Riding at dusk or after dark is almost unavoidable, whether you're commuting on short winter days or riding into the spring or summer dusk. Adding some reflective clothing and equipment will help drivers pick you out from the urban visual chaos. These are the best reflective cycling vests we've brought to light in hundreds of hours of night-time riding, along with our picks of other reflective cycling gear.
By bouncing light back where it came from — that is, towards headlights and therefore a driver — cycling clothing that incorporates retro-reflective materials gives you the best chance of being seen in low-light conditions. While more is almost always better, it's surprising how effective just a few patches of reflective can be. Studies strongly suggest reflective cycling gear is more effective than fluorescent "hi-vis" at helping drivers see you. If the worst happens, at least your loved ones won't have to accept "I couldn't see them" as an excuse.
Below is a round-up of our favourite reflective gear, with options to cover you from head to toe and even your luggage if you want to be reflective all over. As well as our top picks, we've also listed some extra honourable mentions that have scored well in road.cc reviews...
Made almost entirely from highly effective Reflect360 material, the Proviz Performance jacket is probably the best way to stay visible on your bike. The Reflect360 wonder material looks like fairly demure grey fabric in daylight conditions but it reflects like a beacon with just a bit of light at night-time. In fact, the Reflect360 material seems more brilliant than ever. It can pick up and reflect almost any ambient light – it's quite incredible.
Like dhb with Flashlight, Proviz has a whole collection of reflective clothing and accessories, even including classic cycling track mitts for warm summer evenings, Lobster gloves for the other end of the weather spectrum and loads more.
If you want a lightweight, packable jacket to keep you visible in the dark and which won't hamper your performance, this is an option you can't miss. And thankfully, neither can other road users.
The Spatz Roadman 2 overshoes might look odd, but if you ride in wet and cold conditions typical of UK winters, they take comfort to new levels. Just as importantly for our purposes, they have big slabs of reflective on the back, sides and front, so they should attract drivers' attention as you pedal.
The latest version of Altura's Thunderstorm gloves boasts even more reflectivity than the ones we liked when we tested them. With almost the whole back of the hand bouncing their headlights back at them, any driver who can't see you signalling in these needs to surrender their licence.
We reviewed the first version of Endura's reflective trousers and were very impressed - so with just the colour changing slightly on the second version, we can highly recommend them too.
The Luminite trousers boast simply superb waterproofing, breathability and reflectivity. As an effective pair of overtrousers for when the going gets wet, they're hard to beat. There are two huge reflective stripes on each leg – one on the outer thigh, the other on the calf – and a cute little Endura sign on the bottom.
Fully reflective jackets are unbeatable for being seen at night, but the reflective fabric tends to be pretty bulky and not very breathable. A reflective gilet is a happy halfway house: you still light up when cars approach, but you're less likely to boil. The ETC Arid Unisex Reflective Gilet is a pretty good option for less aggressive riding. It's hugely effective in terms of its reflective ability. It's a useful extra layer on dark winter mornings or on rides that carry on into (or through) the night, and there's room to wear it over a couple of fairly thick layers if it's bitter out.
ReflecToes may look like a bit of a gimmick with their reflective detailing, but they are a great idea if you find yourself exercising after dark. They are really comfortable too, perfect for long days in the saddle.
If you're commuting to work on a daily basis with a rucksack, then this Lomo 30L High Visibility Backpack Dry Bag is a highly reflective option that will keep your office clothing and sarnies dry. It's made from tough UPVC with welded seams, and there bold reflective chevrons and stripes are very prominent. There are also reflective stripes on the front of the shoulder straps.
Admittedly we had to include this for the comical image, but the Showers Pass helmet cover has been a mainstay in the brand's range for years now, and in its black or neon versions it's a great way to add some extra visibility.
With 3M reflective detailing, it's made from durable polyester with waterproof taped seams and is one-size-fits-most via its finger-friendly toggles. It's both wind and rainproof, with an extra drop-down at the rear to channel water down your jacket instead of inside it.
The only cycling-specific garment we've been able to find that meets EN471, this budget gilet also has a loop out back for a light and an extended tail.
This excellent vest will add extra visibility to any clothing, and it's also super light and packable when it's not in use.
With a high-vis colour and lots of reflective bits, Apidura's vest really does provide a surprising amount of additional visibility from the front and back (have a look at our reviewer's photos if you don't believe us). It comes in two sizes and is secured by two straps across the chest. You can wear it over thicker clothes, and in warmer weather it's breathable and won't feel like you have an extra layer on.
It also conforms to the EN 17353 standard, crucial if you're cycling at night in some parts of the continent, so it's a great piece of kit to have in your bag if you're an ultra-distance rider or are planning some big trips abroad.
The Van Rysel Hi Viz Cycling Gilet is a nicely thought out and well-made gilet with a great cut, fit and overall performance. You can get gilets with more reflective coverage, but they’re all more expensive. The Van Rysel gilet’s well-positioned retro-reflective detailing brings it to life at night so it’s good value for money.
The Hydromatic Brisker from 100% combines all the good bits of the very well-reviewed Brisker Cold Weather, with some of the weather protection of the Hydromatic. A big reflective logo helps drivers see you when you're signalling, or, given that it extends over the first and middle fingers, when you're giving them the Vs.
The Altura Nightvision Typhoon Waterproof Jacket is a development of the justly popular Nightvision series. During a relentlessly wet testing period, our reviewer confirmed this jacket is also highly waterproof as well as reflective, beading up and rolling away the rain after 2-3 hours battling the elements. The drop tail should also save your lower back from the lion's share of spray when riding without mudguards.
The red version we tested features extensive retro-reflective panels at key points to bring the jacket 'alive' when graced by vehicle and street lighting; and our tester found them highly effective, doing a decent job of reinforcing signalling, especially along backroads in the wee small hours.
The successor to Altura's popular Night Vision 20 pannier, this conveniently-sized bag incorporates reflective elements for 360-degree visibility. It mounts with Rixen & Kaul Klickfix fittings, incorporates a padded sleeve for a 13-inch laptop and has a loop for a rear light.
The Flashlight range from Wiggle own-brand dhb includes shorts and jerseys as well as the obvious jackets and tights, all with dhb's distinctive reflective hexagon in strategic positions, and there are extra reflective patches on outer garments like jackets and overshoes. You can even get Flashlight reflective socks.
There's a tendency to expect high-vis and reflective outer layers to be all things to all people: windproof, rainproof, breathable, and so on. But by doing away with the requirement for all-weather ability, BTR's High Visibility Reflective Sportswear Cycling Running Jacket – to give it its full name – is a cheap, cheerful, lightweight and fantastically breathable garment that's perfect for dry commuting and late-night training.
Endura's Luminite jacket has been a commuting staple for many years. This is the latest version, with big slabs of reflective so it meets the EN 1150 standard (and it looks like only the lack of reflective stripes up the shoulders is keeping it from hitting the higher EN 471 standard too). It's a good choice for the daily schlep to the office. The 2.5 layer fabric is very waterproof with fully taped seams and is breathable too.
The most significant point to come out of studies on cyclist visibility is that moving reflectives, on your feet or ankles for example, really do increase your visibility. These simple bands don't cost a lot and wrap around the ankle with Velcro securing them in place. They may not be that fashionable, but if you plan to do a lot of riding in the dark, then they're a sensible idea.
The BTR High Visibility Waterproof Helmet Cover is an easy way to add some high-level reflectivity, while also doubling up as a nifty rain cover. It packs small enough when you don't need it, and fixes over a helmet with an elasticated hem and draw string closure for adjustment.
Gloves are a good candidate for adding some hi-vis and that's the idea behind these Proviz Winter Cycling Gloves. Useful for signalling an intent to change direction or lane, there's a large reflective panel on the little finger and across the back of the hand.
Walk into any decent bike shop and the shelves will be stacked with a variety of reflective products, from jackets and waist coats to sticker packs and ankle bands. When we head into autumn, and then winter, there's a good chance more of your riding time will be spent in the dark or at the very least, low light, and for many people that means donning some reflective products, or a product with a significant amount of reflective detailing.
Reflective clothing or other kit doesn't have to be in fluorescent high visibility colours. Reflectives work by reflecting back toward its source any light that plays on them. A black jacket made from the right material or with the right reflective detailing can be just as visible as a fluoro yellow one. Studies suggest that in the dark, a reflective product is more visible than a fluorescent one in car headlights.
But will wearing reflective clothing or products improve your safety on the road? There are various studies that have looked into the effectiveness of such products, such as the 2009 study that found fluorescent vests were not a significant improvement on black clothing at night. It concluded that at night reflective knee and ankle stripes were far more effective. That's because the up-and-down motion from pedalling can catch the eye of the motorist more than a large reflective stripe across the back, which can appear stationary, so the placement of any reflective product is as important as wearing it alone.
More recently, another study suggested that it’s reflective, not high-visibility, clothing that is the answer to being seen in the hours of darkness.
Of course, that's not terribly surprising as fluorescent clothing requires the ultra-violet wavelengths present in daylight to make it glow, but it's nice to have the inference that fluoro gear's not much chop at night confirmed by Actual Science™.
In recent years many clothing manufacturers have paid more attention to visibility. Beside the obvious trend of fluoro, more clothing designers are adding reflective details, often very discreetly in the seams or zip lining and smartly applied details, so that style conscious cyclists can boost their visibility without having to don a bright yellow jacket with huge reflective stripes. That all makes it easier to add some reflectivity to your outfit without looking going overboard.
European standard EN1150, which sets out the minimum amounts of retro reflective material needed, is beginning to be applied to cycling kit. EN1150 is a standard for non-professional use; a stricter standard EN471 applies to high-visibility clothing for the workplace and you could argue that EN471 Class 2, designed for use on the road, would be an appropriate standard for cycling. There aren't many cycling-specific products that meet EN471, but plenty of cheap gilets fit the bill like this one for seven quid on eBay.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.