It’s almost the darkest day of the year— and it’s the start of the return of the light. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all witchy on you (I’ll save that for my own time). Instead, I wanted to share some ways to keep active outdoors in relative safety and comfort when the light is. . . scarce. Sunrise: 7:47 AM. Sunset: 4:29 PM. Day length: Eight hours and forty-two minutes, all of which you’re probably at work. So that run, that active commute? They’re gonna be in the dark. And for Portlanders, probably also in the rain.
There are a few keys to making this work:
- Be seen.
- See where you’re going.
- Don’t freeze your ass off.
- Don’t wipe out.
You don’t have to be a hardcore mountain athlete to get these down— an urban-dwelling everyday athlete can do it too.
Let’s start with 1 and 2: You’re gonna need a little gear. Reflective is good. Blindingly neon bright is good. Illuminated is good. There are lots of clothing items you can buy that light up like a Christmas tree when headlights hit them— tops, tights, gloves. . . get them. For a run in the dark, wear a headlamp (I have a great one from Black Diamond; lots of folks also seem to like the BioLite). This both helps you see where you’re going (no sprained ankles!) and also helps others see you. Wear one of those dorky reflective harness-vest things like you need for Ragnar. Or go for one of the cool LED vests! You could also do blinking LEDs on your back and front (clip-on ones are cheap and you can get ‘em online or in a running shop). If you’re on your bike, make sure you have a BRIGHT white headlight and a red tail light. Some people also have helmets with built-in LED lights which are really good for being seen (rad!). Or they get lights for their spokes— also rad. Wear your reflective gear on the bike, too. When I’m in my car, I really notice how much these things help me see runners and cyclists. Don’t assume cars can see you, and don’t assume your bike’s reflectors are adequate. And plan ahead— it goes from daylight to darkness fast, and dawn/dusk are definitely low-visibility times. Also, not to state the obvious, but: choose a route that’s lit, whether it’s streetlights, a park, or whatever you can find. If you do a few loops instead of a long out-and-back, fine. If you detour a little from your regular commute to stay in a lit area, fine.
Now, on to 3 and 4: Yes, it’s chilly. Yes, it’s wet. But you can be relatively toasty warm if you plan right. No matter what your activity is, the best advice I have is to layer. A baselayer that’s either synthetic or wool can keep in a ton of warmth. An insulated midlayer is next, and if it’s windy, drizzly, or might be either at some point, throw a shell on top (I like my Patagonia Houdini for a run or my Showers Pass Syncline jacket if I’m biking). And on bottom, there are so many good insulated tights out there now! Fleece-lined wool, DWR. . . it’s an embarrassment of riches (hot tip: I wear these under skirts to work, too. You’re welcome). I like the Nike Hyperwarm stuff for most winter days, and I also wear wind/water resistant tights from Smartwool especially on the bike. (These are actually too warm for running most days). That brings me to a caveat: Running for sure, and riding somewhat, you’ll probably be cold when you start, or else you are overdressed. We generate a ton of heat when we’re active. Trust me, you can get a good sweat on when it’s freezing, and then you will be sweaty and freezing. So plan accordingly– can you vent that half-zip, stash the shell? Warm up thoroughly inside so you’re not starting cold? The other key, especially for biking, is to keep your toes, fingers, and ears warm. You need very warm gloves for riding (insulated and wind/water resistant, this is non-negotiable), and wool socks. For running, since you have less wind, you can get away with thinner gloves. In both cases, cover your ears (I like a fleece headband; some folks like a beanie or a buff). How about keeping upright when it’s slick? For wet, I just got a pair of Nike Pegasus shield with super grippy soles and water-resistant uppers, and they’re awesome. I also like the Altra Lone Peak RSM (a trail shoe, so a little beefier). And if you’ve on snow/slush/ice, I hear good things about YakTrax from my Montana folks, but I haven’t tried this yet. As far as biking when it’s slick? Let me know if you figure it out. I wiped out a few weeks ago on the first icy morning here and I’m still recovering. I do know that disc brakes are great when it’s wet!
These are a few of my favorite warm things (that I never want to take off. . . I’m like a toddler with a blankie that you can never wash becaue you can’t get it away from them for two hours):
So, friends, stay safe, stay warm, and stay active. Give me a runner’s solidarity wave/nod if you see me out there in the dark!