Reflective running gear is a must for your autumn and winter runs, whether in a city or rural road. But with so many styles and brands of reflective jackets, tops, tights, and accessories, which should you go for?
As a technology, reflective and fluorescent clothing has been used by runners for many years, but the application to apparel is actually relatively new.
It was first introduced in 1964 by British Railways before a wide-scale roll-out after successful trials.
Since then, multiple studies of the effectiveness of high visibility and reflective clothing use among cyclists and motorcyclists have confirmed the wearing of more conspicuous clothing leads to fewer accidents on the road.
Now in common use and relatively cheap and reliable, the technology is ideal for those on an evening or night run, ensuring all road users take note of your presence.
The difference between reflectives and fluorescence
Because they boost the visibility of clothing in different ways, reflective technologies and fluorescent wear are often combined to make the most of every light source.
However, these differences can be used to maximise their effectiveness in different scenarios. You may find, depending on your circumstances, you’ll need one and not the other when it comes to winter running gear.
How do reflectives work?
Reflectives, also known as retroreflectives, reflect light back to its source, minimising how much of that light is scattered. Unlike a mirror which bounces the light off at an opposing angle (you may have learned the ‘angle of incidence equals angle of reflection’ rule in school), retroreflectives use special micro surface technologies to bounce the light back in the same direction from which it came.
This makes it ideal for being seen by those using an artificial light source in the darkness - such as motorists and cyclists.
It's this quality that has led to retroreflector panels being added to road signs. They are also fitted to satellites, allowing their position to be tracked accurately from the ground. There are also retroreflectors on the moon, left by astronauts to allow laser ranging equipment to bounce a signal off the receiver, only for the signal back to bounce back to the point from it was transmitted a few seconds earlier.
It's become an incredibly useful technology, and its properties have proven advantages for those running in low light on the roads.
How do fluorescents work?
Fluorescent material works in a different way. It absorbs then emits light more efficiently than normal materials, making its colours appear brighter than their surroundings. This makes fluorescence effective in dimly lit conditions with no direct light source, such as trail running, or for standing out in daylight.
The advantage retroreflectives have over fluorescent material is the brightness they achieve in darkness and low light situations when light is directly applied. This means that under street lights or in car headlights, your presence is unmistakable, even with just a few subtle strips of reflective material.
Not only does this property make reflectives particularly effective for road running, designers can also create attractive running wear without resorting to industrial levels of panelling and without being restricted to fluorescent shades.
Retroreflective material types
There are two main types of retroreflective material: micro-prismatic reflective tape, and glass bead reflective tape.
While micro-prismatic tape is brighter from the source of a direct light, glass bead tape disperses light better, making it easier to see from more angles when illuminated.
Glass bead tape weighs slightly less, although its effects can be dimmed in contact with water.
Either of these materials can be applied to running clothing as panels or incorporated into the fabric. Application on each side of the garment is commonly described as 360-degree reflectivity.
Examples of the best reflective running clothing and accessories
Here are some of the best reflective run clothing brands and products to ensure you stay safe and visible during your autumn and winter evening runs.
Made from comfortable, durable fabric, the Ronhill Jacket is both water and wind repellent, keeping you protected as you do battle with the elements.
The jacket sports large front zip pockets for convenient, secure storage and additional coverage should your hands get cold.
The reflective detailing is featured in key areas to keep you safe and visible on urban runs.
Featuring a warm and quick-drying fabric, the Headglove from GripGrab is now available in high visibility yellow. Perfect for those cold and windy winter days and a bit of extra insulation to help you be seen on the road.
The dhb Long Sleeve Run Top is lightweight, sweat-wicking and the perfect top with an unrestrictive fit. A functional top made with fun, bold and on-trend colours to keep you seen when out on your runs. Made with 37.5 fabric on the front and mesh fabric on the back, this technical and highly breathable construction helps create the athlete microclimate. The top is finished with subtle reflective for low-light visibility.
The Gel Kayano 28 running shoes from Asics are a popular cushioned shoe with added support, now with a reflective print. Strategically placed to make you visible to other pedestrians and road users, these run shoes are perfect for those autumn and winter runs.