Wednesday, August 21, 2013

That Beacon of Light

Who doesn’t need that beacon of light to help navigate their way to a late night destination? Or to locate gear inside a pack when daylight is dwindling? Or for more obvious reasons, like when nature calls in the middle of the night? A backpacking light needs to be compact, versatile, bombproof, lightweight, reliable, and able to outlast the rigors of the journey.

We’ve used three different headlamps by three different manufacturers on our hiking journeys and wanted to share the results with you. These and others are available occasionally at TheClymb, an outdoor flash retailer of Outdoor Equipment.

First off, I will say that in the beginning, I did not use a headlamp with a night feature. I’ve come to find out there’s nothing worse than having a late night arrival at a backpacking shelter and having powerful LED bulbs shining full in your face as you are trying to sleep. When I was given a headlamp that had this capability, I was happy to have it, not only for my sake, but for the sake of bunkmates who now won’t be blinded by the light…literally. In my opinion, all headlamps should have this feature.
The following headlamps we have tested on backpacking adventures:

Princeton Tech Fuel

What the manufacturer says – “When applied well, technology should be simple. Such is the case with the innovative Fuel headlamp – designed to meet the widest range of applications while remaining small, lightweight, and robust. What could be better than a light that weighs only 78g with 70 lumens of brightness and 146 hours of burn time? A light that also has an asymmetrical single arm bracket that makes directing the light effortless and reliable; a large, easy to find button switch and a virtually bulletproof, easy access battery door that protects the 3AAAs and its electronics.”

My take – This is a lightweight (at 78 grams) standard headlamp for outdoor activities. The headlamp performs adequately with good lighting in modes ranging from low to high as well as slow and fast strobe pattern. The battery life on it is good except when the headlamp has switched on in my pack—which occurred a few times. It is inexpensive. Drawbacks: No red light for nighttime use in a shelter. Essentially only two modes—the white LED in different strengths and the strobe in two patterns. The manufacturer claims it’s bulletproof. For some reason I’ve had durability issues on several of these I own. Either the battery casing has cracked, the door to the casing has broken off, etc. Perhaps if they made the battery compartment easier to access without the tiny tool-like device on the headlamp necessary to access it. And the casing itself is more durable and holds up to the rigorous activities of a hiker.         

Black Diamond Spot 

What the manufacturer says – “Now featuring more power than ever, the 90-lumen Black Diamond Spot headlamp is the light to have when you only have one. Whether you’re cooking up some grub after a long day hike on the trail or spotting anchors on an after-dark rappelling epic, this compact super-bright headlamp features multiple modes that are customizable to any lighting situation. Red angle-power LEDS provide proximity lighting without cycling through the white mode, so you won’t accidentally compromise night vision. The lock mode prevents accidental battery drain in your pack or while stored and the 3 level power meter means you’ll never be caught with a dead headlamp hours from camp.”

My take – I was immediately happy to have a headlamp with a night feature so fellow hikers aren’t blinded. I liked the different modes it has, from a spotlight type feature to bright, multi LEDs for that rare nighttime hike to the strobe and then the red light for nighttime. The lighting in several of the modes can be dimmed by holding down the button, thus improving battery life. Batteries were easy to change with a flip of the front cover and seemed to hold life well.  And it features a lock mechanism mode so the headlamp doesn’t accidentally turn on inside the pack. Reliable piece of gear thus far. Drawbacks: This is heavy at 90 grams. More expensive than the Princeton Tech Fuel.  

LED Lenser SEO Headlamp  

LED Lenser is a division of the Leatherman Tool Group producing a set of headlamps with multi function capability. I was sent one to test and was happy to have a fellow tester take it on a beach / backpacking trip for his evaluation.

What the manufacturer says – “All the lights in the SEO line feature Smart Light Technology for switching quickly between high and low power and a signal mode. The SEO5 and SEO7R also use LED LENSER’S Advanced Focus System for either a wide beam for reading a map or a power spot for long distance. All the SEO lights feature a red light mode for preserving night vision. All SEO headlamps weigh less than 3.5 ounces, have a helpful carabineer clip for carrying on the go, and feature a swiveling head to direct the light exactly where it’s needed.”

Out tester’s take on it – Our tester used this headlamp on a backpacking trip to Back Bay in Virginia. This headlamp has a very bright setting and was perfect when trying to find gear or other lost object in the dead of night. With the red light vision, the tester found he was able to walk the beach at night and still gaze up at the stars or see the whitecaps of the ocean waves undisturbed. The zoom focus capability on the headlamp was a unique feature. Battery life was good; the battery compartment easy to access and seemed sturdy. Drawbacks: With so many features, this headlamp was a bit of a bear trying to learn to operate it. It is not instinctive but one needs to read the instructions to know what to do. Some lights are easy in their function, but with this, the manual is necessary. This headlamp is also heavy at 90 grams.

There are other brands out there (like the Petzl) we did not get to test. If you have a review of a favorite headlamp, feel free to post it under comments.

Copyright 2013 Lauralee Bliss. All rights reserved.

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