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How to: Go night trail and hill running

Written by Fiona

October 29 2020

Night running expands opportunities, especially after the clocks go back in October in the UK. Indeed, for many people, the only option for running after or before normal office hours in the winter is to head out in the dark. This blog offers tips and advice on how to safely run at night, especially if you enjoy trails and hills.

Night time running is fun. Credit: Beardy

Why go night running?

The shorter days of autumn and winter in the UK reduce the number of daylight hours for running. If you work the normal 9-5 schedule, you’ll need to run in darkness if you want to continue your activity all year round.

Of course, you could stick to the local pavements where street lights will guide your way but there are plenty of reasons to continue to run on trails and in the hills.

One of the joys of trail and hill running is the mental health benefits gained when accessing wilder places. Being surrounded by nature and away from other people and urban life is very therapeutic.

I also find that running off-road is better for my joints and body than pounding the tarmac.

In addition, heading off for a trail run, even one you have regularly run in daylight, seems so much more exciting and enjoyable when lit only by a head torch. Try it and see for yourself.

Wispa the whippet needs a warm jacket at night.

The right kit for night running

It is likely to be colder at night. Even on a mild winter’s night because the sun has set, temperatures will drop. Night running also has some obvious dangers, such as tripping and falling on dark trails. Therefore, it is important to think carefully about what kit you wear and pack.

The clothes that you wear for night running will be basically the same as for any run but with consideration for lower temperatures.

The basic night running kit:

  • Trail running footwear
  • Socks (Merino based socks are great in winter)
  • Tights or shorts/skort (depending on the temperature)
  • Baselayer (I wear a short-sleeved and a long-sleeved as basic kit)
  • Buff/beanie hat (for head and ear warmth)
  • Gloves
  • Water and a snack.

I also use for night running:

In your night running pack:

As a most basic kit list, your running pack should include:

  • Mobile phone with charge
  • Lightweight waterproof trousers (OMM Halo pants for me)
  • Spare head torch battery or spare small head torch
  • Emergency survival bag (or foil blanket, although a bivvy bag is better and both is even better)
  • Insulated jacket (primaloft is good for warmth even in the wet but you should think about the type of person you are. If you are the type of person who gets very cold if you stop on a hill mid-run, take a thicker and more insulated jacket, or two lightweight versions)
  • Extra pair of gloves (I have two pairs of insulated gloves; one to wear and one as spares)
  • Spare warm hat (remember you lose lots of heat from your head)
  • Energy gel and water (having a few calories and water can make all the difference if you end up stuck on a hill).

Night running extras:

First aid kit. See this for suggested items.

I have heard mixed reports on whether to carry a first aid kit. Some people say you absolutely must, while others suggest that it’s not going to be very helpful because if someone is so injured they can’t get off a hill or trail, then nothing you will carry in a first aid kit will be helpful. They are referring to the first aid kits that include sticking plasters, I think.

Perhaps the best advice is to take painkillers and something you can use to stop the flow of blood if you need to, as well as a bandage and safety pins that will be useful for a broken arm or collar bone, for example.

Although, saying all this, the mini running first aid kits I have seen for sale are very small and light so if you can squeeze one it’s a no-brainer to take one.

More tips for night running:

  • Go with someone else. I am happy to run solo but I stick to routes I know very well and close to civilisation eg a country park rather than hills. If you are with someone else and you end up injured you have help at hand.
  • Tell a third party where you are going. And tell them your estimated time of return.
  • Stick to a route you know well (unless you are very confident and experienced).
  • Keep it short & sweet: Build up to longer runs because night running can be slower and you may well end up colder than you imagine.
  • Download a route on a phone map app or take a map.
  • Take your time and don’t be pressured to go faster than you feel able. Night trail running has obvious hazards and it is better to slow down and enjoy the run safely than to feel you have to push on at speed and then fall over.
  • Keep your distance. Of course, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are being advised to keep our distance from other people. However, the keep your distance advice is good when night running. If you run too close to someone in front, you’ll end up creating a shadow at their feet with your head torch light.
  • Avoid torch blindness: Remember to avert your gaze from your running pal when wearing a head torch, or turn it off when you are chatting face to face or sorting kit etc. You will blind the other person with the beam otherwise.
  • Know how to call for emergency help. This blog applies to runners, walkers and anyone who might need Mountain Rescue assistance.
  • Look for second hand items: It can seem costly to buy all the right items for your night running pack, so look around for second hand. Many items you hope you will never use so they do not need to be in your favourite colours or even the right fit. If you know a keen running friend, ask them if they have any spares you can buy or borrow for the winter.
I enjoyed a Kilpatricks run recently. Credit: Beardy

Where to go night running?

This is a question that is difficult to answer because there are so many options. My advice is to start with local hill and trail routes you already know well. You could choose a signposted route, such as the West Highland Way or Clyde Coastal Path, so that you are sure of the directions.

Go with a friend and take your time to enjoy the experience.

I tend to walk more at night when the terrain becomes muddy or rocky to prevent silly trips and falls. I also advise you have a head torch that has enough light to show you the way. I have poor eyesight and at night I find it is not as good as other people’s sight so I need a head torch with at least 600 lumens. Other people need less so it’s a personal thing.

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