Reflective vests

For those who wear bright safety vests: Do you buy from sports and outdoors retailers, or do you get them from industrial safety suppliers?

Nathan reflective safety vest

Once upon a time, I wore reflective vests that are mostly marketed to runners. They’re typically a very lightweight mesh material with thin reflective strips, like this Nathan’s cross training vest shown here.

They’re probably great for runners, but these flimsy vests never seemed to stand up to the rigors of my everyday, all weather bike commute.

In the Bay Area, I often see cyclists wearing the safety vests used by construction workers. The reflective area is much larger, and these vests seem more durable. They’re also much less expensive — the vests marketed to the athletic market start at about $10 for the lighter, flimsy vests up to $30 for heavier, more durable vests. A mesh vest from an industrial supply company is only $3.15 (plus shipping). A vest with huge retro-reflective strips is only $10.
Neiko High viz neon yellow safety vest

If you wear reflective vests, which have you tried? What can you recommend?

19 Comments

  • February 23, 2011 - 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Mine’s a bike specific one. I pretty much only use it while I’m on a brevet, where they are required after dark. Otherwise, I figure that if you don’t see the bright freakin’ lights on my bike or abundant reflective tape on my bike, a vest is probably not going to help.

  • Wombatgrrl
    February 23, 2011 - 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Tends to be that the cheap ones are one size fits all, or then only come in Large or X-Large. This is not my size. If I wear that, it would flap around too much for my liking.

    I was in the UK a couple of years ago on a bicycle tour and in the cities, TONS of people were wearing hi-viz vests. We went into a sports store and stocked up on them at about 2 or 3 bucks each, and we were able to get them in a size that would fit a person who is not a male construction worker.

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  • February 23, 2011 - 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Richard, instead of a vest, I have a high-vis reflective crossing guard type sash.
    http://www.dontgethit.com/allarbesa.html
    Yes, it has less brightly-colored surface area, but it’s highly reflective reflexite. It’s also made in the USA, if that’s a factor. I only wear it in the dark or if visibility is low. I also have a set of arm bands out of the same material that I have around my winter gloves. It’s always good to have at least a little bright yellow or orange on your person (or your bike) all of the time, though.

  • February 23, 2011 - 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Ah yes, I occasionally see those sashes around here as well. Haven’t tried it personally.

    I have a big 20 square inch rectangle of reflective material on my messenger-style bag, and my winter jacket is an eye searing yellow. I have no idea how much it actually improves my conspicuity. I’ve read things like ankle bands work better for that sort of thing.

  • February 23, 2011 - 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, even on guys those construction vests seem to be really floppy.

  • February 23, 2011 - 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Did I mention I have a “mini” touring triangle on my rear rack all of the time, too? Overkill, maybe.
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_PcxEYt0F6hk/TFllHS7vjaI/AAAAAAAAB4U/CITtXMGi5OM/s1600/tomtriangle

  • Eli Figbranch
    February 23, 2011 - 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I wear one of the pictured orange Nathan brand runner-style ones. These could use more reflective striping, but I like that they are mesh, as they dry very quickly after a wet commute. The size is adjustable at the waist via cheap Velcro strips, which inevitably break after repeatedly being pulled over a rain slicker, but are easily mended with a safety pin/duct tape/etc.

  • February 23, 2011 - 9:23 pm | Permalink

    That’s exactly the problem I always had, Eli — the straps falling apart on me.

  • February 23, 2011 - 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Got a Nathan’s vest with red LED’s in the back from REI.

  • February 23, 2011 - 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Got a Nathan’s vest with red LED’s in the back from REI.

  • Andy
    February 23, 2011 - 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Vests / sashes are one reason why I haven’t ventured into randonneuring yet. I see no point to wearing ridiculous flimsy clothing items that serve no use. I’m a person riding a bike, and in order to not be seen on the road, a driver would have to be looking in the other direction for at least 30 seconds as they approach. Blinking lights at least grab attention well, so I do use those. I wouldn’t mind a cycling jacket that fashionably included some reflective piping, but putting a mesh vest on over a useful jacket/jersey with rear pockets isn’t going to help me.

  • Andy
    February 23, 2011 - 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Vests / sashes are one reason why I haven’t ventured into randonneuring yet. I see no point to wearing ridiculous flimsy clothing items that serve no use. I’m a person riding a bike, and in order to not be seen on the road, a driver would have to be looking in the other direction for at least 30 seconds as they approach. Blinking lights at least grab attention well, so I do use those. I wouldn’t mind a cycling jacket that fashionably included some reflective piping, but putting a mesh vest on over a useful jacket/jersey with rear pockets isn’t going to help me.

  • colinut
    February 23, 2011 - 10:13 pm | Permalink

    In Sheffield UK we get them for free from the Council:)

    http://sheffieldcyclist.co.uk/reflective-jackets/

  • Anonymous
    February 23, 2011 - 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I think you may find this valuable.

    ‘Cyclist visibility at night: Perceptions of visibility do not necessarily match reality’
    http://eprints.qut.edu.au/38338/1/c38338.pdf
    ‘Abstract
    ….Visibility limitations make cycling at night particularly dangerous. We previously reported cyclists’ perceptions of their own visibility at night and identified clothing configurations that made them feel visible. In this study we sought to determine whether these self-perceptions reflect actual visibility when wearing these clothing configurations. In a closed-road driving environment, cyclists wore black clothing, a fluorescent vest, a reflective vest, or a reflective vest plus ankle and knee reflectors. Drivers recognised more cyclists wearing the reflective vest plus reflectors (90%) than the reflective vest alone (50%), fluorescent vest (15%) or black clothing (2%). Older drivers recognised the cyclists less often than younger drivers (51% vs 27%). The findings suggest that reflective ankle and knee markings are particularly valuable at night, while fluorescent clothing is not. Cyclists wearing fluorescent clothing may be at particular risk if they incorrectly believe themselves to be conspicuous to drivers at night.’

    I believe it’s beneficial to read the whole report.

    H/T to:
    http://croydoncyclist.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/hi-viz-the-new-helmet-debate/

  • February 23, 2011 - 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I’d seen that Australian study before and then forgot all about it; thanks for the reminder. I’m a fan of reflective bits near the pedals.

    I think anybody who drives looking for cyclists at night can tell you fluorescent isn’t any more visible than other colors. I’ve read that fluorescent is most effective during twilight hours.

  • Eponder
    February 25, 2011 - 4:36 am | Permalink

    I like the mesh type with a zipper, the reflective material will flake off in the wash but it’ still somewhat reflective afterwards. SImilar to this: http://www.esafetystore.com/GroupInfo/GroupID/18385

    I got one large enough to go over my winter jacket and dont really mind if it flaps in the breeze in the summer. I think it catches a motorist’s eye more as it flaps.

  • BeansBaxter
    March 2, 2011 - 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been using the Amphipod Xinglet and find it very useful and even comfortable.
    http://www.amphipod.com/products/visibility/reflective-vests/xinglet

    As an added bonus, I can put it on over my parka when I’m out snowblowing after dark. I’m quite certain it’s saved my bacon a few times that way.

  • December 13, 2013 - 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I never say the use for them. Quit frankly when I was young I would talk about people who wore vests. But now that I have been driving for a little while I have finally seen the light. They are very much needed.

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