Wednesday, 26 February 2014

So, You want to buy a head torch

OK - I confess - I'm a Petzl-phile!   But please read on ....

Whilst many other brands are available, Petzl is by far the market leader and also the originator of the head torch. I have used Black Diamond torches - for a while the BD Gemini was a great torch but the build quality and warranty at the time wasn't good, and as I know from first had experience,  Petzl's is first class.

Just selection from the shed - missing an e+lite of course.
My NAV4 Adventure colleague, Stuart Smith is a great fan of Suprabeam torches, which are modular and rechargeable.  Team Mate Sharon favours her Aye-Up lights which are awesomely bright, long lasting and expensive. I also bought a 'Hope Adventure One' and year or so ago and wrote a full blog post about it here. The Hope was bought it after much thought and research, as explained in that blog, but unfortunately it disappeared only a few weeks after I had bought it and I never got around to replacing it. Now it seems that things have moved on again.  

One of the bi-products of spending a week of my life deep in the Peninnes providing Safety Cover for The Spine Race, was the chance to get to grips with Petzl's (relatively) new Reactive lighting technology.  I got a a chance to sample the Nao last Summer, but that isn't exactly the best season for headtorch testing, plus I'm always reluctant to commit to anything new without a thorough testing, especially a techy thing like this.

During the Spine I used the new Tikka RXP extensively and really got to like it.  It has the same reactive technology as the top of the range Nao, but in many ways in a much neater package. It has a simple elastic headband, has the rechargeable battery mounted within the headlamp unit and recharges from any source including my car USB.  It can also take 3x AAA batteries if you track down the adapter as a spare part, which makes it possible to use it away from base on an expedition.

Petzl Tikka RXP (left) and Nao (right)

Rechargeable Verus Battery Fed?

One of the biggest factors in choice of headtorch is the power source; rechargeble battery or battery fed? Afterall, I'm very unlikely to head off on a multi-day expedition solely with a rechargeable head torch or enter a multi-day race expecting to find a charging point - (who needs that stress!)

Therefore, for forthcoming adventures, such as ITERA, The Spine or Dragon's Back Race, the powerful rechargeables probably won't be featuring as my main line torch.  Perhaps as a secondary torch but more of this later.


If Jeremy Clarkson was to buy a headtorch it would be the most powerful, but light output isn't everything.  Not many people by cars purely based on maximum speed or power. Economy, useability and various differing features are equally import as is price; both the purchase price and that required to run it, ie cost per hour in use?

Over the past few years I have regular used a Petzl Ultra - high powered MTB type use, a Tikka XP2 with rechargeable Core Battery, and of course ... the humble Myo XP or RXP.  The XP2 with it's rechargeable and programmeable Core battery was a significant development a  few years ago, and this torch became my 'goto' torch as it lived my car's door pocket and got used extensively for a range of activites. It was certainly cheap to run, eco-friendly and pushed out quite a beam although for a relatively short period of time. However, it got me in the way of using a rechargeable and, at the time it's mini USB charging lead was quite a new idea.

Petzl Tikka XP2 - Core rechargeable and programmable
Dark Mountains - Technical Navigation

During the recent Dark Montains mountain marathon I used the Tikka RXP. The Reactive lighting technology is brilliant for night navigation when you are constantly looking at the map and back at the ground. This point was highlighted (no pun intened) to me I was out on a night run recently and came across a few mountain bikers coming the other way, all taking part in a Night Orienteering event. Each rider was probably loaded up with inexcess of 1000 lumens, some purely head mounted and some head and handlebar mounted.

The immediate effect on myself was to ruin my night vision .... but I averted my eyes as much as possible, and of coure the Tikka RXP, being reactive dimmed down a little.  Interestingly, one of the bikers had over-shot a control and came back past me, screeched to a partial halt and the tumbled into the bushes. He picked himself up, I asked how he was, and whilst he sorted himself out he muttered something about being 'OK' and starting jabbing at his map.

Not only was he shaken up, but I he was over simply powered - too much power, too much speed ... trying to navigate as fast as he could ride, etc.  But what really struck me was that he couldn't see what was on his map simply because it was 'washed out' with so many lumens reflecting back off his map.

Petzl night run ....I'm not biased, honestly!
So this is where Reactive lighting comes in ...

During Dark Mountain I used the Tikka RXP with Reactive Lighting. OK, my race partner, Sharon, was using a high powered Aye-Up light which has it's advantages when picking out reflective control markers at 100metres+, but I found that the Reactive Technology really preserve my night vision so running along the rough technical terrain of the Dark Peak was made much better using Reactive.

All bases covered; perm any two for any event
The other great advantage of Reactive Technology is that it preserves battery life when you don't need maximium power. I suppose it's a bit like stop-start techology on a new car.

Overall, it does take a bit of getting used to it.  If you've been using something as simple as a Myo XP for many years switching to Reactive doesn't seem too natural to me, but now, after a week of Spine Race Safety cover - in and out of the car, writing notes, out on the trail looking for runners, charging the thing from the car USB, etc it all became second nature. 

So much so, that I have now gone out and bought a Nao, and I have a second battery as well. Maybe they will be going to ITERA with me, but I can promise you one thing - a trusty Myo RXP will be going as well, along with a good stock of lithum batteries.
Two Myo XPs nearing the end of The Spine ...with very experienced owners.

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