Shining some light on headlamps

With the Giba Night race coming up tonight, I was interested in what options there were for headlamps available at the moment, and which would offer the best value for money on a Rands/Lumen scale (where lumens indicate the brightness). For trail running, the brighter the better (I’d recommend 100 lumens at a minimum), however brightness comes at a cost both in money terms as well as in weight and battery life. So doing a quick search on the internet, I put together this table listing options from some well-known brands.

Make Model Peak Lumens Price R/Lumen Rechargeable Batteries Weight (g)
Extreme Lights Extreme XPh 670  R850.00 1.27 Yes Li-ion or 3 x AAA 255
Extreme Lights XPh3A 160  R299.00 1.87 No 3 x AAA 51
Petzl MYO RXP 370  R879.00 2.38 No 3 x AA 175
LED Lenser H7.2 250  R675.00 2.70 No 4 x AAA 165
LED Lenser SEO5 180  R550.00 3.06 No 3 x AAA 105
Petzl Tikkina 60  R199.00 3.32 No 3 x AAA 85
LED Lenser Neo 90  R299.00 3.32 No 3 x AAA 54
LED Lenser H7R.2 300  R999.00 3.33 Yes Li-ion 165
Petzl NAO 575  R2 019.00 3.51 Yes Li-ion 187
Petzl Tikka XP 160  R599.00 3.74 No 3 x AAA 85
LED Lenser SEO3 100  R399.00 3.99 No 3 x AAA 105
LED Lenser SEO7R 220  R999.00 4.54 Yes Li-ion 93
Petzl Tikka R+ 170  R899.00 5.29 Yes Li-ion 115
Petzl Tikka Plus 2 110  R599.00 5.45 No 3 x AAA 85
Petzl Tikka RXP 215  R1 199.00 5.58 Yes Li-ion 115
Black Diamond Icon 3 200  R1 199.00 6.00 No 4 x AA 193

I got these prices from a couple of online retailers including Cape Union MartAwesome Tools and iWarehouse (I can’t vouch for any of these except Cape Union Mart, since they are the only ones I have actually bought from). The R/Lumen gives an indication of the value of the headlamp, the lower the better, since you are paying fewer Rands per Lumen. [UPDATE: I added the Extreme Lights options, they look like good value and apparently the service from their website is very good although I haven’t tested it personally – Extreme Lights]

LED Lenser SEO5

LED Lenser SEO5

One thing to note is that brightness isn’t the only factor. The weight and fit is also important since the headlamp needs to be comfortable on your head and not bounce around, so I’d recommend trying before you buy. Some of the options above have a separate battery pack which is worn on the back of the head, with the lighting system on the front, while others have the batteries included in the lighting system. This is a matter of personal taste, having the batteries at the back helps to balance the weight, but increases complexity. Anther factor to consider is whether or not the headlamp is rechargeable or not, and whether you can replace the battery pack with normal batteries should you run out of juice mid-race. Obviously a rechargeable pack will save money on new batteries, however rechargeable batteries don’t live forever so you may have to replace the pack down the line (Petzl guarantees their rechargeable packs for 1 year or 300 cycles, but this doesn’t mean it will definitely be dead after one year. LED Lenser guarantees their whole rechargeable headlamp (SEO7R) for 5 years, so this is a good indication of how long you can expect the battery to last if cared for correctly).

Petzl NAO

Petzl NAO

The last thing to consider is how long the headlamp will last on a set of batteries (or a single recharge), however this is pretty hard to compare since they all quote different times at different intensities. You will get a longer battery life if the brightness is turned down (on those headlamps that have different brightness settings), and conversely shorter life on higher brightness levels. Some of the higher end models (particularly the Petzl NAO, TIKKA RXP and TIKKA R+) include reactive lighting where the brightness is automatically adjusted based on the current conditions, so this is useful for saving battery life when you don’t need full brightness. I currently own a LED Lenser SEO5, which I have been very happy with. It isn’t the brightest though, and I would like to upgrade to something a bit brighter and with rechargeable batteries, so possibly a Petzl MYO or NAO, if I can convince myself to spend two grand on a headlamp!

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