Whenever you go out camping, caving or night walking in the great outdoors, chances are you’ll have a headlamp with you.You don’t want to walk into the dunny hole, stroll off a cliff (I’ve done it), or get attacked by “drop bears”! However, have you got the right light for the activity you’re doing? What sort of light is right at night?
Headlamps can be a very confusing product, with lots of different application, ratings, and functions. Having the right one can make life a whole lot easier at night. This article will assess the suitability of headlamps for different activities, explain what the various numbers on a headlamp mean, and suggest some features to look for when buying a new headlamp.
Where you use it
Generally head torches/headlamps are used for traveling at night, seeing around a campsite, or caving.
- For traveling at night, it is important to look for a headlamp with a variety of features.
- You don’t just want a torch with a hugely powerful spotlight. A powerful spotlight will give the illumination necessary for seeing things around you, whether this is controls, trail markers or animals, but may interfere with your night vision.
- You will need a lower power setting for reading maps, or when you get close to any reflective surfaces.
- It is also useful to have a wider angle flood setting, so you can see the area around you, not just a small area ahead.
- Generally look for something with a variety of focuses, and power levels, or separate power settings.
- For use around campsites, a basic headlamp is all that is required.
- A powerful spot light is generally overkill, as it will just reflect off something and blind you, or accidently end up being shone in someone else’s eyes.
- Multiple power settings can still be useful as you may want more light for detailed work such a lighting a fire, or fixing a car, but won’t need all this light to read a book, or drinking a coffee.
- Look for something with multiple power levels, remembering it doesn’t need to be hugely powerful, or have multiple focuses.
- Caving is similar to traveling at night, however a long battery life, and durability are even more important.
- Although there is no natural light at all when you are deep in a cave, it is still useful to have a lower power setting for when you are around other people, or doing detailed work yourself.
- A powerful spotlight is great for looking around large cavities, and a wide angle flood light is vital for seeing where you are putting your feet, hands and head.
- Generally look for a torch with a powerful spot and flood light that has a long battery life.
What do all these numbers mean?
Headlamps are very technical pieces of equipment, with a variety of specifications, such as brightness, range and battery life.
- Brightness is generally measured in either lumen (metric) or candela (imperial).
- One Candela is the light output of an average candle, and is equivalent to 12.57 lumen.
- Headlamps generally vary in brightness from between about 12 lumen, to 200 lumen, with some specialist models outputting over 500 lumen (but you pay for it).
- Naturally the brighter the light, the better you can see around you at night, but don’t make the mistake of just buying the brightest lamp you can find if you don’t need it.
- Firstly you will spend a heck of a lot of money, and secondly, chances are it will be so bright it will reflect back into your own eyes, meaning at close range you won’t be able to see anything anyway.
- Range of a headlamp is related to both the brightness and the lens quality.
- The brighter the light, the further it will penetrate, and the more you will be able to see at that distance.
- The lens stops the light from spreading out, a LED will radiate light off equally in all directions, and the lens focuses this light into a narrow beam.
- The better it is focused, the further it will travel before dissipating.
- Be careful because the range the manufacturers quotes is often ambitious, and could only be achieved using very good batteries, at full power in total darkness, and even then the detail at that distance may not be all that good.
- I’ve generally found that you have good lighting to about half the range the manufacturer recommends, but this varies over the battery life.
- Battery life of headlamps is also an important, but often misunderstood feature.
- Naturally the longer the battery life, the less often you need to replace the batteries.
- The problem is that LED lights continue to get progressively dimmer from the moment they are turned on, and the battery life, quoted on a headlamp, is the headlamps life until it reaches about 1 lumen of brightness.
- The useable battery life is often significantly less that the advertised life.
- There is a feature called constant current which will be discussed below, which helps improve the useable battery life, but the best solutions is to always have spare batteries.
Headlamps come with a variety of features including different powered lights, different coloured lights, different lighting modes, and features to improve the battery life.
- Most mid to high end headlamps come with either a power adjustable main light, or secondary light sources of lower power.
- These lower settings cannot only be invaluable for seeing things that are close to you, but they also use far less battery power than the primary light.
- These settings are a better alternative for just being seen, or when you don’t require great detail at a distance.
- Many headlamps have different coloured lights, each with a specific purpose. The most common is a red light.
- Red lights are used for low powered lighting, which won’t destroy your own night vision.This makes it great for using when you don’t want to wake up someone you are sharing a tent with, or need a little bit of light to do detailed work such tying your shoelace, but don’t want to lose your night vision.
- Green lights are wonderful for reading maps, they highlight contours far beyond normal vision and improve the visibility of detail.Green light also has less affect on you night vision than white light.
- Blue and ultraviolet lights are used for tracking, and highlight blood. Blue lights specifically can make maps easier to read, and are the only lights that will cut through fog.
- Coloured lights are very useful for different purposes, especially when the lights are being used in high performance applications.
- Some headlamps have a series of lighting modes, such as flashing, flood or spot.
- Flashing lights are useful for being seen, such as when running or riding at night, but don’t provide good vision for the user.
- Flood or wide angle lighting is good for seeing your immediate surroundings. This is good for camping or walking at night, where seeing the area around you in detail is more important than seeing objects at a distance.
- Spot lights are primarily useful for seeing objects at a distance when riding or walking. They can also provide a lot of light over a small area at close range.
- A variety of different functions, especially flood and spot functions, can vastly improve the versatility of a headlamp.
- A nifty feature called constant current can improve the performance of LED lights significantly.
- This feature maintains a constant current throughout the battery life, meaning the light will remain at a constant brightness for the entire battery life.
- The current then drops off quickly when the battery is about to die.
- The only disadvantage is that you don’t know how much power is left in your batteries, and they can run out very quickly, at very inconvenient times so always carry spare batteries.
If you weren’t aware before, I’m sure you now understand that headlamps are more than just a beam of light. Doing your research is important and it may even be necessary at times to have multiple torches to fit different applications. Having the right light at night can make a world of difference and vastly improve your next trip.
Check out Snowys’ range of headlamps to find one to suit your next adventure!