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I’ve had a love/hate relationship with headlamps, and I’ve gone through several in the past few years.
When it comes to thru-hiking, every ounce counts. A headlamp is an essential piece of gear, and yet it’s also a piece of gear that can go unused for long periods of time. In the middle of summer, when the sun is up before 6am and the light lingers until 10pm, I have little use for a headlamp unless I’m getting up to pee in the middle of the night. Even then, the light of the moon is probably sufficient. Nothing is more frustrating than carrying 3 extra ounces of weight on the off-chance I’m going to be hiking after dark, which I almost never do given 16 hours of daylight. (OK, a lot of things are more frustrating, but still).
Back on the AT, Paul and I went the traditional, heavy route for our headlamps. I carried the Black Diamond ReVolt (no longer on the market). Aside from being heavy and little used, every time I actually did need to use it, the batteries were critically low. This wasn’t because I’d left it on, or used it heavily, but because the batteries drain even when not in use. Furthermore, as the batteries drained, the light became dimmer. I’d have to be diligent about frequently recharging the thing even if I hadn’t been using it just on the off chance that I might need to use it. Or carry extra batteries, or store them separately from the light. Maybe it’s trivial, but as a lazy hiker, all of this defeated the purpose of having a rechargeable lamp to begin with. Sure, the lamp had lots of bells and whistles: nice and bright at 110 lumens, a strobe light, a red light, a dimmer feature. But who the hell really needs a strobe light? And why carry such a heavy light when we rarely if ever even hike at night?
For the PCT, we went all in on ultralight, and swapped to the Petzl e+lite. At a third of the weight, this light seemed far more appropriate for us, considering how little we would use it. The light wasn’t nearly as bright, offering only 50 lumens, but still offered a red light and varying degrees of brightness, and you can tilt or turn the light to point in the direction you want. Plus, it was super compact. While it was great in camp and that was mainly what we used it for, it was completely non-functional for hiking after dark. On the few occasions we got up before the sun rose or found ourselves hiking as darkness fell, the light was totally useless. I was beginning to think we’d never find a headlamp we’d be happy with.
Enter the Nitecore NU25, which we picked up for the CDT. When purchased from Litesmith, the lamp comes with an ultralight headband and weighs in at just over an ounce. Although imperceptibly heavier than the Petzl, it is brighter than the Black Diamond, with a 360 lumen output. It offers multiple settings including a floodlight and red light, and is USB rechargeable. However, unlike the Black Diamond, the charge actually lasts. I only charged the headlamp a handful of times the entire trail, but the battery never ran low and the light was always bright. Like other headlamps, you can tilt the light to adjust where it is pointed, and you can lock the buttons so it doesn’t turn on unintentionally inside your pack.
Finally, an ultralight headlamp that works! Bright enough to hike at night, light enough not to feel bad about not using it. I think this will be my go-to headlamp for a long while.