Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for Best reflective safety vests

We've all been there. You're driving at night and paying careful attention, yet you come within inches of hitting a pedestrian wearing all black by the side of the road. While the pedestrian can easily see your vehicle, they fail to realize that their own black clothing makes them nearly invisible to you. Wearing the right clothes, including a reflective safety vest, is all it takes to reduce the chances of becoming a statistic.

At night, a reflective safety vest reflects a vehicle's headlights back to the driver so they’re immediately aware that someone is near the road. Additionally, the vest makes the wearer more easily visible during daylight hours as well. If you walk, jog, run, or bike in the early morning, at dusk, or in the evening, you need a reflective safety vest.

Learn how reflective safety vests work, what they cost, and how to take care of them.

I1 
Reflective material can help a driver see you up to three seconds sooner at night. If a vehicle is moving at 60 miles per hour, that gives the driver 264 additional feet to react to avoid you.

Key considerations

Components

A reflective safety vest has two main but very different components that make it effective both day and night: fluorescent colors that make the vest clearly visible in sunlight and reflective tape that makes the vest visible at night. Only a vest that has both of these components is considered suitable for use both day and night.

Fluorescent colors: The human eye can only see light that radiates within a specific range of frequencies. In that narrow range, we can see all the colors from red to violet. Outside of that range, there are many frequencies that we can’t see, such as ultraviolet light. Chemicals in fluorescent materials convert some ultraviolet light to the visible spectrum, increasing the amount of color we can see. Fluorescent colors don't just appear brighter, they actually are brighter. If it helps, think of regular color as a room lit by one light bulb and fluorescent color as a room lit by two light bulbs. The room with two light bulbs is brighter and easier to see.

It’s the ultraviolet light that makes fluorescent colors brighter, and the best source of ultraviolet light is the sun. At night, fluorescent colors lose their ability to glow. The fluorescent colors on a reflective safety vest are only effective when there is ultraviolet light present.

Reflective tape: This tape reflects light back to its source, making the tape easy to see when it’s dark outside. The drawback of reflective tape is that it only works when it's dark and the tape is hit with a light source, such as headlights. Because of this, reflective tape isn’t effective during the day.

There are two types of reflective tape: glass bead and microprismatic.

  • Glass bead: This reflective tape has very tiny glass beads affixed to a surface. The beads are coated on one side with aluminum or another reflective material. Glass bead reflective tape is easy to identify because it has a silver-gray appearance. Whenever light hits that surface of the tiny beads, it’s reflected back to the source, making the object appear to light up and making it easier to see. Glass bead reflective tape can be made at a low cost, which is why it’s widely used.
  • Microprismatic: Instead of spheres, microprismatic tape has many tiny prisms sealed inside vinyl tape. Microprismatic tape is more durable than glass bead reflective tape and can be manufactured in a wide variety of colors. While this type of reflective tape is more effective, producing a more focused reflection, it's also more costly to manufacture, making it less common than glass bead reflective tape.
Dyk1
Did You Know?
For the reflective part of the vest to work, the environment must be dark and there must be a light source, such as car headlights, shining on the vest.
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Features

Size

Because a reflective vest is worn over clothing, it must be large enough to fit over all your clothing, including a jacket or coat. Look for a large size that allows for mobility but isn’t so loose as to create a hazard.

Some reflective safety vests are little more than a harness. While a harness might seem like a good idea for an activity like running, it doesn't offer a large area of visibility, so it won't be as effective at making you easier to see.

Durability

Inexpensive reflective safety vests are manufactured using a mesh fabric. This type of vest works fine, but it requires extra care when wearing so you don’t accidentally tear it. Also, the mesh can more easily snag, which can make it a safety hazard as well, especially if you’re working with tools or heavy equipment.

Colors

The fluorescent material on reflective safety vests comes in a variety of colors. It's important to pick a color that provides a good contrast with your environment so you can more easily be seen.

Yellow and orange are best for individuals who are near a road because the colors contrast sharply against asphalt. Individuals on the water want to choose orange because it contrasts best against blues and grays.

Pink is often chosen by horseback riders and individuals participating in other outdoor activities because it shows up well against the greens, browns, and oranges found in nature.

Blue and other dark colors don't stand out very well and should be avoided.

Pockets

If you need to carry items that must be easily accessible, look for a reflective safety vest with pockets. Some have only a small pouch in the front while others have several compartments. To keep your items secure, it's best to look for pockets that close with a hook-and-loop closure, zipper, or snap.

Closure

Inexpensive reflective safety vests likely have a hook-and-loop closure, which is easy to use and secure. The harness models have buckles and clasps, while more expensive vests tend to have zippers. If you choose a vest that zips, make sure it's a good-quality zipper that’s durable enough to last.

Quantity

If you’re shopping for reflective safety vests for a workforce, consider purchasing the vests in bulk. When using this strategy, make sure the vests are good quality and you’re getting a good value, not just a low price.

Just adding reflective tape to your child's backpack doesn’t make them more visible when traveling to and from school. In order for reflective tape to work, it must be dark outside.

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Reflective safety vest prices

Inexpensive: A budget reflective safety vest costs less than $10. This type may be a harness (not a vest) and be made of a thin mesh material for lighter-duty use. Most of these have a hook-and-loop closure.

Mid-range: For roughly $10 to $15, you can find a reflective safety vest that has pockets and a zipper closure. The fabric on these vests is more durable and the overall design is more rugged.

Expensive: If you’re paying much more than $15 for a reflective safety vest, you should be getting multiple vests. Be careful when shopping in this price range because the vests may be cheaply made rather than a good value.

FYS2
For Your Safety
In situations where part of the wearer's body is obscured, wearing reflective headwear is recommended in addition to a vest.
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Tips

Some care must be taken to make sure you get the most use out of your reflective safety vest. Here are a few tips for taking care of this lifesaving apparel.

  • Keep your reflective safety vest clean. Whether it's on the fluorescent part or the reflective part, dirt reduces the effectiveness of the vest.
  • Machine wash the vest in cold water. Most reflective safety vests can be machine washed in cold water but check the care label to make sure. First, turn the vest inside out to protect the reflective material. Wash the vest with soft garments and not with rough or potentially abrasive materials like jeans, which can hasten the deterioration of the reflective materials. Put the vest in a load with garments of like colors to prevent bleeding. Use a mild detergent. Don’t use fabric softener because this can significantly impair the garment’s ability to reflect light.
  • Never dry clean a reflective safety vest.
  • Air-dry the reflective vest. While it's possible to dry your reflective safety vest in the dryer on low heat, heat can damage the reflective tape. You’ll get the longest life from your vest if you hang it up to dry.
  • Never iron a reflective safety vest.
I2
All high-visibility clothing eventually wears out. If you notice the fluorescent colors aren't as vibrant or the reflective areas are no longer reflecting, the vest needs to be replaced.

FAQ

Q. Who needs to wear a reflective safety vest?

A. The vest has one purpose: to make it easier to see the person wearing it. While a reflective safety vest is most often used to protect pedestrians, runners, and road workers, they’re also worn by warehouse workers, parking lot attendants, railroad workers, utility workers, forestry workers, crossing guards, emergency response personnel, construction workers, baggage handlers, and anyone working in inclement weather. Anyone who is in a situation where visibility becomes a safety issue should wear a reflective safety vest.

Q. How does a reflective safety vest protect the wearer?

A. The human eye gives priority to large, bright, contrasting, or moving objects. Wearing a reflective safety vest is the opposite of camouflage. Its bright, contrasting colors allow you to stand out against the environment. Wearing high visibility clothing means others will see you sooner and more easily, giving them extra time to react so they don't accidentally injure you.

Q. Do I only need to wear my reflective safety vest at night?

A. No, a reflective safety vest is specifically designed to be worn both day and night. While the reflective parts of the vest won't increase visibility in the sunlight, the fluorescent sections will help make you stand out so you can be more easily seen during the day.
 

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