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 her" as an excuse.
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.
Read our review of the ETC Arid Unisex Reflective Cycling Gilet
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.
Read our review of the Lomo 30L High Visibility Backpack Dry Bag
The German-made helmet uses what’s called the KStar reflective system with reflective particles embedded into the microshell covering. The reflective particles are protected by a clear outer casing.
The helmet has a pearl grey colour in daylight, but becomes brilliant white when caught in direct light from other road users. There is also a anti-bug net at the front, leaving your hair wasp-free and unstung.
Mat Brett took a look when it was launched.
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.
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.
Read our review of the Van Rysel Hi-Viz Cycling Gilet
Find a Van Rysel dealer
The B'Twin Warm Reversible Urban Cycling Jacket is a really versatile option for keeping warm in cooler temperatures, either on or off the bike thanks to its reversible shell. It's ridiculously visible in bike mode, good looking in pub mode, and offers some weather protection. It feels great to wear, though the fitment at the waist is a bit odd.
In eye-grabbing mode, you get loads of reflective material where you need it most – that is, one along the front of the zip, around the back of the waist, and, crucially, along the back of each arm, which is exactly what you want when you're indicating and you want a motorist from behind to clearly see what you're doing at night. These reflective strips aren't playing either – they're safety vest-like super-wide, which is brilliant for getting you noticed, either during the day or at night.
I'd really recommend the B'Twin jacket as it does everything so well, and the price tag of £49.99 makes it an excellent purchase if you do a lot of urban riding and want to be seen night and day. This is an exceptionally versatile urban cycling jacket that's good across a wide range of temperatures.
Read our review of the Btwin Warm Reversible Urban Cycling Jacket
Find a Btwin dealer
Castelli offers its shiny grey high-visibility material in a number of garments. The Reflex Overshoes not only keep your feet as dry as can be with a big hole in the bottom for your shoe cleats, but help you be seen on murky days and at night. The outer material, along with being fantastically visible when lit up by car lights, is plenty windproof and waterproof.
Read our review of the Castelli Reflex Shoecovers
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.
Read our review of the 100% Hydromatic Waterproof Brisker Gloves
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.
Read our review of the Altura Nightvision Typhoon jacket
Find an Altura dealer
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.
Read our review of the BTR High Visibility Reflective Jacket
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.
Read our review of the Endura Luminite jacket
Find an Endura dealer
These gloves are lightweight (47g), stretchy and have backs covered in lots of tiny reflective dots. High-vis yellow also sits between the fingers. A good choice for enhanced visibility in cold conditions, rather than deep winter.
Read our review of the Polaris Bikewear RBS Gloves
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.
Find an Oxford Products dealer
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.
Read our review of the BTR High Visibility Waterproof Helmet Cover
Things to know about reflective cycling gear
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.
As is so often the case, road.cc readers have lots of opinion and knowledge on reflective gear. Here's a selection of the best comments from previous versions of this article.
The Repro ankle bands are very good.