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How much light is too much light in a headlamp?

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  • How much light is too much light in a headlamp?

    I've been doing some longer hikes lately, and would like to ease into some longer ones (assuming I can get myself out of bed early). This has me thinking about hiking int he dark with a headlamp in case things run longer than I anticipate (or I get an early start before sunrise).

    I'm currently using a Petzl Tikka XP. It's an older version, with a maximum output of about 90 lumens. On trails that I'm familiar with, it's more than enough. However, I recall from years ago when hiking in at night on unfamiliar trails (with an older and dimmer lamp), thinking to myself that it would be quite easy to miss a trail junction or turn. I remember times when a trail might cross a stream bed, and it would be a little tricky to pick up the trail on the other side of the stream.

    So, my question is, what do you feel is adequate lighting power for hiking on trails you are unfamiliar with at night. I don't intend to make a habit out of this, but would like to know that I'm prepared. There are quite a few headlamps out there now generating 200+ lumens at a reasonable price, but I just don't think I need that much light, and I'm concerned that the minimum lumen output on the more powerful lamps will be greater than the minimum lumen output on my older Tikka XP, resulting in me just ripping through batteries more quickly than necessary. Obviously, the max output of the more powerful headlamp will drain batteries quicker, but there is always the option to use a lower setting besides the maximum.

    This may be a question for the Black Diamond/Petzl technical staff, but are these more powerful LED bulbs also more efficient? For example, can I get just as much run time from a new 150 lumen headlamp with 3 AAA batteries as I can from my old Tikka XP 90 lumen headlamp with the same batteries? If there was an improvement in efficiency, the decision to upgrade is easier.
    46R #4772W

  • #2
    The newer, brighter headlamps are usually equipped with a dimmer and three types of lighting (ambience, red, and spot lights). You can adjust the intensity for the ideal level of brightness. I use rechargeable batteries that I fully recharge between outings and carry Lithium spares. According to tcd here on the forum the best place for spare batteries is in another headlmap (ie. your current one will become your backup). Personally, I like lots of illumination and "throw" but there are times when I prefer to dial it back.
    1111111111

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    • #3
      to start, there's much more to it than just lumens. that said, for trail hiking, 90 lum seems fine to me. i can get a decent amount of mileage out of the PT fuel at 70 lum (or tikkina at 80, if I can find where I put it last...). BUT...i love the BD storm for a "do-everything" (that I'm interested in; i'm not doing night-time big mountaineering or spelunking) lamp. At a (claimed?) 350 lum max output, it is still highly versatile with dimmer and night-vision (red or green LED) settings. On low it easily beats out the PT fuel on low for battery life (it does carry an additional AAA though; BD spot would probably be a good compromise for weight vs runtime). i know fenix has a big cult following, not sure how they stack up for versatility.

      I guess to answer your question more directly, if you feel the need to upgrade go for the new high-output lamp, just make sure it has adequate dimming. then you can manage light output and battery life on the fly.

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      • #4
        As Neil mentioned, I always carry two, and sometimes three headlamps. Back in the old halogen days, that was a heavy task, and so it made sense to carry only extra batteries and bulbs, and to learn, as many of us did, to change those in the dark. But now with LED headlamps that are so light, extra headlamp(s) is the easy solution.

        I like light weight, and I am also cheap. I buy the "Ozark Mtn" (Walmart brand) headlamps ($13). They run on 3 AAAs. They have three settings: 150, lower light (I think it's 90) and a red setting.

        Same as others have said, 90 seems like plenty to me on trail, 150 is better off trail.

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        • #5
          Something I've found while bushwhacking with a headlamp is that conifer needles, especially balsams, will reflect the light back and blind you. A dimmer is the best remedy for that situation.
          1111111111

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          • #6
            We recently purchased a pack of three flashlights from Costco for use at home and in the car. The third was given to my mother-in-law who was still using an old-school flashlight with incandescent bulb and C-cells. The new flashlight takes three triple-A cells, throws a beam that can be narrow or wide, and claims to produce 280 lumens. She was suitably impressed ... and so was I.

            My trusty old BD Spot produces 90 lumens via the main LED and I typically use its triple-LED "low beams" for general trail-hiking. Seeing what 280 lumens does, either in flood or pencil-beam mode, is impressive. The source is blinding; I've jokingly wondered if it could be used to ward off critters! Costco sells another flashlight (uses C-cells) claiming to produce 700 lumens and I shudder to think how blinding it can be (Set your headlamp to "Stun"). However, I'll bet it lights up the woods good, real good!

            ​I think the ability to crank out a whopping amount of light has its use (e.g. the example you gave about illuminating a brook's opposite bank). You don't normally need that much illumination (like I said, I typically use the "low beams") but it's nice to have it in a pinch.


            ​As for the stated light-output, I would take the ratings with a grain of salt. Some of these lights have crappy beam-patterns with uneven distribution or even voids in the form of dark rings. I could create a light that shines a pencil point, that rapidly fades away radially, and then claim the pencil point as being the total light output. On the surface, I'm telling the truth but a "laser-pointer" isn't the appropriate beam-pattern for hiking. Ideally you want an evenly lit disk but you don't know what you get until you buy it and cast its beam on a wall. Some review sites do this and you can see the dramatic difference.


            ​FWIW, Black Diamond's Spot headlamp improves every year.
            https://www.outdoorgearlab.com/revie...k-diamond-spot

            ​The 2016 model is rated to 200 lumens (up from 130 in 2015) and is on sale for US$30.
            http://blackdiamondequipment.com/en/...1TRCHALL1.html

            The 2017 model is rated to 300 lumens.
            http://blackdiamondequipment.com/en/...20634_cfg.html

            ​The light is dimmable, has a lock-out function (to prevent accidental battery drain), is now water-proof, can be "tapped" (on the side of the device) to quickly change lighting mode, turns on at the same level you last used, and reports battery-status every time you start it.
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            • FoulHooked
              FoulHooked commented
              Editing a comment
              "can be "tapped" (on the side of the device) to quickly change lighting mode"

              this is my least favorite feature, as I inevitably bump it at inopportune times (like when navigating to the bathroom at JBL in the middle of the night this past weekend).

            • Trail Boss
              Trail Boss commented
              Editing a comment
              According to this article, PowerTap is activated by a light sensor and not by vibration, mechanical displacement, or capacitive sensing (like a touchscreen).
              http://engearment.com/lighting/black...best-headlamp/

              You only need to block the sensor's view to activate it. This allows you to operate it with a gloved hand.

            • Natlife
              Natlife commented
              Editing a comment
              Now that must be fun bushwacking :p

          • #7
            I think ~100L is more then enough for most activities although I like the option to crank it up to 200L for bio break off trail excursions (unless it's raining then you are getting blinded by wet leaves) Full disclosure I haven't bought a good headlamp in probably 5 years, I've just been getting by with re-purposing the big box store ones I get for fieldwork and lots of batteries. So, I had no idea about the advances in technology that are out there until recently. I got the BD Cosmo (waterproof, up to 200L, red light, DIMMER SWITCH!!! and takes 3AAA). For everything I have done this summer/fall (car camping, hiking out in low light/darkness, backpacking, walking the pup) it has been perfect. The dimmer switch is a game changer, I am so in love with in. Bit of a learning curve for me as there is only one touch pad for all operations. Also have not used to lock function, have had no issues with it Turning on in my pack.
            "Adventuring can be for the ordinary person, with ordinary qualities, such as I reguard myself" - Sir Edumnd Hillary

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            • FlyFishingandBeer
              FlyFishingandBeer commented
              Editing a comment
              Its amazing how the "cheap" $40-$50 headlamps available now are what would have cost us $100+ a couple of years ago, isn't it? My newest Petzl has a whole plethora of features including a fog setting, which really helps tremendously on those muggy evening descents when you're trapped in a cloud of your own steam or, you know, fog.

          • #8
            I'm a fan of the Petzl Actik - if you buy the "Core" version it comes with a USB-chargeable battery pack that fits where 3 AAAs go - and it can be replaced with 3 AAAs. At full power it's 350 lumens on AAAs, 320 on rechargeable. It has 3 brightness settings, the red is handy, although I wish it 'threw' farther. 350 lumens + the shape of the lens/mirror in it projects quite the cone.

            If you want to go this route, definitely buy the one that comes with the battery pack; the price of the headlamp + pack > buying it all at once.
            46er #9404
            Pics: https://www.flickr.com/photos/145945713@N02/
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            • #9
              Originally posted by Neil View Post
              Something I've found while bushwhacking with a headlamp is that conifer needles, especially balsams, will reflect the light back and blind you. A dimmer is the best remedy for that situation.
              If you think that is bad, you should try paddling a canoe with a bright headlamp, especially in the fog. With every stroke, your grip (top) hand gets a full flush of direct light,inches away from your eyes, momentarily severely blinding you. Then add fog, and the scattered light along with the momentary hand blindness prevents seeing anything more than a couple of feet ahead. I run into this problem during the 90-mile Cannonball canoe trip, when it is more often than not the most foggy just before dawn (we start out at midnight). Thank goodness for adjustable brightness settings.
              Last edited by Nessmuk; 10-05-2017, 10:48 PM.
              "Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do you will be certain to find something you have never seen before." - Alexander Graham Bell

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              • #10
                The more lumens the merrier, I always say.

                Comment


                • #11
                  I decided to go with the Black Diamond Spot (300 lumens). While the Cosmo offered plenty of light for my needs at 200 lumens, it didn't have the brightness memory feature (turns back on at same setting you left it at), which I thought I would definitely appreciate. The Spot does offer the "Power tap" feature that instantly brings headlamp to full power. I like the concept, but fear that it will fail in practice and just become an annoyance. If this happens, and it does become an annoyance, I'm hoping I can find a way to disable it. The lock mode (offered by both headlamps) was also very appealing.
                  46R #4772W

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                  • #12
                    My back up is a keychain light attached to my head lamp strap. It weighs 1/4 oz, and costs 50 cents. Immediately accessible and easy to figure out how to use, even in the dark, just squeeze.
                    Tom Rankin - 5444W "In the depths of Summer, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible Winter"

                    Proud Member #0003 of ADKHP Foundation
                    Volunteer Balsam Lake Mountain
                    Past President Catskill 3500 Club
                    CEO Views And Brews!

                    Trail maintainer for the Dry Brook Ridge trail from Mill Brook Road to just past the Lean-to

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                    • Neil
                      Neil commented
                      Editing a comment
                      My backup light is a candle. Has limitations on windy nights.

                    • Johnnycakes
                      Johnnycakes commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Great idea keeping it attached to head lamp strap.

                  • #13
                    Zebralight headlamps are the best. Period. Not that plastic junk. They run on rechargable 18650 batteries. Spend the $100.

                    Buy the rechargeable batteries. Higher mAh the better. (3500 mAh maybe the currently highest option?) Buy the charger. Spend some extra money.

                    Be satisfied forever.

                    Over 1000 lumens on highest setting. Many other lower settings and even customizable settings that can be programmed.

                    My 2 hiking buddies have them also. Light up the woods.
                    Last edited by Nivek; 10-10-2017, 02:58 PM.
                    Catskills: 39/39, 26W/35W
                    ADK: 46/46

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                    • #14
                      Agreed on the Zebralights! Got my first one many years ago and wondered why all the big name lights where so far behind in tech. Though I guess when selling in retail stores they have to make their products more sexy looking, you wont really get that at ZL. Looks like the newest version of my H600 goes up to 1400 lumens now and down as low as .07 lumens. I'm not so worried about the crazy high but the super lows are awesome for those in the tent moments in the middle of the night when your eyes are so night-adjusted.

                      But for hiking I much prefer the smaller single AA ones like my H52w. Half the price (and you don't have to buy special batteries or chargers if you don't want to) and plenty capable for hiking (up to 250-300l on NiMH, or 500+ on Li-ion). AA's are much easier to come by in a pinch too, probably the most common battery in the world? Super light weight with a ultimate lithium AA, and they'll take rechargeable lithium-ion AA's too if you want some extra punch. Small enough to EDC in my pocket, rarely leave home without it.

                      One nice thing that's often overlooked is how easy it is to swap batteries. Not a big deal at the campsite but could be in the middle of a scramble. I can do it blindfolded (or on a pitch black trail) one handed, and in maybe 10 seconds? Try doing that with a 3-cell headlamp (they often use 3 cells because they cheap-out on circuitry for voltage control) where you have to pop the whole thing open or in half and get the orientation of the batteries correct.

                      I really like having a choice of LEDs too, I much prefer warm/neutral LED's compared to the cool blue ones when in nature, or pretty much anywhere really. Nice they have a choice. The blueish ones seem to make a more annoying glare and don't render colors nicely to my eyes.

                      Originally posted by Nivek View Post
                      Zebralight headlamps are the best. Period. Not that plastic junk. They run on rechargable 18650 batteries. Spend the $100.

                      Buy the rechargeable batteries. Higher mAh the better. (3500 mAh maybe the currently highest option?) Buy the charger. Spend some extra money.

                      Be satisfied forever.

                      Over 1000 lumens on highest setting. Many other lower settings and even customizable settings that can be programmed.

                      My 2 hiking buddies have them also. Light up the woods.
                      39/46 get'n closer
                      19/46 barefoot ;-)
                      ~Tristan

                      Comment


                      • Johnnycakes
                        Johnnycakes commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Excellent point about a single battery light being easier to swap batteries (or should I say battery).
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