Headlamps shine a light on outdoor adventures

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Light up the night

Petzl Tikkina, 80 lumens, about $19.95.

Petzls NOA+, 750 lumens, $185.

Nathan Sports Halo Fire, 288 lumens, rechargeable, $120.

Princeton Tec Vizz, red light maintains night-adjusted vision, about $50.

Black Diamond Revolt, 130 lumens, recharge with a USB cable or operate on AAA batteries, $59.95.

Headlamps used to be for coal miners and tomb raiders.

Then someone discovered their other practical uses, such as for dead-of-night potty breaks on camping trips (the “hands-free” component being nearly as important as the illumination). Now, headlamps are considered essential tools for enjoying or even surviving adventures in the dark.

That’s especially true this time of year, when the days are shortening and there’s less natural light to illuminate a path or road.

“The potholes are what concern me more than anything else,” said Kathleen Daly, head training group coach and fit specialist for Fleet Feet Sports in Santa Rosa.

Others are most concerned about being seen by motorists, picking a safe path through a dark forest or lashing down and stowing gear ahead of an approaching squall out at sea. Being able to see and be seen — while still maintaining use of both hands — is why headlamps have evolved from a niche product into one many outdoor enthusiasts find they can’t do without.

“The technology has changed the game,” said Skip Brand, owner of Healdsburg Running Company. “No one’s nearly as fearful of the dark anymore thanks to the products we have to run with.”

So many headlamps are out on the market today that choosing the right one can be a challenge. For many, it’s all about the lumens.

Lumens measure the amount of light emitted from a bulb. A 100-watt light bulb, for instance, emits 1,600 lumens.

Most people don’t need anywhere near that much light from a headlamp. But just in case, Petzl’s NOA+ headlamp tops out at 750 lumens, roughly equal to a car’s standard headlight beam. All those lumens will set you back about $185.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Petzl Tikkina features 80 lumens for about $19.95.

Until a few years ago, that amount of light was at the upper end for headlamps, said James Rein, manager of Market and Consumer Insights for the Outdoor Industry Association in Boulder, Colorado.

“What was at the high end is now at the low end,” Rein said.

But brightness is only part of the equation. To stay competitive, headlamp manufacturers are adding nifty features to set their products apart.

One of the newest entrants in the field, the rechargeable Halo Fire, has a maximum output of 288 lumens and something manufacturer Nathan Sports calls “RunWave” technology, which allows runners to change modes mid-stride by simply waving their hands in front of the beam.

The headlamp, which retails for $120 at Healdsburg Running Company, can also be set up to automatically flash a strobe light at the approach of oncoming vehicles.

One caveat with the Halo Fire and other headlamps featuring a high amount of lumens: operating the light at full power can drain batteries more quickly than at dimmer outputs.

Still, Nathan Sports claims the Halo Fire can burn on high mode (240 lumens) for over two hours, which should be enough to last most people between charges.

The Halo Fire is geared specifically toward runners. Other manufacturers offer headlamps specifically for hunting, fishing, caving, skiing and other pursuits requiring illumination. Petzl, for instance, offers helmets mounted with lights suitable for caving, as well as headlamps with camouflaged straps for hunting.

Light up the night

Petzl Tikkina, 80 lumens, about $19.95.

Petzls NOA+, 750 lumens, $185.

Nathan Sports Halo Fire, 288 lumens, rechargeable, $120.

Princeton Tec Vizz, red light maintains night-adjusted vision, about $50.

Black Diamond Revolt, 130 lumens, recharge with a USB cable or operate on AAA batteries, $59.95.

But headlamps can be used for almost any activity requiring light. Patti Davi, a merchandiser for Sonoma Outfitters at Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village, said she uses hers for camping, as well as for plumbing jobs and other, nonrecreational pursuits.

Her Princeton Tec Vizz is equipped with a red light that maintains night-adjusted vision, a feature Davi said she has used to read stargazing maps in the dark. The headlamp retails at Sonoma Outfitters for about $50.

In addition to getting brighter, headlamps also have gotten lighter, thanks mostly to the advent of rechargeable technology that has replaced the heavier alkaline batteries.

Rein, with the Outdoor Industry Association, said rechargeables are the future when it comes to headlamps.

“I don’t climb or go riding with anyone who doesn’t have a rechargeable,” he said.

Rein uses Black Diamond’s Revolt headlamp, which can be recharged using a USB cable or operated on AAA batteries. The headlamp features 130 lumens and retails for about $59.95.

Thanks to headlamps, darkness doesn’t have to be a barrier to getting outdoors, even in winter, when the impulse may be to stay inside or go to a gym.

Brand said Healdsburg Running Company’s full moon runs are the store’s most popular for a reason.

“People put on their headlamps and giggle,” he said. “It’s like being a kid again.”

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.

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