Unless you have large eyes and can see in the dark, you might want to consider hands free lighting options when outdoors at night. Lighting options have changed a lot since we were kids. No more pumping up the pressure in the ‘ol Coleman, worrying about the flame jutting out the top when lit. And no more carrying extra D or 6-volt batteries either!
LED lights have come a long way. They’re incredibly durable and energy efficient. Whether setting up camp in the dark or just outside to gather an armful of kindling, a compact light source can be your best friend.
The Petzl TIKKA+ Headlamp (Rose) is a great mid-range headlamp for only $39.95
So how do we choose a lighting solution? How do you know what to buy? There are several main variables that differentiate headlamps and other great compact light sources out there.
Whether you are looking for a headlamp for a young child or for a seasoned outdoorsman, a quick check of the lamp’s features will help assure years of enjoyment after your purchase. You may find you need a compact adjustable headlamp such as the affordable Petzl Tikkina offering 15 or 60 lumen options, and up to 180 hours of burn time, or perhaps you need a headlamp with a little more guts offering up to 140 lumens and Reactive Lighting such as the Tikka R+.
Headlamp Beam’s range from a wide flood pattern to a narrow spot pattern. While more is generally better, consider the additional battery life that might get eaten up by a flood pattern if it’s not necessary for the task.
Headlamp Light Output or Brightness, as measured in lumens helps you determine the total quantity of light emitted and it’s probably the most important consideration. Generally as you increase maximum lumens, price increases. Choosing a middle of the road headlamp in terms of lumen rating is often sufficient, especially if the Beam is highly focused.
Variable output settings can help you maximize your battery life, though you don’t want to forget to switch off the maximum setting when it’s not necessary. Most mid-range headlamps offer at least 2 or 3 modes. Strobe mode can be a lifesaver in the case of an emergency (it can also drive you crazy when your child discovers it). Low is the standard mode used for most tasks such as close-up chores or walking along a trail in the dark. Mid is provided on some models simply to give people more choices. High is generally used for short periods of time for specific tasks. Some new headlamps have a Boost mode, a 10-20 second option of an extra-intense beam. Remember, more light, less battery.
Headlamp Beam Distance can help you choose the right lamp based on what you are most likely to need it for. If you are moving fast in the dark, you will want to choose a longer Beam Distance. For most of us though, we move a little slower at night.
Headlamp Run or Burn Time is generally measured in “usable light” like the light of a full moon, at 2 meters. This is where you should start thinking about comparing batteries between headlamps, what type, how many, and how easy is it to replace them.
If you go with a Headlamp with a long lasting lithium-ion battery, check whether or not it can be replaced with a standard battery pack. If run time is long enough to sufficiently work throughout your outdoor adventure, no worries! Lithium batteries outperform alkaline batteries in cold conditions, as do rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Remember, rechargeable batteries tend to lose power when not in use, so don’t forget to charge up before each trip.
Headlamp Weight has come down significantly in the past 10 years. Most headlamps weigh less than 7 ounces, and many manufacturers don’t even list weight anymore since it’s become a non-issue.
Additional Headlamp Features include Regulated Output, Water Resistance, and Reactive Lighting. Older lamps would dim slowly as batteries drained, new lamps tend to have Regulated Output so you generally have full output very near the end of battery life. The downside is you could find yourself in the pitch dark soon after. Water Resistance if fairly common these days as it takes a simple gasket to keep the water on the outside.
Reactive Lighting by Petzl is unique and can be a great feature. Look at something close up and the beam focuses, reducing battery usage. When you look into the distance, you’ll get full lumens so you can focus on the rustling branches you heard.
Adjustable Tilt can also be a nice option, especially when trying to focus on something close-up, like a book while stuck in the tent during a rain-storm.
Just maybe you don’t need a headlamp at all. Sometimes we really do need a lantern. New compact LED lanterns such as the AceCamp mini lantern or the Clarus from UCO provide a big punch when hung in the center of a tent or an outdoor workspace providing as much as 150 lumens in a product that will fit in the palm of your hand. The Clarus has the added benefit of serving as a lantern or a flashlight with a simple slide of the hand and water resistance.
Hopefully Tuff Kids Outdoors can help you find just the right lighting solution for you and your family!