Hi Vis Shirts – The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

Hi Vis shirts are easy to find but there are so many options! What is an ANSI Class and do you need that? And what is birds eye knit?

Don’t you wish someone would write a guide for all these options and requirements?

Well, wish no more because we have written the ultimate buyer’s guide to hi vis shirts.

Who Should Wear Hi Vis Shirts?

Jobs that require hi vis shirts include highway crew, construction crews, landscaping, warehouse workers, school crossing guard, and event staff. There are many more jobs that may not require them, but it is still a good idea to wear one.

You should consider hi vis clothing for any job or activity that requires you to be near a road or moving equipment (e.g. a warehouse or construction zone). Grocery store workers who collect carts in the parking lot may not be required to wear hi vis clothing but it is definitely a good idea.

There are many reasons to wear hi vis shirts for recreation use. You may want them for hunting or evening walks. Bikers and runners often wear them in the evening or at night. It’s also a good idea to wear them when you go out hiking during hunting season.

Hi vis shirts aren't just for road workers. Hi vis shirts are often needed for outdoor recreation as well.
Image Credit: Dynafit

Do My Hi Vis Shirts Need to be ANSI Certified?

ANSI is the American National Standards Institute and is a non-profit organization that sets voluntary standards for various products, services, systems, etc.

Despite the fact that ANSI is not a federal organization, you may be required to buy ANSI Class 2 or Class 3 certified hi vis shirts for your job. Even if this is not a requirement, it may be a good idea so you know your shirts meet some kind of standard when visibility is poor.

Here is the difference between the ANSI classes:

ANSI Class 1 – Intended for locations where the worker is separated from traffic, which is traveling no faster than 25 mph. Intended for workers whose tasks don’t divert their attention from approaching traffic.

ANSI Class 2 – Intended for workers whose tasks divert their attention from approaching traffic and for those who must work near vehicles exceeding 25 mph. Provides enhanced visibility during inclement weather.

ANSI Class 3 – Provides maximum visibility for workers who have tasks that place them in imminent danger from approaching traffic. Provides maximum visibility when the wearer must be conspicuous at a minimum distance of 1,280 feet.

So Which Class Should I Buy?

The higher the ANSI class, the better.

If purchasing hi vis shirts for recreation use, it is recommended that you purchase a minimum of Class 1 certified shirts. You should purchase Class 2 shirts if you will near traffic exceeding 25 mph.

If purchasing hi vis shirts for work, you should follow your supervisors guidelines for which ANSI class to purchase. If you received no guidance, it’s best to ask or purchase a higher class than you think you might need. Class 3 clothing should be acceptable when only Class 2 is required.

Performance Classes

Hi vis shirts may be labeled by performance class rather than ANSI class but these classification systems are related.

Performance Type O – Off-Road

Performance Type O relates to ANSI Class 1. It is meant for work or activities that are not performed near a road, such as warehouse or factory work.

This type may be suitable for hikers who want increased visibility during hunting season or various other types of recreation.

Various sporting activities like to wear hi vis shirts. Type O is suitable if you are not nearing a roadway but want to increase your visibility.
Image Credit: Crewroom

Type R – Roadway

Performance Type R includes both ANSI Class 2 and ANSI Class 3 hi vis shirts. It is intended for workers and activities near roadways. It usually includes higher levels of fluorescent materials in the clothing and retroreflective stripes.

This performance class is also recommended for bikers and joggers who will cross or travel near roads.

When near roadways, you should wear Type R or Type P hi vis shirts, whether you're a roadworker or jogger.
Image Credit: Nigh Gear

Type P – Public Safety

Performance Type P also includes both ANSI Class 2 and ANSI Class 3 hi vis shirts. It is intended for emergency responders like fire, police, and EMS.

This type is also suitable for roadside bikers and joggers. If purchasing for this purpose, use your own judgement in how much reflectivity you want and when in doubt, go with an ANSI Class 3 for the highest level of visibility.

Material to Choose for Hi Vis Shirts

Choice of material is based on preference and weather. Most hi vis shirts are available in light and heavy materials.

You cannot get hi vis shirts in cotton because the dyes required for high reflectivity do not stick to cotton fibers well enough. That is why hi vis shirts are available in cotton/poly blends, pure polyester, birds eye knit, or oxford jersey.

Moisture Wicking Polyester – Polyester has the ability to draw moisture away from your body and allow it to evaporate quickly. This keeps you cooler when you sweat and more comfortable because, unlike cotton, your shirt won’t hold on to your sweat, making it heavy and clammy. Moisture wicking polyester is a good material for hot weather.

Cotton Polyester Blend – The blend of cotton and polyester can be softer than pure polyester so many people prefer this for shirts that you will wear against your skin. Because you can’t get high vis shirts in pure cotton (the dyes won’t stick to it) a blend might be a good option for maximum comfort.

Birds Eye Knit – Birds eye refers to the type of weaving used and is commonly used with polyester. It is sometimes called a “honeycomb” pattern because it forms small holes for maximum breathability. This type of shirt is good for warmer weather.

Do I need Reflective Stripes?

The reflective stripes (technically called retroreflective stripes) give extra visibility and are especially recommended for dark environments. So if you’re working near a road at night or jogging in the evening, it is recommended to get hi vis shirts with retroreflective stripes.

Also, retroreflective stripes are recommended for emergency response workers.

Which Color is Best for Hi Vis Shirts?

According to ANSI standards, hi vis clothes can come in fluorescent yellow-green, fluorescent orange-red, and fluorescent red. Even non-ANSI hi vis gear tends to only be in these colors.

Yellow-green and orange-red are by far the most common colors so we’ll have a closer look at which one of these you should choose.

The intended use of your hi vis shirts should determine the color. You should consider both brightness and conspicuity. Conspicuity is the ability to stand out among other objects competing for attention.

That’s why an evening jogger might want to choose a different color than a road worker at a busy intersection or even a hiker in the forest.

To illustrate this point, take a look at the picture below. Here we have two very different scenes and I have placed hi vis shirts in each scene. You can probably see the shirts but how much do they stand out?

Hi Vis shirts can blend into backgrounds sometimes. You should choose a color that contrasts from the background where you will likely where it.

Contrast that picture with the image below where I have switched the two shirts. They are much easier to see in the image below because the shirts now contrast from the background which is what you want when choosing a hi vis shirt.

Choose colors for your hi vis shirts that contrast from the background for maximum visibility.

These two pictures are meant to illustrate the importance of considering the background when choosing the color of a hi vis shirt.

Let’s have a look at the strengths of each color:

Fluorescent Yellow-Green

Yellow-green is the brightest and most visible color for hi-vis clothing but might not always be the best. Yellow-green can be worn along typical roadways and is probably the best color for nighttime. But consider orange for day use when you will be primarily in areas with a lot of very green grass or foliage. Orange will get you the most contrast from the background in these situations.

Fluorescent Orange-Red

Orange-red signals “warning” and everyone recognizes this. While yellow might be the brightest color, colors also have meaning to us on a subconscious level. Orange-red hi vis clothes signal loud and clear that there is a hazard which is why this color is used on warning signs on the road and for orange cones. This is the most common color for hunters because it contrast with green foliage in the forest so you should consider this color if you are buying hi vis clothing for outdoor recreation.

Final Thoughts

Hi vis shirts are very important not just for road-side jobs, but your safety relies on them when biking, jogging, walking, or hiking near a road or in areas where hunting may be taking place. There are many specifications related to ANSI Classes, performance types, and materials, but here we have provided a guide to navigating those confusing issues and provided our recommendations for the best hi vis shirts. When in doubt, choose the highest ANSI class and performance to ensure your safety.

Are you a hiker? Make sure you stay safe out there! Check out our other post 9 Essential Survival Tips and Why Day Hikers Are Most At Risk

Did you know the people things worry about in the woods are statistical not what will kill you? You might want to read Most People are Afraid of the Wrong Things in the Woods

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