LED technology has done wonders for outdoor lighting and here are a few tips to help you choose the right light. For doing camp tasks, reading a book in your tent, or walking down a trail, an inexpensive two-bulb LED light (about 20-30 lumens) should be sufficient.
Some examples are the Black Diamond Gizmo and Petzl Tikkina2. If you are running down a trail or looking for things that might be hiding at night, I’d suggest bumping up to a light between 40-70 lumens such as the Black Diamond Cosmo or Petzl Tikka2 or Tikka Plus2. Bigger lights (80-110 lumens) are great for biking up a wide trail or lighting up a glacier route during those pre-dawn alpine starts. For these activities I’d suggest either the Black Diamond Storm or Petzl TIkka XP2. Lights much beyond 120-500 lumens are either for mountain biking single tracks at night (usually two are needed: One on the head and one on the handlebars) or for search and rescue purposes. The Petzl Nao fits this bill – with its reactive lighting mode and massive beam, it’s almost too bright.
Another consideration is battery life and rechargeability. Petzl has a separate rechargeable battery for use in conjunction with any of its Tikka2 series headlamps that equates to about 900 AAA batteries. I did the math once and this can easily save $600-$1200 dollars in alkaline batteries. Most of the brighter lights also have various lighting levels to conserve battery life and even a red bulb for reading maps at night without ruining your night vision.
Tech Tip: What to do when you only have one headlamp for two or more people going down a trail? My trick is for the last person to hold the light in their hand and swing it as they walk. This allows everyone to get a glimpse of any obstacles and uses the brain’s ability to picture the terrain until the light swings forward again.
Chris Gerston spent 10 years in social services – working primarily with adolescents – before opening Backcountry Essentials, an outdoor specialty shop located at 214 W. Holly in Bellingham, WA., which he owns and manages with his wife Erica.