Reflective running gear is a must if you're out in the early morn or night, whether in a city or on a 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 has 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 let 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 effectiveness 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's some of the best reflective run clothing brands and products to ensure you stay safe and visible during your runs.
Made with Activelight fabric, the Ronhill Momentum Afterlight Run Jacket is lightweight and relaxed offering excellent wind protection and water resistance. It's the prefect lightweight layer as the weather transitions between seasons.
The reflective detailing is featured in key areas to keep you safe and visible on urban runs.The jacket also boasts a secure stash pocket for convenient, secure storage for small valuables.
Featuring an adjustable hook and loop closure system, with adidas's iconic Badge of Sport logo, this hard-wearing running cap will shine in response to street lighting and car headlights. Perfect for late evening or early morning runs, you'll remain warm, comfortable, and visible to traffic and cyclists.
The Ronhill Momentum Afterlife Long Sleeve Run Top is perfect for high-intensity run sessions with its Vapourlite fabric construction. The fabric is both lightweight and breathable with a wicking treatment ensuring your perspiration is drawn away from the surface of your skin. A subtle yet highly reflective trim will ensure you standout in early mornings or late evenings during the autumn and winter.
Drawing on the expertise of their popular Flashlight cycle clothing collection, dhb have added a reflective print to these tights. Strategically placed to make you visible to other road users, these run tights are perfect for those autumn and winter runs.