As winter deepens its grip, many of us find ourselves navigating dark pre-dawn and/or post-dusk dog walks. While the increased darkness makes it tempting to skip the dog’s walk, our canine friends still need the exercise, stimulation, and training that walks provide.
But depending on where you live, walking in the early morning or after work can expose you to certain challenges and potential dangers, including wildlife and uneven footing. The biggest danger, however, is the potential for being hit by traffic on dark streets. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that in 2019 more than 7,660 people died in car vs. pedestrian accidents. Of those, 82 percent of deaths occurred in urban settings and 80 percent involved dark conditions.
Fortunately, a variety of high visibility products exist to help make both people and pets safer when walking in the dark.
HIGH VISIBILITY GEAR FOR DOGS
Attachable collar lights
One of the easiest ways to shine a little light on your early morning or nighttime dog walk is by attaching a light to your dog’s collar. There are many brands and styles to choose from in both battery-operated and rechargeable models. Most quickly attach to the D-ring of the dog’s collar or harness, feature LED bulbs for maximum brightness, and are available in a variety of colors. Many can toggle between solid and flashing illumination settings.
Light-up collars, leashes, and vests
Another bright idea to make your dog easier to see and keep yourselves safer in low-light conditions is the use of LED collars and leashes. Like collar lights, they come in a variety of colors and most have the ability to select either solid or flashing illumination patterns. It’s common to find both battery-operated and rechargeable options. If your dog’s coat obscures the glow from a light-up collar, try a light-up leash.
Reflective dog collars and leashes
For low-light walks near traffic, consider reflective products instead of or in addition to light-up styles. A car’s headlights may wash out the light produced by a light-up collar or leash. With reflective products, light sources such as headlights cause retroreflection, making the material look brightest to observers closest to the source of the light – the drivers.
High-visibility and reflective dog vests
Bright orange vests are often placed on dogs during hunting season to help prevent tragic misidentification accidents, but they can be used anytime to maximize your dog’s visibility. The best ones are bright enough to stand out in low-light situations and are made with strips of reflective material, so they reflect car headlights brightly once the sun has gone down.
Some vests, such as Ruffwear’s Lumenglow High-Vis Dog Jacket Plus, are made from water-repellent material, so they double as a protective rain layer. The jacket’s durable 600 denier polyester fabric also offers protection from cuts and scrapes, making it a great choice for off-leash adventures when safe to do so.
HIGH VISIBILITY CLOTHING FOR HUMANS
When looking to maximize safety in low-light conditions, it’s important to make ourselves as visible as we make our dogs. As the taller member of the dog-handler team, we’re in a better position to be seen by drivers, especially those in taller vehicles like trucks and SUVs. Consider adding these products to your winter walking wardrobe:
High visibility safety vest
Durable, lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to wear over a sweatshirt or jacket, safety vests offer a dramatic pop of visibility with their bright colors and reflective material. Plus, many styles come with multiple pockets, handy for stashing poop bags, treats, keys, and more.
LED runner’s and cyclist’s gear
Runners and cyclists are well-versed in making themselves visible when sharing the road with drivers, and the market is full of gear that can help you illuminate yourself from top to bottom. You can choose from high-visibility reflective beanies, light-up belts, low-profile vests, clip-on lights, wrist and ankle bands, and more.
Head Lamps and LED Beanies
A little extra light is always helpful, especially when it comes to navigating uneven terrain or picking up poop on dark streets. Relying on the flashlight app of a cell phone can quickly drain the battery. Instead, try a headlamp or LED beanie for the benefit of hands-free illumination.
HIGH VISIBILITY PRODUCT SELECTION
Not all high visibility gear is equally useful. When choosing light-up dog gear (collars, harnesses, and/or leashes), look for these attributes:
- Extended battery life. Explore manufacturer claims and see how they compare to consumer experience as reported in product reviews.
- Standard cables for rechargeable products. Standard micro-USB or similar cables are far more useful than products that require a proprietary cable. With universal cables, you can use any of the cables most of us already have around the house.
- As much illumination as possible. When comparing products, count the lights and/or estimate the distance between them. In the case of attachable (pendant) collar lights, check to determine whether the protective casing affects the product’s illumination.
When buying reflective gear, look for these features:
- Maximum amount of reflective material. A reflective dog collar or leash with a wide strip or multiple strips of reflective material will provide better retroreflection than a product with a tastefully thin strip of reflective piping or reflective threads woven throughout a leash.
- Reflective material on both sides of a leash. Look for leashes with reflective material on both sides, as leashes can easily turn and twist and you want to maintain maximum visibility no matter how the leash is oriented.
- High-Quality reflective material. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” Many of our favorite reflective products feature top-quality 3M Scotchlite reflective materials.
PROS AND CONS OF VARIOUS NIGHT-VISIBILITY PRODUCTS
|PRODUCT TYPE||EXAMPLES WE LIKE||BENEFITS||DRAWBACKS|
|Attachable Lights||Nite Ize Spotlit LED Collar Light. $9 from Amazon.||These are often very bright. Very easy to clip onto a dog’s collar or harness.||When attached to the dog’s collar, these tend to illuminate the ground in front of the dog in a way that some dog walkers find disorienting; the dangling, swinging light can make it more difficult to see one’s path.|
|Light-Up Collar||BSEEN LED Dog Collar. Available in three colors. Collar is one-size-fits-all (cut it to length). USB rechargeable. $13 from Amazon.||Helps viewers identify the lighted object as a dog.||May be obscured by the coat of a long-haired dog. Some, like the example listed here, are an “extra” collar meant for visibility only; they slip over the dog’s head and there is no leash attachment.|
|Light-Up Leash||Illumiseen LED Leash. USB rechargeable. Available in 4' and 6'; multiple colors to choose from. $25 from Amazon.||Length of leash increases visibility. Particularly helpful for long-coated breeds, whose coats may reduce visibility of a light-up collar.||Not as flexible as a standard leash; not likely to work if chewed by a dog. Lighted on only one side (but it’s pretty bright, so it may light up enough even when twisted).|
|Light-Up Vest or Harness (for dogs)||Lighthound from Noxgear. USB rechargeable harness (with leash attachment) stays charged for 12 hours. Numerous flashing and color-changing modes. $50 from noxgear.com.||Vests and harnesses provide maximum lighted surface area for drivers to see; also aids in identifying the lighted creature as a dog. This is helpful for other pedestrians or dog walkers who are trying to avoid other dogs.||Vests or harnesses whose primary purpose is lighting may not be designed well for the dog’s comfort and may not provide a leash attachment.|
|Light-Up Belt (for humans)||Illumiseen LED Reflective Belt. USB rechargeable. $20 from illumiseen.com.||As the taller member of a walking pair, the human provides a more easily seen site for a light-up garment. Product example listed here has both LED illumination and reflective accents.||A light-up belt can easily be hidden by outer layers if worn as a belt. Can be worn over one shoulder, crossing the body, for better visibility.|
|Light-Up Vest (for humans)||Noxgear’s Tracer 2. USB Rechargeable. Comes in 3 sizes. $50 from noxgear.com.||Some products (like the example listed here) have flashing and color-changing options for the greatest visibility.||Light-up vests help you be seen but don’t light your way.|
|Headlamp or LED Beanie||Nite Ize Radiant 170 Rechargeable Headlamp. $25 from niteize.com.||Headlamps work best for lighting the human’s path. They also help you find your dog’s poop and free up your hands for easy pick-up.||Some people find it distracting to walk with a headlamp or find them uncomfortable to wear. (As an alternative to a head strap, Nite Ize offers a model that clips onto a trucker-hat brim.)|
|Reflective Gear for Dog (vest, leash, collar)||Ruffwear’s Lumenglow High-Vis Dog Jacket. Comes in 6 sizes, 3 colors. $45 from Ruffwear.||Reflective products offer increased visibility to drivers, where light-up products may get “washed out” by the headlights. Look for products with as much reflective material as possible. The Lumenglow Jacket has a wide strip of reflective material.||The dog isn’t very visible until a light hits the reflective material. Pedestrians (or other dog walkers) who are walking without lights won’t know the dog is present until they are close.|
|Reflective Gear for Humans||JK Safety 9-Pocket Safety Vest. Comes in 7 sizes, up to 5X-Large. $15 from Amazon.||High-visibility vests are available in multiple styles for outdoor workers in many fields. Most are lightweight and offer wide reflective strips and piping. We like the example product for its many pockets (handy for treats, poop bags, keys, etc.).||EVERYONE will see you coming! Some people don’t want to wear an additional layer. You might be mistaken for a transportation worker and get asked about the most recent road closures or construction projects.|
- Use a leash! Even the best-trained dogs can be led astray by the scent of a critter, many of which are most active at dawn and dusk.
- Bring your phone for emergencies, but keep it in your pocket as you walk. Pay attention to your dog and your surroundings, not your text messages.
- Skip the headphones. Use all your senses to survey your surroundings.
- Walk against traffic so you can see what’s coming up ahead.
- Take a familiar route. Save exploration for daylight hours.
- Carry identification of some sort, including emergency instructions for your dog should you be incapacitated in an accident. Consider adding this information to the emergency setting on your cell phone.