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Gear Review: Nathan Magnetic L.E.D. Safety Light

Recently, I was selected to do a gear review for www.irunfar.com.  Here is my review:

nathan-ledNathan Magnetic L.E.D. Safety Light features:
+ Magnetically attaches to reflective vests, clothing and bags
+ Up to 1,200 foot visibility
+ Illumination can last up to 60 hours
+ Blinking or solid lights
+ Reflective for added safety
+ Replaceable battery (CR2032 coin battery)



led-diagram1First, a bit about a Light Emitting Diode (LED).  LEDs are just tiny light bulbs that fit easily into an electrical circuit.  They are illuminated solely by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material, so they don’t have a filament and they don’t get especially hot.  But why is such a tiny light so bright?  LEDs are housed in a plastic bulb that concentrates light in a particular direction.  Most of the light from the diode bounces off the sides of the bulb, traveling on through the rounded end.  OK, enough on science and the anatomy of a light bulb.

My first challenge was trying to figure out how to activate the light.  Instructions are to “remove small plastic ring around switch.”  What plastic ring?  Where’s the switch?  I have no idea what those instructions mean.  I finally figured out lightly pressing the middle of the triangular piece turns the light on as a solid light.  Press it again and it blinks.  Press it one more time to turn it off.   Easy enough.  The magnet is large and snaps into place easily.  It stays in place even through a heavy sweatshirt.  And it’s practically weightless so you can easily forget you’re even wearing it. 

Nathan claims their “…reflective products provide visibility at a minimum of 1,200 feet (roughly a quarter-mile).  That’s the distance a driver moving at 60 mph needs to detect, react, and maneuver in time to avoid disaster.”   First of all, most people have no business running on a road at night with traffic moving at 60 mph (except in an endurance relay race).  The problem with this product is that it is just too small to be noticeable.  I usually wear bright colored clothing even when I run on the streets during the day.  Drivers are never looking for runners on the road at night.  You really need to make a statement to be noticeable at night, especially if cars are traveling at 60 mph.

So I measured off 1,200 feet on the fairly well lit city street in my neighborhood and asked my wife to drive by at night as I was jogging with the light on my back attached to a reflective vest.  I’ll assume any safety conscious runner would have the good sense to wear a light with a vest and other reflective gear.  My wife and I also switched roles and I drove by as she wore the light and vest.  At 1,200 feet, the light is entirely unnoticeable.  At half that distance, it is barely discernable, although a reflective vest is quite visible at 600 feet.  I’m sure the light is much more noticeable on a dark country road, but so is all the other reflective gear you should be wearing.

In 2007, I ran The Relay on a 12-person team–199 miles from Calistoga to Santa Cruz.  The second of my three runs was at 4:00 am. in the dark along Hwy. 1 just outside of Pacifica on the California coast.  We were required to wear reflective vests and carry a light.   Many runners wore a headlamp but I chose to carry a flashlight.  I soon discovered I didn’t need the flashlight to see where I was running.  The moonlight provided ample illumination, but I saw other runners holding their flashlights backwards, pointing the light on the road behind them as cars approached.  It was really noticeable even from a long distance and I quickly adopted this unconventional but effective method.

I found this product online priced anywhere from $11.99 – $15.99.  Nathan also sells a clip-on Micro LED Strobe which claims to be visible from up to 2,500 feet and sells for only $5.99.  For half the price of the magnetic LED and more than twice the distance for visibility, the strobe seems like the way to go if you’re looking for supplemental safety gear.

Nathan makes some of the best gear anywhere for endurance events, especially their hydration packs.  Their reflective vests are very well made and comfortable.  But the magnetic LED light is not an effective safety device.


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