Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gear talk: A tale of two headlamps

With the nights of winter looming, headlamps become a regular feature of outdoor adventures.  When Jodi and I hit the deserts in December and January, we'll be facing long hours in the tent and camper.  For the trike tour through Death Valley, close to 12 hours in the tent is not unusual since we'll be traveling during the shortest days of the year.  This means lots of dealing with camp chores, reading and the like done in the dark.  A reliable headlamp is essential.  The compact LED revolution has created a wealth of fantastic headlamps with a brightness and battery life that was unthinkable back when I started hiking, biking and climbing.

There are many lightweight models on the market, and two of the biggest brands are featured in the lead photo: Princetontec Fuel and Petzle Tikka.

Princetontec:  I love so much about the Fuel model: Its compact design, its brightness, and a very reasonable $20 price tag.  What I don't like is the extremely fragile hinge on the battery access hatch.  As you can see in the photo, it's not connected to the body.  That ain't right.  This is, in fact, the second time something like this has happened.  The first unit I owned exploded when I dropped it from the astronomical height of about three feet.  I was on an extended hiking/climbing trip, and the lamp bounced off the bumper of our truck.  The hatch snapped and popped.  Thinking that this was merely a fluke, I later ended up purchasing a second one on a different trip when I found I had forgotten the Black Diamond headlamp that was purchased immediately after the first Fuel explosion.  Recently, the second Fuel exploded in an even more ridiculous fashion:  All I did was apply some leverage to the hatch release, and the damn thing went flying!  Clearly, the spec on the hinge is too thin to perform its function.  I've recently contacted Princetontec about the issue.  We'll see what happens.  Until then, stay away from the Fuel model.  It's a waste of money.

Petzl:  The model featured in the lead photo, the Tikka, has a trike-touring related history.  A couple of years ago, I undertook a solo trike tour of the Pacific coast from Sonoma County to Santa Barbara, a tale recounted on Crazyguyonabike as Mists and Ghosts.  While climbing to the area featured in the title page photo, I stopped to take a break on the brutally steep Coleman Valley Rd... and behold:  A Petzl headlamp lying in the dirt.  Road booty!  I scooped up the swag and went a-grunting up the 19% misery above.  The Tikka has been my go-to lamp for reading and checking on the chickens at night. Years ago, I had another Tikka.  The plastic on its body turned brittle after a while and cracked, too, finally becoming unusable.  My current Tikka seems to be holding up nicely, however.  Perhaps Petzl got the memo?

Below are two other lamps we've been using--the Black Diamond (apparently discontinued model)  I purchased to replace the original Fuel and another Petzl Tikka XP 2, which Jodi uses:

The main advantage of the Petzl is that it has a red LED single bulb mode, which is great for reading at night.  Your night vision isn't adversely affected--at least not much--and if your partner needs to sleep, the red is far less obnoxious.  The XP 2 has a beefier case and hinge--hooray. I'm kind of on orders to get one of these for our coming adventures.  As I'm reading the latest book about Lance Armstrong's litany of sins, I can head to the front of the pelaton while Jodi calls for the sleep sag and drops off the back.  These more versatile headlamps come at a premium and generally run in the $50-$60 range.  The XP 2 has held up very well, and Jodi recently replaced the headband with the only one the shop had available, this one by Black Diamond, as you can see.

So grab a good book to fill the hours between hitting the road, rock and trail, and don't forget your trusty LED headlamp.  In the heart of winter, morning is a long time coming.

Princetontec update: What awesome customer service.  I sent an email yesterday about the battery hatch, and this morning I got a response.  The company will be sending me a new part free ASAP.  So, be wary of the delicate hinge, but the company stands behind its products.

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