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8 Night Walking Strategies

How to Walk Safely After Dark


Updated May 31, 2014

If your schedule leaves you walking at dawn, dusk, or after dark, you should learn to do so safely. Whether you find yourself walking in the dark due to the short days of winter, the need to beat the summer heat, or because of an overnight walking event, use these strategies to stay safe.

1. Wear Reflective Gear to be Seen

Walkers wearing safety vests
© Wendy Bumgardner
Black may be slimming, but you need a reflective stripe so you can be seen in the dark. Cars may not recognize you as a human if you have only a couple of small reflective patches. Your walking clothes should have reflective stripes in the front, back, and down the sides. Many packs and shoes have reflective patches or stripes. I like to wear a reflective safety vest after dark to ensure that I will be seen and recognized.
Top Picks for Reflective Gear

2. Light Your Way

Black Diamond Nightray LED Headlamp
© Wendy Bumgardner
Even if you are walking in an area with streetlights, you may encounter some dark patches. A lightweight flashlight can come in handy. For walking in areas I know will be dark, I prefer a headlamp to keep my hands free and not stress my wrists. I wear an LED headlamp with long-lasting batteries. I prefer a headlamp because I can adjust the angle to get the beam where I need it to be.

A few companies are now making hats with LED lights built into the front or brim, or individual units that can clip onto the bill of a hat. These can work well, but I find it hard to place the beam of light where I need it to be. Since I keep my chin up or level, the beam hits too far in front rather than illuminating my immediate path.
Lights for Night Walking

3. Night Safety Rules

Street Corner at Night
Wendy Bumgardner ©
Walking after dark is not the same as walking in daylight. You need to observe several rules.
  • Use sidewalks and off-road paths, rather than the street.
  • Walk facing traffic so you can see and react to vehicles.
  • Use extra caution when crossing streets. Drivers do not expect pedestrians to be out walking at night.
  • Safety in numbers: Use the same routes used by other walkers and runners.
  • Beware of tripping hazards. It is harder to see uneven sidewalks, roots, rocks, potholes and trash when it's dark. Walk with your eyes, noting the ground 15 feet ahead to see upcoming hazards.
  • Don't be blinded by the light. Headlights can make it difficult for you to see for a while. Choose paths without frequent changes in lighting levels.
More Night Safety Tips

4. Stranger Danger

Fear of strangers in the night keeps many walkers off the trail from dusk to dawn. But there are steps you can take to reduce the risk, if not the dread. Strangers who may attack have nothing personal against you, they are just looking for an easy target. To be less of a target, buddy up with a walking friend or a dog. Carry a walking stick. Be aware of your surroundings and act confident and purposeful. Don't distract yourself by chatting on your cell phone. Wearing earphones may make you more of a target as you may appear to be distracted, and the MP3 player may appeal to others as something worth stealing. If you see a suspicious person, cross the street or change your path to avoid them.
More: Stranger Danger Safety Tips

5. Shift Your Walking Time

Orenco Station Walkers
© Wendy Bumgardner
When you just can't enjoy walking in the dark, try shifting your walking time or place. You may want to do a couple of shorter walks before or after your workday, or during breaks. See if you can lengthen your lunch time so you can walk in the daylight. Take full advantage of daylight on the weekends to enjoy longer continuous walks. Shorter walks of 15 minutes have many of the health advantages of longer walks, so long as the total time each day adds up to 30 minutes or more.
More: 30-Minute Lunchtime Walk
15-Minute Break Time Walk

6. Use a Treadmill or Elliptical

Treadmills in a Gym
© China Photos / Getty Images News
Treadmills and elliptical trainers can give you an excellent walking workout. The drawback is that good treadmills and ellipticals are expensive and take up space at home. You should explore using one at a gym or fitness center, which can cost you less buying a machine of your own. Still, treadmills can be boring for those who enjoy outdoor walking. You may need to distract or entertain yourself with music, TV, or chatting with a buddy. I've seen many people at the gym use their cell phones to chat away as they walk. Personally, though, I think this is a breach of gym etiquette.
Treadmill Walking Workouts

7. Walk Indoors

Indoors Walking Track
Wendy Bumgardner © 2009
Many people beat the dark and bad weather by walking indoors. Malls and larger shopping centers often open early for fitness walkers to walk loops before the shoppers arrive. Some fitness centers have an indoor tracks that you can walk. You may also make use of long corridors and stairs at work or school. If you just can't find the space for a good indoor walk, and can't afford a treadmill, you may want to use indoor walking videos to march in place.
More: Indoors Walking

8. Fun Night Walking Events

Moon Behind Trees
Wendy Bumgardner © 2010

Make your night walk a fun night out by entering a night walking event. Local volkssport walking clubs often host Christmas light walks throughout December, and other night walking events throughout the year. Check local run/walking event calendars to see if there is a moonlight event being staged. Or organize your own group night walk with family and friends.
More: Night Walking Events

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