How to Stay Visible at Night

For most of their lives, my children grew up in a rural environment. This meant that most of our home-based outdoor adventures occurred in our backyard or the shared woodland behind our home. When the days grew short in the months of November-February, this often meant we were going out to play in the snow in the darkness.

Because it was our backyard, it was far from roads and traffic concerns. I never thought about how to keep my children visible to motorists.

This all changed when we moved to town this past summer. We started taking evening walks to a large park using the sidewalks in our town. Our evening stroll became a much more “urban” affair, involving sidewalks, stop signs, and motorists.

Someone carries skis and poles on an icy sidewalk. They have a slap bracelet lit up around their arm.

During the summer, we always were back at our home before it was dark. With the sun not setting until 8 pm or later, we never felt concerned about safety.

As daylight got shorter this fall, I began to notice that the daylight wasn’t lasting as long. When the Winter Solstice arrives in December, we only have daylight for around 8 hours a day and it gets dark at 4 pm.

Suddenly, our family walks and town park adventures were happening in the dark. Or we would leave the house in the daylight, only to walk the 1/2 mile home in twilight. Crossing the road on a poorly lit crosswalk felt risky. Motorists can drive slowly and carefully, and still miss seeing a small child or dog as they cross the street.

A kid in purple snow bibs cross-country skis at dusk. They have a bright green light attached to their snow bibs.

I am a safety-conscious parent. Not because I fear risk, but because I believe we need to mitigate the risks we can in order to reduce the overall risk. Walking around in the dark in our small town and getting hit by a vehicle was not a risk I wanted myself or my kids to take. Yet I still wanted to be able to go on local micro adventures with my kids!

So what does a mom do? I research. I looked at several options to make lighting my kids up in the dark safer and also easy. Even in a low snow winter, we want to get outside (here are more tips for getting outside when there’s no snow!)

There are tons of products on the market. For us, in order for a product to be used, it has to be user friendly, kid-proof, and also easy to stash in a bag so its always ready.

How to Stay Visible at Night: The Basics

When walking, running, or hiking on or near roads at night, there are some basic principles to keep in mind.

How to Stay Visible at Night: Reality

While I want to make sure all of my family is wearing a light-colored jacket when walking in the dark in winter, the reality is just that it rarely happens. Almost all my children own dark-colored coats. Several of their coats have some reflective accents, but it isn’t enough to stay visible at night with car traffic.

If you are looking for winter coats and snowsuits with reflective strips, Scandinavian brands like Reima are great for this. Winters in the Nordic countries are long and dark, and kids spend a lot of time walking to and from school in the dark mornings and late afternoons, so their winter gear reflects (pun intended!) this reality.

Because it is winter, they most often wear winter boots, which rarely have reflective accents either. My solution was to have them wear headlamps, but even that turned out to be insufficient. Why? Because headlamps only provide visibility from the front.

We had a few stressful situations involving crosswalks, broken street lamps, and energetic children that led me to research and invest in easy to use gadgets for lighting up my whole family.

How to Be Seen In the Dark: 360 Degree Visibility

A young girl with a headlamp kneeling on the ground with her dog demonstrating how to stay visible at night.
Having a light on the front and side or back makes it easier to be seen.

Staying safe in the dark with our kids is more than just throwing a headlamp on or wearing a reflective jacket. We need to ensure that our kids are impossible NOT to see. This means they need to have lights and reflective gear attached in such a way that you can see it from any side.

Because many of our walks start in the daytime, but end in the dark, this provides a few complications. I don’t want my kids rough-housing and playing with lights attached that they can lose in the snow. This means I looked for lights that I can easily stash in my bag or backpack and then put on my kids when needed.

I could have bought everyone a reflective safety vest, but I felt like they would be too large and cumbersome to carry, put on, and store. Having gear but not using it wouldn’t help us!

Light-up vests though can be a great option for adults or when going out at night for a run or walk when you don’t have to store them in a backpack beforehand.

A woman stands in the snow with a blue light up vest and a headlamp

How to Increase Your Visibility

The solution for our family has been lights that are easy to bring along and don’t take much effort for kids and adults to use. Here are some of the products our family has tried out!

Nite Ize Slaplit Rechargeable Bracelets

A bright green slap bracelet on a child's wrist.

In my research of products for night time safety, I particularly was searching for devices that would be easy to use to put on, easy to turn on, lightweight, and rechargeable, but also not too large.

I stumbled across these bracelets from Nite Ize and ordered a few to test out for you all. They are a slap on bracelet (or anklet, or wrap around a strap). The fabric its made of is reflective. Additionally, the whole strip lights up with a LED strip. And get this: the bracelet is rechargeable!

While battery operated lights are handy when you don’t have access to electricity, I hate using small, C type batteries for home. I love that this light can be recharged, with a micro USB plug (not included).

The light is also bright, without blinding you. It is not designed for illumination but for visibility. I was able to see the light from over 1/4 of a mile away!

I also like that the Nite Ize Slaplit Bracelet rolls up small, is comfortable to wear, and doesn’t involve fidgeting with straps or velcro. Simple is great.

Because the bracelet wraps around the arm, it is visible from front, back, and the side. For the best visibility you could put one on each or one per leg.

Nite Ize Taglit Rechargeable Magnetic Light

A kid with snow bibs has a bright green light attached to them.

Nite Ize also makes this rechargeable clip-on style light. It has any easy on/off button just like the Slaplit light. This light attaches to your clothing, hat, or bag with a magnetic clip closure instead of the wrap closure.

This is a great illumination tool to use on a waistband, strap, hat, or anything it can slide over. The magnet is strong enough to keep the light securely in place.

Because this only has a light on one side, it is good to use on the backside, while using a light or another clip on light on the front for full visibility.

Nathan Strobe Safety Light for Walking at Night

A bright green light from the brand Nathan with three dots of light

This little light is super handy and easy to toss a few in a bag for night time safety. I loved that it had a “light chain” mode instead of just a strobe or constant on mode. The button was easy to use, and even in the dark I was able to easily use the clip to attach to my pack and hat.

I wish it was rechargeable, but it is far cheaper than the rechargeable lights, and it is a good back up to carry if a rechargeable light is dead.

The light is also weather proof, meaning you can use it in all weather, which is great for those blustery, snowy winter days.

Nathan Zephyr Trail 200 Hand Torch

A flash light with a carry strap from the brand Nathan.

We tried this hand torch out from Nathan Sports after they generously sent us one to test out. I love the concept; the torch, or flashlight, loosely straps to your hand so you do don’t have to grip it; this leaves your hand free do do things like hold the dog leash or a child’s hand.

The neoprene and nylon harness was comfortable and easy to put on and off, even with gloves (I did not try it with mittens).

There were a few aspects I didn’t love. The on and off button was slow to work–it took 3 seconds to turn off or on, which I didn’t like. The beam of the light also had a dark spot in the center, probably because the lens quality wasn’t great.

So I would say this light works great as something to wave around in town as you walk for cars to see you, but it isn’t the best choice to use for seeing where you are going in a dark area.

UltrAspire Lumen Clip Light

A stock image of a black rectangle surrounding a light

This light is bright! The Lumen Clip Light is a rechargeable, magnetic clip light with a powerful beam. Designed for ultra runners, it provides visibility AND illumination.

We were impressed by how strong the magnet was, yet the whole unit is VERY light weight. My husband loves to attach this to his computer bag when he walks home from work at night.

This is a great light to add to your waist band, shoulder bag, purses, backpack, or even hat.

If you don’t need illumination, one of the other clip on or bracelet bands would work fine, but if you need a light to see your way, this one is definitely dual purpose.

Noxgear Lighthound and Tracer 2

A black dog is wearing a vest with a light around it.

TMM Team Member Jami uses the Lighthound vest from Noxgear for her dogs in the dark Wisconsin winters where they live. If you are getting out and walking dogs in the mornings or evenings in the dark, these would be a great option to keep your pups visible to motorists and keep you safer as well as the person walking them.

Noxgear also makes the Tracer 2 vest for humans, which is a good option for adults or teens who run or do other cardio activity in the dark.

Another great options for pups is a light for their collar, TMM Team Member Jami loves using the SpotLit for her dogs. These also work great on zippers!

For more product recommendations when headed out in the dark, check out this post on Winter Play After Dark!

How to Stay Safe at Night and Have Fun!

Getting outside is good for everyone. Whether you are a parent, child, or even the dog, fresh air does wonders for our mood and health. Being faced with dark evenings in town doesn’t have to prevent outdoor opportunities. Instead, with the right tools for illumination, the darkness can safely provide new adventures and memories.

Try walking to a local soccer field for a full moon Nordic ski, or go for a night time scavenger hunt on your town’s sidewalks. Try building a family of snowmen in the local park in the darkness, and then imagine how thrilled others will be when they find them the next morning!

The darkness can be intimidating, but like many adventures, the right gear and the right mindset makes the struggles minor and the fun major.

It's dark and the moon is shining behind clouds. An older kid or teenager is cross-country skiing with a headlamp and reflective stripes on their pants.

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How to Stay Visible at Night

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  • Cait currently lives in Western North Carolina with her three kids, but they have bounced all over from Utah, Texas, Wisconsin, and Sweden before moving to their current home. She loves any and all outdoor activities, and spends a lot of her week hauling her kids around on an electric cargo bike and trying to convince anyone and everyone to go backpacking or climbing with her. She has a PhD in Sociology with an emphasis on Gender and Sexuality, and currently works full-time as a User Experience Researcher in the tech industry. She loves to talk all things feminism, gardening, car-free life, and the Danish political drama Borgen.

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