Article written by our official headlamp partner - Petzl
Over longer runs or in the winter months most of us will be running in the dark, which means if you want to stay active you’ll need a headlamp, but which one? Weight, brightness, ease of use, cost, comfort and stability are all key factors when deciding which headlamp to buy. Fortunately, headlamps have come a long way in the past few years with Petzl continuing to be at the forefront of design and innovation.
Let’s look at 5 key features for your next headlamp:
The brightness of a headlamp is measured in lumens, the amount of visible light that the human eye can detect. How bright you want it to be will depend on your activity. Is it just to be seen and used to find a spork you dropped in your tent? Maybe it’s for ‘just in case’, or perhaps you need to light up a technical trail or hope to complete an all-night FKT.
How bright do you need a headlamp? Generally the quicker you are moving or the more technical the trail the more lumens you will need, for trail running a minimum of 300 lumens is essential. However, if you are camping, you can manage just fine with 200 lumens or less. Don’t forget brightness is offset by power consumption, so a headlamp at full power will give a shorter burn time. Headlamps typically offer different settings, e.g. low, medium, high to allow you to extend the battery life if lower lumens are needed. Petzl’s Reactive Lighting also helps to address the brightness/burn time balance.
How long you need the battery to last will depend on what you are doing and the brightness you need balanced with the size of the battery. A rechargeable battery will not only help save the planet and your pocket but is more efficient at delivering power than standard alkaline batteries, especially at low temperatures, it’s also easy to carry a spare for longer runs. Reactive Lighting further helps to maximise your battery life by continually adjusting the light output.
Finally, all Petzl headlamps have a reserve function, a small amount of light that lasts long enough to get you back home or to another battery.
The distance the beam will reach depends on the brightness of the LED along with the focus pattern and choosing a suitable beam pattern for your intended use is important, trail runners typically need both flood and spot lighting for proximity/distance lighting while for urban running or more casual use flood only lighting is perfect.
Headlamps will often have a spot focused LED for long distance with a second wide angle LED for proximity/flood lighting as seen in the NAO RL and SWIFT RL or several balanced LEDs to produce a very even wide beam pattern at different brightness levels, as seen in the IKO CORE.
Headlamps weighing much more than 200g generally feel cumbersome and uncomfortable for running, if you are moving quickly at night then you should be able to shake your head with no movement of the headlamp.
Thinking about how you want the weight distributed is also important with two main designs; An ‘all in one’ unit with the light and battery at the front or a ‘split’ design with the light on the front and battery on the rear. There are advantages to both including how compact the headlamp feels and it’s balance on the head, much will depend on personal preference, comfort and the battery size needed.
Reactive Lighting is a technology developed by Petzl where the headlamp senses the amount of light bouncing back and adjusts the brightness produced. Aiming the headlamp into the distance activates full brightness and gives longer reach but when checking a map, the light output is reduced helping to reduce glare while also increasing burn time and making it perfect for all situations. Once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back! Not having to manually change the brightness with cold, often gloved hands is a complete game changer!
So what's the best PETZ headlamp for each of our distances?
- 2 Valleys Trail - BINDI for emergency signalling
The Nao RL is a high performance 1500 lumen headlamp with a high capacity rear mounted battery pack which weighs 145g. Reactive lighting helps to extend the battery life and the combination works well for our longer distances where you expect to be running in the dark for long periods or multiple days.
The BINDI is a tiny USB rechargeable headlamp offering a maximum of 200 lumens. At only 35g it's perfect as a spare all year round or as a backup option for our distances.
The SWIFT RL is a compact high performance headlamp offering 900 lumens and weighing 100g. Ideal for shorter night time running up to around 4/5 hours. Featuring reactive lighting to maximise the life of the built in battery pack.