Nov 25, 2003 at 11:00 pm #1215634
So, a question to LED headlamp users:
What initially governed your decision(s) to purchase the LED lights you currently use?
LED flood brightness for closeup work?
Long-beam projection for night navigating?
My ideal headlamp has a low weight and tiny size with no sacrifice in short range flood brightness or long range beam projection.
My favorite light is still the Black Diamond Gemini, because of the excellent range of its xenon beam and the battery life/short range brightness of its LED. New technology means they can certainly do better on the LED side, and the BD Zenix is a step in the right direction, but its main light still not as bright as the Gemini’s xenon beam. I used a Gemini on an all-night ’emergency’ descent of the Middle Teton (10 hours of rappelling down a rotten rock couloir in a storm), so we have kind of bonded. My highest priorities in my “headlamp of the future” is to retain the functionality of this lamp, while improving LED short range flood brightness and shaving weight and bulk.
Your ideal headlamp?Nov 30, 2003 at 5:29 pm #1334402
I have some unanswered questions from preparing the article series for you E.E. or electronics hobbyist types out there. Here’s the first:
Since super-premium alkaline batteries offer more capacity than lithium cells, and since lithiums cost perhaps five times as much as alkalines, might power management circuitry eventually compensate for alkaline battery voltage roll-off such that alkaline performance might equal or better that of lithiums? (Ignoring low-temperature performance.)
–Rick DreherDec 1, 2003 at 3:17 pm #1334403
@ksawchukLocale: Northern California
I prefer a headlamp for versatility–The Petzel I have has three brightness options which is nice for battery conservation and not having a light to bright for reading. It has acceptable brightness for hiking on trails at night, is poor for running at night (I run Ultras and the 100 mile versions require night trail running). It gives better contrast for hiking if you hold it in your hand instead of keeping it around your head. For dedicated handheld use the Princeton Tec Attitude (or their TD40 with a LED module “pushed” to 4 AA cells–this has no warrenty from Princeton Tec but has worked well for me) work well and are light. AA Lithium batteries are also much lighter and last longer than Alkaline.Dec 1, 2003 at 3:24 pm #1334404
Kevin, tell us more about your TD40. This sounds like a good concept. Did you do the mods or did PTec? and how?Dec 2, 2003 at 6:09 pm #1334407
@obxcolaLocale: Outer Banks of North Carolina
Please name some relatively common/accessible sources for AAA lithium batteries. I think I’ve looked at half the major chain electronics big boxes in NC & VA ( w/ no luck)Dec 2, 2003 at 6:23 pm #1334408
@obxcolaLocale: Outer Banks of North Carolina
I did find this info from a web search:
.zbattery.com states on their web-site:
AAA Lithium 1.5V batteries are currently not made. If a lithium battery is rechargeable,
it is 3.6V, not the standard 1.5V. There is a lot of confusion about this. You cannot use a 3.6V battery where a 1.5V is required. If you would like a rechargeable option for a standard AA, or AAA battery check out our rechargeable battery page and select the NiMH batteries for your best option.Dec 3, 2003 at 9:09 am #1334410
As you’ve discovered, nobody’s making lithium AAAs at present. What I’ve not been able to find out is whether there’s a technical reason (they don’t scale down well) or a marketing one (wouldn’t sell enough of them).
Note that the common rechargables, Ni-MH, etc. put out somewhat less than 1.5 volts, although this doesn’t seem to be a problem with flashlights.
–Rick DreherDec 5, 2003 at 11:12 pm #1334414
Speaking of the devil, my favorite light, which I have only had for a month, is the BD Zenix(the correct spelling.) I recently did a night hike with my son, who was using a Petzl Myo 3, near Cool CA, the same area a jogger was killed by a mountain lion 7-8 years ago. We both agreed that my Zenix had brighter beam projection and closeup flood light than the Petzl, which is a pretty good light too. I should mention that both headlamps had new alkaline batteries(Zenix 3 AAA, and Myo 4 AA.) Interestingly enough the BD Zenix is totally LED, while the Petzl is a combination long beam Xenon and closeup LED. The Zenix weighs 4.9 oz with batteries, and I can’t think of any other LED headlamp in this weight class with such good long beam characteristics. A fairly strong long beam is helpfull in identifying nocturnal animals, a favorite pastime of mine.
I would have loved to have seen a mountain lion on our hike, but unfortunately this did not happen.
John CoyleDec 12, 2003 at 9:28 pm #1334418
@ksawchukLocale: Northern California
Sorry I didn’t check back sooner Ryan–The PTec module is available commercially for around $30. It is sold so an individual can convert their older headlamps to LED technology. The module supposed to be used with 2 AA cells and the TD40 is a 4AA light. PTec will not warrenty 4AA use, but when I talked to a rep he said that several people had done this for some time without problems. This configuration has seen me through three Western States 100 races (from 9pm when it’s dark till I finish around midnight) and many winter commutes home from work. It is NOT a headlamp, but for night hiking/running I prefer my light closer to the ground for more brightness and better contrast/shadows.Dec 13, 2003 at 5:54 am #1334419
Princeton Tec Aurora – I agree that this is a excellent light for around the camp, but it does not have a long enough beam for night hiking.
Black Diamond Gemini – I also really like this light except for the weight… 7.1 oz w/ batteries. I went so far as to make a 3AAA battery pack to replace the 3AA battery pack getting the weight down to 4.9 oz w/ batteries. Because behind-the-head battery packs are uncomfortable lying on my back reading, I moved the custom 3AAA battery pack to the front.
Rayovac Sportsman 3-in-1 Head-Lite – This is the light I am currently using. Weight is 4.5 oz with 3AAA alkaline batteries. It has an excellent short range white LED light, a krypton spot light for longer range and night hiking, and two red LEDs I use all the time to keep my night vision… amazing how many more stars you can see. It is cheap too at $12.99. If I could only get rechargeable AAA lithium batteries for it…
Red Photon Micro-Light 3 – This is my backup light with its red LED and SOS feature weighing 0.4 oz with batteries. Besides preserving night vision, a red LED also extends battery life 10 times a white LED.
http://www.photonlight.com/products/photon_3.htmlDec 14, 2003 at 6:27 am #1334421
I have 2 negative comments on the Aurora, neither of which seem to have been taken into account in the reviews.
(1) The swivel mechanism loosens over time. I’ve had to retighten mine twice. It’s not a big deal if you’re are at home and have the proper screwdriver to tighten it, but in the field it makes the headlamp unusable, as it refuses to stay where you point it.
(2) The switch is in a very awkward place for us left-handers. A centrally-mounted switch is much better from my point of view.
I also own a Moonlight, which I really like except that it once developed contact problems and had to be returned to REI for replacement. I’ve heard this from other Moonlight owners, and seems to be a design problem when the battery pack is separate from the light unit.
A Gemini is now my light of choice when night hiking and camp use are both possibilities.
Petzl Duo Belt is the one I use in New England winters for the AA (ie. lithium) capability and separate battery compartment that can be kept inside your clothing.Dec 14, 2003 at 6:56 am #1334422
RE: Aurora pivot head becoming loosened over time. We were aware of this problem in on the Aurora and paid close attention to it. Because this was an issue with initial shipments of the Aurora to retailers, we took it to an engineering lab and cycled the hinge pivot through 5000 complete (down and up) cycles. There were no issues whatsoever about the hinge become loosened and Princeton Tec has appeared to make good on their claim that the problem has been addressed. If you have an Aurora with that has its hinge become loosened after a short time, consider contacting the company and initiating a warranty exchange. — RyanDec 16, 2003 at 10:05 pm #1334423
My first generation BD Moonlight has developed the broken cord syndrome. BD reports that this is a known defect with early Moonlight and Gemini models, but are now equipped with beefier cords. Retailers are under instruction to replace all lights with this symptom, or you can ship directly to BD.
Note that the new versions of these models can be identified easily. The new Moonlight has multiple brightness control, and the new Gemini has two LEDs instead of one.
Folks – should I get my defective Moonlight replaced or get it upgraded to the new Zenix? BD has said they will do this if I pay the difference. Seems like a no-brainer for the Zenix, but just wondering if anyone had any opinions.
Ryan and Rick – Thanks for all your great work on this topic!Dec 16, 2003 at 10:09 pm #1334424
Ryan – do you have the first generation Gemini with the single LED? Do you have any idea how the short range flood brightness of the single-LED model compares with that of the new dual-LED model?Dec 16, 2003 at 10:42 pm #1334425
My BD Moonlight also has the contact problems you describe, Debra. My quick fix for it is to use a clunky rubberband and twist-tie arrangement to force the wire into an angle that allows the light to work, but to do this I have to wear the battery pack over to the side a bit instead of at the back of my head. The light is the 2002 model, but I only used it about 100 hours and never abused it. Time for a different light.
Regarding my hoped-for ideals in a light:
* LED(s) that would allow me to run on rocky trail without slowing down much, but that has a lower setting for camp use. Battery use for technical/runnable travel: 15-20 hours. Regulation would be needed, I think.
* A combined high-power spotlight capability, probably xenon, that could illuminate far ahead for occasional navagation puzzles.
* Pivoting head, ideally detachable for hand use. I experimented a couple nights ago and found that indeed, as Kevin Sawchuck wrote, one can see better for technical running and power walking with the light at hand level. Not only because of better “shadowing” but also because varying the left/right angle of the light sometimes illuminates better foot placements.
* Use of 123 lithium photo batteries would allow the above ideals for about 4 oz. (Ref. the tactical lights by Surefire and Arc.) Maybe even a design using 2 or 3 AA lithiums could pull that off.
I’m considering buying a good hand-held LED light as my walking/running light, and carrying a tiny light like the Ion for camp tasks. Or even lighter for camp work, I may try gluing velcro to my cap’s bill and to a microlight (I like Inova’s brand best). For night walking, a reviewer from Backpackgeartest.org sewed small elastic straps onto his bill to mount a Princeton Tec Impact LED handheld. An option for relatively smooth trail even when running, if the hat stays stable enough.
Are there any plans to review handheld LED lights here some time in the future? Ryan, your methodology and analysis are much better for backpacking purposes than those used by the several LED light review sites.Dec 17, 2003 at 9:31 am #1334426
Thank you for the information from BD. As a gen-1 Moonlight owner myself, it’s good to know about this weakness and BD’s replacement policy.
The Zenix’s flexibility compared to the Moonlight makes it awfully attractive. If you have even occasional need for the high beam, it’s an easy choice. The Moonlight does have a broader, more even beam (compared to the Zenix on low) and is lighter. Other than price, those seem to be the only Moonlight advantages.
–RickDec 22, 2003 at 8:41 pm #1334428
One of my local retailers reports that he no longer carries the Aurora due to numerous switch failures. Anybody else hear of this?Dec 22, 2003 at 8:44 pm #1334429
Again, I am under the impression that this was an issue with the initial production run – but that the issue has since been addressed.Dec 22, 2003 at 9:15 pm #1334430
The ideal headlamp at present seems to be the PT Yukon HL, but it’s a bit heavy at 8 oz (~7 oz with lithiums).
I am curious about the performance rating of the BD Zenix in the review. It could probably be improved by wearing the battery pack underneath a hat, and this would be fairly easy since the pack is slim. Maybe the Zenix is the best all-round lamp at present if the wearer can keep the battery temperature up?
The ideal headlamp for the near-future appears to be a Matrix 2 with some additional small LEDs for short range lighting. I am surprised that PT did not incorporate this, but hopefully they will soon.
I’d like to add that reliability is critical to the title of “ideal” headlamp. I’ve been carrying battery operated lights into the wild for 30 years, yet I am still plagued by failures. Ultimately, the thing has to work when it is needed most, regardless of performance characteristics, weight, or usability features.Dec 23, 2003 at 9:24 am #1334431
Would you mind detailing some of the failures you’ve experienced over time? Have you noticed some failure categories falling by the wayside as the technology advances; have any new failure modes appeared?
I can note some failures I no longer experience, now that I’ve moved to LED lights:
* Shattered lenses (this was becoming less common already)
* Burned out and broken bulbs
* Rapid battery failure (due to high current draw or to the light switching on in my pack)
* Failure to operate in wet conditions
We are still dealing with electrical circuit failure (battery contacts, wiring, switches and now, electronic controls); mechanical failure of the lamphead or battery pack and battery failure due to high current draw (in high performance lights) and/or cold temperatures. Also, not all LED lights are immune to moisture effects.
–RickJan 11, 2004 at 5:10 pm #1334437
Happy New Year to all because…
Energizer Introduces World’s First AAA Lithium Battery
ST. LOUIS, Jan. 7 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Energizer Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: ENR), today unveiled its Energizer(R) e2(R) Lithium AAA battery, adding to its exclusive line of lithium 1.5 volt cells. It also announced performance improvements to its AA lithium line, now lasting up to 7x longer in digital cameras.* These two announcements put Energizer at the forefront of round cell lithium technology. And better yet, they arm consumers with the world’s longest-lasting AA* and AAA batteries in high-tech devices at a time when the use of digital cameras, electronic games, PDA’s, audio players and other high- tech devices is exploding. (*Versus ordinary alkaline in proposed ANSI testing. Results may vary by camera.)
The new Energizer e2 Lithium AAA batteries are now the world’s longest- lasting AAA batteries in high-tech devices providing more memories, more songs and more messaging than any other battery available. For the consumer, for example, that can mean 160 more hours of paging messages or 400 more flashes. The product is built on the lithium technology Energizer pioneered in 1992. Energizer remains the only battery manufacturer to harness the power of lithium in a 1.5 volt cell.
“As today’s high-tech handhelds like digital cameras and MP3 players get faster computing chips and higher-speed digital processing, their thirst for battery power goes through the roof. Energizer recognizes this, and has been extremely aggressive in providing high performance batteries to meet these demands,” says Corey Greenberg, NBC Today Show’s Tech Editor.
According to ACNielsen Panel Data (June 2003), the dollar sales of lithium AA batteries grew 25 percent versus a year ago and is helping to drive growth in the battery category.
In addition to the power advantages, Energizer e2 Lithium batteries are lightweight, 33 percent lighter than an alkaline battery. They operate well in extreme temperatures. In conditions where alkaline batteries would fail, lithium continues to operate in temperatures ranging from -40 degrees F to 140 degrees F. The batteries have a 15-year shelf life. The Energizer e2 Lithium AA and AAA batteries come in recloseable packaging for convenient storage and travel. The new AAA battery will be available later in 2004 just in time for the holidays when picture taking is at its highest and shoppers are selecting high-tech gadgets.
Energizer, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of primary batteries and flashlights and a global leader in the dynamic business of providing portable power.
SOURCE Energizer Holdings, Inc. 01/07/2004
CONTACT: Jackie Burwitz, +1-314-985-2169, or Harriet Blickenstaff, +1-314-995-3939 x103, both for Energizer Holdings, Inc.Jan 11, 2004 at 5:21 pm #1334438
Further to my previous post, I was able to speak with the manager of the retail store which I mentioned. He noted that he had returned about 75% of the Auroras they had sold, less than 1% of the Tikkas, and no Tikka Plus models.
Aurora problems included “just about everything”:
-switch button falling off
-switch contact failure
-housing failure (cracking)
-internal corrosion (due to the sealed construction, corrosive battery off-gases cannot vent)
They are continuing to sell the PT Yukon and Pulsar.Jan 11, 2004 at 5:25 pm #1334439
FYI: BackpackingLight.com will be carrying the new AAA lithium cells as soon as they are released to us for distribution. Next week, we should also receive our first shipments of other lithium round cell batteries, including the AA lithiums already on the market, and for you Black Diamond Ion fans, the lithium L544 BP.Jan 11, 2004 at 7:36 pm #1334440
Well you’ve pretty well nailed it!
When Tekna came out with it’s revolutionary lights in the early 80’s, I thought we might have finally arrived. Their designs featured a sealed! switchless! polycarbonate! housing with halogen! bulb options, and one unit with a lithium! battery. Wow! (These design elements are still common to this day.) Ultimately though I ended up throwing them all away. One reason was the sealed design did not vent the battery off-gases and the contact surfaces degraded. You could even smell the gases when you opened up the lithium-cell unit, the MicroLith. Tekna upgraded the springs from phosphor-bronze to nickel-plated PB, but this was not a total cure. The bulb mounts were low precision which added to the problems. And the whole circuit was dependent on a spring pushing on batteries pushing on a bulb with a lead (Pb) contact point. This whole experience clearly evidenced that low voltage circuits are very susceptible to degradation caused by small increases in circuit resistance due to poor contact.
Now 20 years hence from the first Tekna lights, we have a lot more reliability due to LEDs, nickel-plated contacts, weather-resistant housings which will vent battery gases (BD, Petzl), and independent mounting and contacts for the supply and load. But new failure modes include cables and multi-mode or power management electronics. And our age-old nemesis The Switch is still lurking and looking to cause trouble. I am however highly impressed with quality of the current BD switches. And if electronics modules can attain high-reliability, then the switch might no longer be a point-of-failure since ideally it will not carry any current.
I’d like to see manufacturers eliminate single-points-of-failure as much as possible. For example:
-use two cables from the battery pack to the lamp head
-independent switches for flood and nav modes
-implement a bypass switch around the electronics module and multi-mode switch(es) i.e. a crowbar or switch-of-last-resort
In the meantime, I’ll be carrying two lights on all trips. For example if you need a nav light then a Matrix 2 and a Tikka have a combined weight which is approximately equal to the Yukon HL, but with no SPOFs! And if the primary light is a Tikka or an Ion, then the backup can be a Photon or Pulsar.Apr 22, 2004 at 5:19 pm #1334487
While aircraft and navy ships have, for years, used red as an optimum interior light to prevent night blindness, it seems that green is the new color on the block (as noted in the above article). I’m seeing more pilot chart lights with both red and green LED’s, and even some tri-color (white is the third) units with a white lockout to prevent it accidentally being turned on.
One more thing — I have a problem with headlamps in that they’re at once in the best and the worst spot for illuminating trail. While it’s handy to have them on your head and pointing the same direction you’re looking (and they keep your hands free for other things), their flat lighting perspective does absolutely nothing for giving you a good idea of the “texture” of the upcoming terrain. I’ve found that I “see” the trail a whole lot better if I take off the headlamp and hold it by my side or even away from my body. That gives upcoming terrain features a certain amount of crosslighting and depth. Anyone else tried that?
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