As the days are getting shorter, it's time to talk about making sure you’re seen when you’re jogging. Yup, headlamps, lights and reflectors are more about being seen than about providing you with light when you run.
Reflectors, Handhelds and Headlamps
When choosing between all of these, they all help cars, bicycles and other people see you when you’re moving.
These are as basic as shiny materials that are built into garments like jackets, pants, gloves or toques. Or they may be special reflective strips that you wrap around limbs.
I also include LED strips in the reflective category, as most of them are wearable and feel glow in the dark. LEDs are cheap, waterproof and durable. If you’re looking for something simple and relatively cheap, this is the way to go.
Most outdoor or running stores will sell small LED handheld lights that you can bring with you when you run. They’re great for shining towards traffic so they know you’re there.
Personally, I’m not sure if this is any better than a LED armband that glows red. It just gives you more control as to where to aim the light. It’s also better for finding dropped items if, for instance, your ID or keys fall out of your pocket.
This is a fairly cheap (under $10, I imagine) and easy solution, it can be used in a pinch for camping, hiking or reading in the dark, to name a few.
Headlamps come with a wider range of features. You will find that some of these also apply to the reflectors and handhelds. Headlamps are more expensive.
Keep in mind that I bought my headlamp 3-4 years ago, so things have changed. It's best to ask someone in the store (preferably a runner or someone who has used them).
Dimmer - Some of the headlamps can be super powerful, having a dimmer allows you to be respectful of other people, so as not to blind them. I use mine far more than I thought I would. I have also been yelled at by passerbyers in a less than friendly way who do not like being blinded.
Alternative Uses - You’ll definitely have to chip in a bit more for this feature, but it’s great if you’re planning on using the headlamp for something else like camping
Attics/working in dark spaces
Find things in storage areas
Free use of Hands - It allows you to have a free hand to work or tie your shoes. Definitely comes in handy.
Strap at the Top of the Head - This is to prevent it from falling down. Without this feature, you have to wear a headlamp tight enough so it doesn’t fall down. For my delicate head, it causes headaches over longer runs. It’s especially important if you’re going for faster, harder runs as those runs are more likely to cause the headlamp to fall
Rechargeable - This feature is good and bad. It’s great because they are more powerful and have more features, but you’ll also be carrying a rechargeable battery on that strap (get the top strap) as well. They also generally come with a rear LED light which helps with visibility.
Lumens - Brightness is measured in lumens. So here is a quick guide to help you figure out what they mean.
Low lumens (25+): Good for setting up camp in the dark, reading in the tent, doing close-up work, walking the dog, keeping in an emergency kit, or using anytime you’re in a group (an extremely bright light can be annoying).
High lumens (200+): Good for running in the dark or night hiking
Higher lumens (600+): Good for evening mountain biking or skiing.
Really high lumens (1,000+): Good for spotting poorly flagged trails, skiing or biking at high speeds, or for search and rescue.
This information was taken directly from a blog on the MEC website - further reading for the link
Some additional things to consider would be:
Battery life - How long are you going to be using it during runs or alternative uses (how often do you want to recharge it, especially if you’re on an extended trip.
Tilt - can the light change angles on the headband
Weight - For runners, generally lighter is better, but if you’re planning on multiple uses you may take extra weight to give you longer time or for other features
Water Resistant - This is a must, I would be surprised if they don’t have this feature, but who knows
Different modes - Maybe you want the light to flash or turn red (More on Red Mode in further reading links). In my opinion, these are not necessary for running, but you may want them
Basically this is my impression, but I could be wrong, do your own research:
Reflectors can start at $5+ but LED reflectors will probably start at $10 and last a long time
Handhelds will probably start as $5 but I wouldn’t invest much more than $10 (although there are more expensive alternatives, they just aren’t designed for running.)
Headlamps on the cheaper side you’ll be looking at $30+ but for something with a dimmer and a head strap, you’ll be looking at $50-$100. But think about this as an investment over time. How many runs will it last and how many times do you need to be frustrated that you can’t see or have to put down your light to tie your shoes?
What Geoff Has:
I use the Black Diamond Sprinter and I’ve been very happy with that.
Aside from the MEC link, that I referenced in the lumens section, I also found this hiking/camping guide for buying a headlamp useful: