2011 Gear Guide: Headlamps
Four new headlamps for your route or retreat
Dawn patrols, alpine starts, dusky walk-offs, and multiday trips—headlamps make all of them easier by lighting your way hands-free. Every year, LED lights get brighter, rechargeable batteries get stronger for their size, and circuitry shrinks and gets more affordable. Half a dozen nocturnal testers took 10 new lamps and put them through their paces in five states and two countries, on rock, ice, and snow. Here are their favorites.
$185, 10.4 oz.
This high-tech regulated light has optics more like those found in a camera than a headlamp. The durable, aerospacegrade aluminum body holds a coated, refractive-glass, eyeball-shaped lens. It throws a rectangular-shaped, gradually diffusing beam of light that mimics your natural field of vision, making it easier to see with less light. In the Saint, the lens spreads the light, not a refl ector, which keeps the beam strong, even, and clear. And the Saint lets you pick just how much light you need—so you can choose how much battery you’re burning—for the climb, rappel, or hike you’re on. Unlike the other lamps in this review, which have low, medium, and high modes, the Saint is infi nitely adjustable from 0 to 100 lumens, all with a one-handed (even with gloves) twist of a knob. A second knob on the opposite side of the beam lets you angle the lens up or down. The Saint’s headband has breathable, neoprene-like front and rear pads and enough structure to support a burly, easy-to-open battery case on the back. The Saint runs on one to three CR123A batteries (or, when you’re traveling and only have access to the basics, two AAs). Save ounces by removing the cable and battery compartment, and then powering the lamp with one CR123A slid into the beamadjusting knob, which doubles as a secondary battery holder. This light costs and weighs a bit more than other lamps with the same power, but it could be the last headlamp you ever need to buy. Drop it from the top of a climb, and even after it’s bounced off the rock a couple of times, it’ll still be fully functional—if not, Surefire will replace it with its no-hassle lifetime guarantee.
BLACK DIAMOND STORM
$50, 3.8 oz.
“Any climber will be happy to have this light, whether he is on belay, on lead, or cooking food and drinking beer around a campfire,” said a tester after using this lamp all over the Northeast. This five-LED, 100-lumen lamp (it has one triplepower LED and four peripheral LEDs—two white and two red) gave us the cleanest beam pattern and widest swath of light of any lamp we tested, particularly in snowy conditions. When the leader on a night ice climb dropped his headlamp partway up a route in Vermont’s Bolton Quarry, our tester was able to light the full 70-foot route from the ground with a beam the leader said was “bright as a car headlight.” The Storm’s beam is wider than your peripheral vision, eliminating tunnel vision. Hold the on/off button for six seconds and the lamp locks so it can’t be accidentally turned on in your pack. A three-level power meter shows remaining juice when you switch the headlamp on. Bonus: A red-light setting also make this lamp ideal for night use; when our tester’s tent mate was already sleeping, he didn’t have to cycle through white-light modes to get to red mode. Runs on four AAA batteries.
PETZL TIKKA XP2 CORE
$110, 2.8 oz.
Petzl’s Tikka is a lightweight, easy-to-pack headlamp that first came out in 2000. Now, not only has this LED lamp gotten brighter, with a longer life, but it also comes with a rechargeable, programmable lithium ion polymer Core battery. The 50-lumen Tikka XP2’s single, high-output LED has three settings that range from bright and focused—strong enough to let you see your next set of anchors on a double-rope rappel—to broad-beam lighting for a long walk-off after dusk. A slide-up diffuser broadens the beam further for reading or illuminating your campsite. And a red LED provides solid and strobe back-up for emergency lighting. The Core snaps between the battery holder and the front of the lamp. Charge it from an outlet or your computer for up to 35 hours of regulated or 70 hours of non-regulated light (see sidebar below). It’s got a 300-charge life at full performance—equivalent to 900 AAA batteries. Download software at petzl.com to customize the Core’s performance. You can set brightness to last for days without a recharge, or create settings for high- and low-power modes. It also takes three AAAs as a backup. If you already have a Tikka 2 or Zipka 2, you can buy the compatible Core separately ($40). Bonus: The strap has an almost invisible emergency whistle.
E-GEAR X FLARE PRO
$150, 12.8 oz.
“So bright I thought it might burn the needles off the pine trees,” reported one tester after climbing and then hiking down from Poke-o-Moonshine in the Adirondacks in the pitch dark. The brightest light in this review, it has low, medium, and high settings as well as a flashing SOS mode. A sliding focusing ring lets you dial the beam in or out. Stash the Ni-MH battery in your pack or pocket using the included extension cable, wear it on your belt in the included neoprene belt case, or attach it directly to the headband. When the battery was on the headstrap, testers reported the unit felt heavy but well balanced, and that the soft but grippy rubber pad on the forehead kept it from slipping. With 375 lumens of regulated light, this lamp lit up the night, and testers said it was their top choice for search and rescue, as well as caving and night skiing. (It also costs about 60 percent less than other lamps this bright, making it the best value in the review.) Bonus: The battery pack has a small red light and a refl ective strip on the head strap to let drivers see you walking along a road. It takes four hours to charge when the battery’s fully spent. Bummer: no recharging until you’ve got wall outlet access. Spare battery packs available ($40).
Headlamps produce regulated or non-regulated light. Regulated lights burn bright for nearly the full life of the batteries. Non-regulated lights dim gradually over the batteries’ life, though they may burn brighter at fi rst. If you don’t charge or change your batteries often, regulated light will be your brightest light. However, regulated lamps won’t give you as much warning that you need to replace batteries—they go from bright to dead fast. Lithium batteries improve non-regulated light performance, but they cost more than alkaline batteries. New rechargeables, such as the Petzl Core, let you program the lamp as regulated or non-regulated.