can that isn’t exactly sitting “curbside”
  • obstacles on the trail that might be in your path including rocks, roots, or patches of potentially slippery leaves
  • if you’re on trail, and don’t know you’re route super well, you’ll want to be to see signage or trail blaze

TO BE SEEN: You want other pedestrians, drivers (and animals!) to be able to see you!

There is nothing worse than sitting in the driver’s seat and coming up on a walker or a runner who is NOT wearing safety gear and having to swerve at the last minute. This isn’t safe for the driver, the oncoming traffic or you, the runner!

Always make sure that you are visible from the front and the back!

Types of Run Safety Gear

So, based on the two visibility categories above, let’s go over products that are good for each: to see and to be seen.

Gear that Helps You TO SEE Where You’re Going:

Depending on where you’re running and how well-lit (or not) your route is, you’ll want to have a light of some kind that allows you to see your environment.

Some options:
  • A headlamp
  • A set of knuckle lights
  • A clip on light that you can attach to your jacket, a shirt collar, shoes or a waist belt
  • You can even use a handheld flashlight/torch (Nathan brand makes one with a wrist strap.) 

Gear that Helps You To BE SEEN by Others:

The general rule of thumb is to have a white light in front and red light in back. So using a headlamp or knuckle lights will help you see and be seen from the front. And a red clip on light on your back will help drivers to see you from behind. A blinking light (from the front or back) will also draw more attention to drivers than a steady light will.

Affiliate Disclaimer: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post contains affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission on items you purchase through the links contained here.

Some of the Available Run Safety Gear:

A Vest

Benefits:

  • offers 360 degree visibility
  • made with bright colors like neon green, yellow or orange to that you can easily be seen
  • typically has reflectors built in so that when headlights shine on you, you’re more visible to an oncoming driver
  • easy to put on and take off
  • good adjustability so can be worn over any number of clothing layers- a good option in colder months when you’re wearing more layers.
  • very lightweight that you’ll hardly notice it’s on. Make sure it fits properly! If it’s too big, it’ll be flapping in the wind and then you’ll really notice it’s on!!

Some Brands: Nathan, NoxGear, Amphipod

Nathan (nathansports.com) has been around for a while, and they have vests as well as a ton of other run safety options available.

NoxGear (noxgear.com) is newer on the market and has a vest with illumination light settings.

I haven’t used this one personally, but a lot of runners rave about it in terms of visibility and comfort.

Arm/ankle bands

Benefits:

  • moving body parts are easier for other pedestrians or drivers to see
  • put the bands on your wrists and/or ankles so that not just your torso has visibility, but that your extremities do, too (visibly, others will be able to see your entire body)
  • lightweight
  • adjustable

Some Brand(s): Nathan makes snap on bands (like those slap bracelets from the ‘80s)

Reflector strips

Benefits:

  • adhere onto any item of clothing that you already have, like a jacket or long sleeve, even a hat or leggings
  • inexpensive option
  • lightweight
  • doesn’t add an additional piece of gear/clothing to your running “get up” since you’re just putting it on what you already were going to wear anyway

Some brand(s): Gear Aid Tape

Clip on Lights

Benefits:

  • Lightweight
  • Easily transferred from one item of clothing to another, depending on what you’re wearing for a particular run
  • Typically have multiple settings for flashing/strobe or steady light
  • Can get a white and/or a red light for increased visibility from the front or the back
  • Can attach to your jacket, a safety vest, your shoes, your waist belt, etc.
  • Inexpensive 

Some Brands: Nathan, Amphipod, UltraSpire

Built in Visibility

Benefits:

  • good if you’re not into wearing additional gear or adding anything “extra” onto your clothes
  • You can purchase clothing that has reflective properties built in
  • You can easily wear clothing or gear that is bright yellow, green or orange to increase your visibility

Some Brands: Check your favorite brands for their hi-vis products. Look for reflectors on the sides, bottoms and/or backs of running tights, bright colored jackets and outer layers with hi-vis strips on the back and sleeves. Some companies even make gloves, hats, and buffs that have reflective properties as well.

Run Safety: How Do I Choose Which Option is Best for Me?

A few things that you might want to consider when deciding your options:

Where do I want to wear it?

Which do you think would be most comfortable for you? Which is the easiest and most hassle-free that you know you’ll actually take the time to wear/use? A safety item is only effective if you’re actually wearing it, not if it’s sitting in your closet at home!!

So consider: Do I want to wear something on my head (headlamp), on my arms or ankles (arm bands) or over my torso? Or do you hate having to wear extra anything? Would you rather have your safety gear incorporated into your regular gear or clothing (jacket/running tights, or reflective strips or tape)

How well lit is my route?

If your route has a decent amount of street lights and/or store lights, you won’t necessarily need as much to see as someone running on a trail or on a country back road. So consider where you’ll be running and how much you need to see.

How busy is my route?

Are you running at traffic prime time for your area? Or is traffic more sporadic when you’ll be heading out?

Yes, sporadic traffic is better because you’ll have less encounters with oncoming cars.

However, sometimes it’s actually worse when it’s more sporadic because a single driver doesn’t expect to see you and might only see you at the last minute. If there’s more traffic, the cars behind will take the lead when the one in front pulls toward the center line to afford you more room. In either case, you’ll want to be dressed for visibility.

Or, is it a “busy” area as in lots of ambient light from stores, streetlights, signs? If this is the case, you’ll need more gear to be seen, so that you stand out from all the other inputs that drivers are receiving from their environment.

Other Safety Points to Consider:

  • Get a Safety ID (RoadID.com) in case of emergency. This will provide medics with information including your name, emergency contact, any pertinent allergies, etc. Road ID even makes tags that attach directly to your watch, so you don’t need another piece of gear for this.
  • Always run against traffic. This is the safest for cars to see you, and for you to see them coming toward you as well.
  • Ditch the headphones–and all the other tech that boasts better awareness of your surroundings. If you have something on that you’re listening to, not only is your sense of hearing dampened, but your attention is also decreased as well. If you’re focused on your podcast or music, you can’t hear or be as attentive if there’s someone, a car, or an animal approaching. It’s best to have all your senses alert for safety.
  • Get something to hold your essentials including keys, fuel and more importantly, a phone for emergencies. This can be in the form of a belt, like a SpiBelt or FlipBelt (See below for one that is reflective, too!). Or, make sure your running jacket or pants have a good, secure pocket to put all your stuff in.
  • If you’re running with a furry friend, make sure he or she also has adequate visibility gear. Many of the companies mentioned above (NoxGear, RoadID) also have dog safety items.

Lastly, Pretend You’re Invisible!

(Not to be confused with invincible!) Always assume that a driver doesn’t or can’t see you. 

Make yourself as visible as possible. Never run in front of a car at a cross section; always go behind. Often times a driver is looking in the opposite direction in order to prepare to turn and they actually don’t see you. Better yet, stop and wait for them to make their turn. 

Additionally, don’t cross a road in front of a car with its signal on to turn. Wait until they actually start to make their turn before you jet across. Sometimes a driver has left their signal on accidentally or they change their mind at the last minute and decide not to turn.

Questions/Comments?

I’d love to hear from you! What are your go-to items/brands that you LOVE for run safety during the darker months?

Other Articles of Interest

Get The Running (Re)Start Training Plan

How to Run with Baby in Winter

Beginner Runner Beware: 6 Mistakes to Avoid

How to determine run frequency and duration

Cross Train to Become a Better, Stronger Runner

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