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Reflective athletic apparel is a best gear for a nighttime workout

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year — and that means less sunlight for runners, walkers, bikers and others who like to exercise outdoors. Already, the end of daylight saving time has brought on nightfall an hour earlier, darkening bike paths, jogging trails and parks.

But don’t sweat it. Moving your workout routine indoors is not the only alternative. You have options: There’s a whole slew of products, from clothing to headlamps to specially-designed bikes and balls, that can help you see where you’re going in the dark and, importantly, help you be seen by passing motorists and fellow fitness buffs.

The masses have spoken, and evening runs (between 6 and 7 p.m. specifically) are the most popular. During the summer, this timing makes sense, as the sun sets later and hopefully some of the day's heat and humidity have waned by then. But, after Daylight Savings Time ends (in just over a month, sigh) the sun will set long before work ends, and the temperature will drop quickly.

Nighttime, outdoor running and biking come with a slightly different set of rules than their daytime brethren—especially when it comes to clothes. Now, neon isn’t just a fashion choice; it’s a safety essential. To be spotted by drivers and other athletes alike, you need to think reflectivity, neon, glow-in-the-dark, and lighted accessories. And, with the growing popularity of nighttime-themed raves-cum-races such as the Electric Run, brands have met this increasing demand for visibility-enhancing gear, so you have more options, beyond the basic headlamp and crossing-guard vest.

Keep self visible

The number one thing when you’re working out at night is to be seen, Bicycling magazine senior editor Gloria Liu told CBS News.

“It’s absolutely crucial to have a light, but especially on a bicycle because we’re in the road for the most part of the time with cars. You want your bike to be as visible as any other vehicle out there, with headlights and taillights,” said Liu.

When it comes to bike lights, many cities require bicycles have reflectors, but Liu recommends also using battery-powered lights because they don’t rely on car headlights for visibility and they can be seen from much farther away. 

In a taillight, you want something red.

“That’s what people tend to associate with taillights in traffic. If it’s flashing, it’ll be more visible than a solid red light,” said Liu.

Make sure it has enough lumens — a measure of brightness — to be visible from a distance. You should aim for at least 20 lumens, though some lights go up to 50 lumens.

In a headlight, you’re looking for something that makes you visible to cars and other exercisers, but also a lamp that lets you see the path in front of you, to help you avoid potholes and curbs, for example.

Headlights are most commonly attached to a helmet or the handlebar.

Reflective everything

When it comes to your workout clothes, don’t wear black, recommends Runner’s World gear editor Jeff Dengate.

“It sounds obvious, but you can’t be seen,” Dengate told CBS News, noting that a lot of running tights and jackets come in black.

“It’s the color we’ve always worn and it’s easy to keep clean,” he said, so if you’re really attached to your black tights, be sure they have reflective markings, pair them with a white or light-colored top and bring along a light.

A lot of athletic clothing designers build reflective materials into their tights, tops, jackets, and even gloves — typically the more high-end companies.

Less expensive brands may offer budget-friendly options but one of the ways they may have cut corners is by skipping the reflective materials, so it’s important to check before buying clothing for nighttime workouts.  Safety reflective vest or safety pant worn in the outside were the good alternative before you buy the reflective athletic garment. 


Over time, even good reflective materials may wash off.

And pay attention to where the reflective markings are located. Cars headlight are angled down toward the road, so if you’re running alongside traffic, a reflective vest isn’t going to cut it.

“Reflective vests don’t work as well as we might hope they would. Even better is a blinking light or having that reflectivity down on your legs,” said Dengate.

A blinking light — similar to those used by cyclists — can be worn around the waist facing forward (as a headlight) or backward (to make you more visible). Some vests have a light built into the back of the vest.

Reflectors on shoes aren’t enough to catch a driver’s eye — they take up very little real estate. Runners and walkers who enjoy going out at night can try light clips on the shoes to increase lower body visibility.

Dengate owns a Nathan’s LightSpur LED Foot Light, a horseshoe-shaped light that clips to the heels of running shoes and can be set on flash or steady mode. It’s lightweight, gives about 40 hours of illumination and is powered by replaceable watch batteries.

“It’s moving because it’s on the back of the leg. Anything flashing or moving is going to get people’s attention better than a steady light,” he said.

Adidas introduced two new limited edition glow-in-the-dark sneakers in September — the Ultra Boost and the Adizero Prime Glow.