Why You Need More Than a Flashlight to Be Visible When Night Running

Ryan S Nicoll
Jan 10 · 4 min read
I do not actually recommend holding fireworks while running in the dark. Photo by Jonathan Klok on Unsplash

You feel a particular exquisite pain when you get a nasty smack on the shin from an open dishwasher door. Perhaps it is a combination of the surprise, but also the sharp and immediate sting. Either way, it’s something that happens to many, and for a good reason. Dishwashers hinge at the bottom, so the door is very low to the ground when open. It’s no wonder we so easily bonk into them because it’s usually at the boundary of our peripheral vision. It’s way easier to crack your shin into it because it’s out of sight.

Unlike a dishwasher door, the last thing runners want to be is out of sight, especially when running at night. If you aren’t visible to others — particularly vehicles — you can be in for a nasty smack — or far worse. You might think a flashlight is enough, but here are better options:

  1. Use non-directional lights
  2. Cover your back and sides
  3. Use motion for visibility

Most flashlights are very directional

Flashlights focus a beam of light in a specific area away from you. But when it comes to being visible to others, this is a limitation. Ideally, to be noticed, you want non-directional light — in other words, a light that is not as focused because it is spreading out in many more directions.

It’s a challenge for non-directional lights to match flashlight intensity. Intensity helps with being seen, too. But a flashlight only enables you to be seen from a few specific angles. This brings us to the second point on being visible from different directions.

Who has your back?

A lot of the time, vehicles may be approaching you from the side or from behind you. There will be a very low or zero chance they see a flashlight beam from the sides. This is easy to address by using non-directional lights that clip on to your arms and legs.

These will help you be seen from the sides, the back, and even the front, too. Coverage is essential, but it’s not the only thing that will help you stand out in the dark. This brings us to the final point, light motion for visibility.

All else being equal, the human eye is drawn to motion

At night time, this can be a critical detail that helps how quickly someone will see you. Light motion can come in a few different forms. A blinking light introduces a sense of movement, and an irregular blinking pattern is even better.

Another way to create motion is with lights on your legs or arms. The lights moving relative to each other make you even more noticeable, too. In contrast, it’s not really practical to use a blinking flashlight in the dark. Generally, with flashlights, you hold them steady, and there is a minimal appearance of motion from flashlights.

But should I avoid dark clothing, too?

It’s not the best idea to wear black or other dark clothes when running at night. But when there’s not much light around, even bright colours won’t show up at all. I’m not saying you shouldn’t wear colourful clothes, but they won’t have as much of an impact as active lights will — and that’s what your priority should be.

What kind of lights should I buy?

I have had a lot of success with LED light straps. These seem to fit well and stay in place on my upper arms. This is great non-directional light coverage on the front, sides, and back, and they often have solid or blinking mode, too.

LED light straps can provide non directional light, covering your back, sides, and front, too

There are a zillion LED light strap products out there, but a great place to look for them is your local running shop. Most running shops have a few select ones that will work really well. The staff will usually have ideas and feedback so you can find what’s right for you. Support your local running shop — it will help keep them around for the next time you have questions, too!

A flashlight doesn’t help much when night running. Help your visibility and make sure you have non-directional lights that cover you from the sides and back. Products that easily attach to your arms and legs create motion that help you stand out even more.

Nailing your shin on an open dishwasher door is brutal. But getting hit by a car or cyclist in the dark is far worse. If you’re a night runner, you need to be seen to be safe.

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Ryan S Nicoll

Written by

Ryan is an Ocean Engineer but writes on more than hydrodynamics — look for articles on life, the universe, and everything!

Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.

Ryan S Nicoll

Written by

Ryan is an Ocean Engineer but writes on more than hydrodynamics — look for articles on life, the universe, and everything!

Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.

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