Make me visible at night
December 8, 2022 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I would like to apply some retroreflective tape to my black winter jacket to increase my visibility to cars when walking at night. I have a 3"x20" strip of the stuff that I can cut and stick onto my jacket - do you have suggestions of shapes/placement that would be most effective? As a night-time driver, what would be the most eye-catching to you? Ideally leaving the jacket looking relatively normal and non-OSHAcore during the daytime. Thanks!
posted by btfreek to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd do two vertical strips over the shoulders, which seem to be pretty standard on a quick survey of safety vests. . You want two points so that drivers can triangulate a little, you want them high up so that they're closer to the eyeline of the drivers. Depending on your size, 10" apiece might not really be ideal - you want them to come down flat on both sides so they catch light coming from about the same height - so you might cut four 5" strips and just put them on the front and back in those spots and skip the over-the-shoulder connection. It's... not gonna look super fashionable, sorry.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:38 AM on December 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

(Honestly just get a safety vest, they're $10, the cheap ones are super thin so you can ball it up and store it in a pocket.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:42 AM on December 8, 2022 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Can you make yourself look wide? I give wide-looking things lots of extra space at night. Maybe put a loop around the end of each sleeve? Bonus points if you've got a jacket where you could roll the sleeve cuffs over the reflective stripes during the day.
posted by Hermione Dies at 11:49 AM on December 8, 2022

Best answer: I would think having reflectivity on your arms would be helpful. Since they're swinging, you've got a greater chance of having them catch the light.

Wrapping around the upper arm like stripes might be the least goofy-looking option.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:58 AM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Check out Ansi-rated class 3 safety vests for best placement.
posted by aniola at 12:15 PM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

As a driver (and a semi-frequent walker/runner in the dark), the most eye-catching thing is to emit light, not only reflect it. I bought some clip on lights at REI for around $10, with steady light and blinking light modes. Those also have the advantage of being able to take them off during the day to reduce OSHAcore style. Apologies if this is too adjacent to your question though!
posted by carlypennylane at 12:20 PM on December 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

No need to deface your jacket. You can buy belts/straps/vests you just layer over your clothes. Amazon.

Where I live people walk to school/nursery and to public transport. When I am driving in the dark I find the cross body 'vests' a lot more noticeable than just a sash or belt would be. Although anything including a single arm or leg band is better than nothing reflective. But the 'vest' shape makes it clear it's a human being upright. A random band you have to look more closely to figure out what the reflection is.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:29 PM on December 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

FWIW, when the seasons change and I start taking my daily walks in the dark (and while cycling any time) I wear this illuminated vest from Amazon over my hoodie or coat. It has several different light modes, with several flashing patterns and also steady colors. The "backpack" part glows, as do the plastic tubes, in whatever color(s) you have selected. Runs for weeks of hour-long walks on three AAA batteries. I've had several drivers pull over and honk/wave me over just to ask where I got it, because they very much noticed me in the dark.
posted by xedrik at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

We just finished a months-long journey of this! My wife and I are both out in the pre-dawn dark every day, and have been critiquing each other's choices. :7) Our verdict: lights > reflection.

I ended up ironing a horizontal strip of 2"-wide tape across my shoulder blades, on the two jackets I wear most often. I also wear a flashing red LED slap bracelet on the wrist holding my dog leash, which my wife assures me is more visible (from behind & in front) than when it's on the arm that stays against my body.

She bought a reflective thing that's like a cross between a vest and a belt, which she has to buckle on over her coat. I had tried something similar, but found the effort to be a PITA in a time of day when I have the least patience. The tape is melted to the coats so I never have to remember to bring it.

She also wears one of the slap bracelets and I can see her flashing light in full dark a block away, when even my super-bright flashlight doesn't pick up her vest.

The bracelets are rechargeable; they last longer when flashing than when always-on, and I think she got two weeks about an hour a day before her first recharge.

(I had already ironed on cute, inch-wide paw prints of the reflective tape onto the back of my hat and coats, but my wife says that they aren't nearly as visible as the wide stripe, much less the bracelet. I added a few on the front of my coat Just In Case, but they turn out to be mostly because they're cute.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:52 PM on December 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry not to be able to find the cite for this, but I ride my bike in town at night and read that having lights and reflective tape on part of you that moves is most effective. If you're walking or biking, you're moving, so I don't mean anywhere on your body, but a part that's moving separately. On your bike, that's your pedals. If you are walking, that's likely your arms. So my guess would be to have two long, wide trips down the backs (and maybe fronts?) of your arms, and I'd probably also do a long strip across your shoulders, especially if you won't wear anything like a backpack that would cover it.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:53 PM on December 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

I do a lot of night cycling. My solution for a jacket is just to wear a brightly coloured one. My bike has flashing lights and reflectors and I've put on both reflective and retroreflective strips on my helmet.

I bought a roll of retroreflective tape and in addition to putting it on my bike and helmet I also use it to patch any small holes on my jackets. I would think that if you put a significant amount of it on a jacket it probably would look OSHAcore but working it into something like an arm or wrist band sounds like a good idea.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:45 PM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

As bluedaisy mentions, highlighting biological motion is particularly effective. Highlighting lower-body motion in particular seems to be helpful, since car headlights are most often aimed low. You could pair reflective tape on the arms/back of the jacket with leg or ankle reflectors for even greater visibility.

(I have this style of leg reflectors that I've used for cycle commuting in the past, which I also used on my arms in conjunction with a reflector vest and lights. I find it helpful having separate reflectors I can zip/velcro on and off, so that I can be OSHAcore on the commute but unremarkable at work, but you could certainly do something along those lines with retroreflective tape if wanted!)
posted by beryllium at 3:37 PM on December 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Depending on the colors and your style, a horizontal line of diagonal slashes to replicate a construction barricade could work. When I lived in a city that didn’t have separation between sidewalk and street, I used a similar pattern on a messenger bag to keep me visible without looking like I was trying to keep myself visible.
posted by Ookseer at 3:52 PM on December 8, 2022

Best answer: To answer the question as asked, I looked at my cycling jacket to check where the reflective parts are. My underlying assumption is that the manufacturers have already done the form vs function calculus, and they've selected the right spots for optimal balance of those two concerns.

Chest: one patch on either side, about 4" wide, above-boob height, like where a pocketsquare could go? Horizontal, or slightly diagonal like angry emoji eyebrows
Sleeve: around each cuff, and angry emoji eyebrows again by your triceps
Back: one long horizontal line going straight across your shoulder blades, like where the seam of a button-up shirt would be
Collar: an emblem/symbol by your nape
Hood: 4" wide horizontal by your forehead
Pockets: some slashes ~0.5" off of the pocket zippers, or even around the zippers (if they're exposed) could also help

These reflective areas seem to be half an inch wide maximum, I guess anything wider makes it less fashionable?

If you've got a bigger mat of reflective material, perhaps one "fashionable" option is to use a cricut or similar to cut out a cool pattern, and then stick that on to the jacket, so it's not just reflective strips. That takes a lot of effort, though, and I'm not sure if a much bigger area would really crinkle and flex with your jacket fabric when you stuff it in your bag. I'm not sure of the long-term feasibility of this idea, but could be worth experimenting if just lines and slashes are too basic for you. I've got a jacket that has what looks like a city map of roads (lots of criss-crossing lines), grey-on-grey colour. But at night all the "road" lines are actually reflective.
posted by tinydancer at 3:52 PM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'd just wear one of those "safety vests" on top of whatever jacket you wear. Just buy an oversized one, like 2XL or 3XL so it'd go OVER your jacket.
posted by kschang at 4:29 PM on December 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I would, too.* Safety vests have different ratings.

- ANSI class 1 is for non-scary environments.
- ANSI class 2 is for environments where motor vehicles are traveling up to 50 mph.
- ANSI class 3 is rated for the most dangerous situations. Class 3 vests have sleeves with reflective material on them.
posted by aniola at 5:18 PM on December 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

* I do, in fact. It's easiest. Permanently sewn-on reflective ribbon has a tendency to lose its reflective coating over time with repeated washing and/or use. Safety vests turn up used on the side of the road, I think road workers leave them behind, and they can be washed and reused for a while.

(Nobody should ever need reflective vests, that would be blaming the victim. But it's still nice to pick up safety vests that are still in decent shape that you find abandoned on the side of the road, wash them, and keep them handy to give out to long-distance travelers. Like that backpacker trudging down the side of a highway far from human places. )
posted by aniola at 5:30 PM on December 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

When I'm walking the dog at night I like to use a reflective Velcro cuff (intended for an ankle when cycling) and wrap it around my bicep on the arm closest to cars passing, with the logic that it gives me some degree of visibility from every direction and makes me appear as far into the road as possible. So I'd suggest doing that placement, along with maybe a strip or two across the back if you have extra tape.

Reflective tape when lit up by headlights is far more visible than most lights from a distance, although lights are great to have too as a backup or to be seen by walkers/cyclists (I use a light on the dog too, along with a reflective harness and bright green leash). I agree that a safety vest is the most visible option but not everyone wants to wear one - I hate wearing mine.
posted by randomnity at 6:26 PM on December 8, 2022

Best answer: I remember an old "Quantum" episode (maybe?? I'm pretty sure - it was on an ABC science program when I was a kid in the 90s) anyway, where they looked at the best pattern- loops around arms, legs, body weren't good, a cross body X was best.
posted by freethefeet at 6:45 PM on December 8, 2022

As somebody who runs at night, please don't rely on just being reflective. You need lights as others have said.

The percentage of drivers that pass me who are looking at their phones is really shocking.
posted by LoveHam at 4:49 AM on December 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Lights plus reflective safety vest plus situational awareness.
Distracted driving means that you could wear head-to-toe reflective tape and still get hit.

Large, bright and moving/strobe lights are best.
Consider if the lights are interfering with your own safety. Red light does not change your night vision, so you can turn it off and still see in the dark.

Do bring your safety gear, because low-light daytime travel is also dangerous. You may find yourself walking home on a foggy afternoon.

Two wheels are more vulnerable than four wheels. And road rules state that wheeled transportation travels with the traffic, and foot transportation travels against the traffic. Therefore bikes and motorcycles need awareness of vehicles behind them.

Know your exit strategy.
Watch the road -- no headphones.

The vehicle always wins.
posted by TrishaU at 6:20 AM on December 9, 2022

Response by poster: Look, guys, I bike at night and like my eye-searingly bright jacket and lights as much as anyone else, but I’m not going to trust myself to diligently put on a belt or vest or lights or anything else when stumbling home from the bar in slightly less than optimal lighting conditions, y’know? I appreciate the intent behind the other advice but I really did mean to ask the question I asked - thanks particularly to those who made an attempt to answer the question.
posted by btfreek at 7:14 AM on December 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

Then you can get one of those lighted jackets that seems to be on Indiegogo or Kickstarter all the time.

Bought a Duotek jacket on Kickstarter long time ago. It came out too small for me, but it's reflective as heck.
posted by kschang at 10:43 AM on December 9, 2022

You don't have to literally wear an ANSI-rated vest to look at their rules for placement of reflective tape. It's the main source for what jackets with reflective material in "please don't squish me" places are referencing.

Referencing the ANSI standards will tell you that if you use this much reflective tape in these places on your jacket, it's likely to be good for THIS type of motor vehicle traffic. No need to reinvent the wheel. Pick and choose from the source that is the industry standard for safety.
posted by aniola at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

a cross body X was best

I didn't see that show and maybe they're super visible, but I remember hearing a family friend who is a traffic safety expert tell us that X patterns performed very badly in real-world tests because fatigued/impaired drivers would head straight for them.

Note that you don't see Xs on those ANSI vests.
posted by tangerine at 5:24 PM on December 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Canadian standards actually specify that there should be X in the back and parallel bars in front, so you can distinguish whether the wearer is facing you or not.
posted by kschang at 4:50 AM on December 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

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