Camping - Trekking Headlamp

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How to choose the right headlamp?

When night falls, whether it's for a trail session, a ski touring outing, a mountain hike with bivouac or even an extended bike or mountain bike training session, a headlamp is essential for seeing clearly and practicing safely. It's essential to choose quality equipment suited to your outdoor activities at night. However, not all headlamp models are created equal, with differences in power, autonomy and recharging mode (rechargeable or battery-powered). To make the right choice, it's important to understand the main features of these lamps, as well as your own needs according to your practice. Whether you're a trail runner, a skier, a hiker or a cyclist, we'll help you decipher all the elements you need to take into account when choosing your headlamp. With the right equipment, nothing will stop you at night.

How it works

Let's start by looking at what makes up a quality headlamp. The first thing to consider is the type of power supply used. There are two options: rechargeable headlamps, fitted with a battery, and battery-powered headlamps. The second important element is the circuit board, which regulates the lamp's lighting power. Finally, it's good to know that the best headlamp models use LEDs, a particularly effective technology for providing long-lasting light.

What are the criteria?

LED lighting

LED lighting has become the standard for headlamps, thanks to its shock resistance, durability and incredible energy efficiency. Although the LEDs used are generally equivalent from one brand to another, there are two main types of LED: unfocused and focused. The former diffuse light over short distances, while focused LEDs provide powerful illumination over longer distances. Some models even feature both types of LED on the same product, offering greater versatility.

However, it's important to note that not all LED headlamps are created equal, especially when it comes to eye hazard. Light-emitting diodes have the particularity of emitting a certain amount of blue light, which can be potentially harmful to the eyes. Three levels of risk have been identified, each linked to the distance between the light source and the eye. Thus, headlamps in group 0 are risk-free, while the risk is considered low for group 1, moderate for group 2, and high for group 3 (even for momentary use). Manufacturers are now required to indicate the risk group of their models, so you can avoid choosing LED headlamps with a group 3 risk, which are considered potentially harmful.

Rechargeable or battery-powered headlamps?

Although USB rechargeable headlamps are very popular, battery-powered headlamps are not without interest. Some of them can provide up to 200 hours of autonomy, so you'll be able to enjoy many a night's outing in total peace of mind. What's more, for the same size, batteries offer about twice the runtime, making them an advantage. However, battery-operated headlamps have one major advantage: they can be recharged as soon as they are discharged, avoiding problems if you don't have spare batteries, for example. Some manufacturers even offer a hybrid solution that combines the advantages of both types of power supply, allowing battery operation with the option of using batteries when the battery is discharged.

What's more, some headlamp models offer batteries offset to the back of the head, or even sometimes to the hips, although this feature is less common. This is generally used for lamps with heavier and/or bulkier batteries.

Power: lumens

The power of your headlamp, expressed in lumens, plays a crucial role in ensuring comfortable vision during your activity. This is an essential selection criterion, as lumen output has a direct impact on the brightness projected by the headlamp. The higher the lumen output, the brighter the light. So it's important to take lumen output into account when choosing your headlamp, depending on your activity. For example, if you need lighting for camping, a headlamp with a wattage of less than 100 lumens will be more than sufficient. On the other hand, if you're a regular mountaineer, you'll need a powerful headlamp with over 200 lumens. However, contrary to what you might think, it's important to note that lighting distance is not directly related to lumens, but rather to the shape of your headlamp's beam.

Let's talk beam and distance!

It's essential to distinguish between lumen output and lighting distance when choosing your headlamp. Illumination distance depends primarily on the shape of the light beam. There are wide beams and focused beams. To see things close up, a focused beam is more effective than a wide beam. However, a wide beam may be preferable when hiking in the mountains at night, for example. Your specific use and needs are therefore decisive when it comes to choosing the right headlamp. Fortunately, many models today offer both wide and focused beams, to suit different activities. Whatever type of beam you choose, bear in mind that it will affect the headlamp's autonomy to a greater or lesser extent.

And in terms of autonomy

It's important to take headlamp autonomy into account when choosing a headlamp, as it gradually diminishes over time. Autonomy can vary according to the lighting mode used. On maximum lighting mode, autonomy is rapidly reduced, while on intermediate or low mode, it can last several tens of hours. Autonomy is a crucial criterion, depending on your intended use. Some manufacturers, like Petzl, have developed electronically-controlled consumption modes to meet this need.

Constant lighting" mode maintains constant lighting power over time. However, this leads to a drastic reduction in autonomy, as a lamp in constant lighting mode lights for four times less time than in conventional consumption mode. On the other hand, it always retains its maximum output, regardless of the amount of energy available.

The "Reactive lighting" mode, on the other hand, is equipped with a brightness sensor that adjusts lighting intensity according to conditions and your field of vision. When you look into the distance in a dark environment, the lighting intensity increases. On the other hand, when you lower your head, the luminous flux decreases. This lighting mode is particularly appreciated for intense sporting activities, such as trail running, as it adapts ideally to your needs at crucial moments.

Some advanced models combine the advantages of these two technologies, offering high power when needed and an economy mode that provides low light for the longest possible period. In addition to autonomy, another parameter not to be overlooked when choosing your headlamp is water resistance.

Waterproof or not?

For outdoor sports enthusiasts, it's essential to take water resistance into account when choosing a headlamp. Rain can come without warning during your outings in the mountains, so it's important to ensure that the headlamp you choose is sufficiently waterproof. In general, all headlamps are relatively waterproof, but the level of water resistance can vary from model to model and is indicated by an IPX standard. Most products have a water resistance level between IPX4 and IPX6 (the maximum level being IPX8). It is therefore advisable to check this feature before making your final choice on a specific model.

Different lighting modes

Most headlamps offer a variety of lighting modes that can be selected by pressing the ignition button. The two main modes are usually flood and spot, making the headlamp very versatile. However, there are other lighting modes that may be particularly relevant to your use, such as :
  • Power mode for enhanced visibility in fast-moving sports.
  • An economy mode for extended autonomy.
  • Red mode to avoid dazzling those around you.
  • A flashing mode, on the front or rear depending on the model, to improve your visibility.
These different modes allow you to adapt the lighting of your headlamp to your specific needs during outdoor activities.
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