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The best reflective running shoes

Best_Reflective_Running-Shoes_2020

This article has been updated with current models for October 2020. The Kayano 26 Lite-Show has been replaced with its updated version. The Asics Cumulus 22 Lite-Show, Brooks Ghost 13 Run Visible, Brooks Levitate 4 Run Visible, and New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo Ruju are new additions. The adidas SolarBoost Reflective, Nike Pegasus 36 Shield, Nike Pegasus 36 Trail GoreTex, Nike Pegasus Turbo Shield, and the New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo have been removed. The preface has been edited.

This strange year is slipping by rather quickly; we’re already in October. As the days grow shorter and darker, being visible when outdoors becomes increasingly important.

A 300+ Lumen headlamp and reflective clothing helps, but so do running shoes that reflect light from a distance. Being seen is a matter of road safety in urban areas. Motorists can pick up reflectivity from a few hundred meters away for better situational awareness.

There was a time when regular road and trail running shoes came with all the reflectivity that one needed. More often than not, the tongue label, logos, the heel, and even the outsoles had reflective trims.

Brands like Asics, New Balance, and Brooks continue to offer low-light visibility in their Fall catalog but they’re nowhere close to 2013-14 levels.

To be fair to the brands, the evolution of running shoe design hasn’t been kind to reflectivity.

Knit uppers were a rare sight 7 years ago. Today, most running shoes use a knit upper in some form or the other. Nike and adidas switched to knit uppers, and the rest of the industry followed suit.

And when the shoe in question has a single-piece knit upper, it takes more effort to add a reflective layer. That’s not an excuse though. Products like the last year’s New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo proved that knit uppers and shiny bits can happily coexist.

To give credit where it’s due, Nike has always offered a seasonal assortment of running shoes that combine 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.

So far, Nike has been consistent with this winter release, and the last year(2019) had the best Shield pack to date. Asics, too, 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 versus being winter-friendly like how the Nike Shield is.

Since we’re still in early October, Nike Shield is missing in this edition of the guide. We expect the reflective pack to be released soon, and we’ll update this guide when that happens.

We also appreciate the fact that Asics’ approach is all-year vs. seasonal. 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; three Asics models make the cut here.

The adidas is a hit or miss since it lacks a consistent strategy towards running shoe reflectivity. The May edition of this list had a reflective Solarboost, but that’s no longer available. They just released their ‘Winter.RDY’ pack, so things are looking up. We’ll update this guide soon, but in the meanwhile you can take a look at the adidas Supernova Winter.RDY.

With the rest of the athletic footwear brands, shiny running shoes have been a sporadic affair. Saucony releases its ‘Runshield’ versions from time to time, but this guide doesn’t have any. New Balance occasionally does something for winter but we don’t see anything at this moment except for the Fresh Foam Tempo Ruju.

This time, Brooks has a dedicated yet unimaginatively named ‘Run visible’ collection, so that features on this write-up.

We recommend getting something from the Asics Lite-show or the Brooks Run Visible pack. Most of those models offer a good blend of everyday versatility and high-visibility elements.

This list is sorted alphabetically.

1) Asics Gel-Nimbus 22 Lite-Show

This is the shiny variant of the standard Nimbus 22. All parts – except for the reflective upper overlays – are shared across the models, so you get an identical ride character and upper fit. You make yourself more visible when running in the Nimbus 22 Lite-show, that’s all.

The reflectivity levels are similar to Nimbus 21 Lite-show. The double-layered mesh has shiny areas; additional low-light visibility elements are present on the rear and the tongue label.

We wish the Nimbus 22’s laces were reflective too. Interestingly, the GT-2000 8 and Kayano 27 Lite-Show have special shine-in-the-dark laces.

2) Asics Gel-Cumulus 22 Lite-Show

The 22nd version of the Cumulus is the best we’ve seen so far. Not that it has an extraordinary ride or fit quality; instead, the cushioning and fit feels just right.

The Flytefoam midsole has a soft consistency throughout its length with a nicely executed rearfoot Gel integration.

Though the upper doesn’t have an inner sleeve, the insides fit smooth and true to size. All in all, 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.

3) Asics GT-2000 8 Lite-Show

The GT-2000 8 is Asics’ popular stability trainer, and it happens to be available in a reflective guise as well.

This is a shoe with plenty of forefoot visibility; the mesh underlays reflect light, and so do the tongue labels and laces. The heel only has a tiny shiny logo, but the rest of the upper compensates with larger high-viz overlays.

The ride is the same as the standard GT-2000 8. In simple terms, the midsole has a firm forefoot with a softer heel. There’s a medial-post included in the midsole, so if a traditional – and reflective – stability shoe is what you’re looking for, this is it.

4) Asics Gel-Kayano 27 Lite-Show

A reflective running shoe that also has a firmer medial-post; there aren’t many of them around, are they? Hence, if one wishes to purchase a traditional stability shoe that also has low-light visibility, then the Kayano 27 is just the thing.

And like the past Kayanos, the 27 has a firm forefoot and a softer heel. For whatever it’s worth, the forefoot is a mite softer than the 26. This is a supportive 11-ounce shoe, so it does carry some heft.

The upper is typical Kayano. The fit and feel are made comfortable by a plush lining and quilted foam pockets – although there’s a bit of tongue slide due to the lack of a sleeve. But that’s not as important as the reflectivity – and that’s why the Kayano 27 Lite-show makes the cut here.

Even though the exterior is made of a knit mesh, Asics manages to cram in plenty of reflectivity. The logos, tongue, and the heel counter window are all the shine-in-the-dark kind. Heck, even the foam midsole sidewall has a few sparkly bits thrown in for good measure.

If a softer and lighter shoe is what you’re after, the GT-2000 8 Lite-show remains an option.

5) Brooks Ghost 13 Run Visible

Reflective or not, the Brooks Ghost has always been a safe neutral trainer choice. The ride quality occupies the Goldilocks zone between cushioning comfort and transition smoothness.

In plain English, the midsole is soft, but not too soft. The new Ghost also comes with a single-density midsole, and that only gives the ride better consistency.

The ever-comfortable and well-fitting upper happens to be reflective on this particular color of the Ghost. There’s no extra charge for the reflective version that includes a set of shiny logos and heel. There are smaller trims on the toe-box and lacing panels too.

The Ghost 13 is an excellent neutral running shoe for everyday use, so Brooks chose the right shoe to be a part of its ‘Run visible’ collection.

6) Brooks Levitate 4 Run Visible

We’ll be straight with ya – the Brooks Levitate isn’t for everyone. In the sense that this is not a please-all shoe like the Brooks Ghost or Adrenaline.

The DNA AMP is a rather unusual cushioning system with a vertically-biased ride. The midsole has a softer Polyurethane foam core that’s wrapped in a firmer urethane sheath.

We know, this sounds confusing, so we cut open the Levitate 1 into half. The Levitate’s midsole is based on the same design, and thus the ride character is similar. The tightly-sprung bounciness is noticeable at higher speeds rather than slower-paced runs.

The Levitate 4 is lighter due to the reformulated midsole and the knit exterior mesh. The upper is much cleaner-looking than the previous versions. Fused logos support the all-knit upper, and the insides fit seamlessly smooth – because there are no seams, duh.

Just like the Ghost 13, Brooks doesn’t charge extra for the ‘Run visible’ color of the Levitate 4. The upper has plenty of high-viz elements, as evident from the shiny logos, lacing panel, heel, and mesh inlays.

7) New Balance Fresh Foam Tempo Ruju

The previous version of this list featured the Fresh Foam Tempo. The Ruju is nearly identical in its ride character and upper fit, meaning that it’s a comfortable, low offset (6 mm) trainer that is versatile enough for most runs. We said that the Tempo is akin to the Zante, and that’s true of the Ruju too.

Except for the reflective treatment and the $15 upcharge, treat the Ruju as just another color of the Tempo. Because that’s precisely what it is.

The Tempo Ruju comes with several enhancements to counter low-visibility conditions. The logos are high visibility, and so are some of the smaller bits spread over the upper.

While the stock Fresh Foam Tempo was also very reflective, the Fresh Foam Tempo Ruju scores with its reflective midsole paint – something that the stock Tempo did not have.

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