Lightweight Rechargeable Headlamps 2020 Review

Discussion in 'Gadgets & Tech' started by Cameron M, Jun 23, 2020.

  1. Cameron M

    Cameron M Summit Camper

    Rechargeable headlamps for off-trail travel.

    Hello all, I have mostly been lurking the last year but would like to share this summary of lightweight rechargeable headlamps suitable for off-trail travel, or "torches" as some of you prefer call them. I submit here a summary only but have posted a full review of nine lights with extensive photographic studies on my non-commercial non-affiliate website:

    Several new lightweight rechargeable headlamps appear on the market, and my headlamp needs are evolving, so it seems time to give rechargeables a closer look. For many years I have used the ultralight favorites Petzl e+LIGHT and then the Nitecore NU20, which are fine for trail hiking, but not powerful enough for off-trail. My criteria for choosing headlamps to review are personal and specific to strenuous off-trail travel where I need both a strong focussed beam for route finding and extended + 100 lumen performance to survive a bad situation. During my evaluation I premiate lighter size and weight; a regulated medium-power light output that maintains a consistent strength over many hours; a good route-finding beam strength; water resistance; light reflector qualities; and a subjective rating of use-enjoyment. Considerations less important for me include price and value; a battery indicator; a red-light feature; a close-flood feature; a flashing light; and the ability to swap batteries. In my website review I first give some quick opinions and then go into more detail with documentation that informs those opinions.

    Some prefer rechargeable lights for saving money or creating less battery waste in the world. The ultralight argument for a rechargeable may include making good daily use of a solar charger, otherwise, like all expendables, the size of the battery is only weight-efficient if it matches your ultimate consumption. Now that I spend most of my time off-trail I largely avoid traveling at night, and so my main requirement is having a light that is strong enough and lasts long enough to get me out of a bad situation. The efficient use of a battery over several days by drawing it down carefully may not serve one well if an unexpected bad night occurs at the end of a trip. Therein lies possibly the best argument for a rechargeable: the ability to “top off” the light each day in preparation for the unexpected bad night. The Fenix HM50, similar to the small battery Zebralights, offers a different strategy; it is so lightweight that one could carry an extra battery in reserve, with the comfort of knowing that a certain number of hours of light are in reserve.

    I learn many things during the review: manufacturer stated lumens and longevity ratings are often false or wildly misleading; less heavy lights are distinctly more comfortable to wear than even slightly heavier ones; reflector design varies a lot and is very important; some aspects of light perception are difficult to quantify, even with photography. I review nine lights, almost all of which are new models for this year, and I will keep three quite different lights for more field testing and personal use: the Petzl Actik 450, Black Diamond Revolt 350 and the Fenix HM50.

    My favorite headlamp is the Petzl Actik 450. The Petzl is nice to hold, is among the smallest and lightest, and is the best-looking design (I am an architect, after all). Most importantly, my tests show a unique lens light pattern that provides a center hot spot, which I strongly prefer, combined with a very gentle outer perimeter drop-off. I like the preset lumen settings of 6, 100 and 450 lumens, and the 100 lumens “medium” setting probably only degrades to about 60-70 lumens over 7.5 hours, so its light regulation is excellent. I am concerned about the middling IPX4 water rating, but the light performed fine after a kitchen test of five minutes of intense dousing. This light can use both the supplied lithium battery as well as AAA batteries. A feature shared by most of the lights is the “long-hold” button to guard against accidental activation.

    I am generally impressed by Fenix on many levels: the informative website, honest ratings, and the obvious careful thought that goes into their products. The Fenix HM50 is my favorite. It features a screw-end barrel design that can use either a rechargeable or a CR123 battery just like my favorite non-rechargeable Zebralight H32W. It has an impressive IPX8 water rating and maintains a strong regulated light at the 130 lumen “medium” light level for 5.5 hours. The 50R is the lightest and smallest headlamp of this review and works well with a DIY lightweight headband for a combined total weight of only 2.4 oz. The very low weight of this light also suggests a possible failsafe strategy of taking one additional .6 oz battery, a strategy I use with the Zebralight.

    The new Black Diamond Revolt 350 appears after the start my review and I almost did not bother to test it as its top light level of 350 lumens seemed too low and it is also quite heavy at 2.7 oz for the bare light. It is indeed a brute, but if I had to grab a light to go on a rescue mission, I would want this one. The focussed beam projects more light at a distance than 350 lumens suggests and the medium setting of 190 lumens is powerful, well-regulated, long lasting. I like the typical Black Diamond feature of the push-button variable lumen settings. Unfortunately, the IPX4 water rating is only average, probably a function of its ability to swap-out AAA batteries. This light in particular has many mixed web reviews, probably because of confusion with the older, inferior model.

    Full review:
  2. dovidola

    dovidola Thru Hiker

    You might want to revisit the weights you quote in your section entitled "DIY Headlamp Straps" and add a decimal point here and there!
  3. WilliamC

    WilliamC Thru Hiker

    I saw your post over on BPL. Thanks for sharing it here.
    The Fenix HM50R has caught my attention, especially since it is available here in Turkey.
  4. dovidola

    dovidola Thru Hiker

    Most of it's a bit out of my technical grasp, but as a Fenix HM50R user it gives me a warm smug feeling. I've certainly enjoyed using mine, and it has a certain quality feel in the hand, unusual in a lightweight tool at this level. Unlike my previous Petzl items (although nothing wrong with them), the Fenix has made the crossover into my daily carry as a go-anywhere, take-anywhere flashlight, with or without headband. It's that good.
    Chiseller likes this.

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