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Love to Walk or Run Outside? 6 Tools to Help You Stay Safe

The end of daylight savings time means more dark hours, but that doesn't have to mean your running days are over until spring. This writer—an outdoor fitness enthusiast in the Northeast—has rounded up the top-vetted safety devices she and her friends recommend.

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Young woman running exercise wearing heartbeat monitoring and smart watchwera Rodsawang/Getty Images

I ran cross country in college, and though I usually trained with the team, my off-season runs were often solo. One winter afternoon, I went for a run, misjudged the distance and the amount of daylight I had left, and found myself miles from home, in the dark, on a country road without lights or sidewalks. I saw the glow of headlights coming behind me and was glad I wasn’t alone out there, but then the truck slowed down.

“If I were you,” the man called out from his open window, “I wouldn’t be out here in the dark without my friends Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.”

I didn’t grow up around guns and was shocked—having a firearm wasn’t in my plans, ever. I tried to pick up my pace but was nursing an injury. The truck crawled along next to me—he actually just wanted to make sure I was safe—and eventually I recognized him as a kind neighbor and let him drive me home. I got lucky that time, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The story of Eliza Fletcher last September was an extreme case with a devastating ending, and it rattled women runners. Unfortunately, violence against women continues. A woman was raped and robbed while jogging in Manhattan a few days ago. We could blame the darkness, but even broad daylight can be dangerous—Vanessa Marcotte was killed in 2018 while walking in the middle of the day.

A 2017 Runner’s World survey showed that “43 percent of women at least sometimes experience harassment on the run” (compared to four percent of men), and the truth is, women need to be careful when running alone…but that doesn’t mean we should stop. Taking a few precautions is the best defense, and learning these self-defense moves is a great place to start for any woman who plans to run, walk, hike, or bike alone outdoors.

Awareness of our surroundings is critical for staying safe at any time, but we’re all more vulnerable in the dark, so the end of daylight saving time can feel like a damper for us lovers of the outdoors. But we don’t have to stay inside just because it’s dark. In fact, getting moving outside is one of the best ways to beat seasonal affective disorder.

I’ve run alone in all kinds of weather for 30 years, and I’ve learned a lot since that day I got picked up on the side of the road. Here are my six favorite tools to help keep you safe while getting your steps in and enjoying some fresh air, even during the darkest months of the year.

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Petzl ACTIK CORE Headlampvia merchant

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Petzl ACTIK CORE Headlamp

Having your hands free is a game changer—when you’re running or doing pretty much anything—and reliability is everything when recreating in the dark. Petzl was founded in 1975 by a French cave explorer who couldn’t take a chance on being left in the dark, and they’re one of the most trusted headlamp brands.

The Petzl ACTIK CORE Headlamp is a hybrid, which means it comes with a rechargeable battery (that runs for 140 hours on a charge), but as a backup, it can also run on three AAA batteries.

The ACTIK CORE offers up to 450 lumens and retains 50% of its original brightness halfway through the burn time, compared to the 20-30% brightness from other brands. The lighting adapts—to proximity, distance, and rapid movement—and it even has a red LED option for night vision and to prevent group members from blinding each other.

A shopping reviewer in Alaska, where the winter nights are so long the sun barely rises for two months, says, “I have bought many headlamps, and hands down, this one is the BEST. Costs a bit more than most but absolutely worth it!!!”

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ILLUMISEEN LED Reflective Belt/Sashvia merchant

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ILLUMISEEN LED Reflective Belt/Sash

Headlamps light your way—and help oncoming people and traffic to see you—but lighting yourself is equally important. Reflective clothing is helpful and highly recommended, but what about when you get warm and need to take off a layer? Safety vests do the trick but can be bulky and cumbersome, especially for long-distance runners. My favorite safety item is the ILLUMISEEN LED Reflective Belt Sash because it can be worn as a belt or a sash and another reviewer notes that it’s adjustable to fit her or her husband: she’s 120 pounds, and he’s 220.

This LED reflective belt has high-intensity LED lights that are so bright they cast a glow around you and provide 360-degree high visibility up to 350 yards in any weather. This belt also does something reflective clothing and headlamps don’t do: it provides visibility in dusk, nighttime, and other low-light situations. It’s fully rechargeable and runs for up to 20 hours on a single charge, an absolute must for night runs or even just walking the dog.

Kahtoola NANOspikes Footwear Tractionvia merchant

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Kahtoola NANOspikes Footwear Traction

Now that we’ve covered visibility, preventing falls on icy roads is the next thing to consider outdoors. Most footwear traction is designed for trails, but those spikes don’t perform well on icy roads and can even be dangerous, turning your running shoes into a pair of ice skates if the roads are icy enough! Kahtoola NANOspikes Footwear Traction was designed to transition safely between dry and icy pavement. (If trails are more your thing, I highly recommend Kahtoola’s EXOspikes or MICROspikes.)

A reviewer from Upstate New York says, “I got these for winter runs, and they work very well on hard-pack snow and on the ice.” Some say that can be a bit hard to get on, but they perform best if tight on your shoe. An easy workaround is to put them on your shoes and then put your shoes on your feet!

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SABRE Runner Pepper Gelvia merchant

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SABRE Runner Pepper Gel

Pepper spray might seem annoying to carry…until you need it. This one is palm-sized and the strap makes it easy to carry, keeping pepper spray where it needs to be: in your hand, ready to use. SABRE is made in the USA and is the #1 Pepper Spray brand used by police, including New York PD, Chicago PD, and US Marshals. This canister contains 35 bursts and has a 12-foot range, plus the fact that SABRE Runner Pepper Gel is a gel and not a traditional pepper spray means it can deliver a stream to the assailant’s eyes and eliminates the issue of the wind blowing it back on you.

SABRE products contain a UV dye to help law enforcement identify the perpetrators by simply shining a black light on a person. It’s always a good idea to practice deploying a product like this. “You need to be able to act quickly and be confident about firing the spray,” a user says, “No fumbling. No doubts about how to instantly use pepper spray. I suggest a quick practice shot or two.”

Fya Stainless Steel Super Loud Sports Whistlevia merchant

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Fya Stainless Steel Super Loud Sports Whistle

If you’ve ever been attacked—or even just scared—you know that it can be hard to make a sound, let alone call out for help. A whistle can be a lifesaving tool to have on hand, alerting everyone nearby that you need assistance. The Fya Stainless Steel Super Loud Sports Whistle is made of food-grade 304 stainless steel—plastic whistles may break, but not this one—and the pea is made of natural cork, which makes it much louder than synthetic peas. “You will get attention really fast when you blow on it,” one user says.

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Road iD Braceletvia merchant

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Road iD Bracelet

Sometimes, despite the best intentions and all the planning and prevention in the world, things go wrong. Last spring, a friend of mine was severely injured while on a fifty-mile training bike ride for a fundraiser. She lay on the side of the remote road for several hours until someone found her, but when they did, her phone was locked, and it took several more hours until her people could be located. A Road iD Bracelet would’ve helped a lot.

This identification bracelet can be engraved with up to five lines of text, including your name, blood type, emergency contacts, allergies, medical history, medications, or anything else you think is important for people to know about you. It’s made of silicone and medical-grade stainless steel that’s durable, waterproof and long-lasting. A user who has worn a ROAD iD bracelet for a decade says, “If there ever comes a time when you can’t speak for yourself, ROAD iD will.”

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Jaime Stathis
Jaime Alexis Stathis is a nonfiction writer whose favorite topics are humans, technology, animals, wildlife, and the places where they intersect. She writes about health, wellness, technology, nutrition, and everything related to being a human being on a constantly evolving planet. Her work has been published in Self, Wired, Parade, Bon Appétit, The Independent, Rachael Ray In Season, and others. She is also a Licenced Massage Therapist. Jaime is working on a novel about a heroine who saves herself and a memoir about caring for her grandmother through the dark stages of dementia.