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Light Systems for Running and Training in the Dark

Light Systems for Running and Training in the Dark

The start of the 2010 Leadville Trail 100. Photo by Rick Mann

Daylight Savings Ends Tonight

Light systems for running and training in the darkis important to think about since tonight is the night that we set the clocks back and Daylight Savings Time ends.  For those athletes who have no problems getting up early in the morning to train before work, the switch is a blessing.  For the rest of us it is a curse.  We no longer will have any sun in the evening for our training.  Although it will be dark and cold this will not stop us from training.  I often get asked about running in the dark and the lighting system that I use.  I will share what I have learned about different lighting systems and when I use them.

Be Prepared!

Before I discuss the lighting systems here are a few tips to make the best of your night training.  I always carry extra batteries with me and a second light source.  If I am going to be out for a short training run in the dark I will take a keychain LED flashlight with me.  I take this in case my lighting system goes dead and I need to change the batteries.  In the pitch dark it makes it so much easier to change batteries when you can see what you are doing. For races that are going to go long into the night (or to next morning), not only do I carry extra batteries, I also carry a second light system.

Light Systems

When it comes to training and running in the dark there are many different options to choose from when it comes to light systems.  The basics light systems are: handhelds and headlamps.  I will also talk about two waist lighting systems although I have never tried them myself.  Each light system has its pros and cons for different running and training conditions.


Simple handheld flashlights that I use for night running

When I say “handhelds” I am talking about your basic flashlight.  There are a wide variety to choose from with amazing LED lights.  I prefer a thin body handheld that takes AA batteries.  My friend Scott uses a wider body handheld and uses a strap to attach it to his wrist.  This comes in handy when the rocks and roots of the trails start to grab at your ankles. And he also uses a chest strapped light system (see below: Running Vests and Waist Belts).

It is very rare that I will run with a handheld.  The main reason for this is that I have worked really hard on my running form and when I run my arms are at 90 degree angles.  So, if I were to carry a handheld light the beam would be shooting straight up into the night sky.  To get the beam to shine on the trail in front of me I have to completely change the way my arms swings which changes my running gait.  There are flashlights that are at a 90 degree angle, but I have not tried them yet.

Right angle flash light.

Although handhelds are not my first choice for training and running at night they seem to be a very popular choice for the trail runners that I meet.

Pros: Handhelds are easy to use.  LED lights do not need to be replaced. They are fairly inexpensive.

Cons: You have something in your hand(s).  If you need to use your hands you might need to stop what you are doing to rearrange your gear.  They might change your running form to get the beam to shine in front of you.


Headlamp with a remote battery pack.

This is my preferred light system for training and running in the night.  Some of the styles of headlamps are: single strap around the head, an additional middle strap that goes from front-to-back, battery packs on the headband, battery packs inside the light compartment, and battery packs that are remotely connected.  All the headlamps that I have used tilt up-and-down so you can aim the beam on the ground in the direction you are moving.

My headlamp for running and racing.

What I look for in a headlamp for night training and running is one that has a middle head strap.  I found that these work that best (for me) for staying in place and not sliding on my head.  I have tried the models that have a remote battery pack.  The main reason for the remote pack is so that you can put the batteries inside your jacket to keep them warm; which will help extend the life of the batteries.  My experience is that the cord is cumbersome when changing your clothes and even for changing the batteries.

The model that I use has two different beam settings: spotlight and wide flood.  Each of these setting has a high and low setting.  When I am running technical sections of trail in the dark I like to use my headlamp on the high beam spotlight setting.  If I am on nontechnical sections such as a jeep road I will use the low setting wide flood setting.  You do need to be careful when running with the high beam spotlight setting because it really drains the batteries fast.  When the batteries are getting low my headlamp warns me and start to flash.  At this point I switch to the flood beam settings which will help extend the batteries life. If I am running a trail race I have my crew change out the batteries at each aid station so I can use the spotlight setting on high.  However, I still carry a small handheld flash light just in case my headlamp decides it has had enough.

Pros: Your hands are free. Easy to aim the beam in front of where you are heading.  There are different types of light beams to match the conditions of your running or training.

Cons: The remote battery pack can be challenging to deal with when changing clothing and gear.  Some people simply do not like the feeling of a headlamp on their heads.  If you need to be wearing a running hat with a bill because it is raining, snowing, sleeting, etc., the beam of the light can be blocked by the bill of the hat.

Running Vests and Waist Belts

Running vest with chest light.

Waist pack "Litebelt"

I have never tried either a running vest or a waist belt.  However, I have seen many runners using either of these systems at races that I have competed in.  The waist belts are designed for recreational walkers and runners.  The waist belt by GoMotion has two flashing LED tail lights, a three-level headlamp beam, and comes with pockets for storage.  This might be a good complement to a headlamp or a handheld lighting system.

The Trail Running Litevest by GoMotion is designed for runners and hikers that want to go a long distance in low-light conditions.  The Litevest also has two flashing LED tail lights, and a three-level headlamp beam.

Choosing the Right Lighting System for Your Training

It took me some trial and error to discover what works best for my trail running and training style.  For me it is a headlamp, with a middle strap, and the battery pack on the back of the head strap.  I suggest trying a few different headlamps and handhelds.  I would not worry about the cost of all the testing. Heck, if worst comes to worst and you totally hate the lighting system when you test it, you can always return it to the store that you purchased them from.

Happy training and running in the dark of night!

Please note: unless I specify, I am not in any way associated with any of the companies or products that I am writing about.  My recommendations and reviews are solely based on my personal experiences and I am in no way compensated for my reviews and recommendations.

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