Today is the Autumnal Equinox – also known as the first day of Fall. The days will grow shorter and darker, so being visible during outdoor runs is extremely important.
A 300+ Lumen headlamp and reflective clothing help, but so do running shoes that reflect light from a distance.
Incorporating high-visibility elements into running apparel results in a much safer running experience. Motorists and bikers can improve their situational awareness by picking up reflectivity from afar.
There was a time when regular road and trail running shoes came with all the reflectivity that one needed. Very often, the tongue label, logos, heel, and even the outsoles had reflective trims.
Many brands offer high-viz running shoes in their seasonal catalog but they’re nowhere close to 2013-14 levels. Asics is an exception; even their standard models perform very well from a reflectivity standpoint.
To be fair to the brands, the evolution of running shoe design hasn’t been kind to reflectivity.
Knit uppers were a rare sight a decade ago. Then Nike and adidas switched to knitted uppers, and the rest of the industry followed suit. In 2021, most running shoes use a knit upper with minimal overlays.
It requires greater effort to add a reflective layer on a single-piece knit upper. That’s not an excuse though. Some products like the Asics Nimbus Lite 2 prove that a knit upper and shiny bits can happily coexist.
To give credit where it’s due, Nike was the first to offer a seasonal assortment of running shoes that combined high-viz elements with weatherized features like water repellency.
It is called the Shield collection, though there were a couple of years when it was called the ‘Flash.’ You can read our review of the 2011 Nike Lunarglide Shield here to get a sense of how far back this goes.
Asics has been selling a reflective pack called the ‘Lite-show’ for over 7 years now. Everything about the Lite-Show assortment is reflectivity for running in the dark, which contrasts the winter-friendly approach of the Nike Shield. For example, most Nike Shield products are water-repellant and warm; Asics Lite-Show shoes are not.
It’s a bit early to see the full breadth of reflective products that the brands plan to offer for 2021. For example, the Nike Shield assortment isn’t here yet, and we also don’t see anything from Saucony either.
We’ll update this curated list later this year. For now, the Asics Lite-Show collection is the headlining act of this buyer’s guide.
Asics’ reflective running shoe strategy is to sell them perennially rather than making a seasonal push. You can find a Lite-show model during any time of the year – even if it isn’t the latest model. And it’s evident from this guide; five Asics Lite-Show models make it to this list. Throw in the Nimbus Lite 2 too, and that’s half a dozen.
The adidas is a hit or miss since it lacks a consistent strategy with regards to running shoe reflectivity. They sell a ‘Cold.RDY’ collection (previously known as Winter.RDY), but the products focus on thermal insulation rather than high visibility. The performance benefits are somewhat similar to the Nike Shield assortment.
A few adidas models have some reflectivity than the others, but it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack – those shoes are all over the place.
For this guide, we have included just one adidas product – the Terrex Speed Ultra. Since we did not have a trail running shoe on this list so far, this reflective adidas trail shoe adds value.
For the rest of athletic footwear brands, shiny running shoes have been an on-off affair. Saucony sells its ‘Runshield’ versions from time to time, but this guide doesn’t have any. At least not yet.
New Balance occasionally does something for winter but like adidas, it’s highly inconsistent.
So far, New Balance sells the reflective ‘Fluore’ versions of the New Balance Fresh Foam 860V12 and 880V11. Will other variants follow? We don’t know yet. The iffy availability of New Balance’s high-visibility pack has always been a guessing game.
Brooks came up with the ‘Run visible’ collection last year, and the Ghost 14 has been updated with the reflective treatment. We expect other reflective Brooks models to follow soon.
We recommend getting something from the Asics Lite-show pack. Most of their models offer a good blend of everyday versatility and high visibility elements.
The Asics Lite-Show models are spread across multiple categories – be it plush neutral cushioning (Nimbus) or traditional stability (Kayano). This way, there’s a reflective Asics shoe for most run types.
It’s also worth noting that there’s no up-charge for the shiny Asics models over the standard-issue version.
1) Asics Gel-Nimbus 23 Lite-Show
The reflectivity on the regular Nimbus 23 isn’t bad at all, so the Lite-Show version performs even better under low visibility conditions.
Most of the Lite-Show model’s high-viz action takes place around the midfoot; both the inner and outer logos are reflective. Since they span across 3/4th of the shoe’s side profile, they also deliver uni-directional reflectivity.
We wish that the laces were reflective too. Interestingly, the GT-2000 9 and Glide Ride 2 Lite-Show have shiny laces. So we’re not sure why Asics would edit that component on the more expensive Nimbus 23 and Kayano 28.
The Lite-Show Nimbus shares an identical sole unit with the standard Nimbus, so it delivers the same plush ride that makes long-distance runs extremely comfortable.
This is not a running shoe that likes to go fast, so it’s best used for easy cruising.
2) Asics Gel-Kayano 28 Lite-Show
A reflective running shoe with an old-fashioned medial post; there aren’t many of them around, are they? The Kayano 28 Lite-Show is a traditional stability shoe that also has high visibility bits.
Many recent Asics running shoes have made their cushioning softer, and the Kayano 28 is no different. It may not be as plush as the Nimbus 23, but it’s noticeably softer than the V26 and slightly more so than the V27.
This is a supportive 11-ounce shoe, so it feels heavier during runs when compared to the lighter GT-2000 9.
The upper is typical Kayano. The fit and feel are made comfortable by a plush lining and quilted foam pockets. But it shines during runs in low lighting conditions; the intensely luminous upper makes it easy to be spotted from afar.
3) Asics Gel-Cumulus 22 Lite-Show
The regular Cumulus 23 has only been in the market for a few months now, so the high-visibility variant should follow soon – after all, the Nimbus 23 and Kayano 28 are already accompanied by their reflective editions.
While we love the Cumulus 23, the 22 is excellent too. Its cushioning and fit feels just right.
The Flytefoam midsole has a soft consistency throughout its length that delivers ride comfort without feeling mushy. Though the upper doesn’t have an inner sleeve, the insides are smooth and true to size.
To sum up, the Asics Cumulus 22 is a safe, do-it-all daily trainer as long as you aren’t pushing the boundaries of speed and distance.
The ‘Lite-show’ part of the shoe is concentrated in the midfoot area. The large Asics logos are reflective, along with the tongue and heel trims.
4) Asics GT-2000 9 Lite-Show
The GT-2000 9 is Asics’ popular stability trainer, and it also happens to be available in a reflective guise. The GT 2000 is a toned-down and $30 less expensive version of the Kayano 28.
This is a shoe with plenty of visibility, as most of the exterior has various light reflecting trims. Even the laces are the high-visibility kind along with luminous cut-outs on the heel.
The ride is the same as the standard GT-2000 9. In simple terms, the midsole has a supportive forefoot with a softer heel. There’s a firmer medial post on the inner midsole that produces a traditional stability shoe experience.
5) Asics Glideride 2 Lite-Show
We have reviewed both the Glideride V1 and V2, and we loved its unique ride quality that blends a high level of ride comfort with quick transitions. The foam density isn’t overly soft, so the midsole is very supportive and neutral.
The thick Flytefoam stack creates a cushioned foundation for high-mileage runs. Inside the dual-density midsole is a Nylon plate that allows the foot to roll forward during the final stage of the gait cycle. The GlideRide is an apt name, alright.
The reflective upper locks the foot in plush snugness. High visibility elements are abundant on the upper. The laces, logo, and even the heel trims reflect light during the dark to ensure 360-degree coverage.
6) Asics Nimbus Lite 2
The ‘Lite’ in the Nimbus Lite 2 isn’t to be confused with ‘Lite-Show’. Asics is usually unimaginative with names, and it shows.
Here, the ‘Lite’ suffix means that this Nimbus is a lightweight version of the standard Nimbus 23. It’s only a happy coincidence that the Nimbus Lite 2 produces a surprisingly high level of reflectivity under the right circumstances.
Nearly all of the reflectivity is concentrated on the heel area. However, we’re talking about a huge shiny overlay that wraps around the heel for multi-directional reflectivity.
Besides its reflective prowess, we love the N-Lite 2 for its cushioned yet versatile ride. The single-density Flytefoam midsole doesn’t feel lazy when trying to dial in the speed.
The soft and form-fitting upper improves the transition quality by keeping the foot close to the midsole.
7) Brooks Ghost 14 Run Visible
Brooks is slowly warming up to the idea of making its reflective collection semi-permanent, similar to how Asics and Nike do it.
We’ve seen the ‘Run visible’ pack for a few seasons now, so Brooks appears intent on making the reflective shoes a regular part of its catalog.
For 2021, we see the Brooks Ghost 14 and Brooks Glycerin 19 in their high-visibility avatars. We haven’t included the Glycerin 19 Run Visible for the sake of brevity, but just know that it’s an option as well. The Glycerin is to the Ghost what the Asics Nimbus is to the Cumulus – a cushier version with a plusher upper.
But if we had to pick just one shoe of the two, it’d be the Ghost 14. The one-piece midsole has just the right mix of cushioning and smooth transition that’s delivered in all its neutralness. This makes the Ghost 14 very versatile; it could easily be the one running shoe to do everything.
The soft and smooth upper of the Ghost 14 Run Visible is crowded with reflective trims. The logos are shiny, and so are the midfoot and heel details. The laces also contain high-viz specks.
It’s worth highlighting that the Run Visible variants use the same upper materials as their road models. This means that the ventilation levels are unaffected, unlike the Nike Shield or adidas Cold.RDY products. This is not a flaw, but an FYI for runners who run in warmer weather.
Also see: The Brooks Glycerin 19 Run Visible.
8) New Balance Fresh Foam 880V11 Fluore
There’s a reason why the New Balance 880V11 is listed just after the Brooks Ghost 14. Both shoes share similar use cases and technical specs.
These shoes are everyday neutral trainers that deliver optimal performance and ride comfort under a wide range of conditions. They are priced identically, and even their broader specs like the heel-to-toe offset and weight are a close match.
‘Fluore’ is short for Fluorescent, as luminous highlights adorn the upper. New Balance doesn’t rely on traditional methods of reflective treatment here, and instead opts for a glow-in-the-dark approach.
Either way, the results are similar – this 880V11 is great for being seen during dawn and dusk.
As a side note, we’re glad that New Balance got rid of their wonky heel cup design.
9) New Balance Fresh Foam 860V12 Fluore
The New Balance 860V12 joins two other running shoes on this list that have a medial post.
The firmer wedge of foam on the arch side reinforces the inner midsole. Not that it brings any performance-related benefits, but hey – a lot of runners prefer the sensory experience of a medial post.
The medial post isn’t noticeable, nor does it hinder the gait cycle. It’s sloped away from the heel, and there’s a layer of soft foam above the wedge. This way, the firmer density component isn’t felt under the arch, and nor does it create any pressure spots.
The cushioning is delivered by a twin stack of Fresh Foam. There’s ample cushioning to conduct high-mileage runs, and also the support to keep the ride neutral and smooth.
This variant of the 860 V12 gets the ‘Fluor’ treatment for superior visibility in less than ideal conditions.
10) adidas Terrex Speed Ultra
The adidas Terrex Speed Ultra is an excellent trail running shoe, reflective or not.
This speed trail runner weighs under 9-ounces without compromising on performance. A Boost foam core delivers a tried-and-tested cushioning and does not stiffen in the cold. A firmer EVA frame contributes stability and quickness to the ride.
The Terrex Speed uses a full-length Continental rubber outsole with an aggressively lug geometry for dependable traction. Though the midsole lacks a rock plate, the rubber outsole acts as a protective shield and delivers proprioceptive feedback.
This is a speed-running product, so the upper balances a minimalist design with protection. The thin tongue is lightly padded and perforated for comfort and ventilation; the exteriors use strategically placed overlays for reinforcement.
However, the real reason why the shoe features here is its additional reflectivity. The 3-stripe logo detail is reflective, and so are the laces.