This March, Princeton Tec will unveil a new outdoor/all-purpose headlamp that should hit the sweet spot for weekend warriors and backpackers looking to light up the backcountry (or brave a power outage). The design of the Vizz itself is nearly idiot-proof, with one big button—and that’s about it. Press the button once and you illuminate two ultra-bright red LEDs, press it twice and get dual ultra-bright white LEDs. You can also hold the button down to cycle through the modes, which includes a 150-lumin max-bright LED that can illuminate up to 90 feet. The Vizz is waterproof down to one meter for up to half an hour, and runs on three AAA batteries—with a built-in power meter to let you how much juice you’ve got left in the estimated 160-hour run time; a low-battery indicator also triggers when you’re down to 20 percent.
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www.petzl.com, 6 ounces
“Throw away all your old flashlights and headlamps,” said our tester after taking the NAO on a three-week road trip. “The reactive-lighting NAO is the only headlamp you’ll need, or want to use.” We don’t take the word “revolutionary” lightly, but the new NAO headlamp is worth getting excited about. In contrast to other lamps, the 400-lumen NAO has a beam that automatically adjusts to focus on your target. If you’re pouring over topo maps, the light adjusts to a wide beam with low output. When you look out the tent fly to see if it’s a raccoon or bear rustling by the picnic table, the beam focuses, with greater light intensity for—drum roll please—a distance of 300 feet. Other advantages include fewer manual adjustments and a better burn time than any other headlamp we’ve tested. The NAO comes with a single rechargeable lithium battery that’s guaranteed for 300-plus charges—we didn’t do the math, but that’s a lot of alkaline batteries you won’ t need to buy. Each charge provides nearly five hours of use in high Reactive mode (the auto-adjust) or eight hours in low Reactive. You can set the lamp on a constant function, which disables the sensor, but cuts significantly into the battery life, as the Reactive power setting really does make power use more efficient. The rechargeable battery can be replaced with 2 AAA batteries, but our testers swear that the rechargeable battery ups the lamp’s performance. We were leery of the downloadable battery management program that allows you to adjust the light intensity, burn time, and beam distance on a computer, but are happy to report that even techno-troglodytes found it easy (and fun) to customize the lamp’s performance. The easiest option is using the custom profiles pre-programmed to enhance performance for specific activities like climbing, running, trail running, and hiking. Two features worth noting: a big off-on knob that’s easy to manipulate with gloves or in the dark and a water-resistant shell that never leaked, even during a monster Texas monsoon that one tester encountered while night hiking up a mesa near Lajitas.
www.snowpeak.com, 2.3 ounces (without batteries)
Hand’s-free lighting is a no-brainer industry standard, and the headlamp tech race is mostly focused on brighter lights and intuitive innovations that adjusts a headlamp’s brightness as you look at different things. But we like how Snow Peak has taken a different approach and addressed the collective desire for some ambient light when you no longer need to light at the point at which you’re specifically look. When you’re done with your targeted lighting needs, just pop open the rubber mounting on the 2.2-inch-diameter light and you get 180-degree glow, perfect for mellow light in a tent or at base camp. Four light modes—high, low, strobe, and variable, which dims as you hold the power button—offers a variety of moods, and a hook on the back of the strap lets the lantern dangle off a tree branch or the inside of a tent. Then, when you need to shift back to headlamp mode, push in the rubber ball and you’ve got directional lighting. It runs on three AAA batteries, with 140 hours on low (eight lumens). It won’t win any svelte design awards, and when testing the head lamp, it would occasional pop into lantern mode. We could still see, of course. But those who plan on using it mostly as a headlamp would likely prefer a more fail-safe option.
princetontec.com, 2.75 ounces
These economical little lights come in as many color combos as you can imagine. Each one can be individually customized with ten choices of colors for the body, end caps ,and brackets. Go with a conservative blue or green, or add some pink, orange, or yellow to make sure your hiking partner doesn’t accidently grab the wrong light. The headlamps are made in Trenton, New Jersey—turn-around time is about three weeks. The lightweight headlamps run on three AAA batteries and have a burn time of 146 hours. Dive in with your kids and get them excited for the trail before you even head out. Coordinate colors to match your favorite jacket, the color of your eyes, or to match the family vehicle, and cast new light on the outdoor world.
princetontec.com, 2.25 ounces
Sending my two kiddie campers out into the dark with their very own headlamps was a big moment, albeit one tinged with a degree of sadness. Gone were the days of haggling over my pair grownup headlamps, which never quite fit properly and were always too clunky for little heads, but also the sense that I was responsible for doing everything around camp—including getting them to the washhouse when nature called. The Princeton Tec Bot Headlamp buys as well as bestows outdoor independence in a package that’s versatile, durable, and fun. They come in bright, vivid colors, and the head strap is both comfortable and designed for younger noggins, with a light unit that’s easy for small hands to operate and manipulate. Two AAA batteries power three LED beam settings (high, low, and strobe), topping out at 15 lumens—which is more than enough light to assure no imaginary hobgoblins or ogres pay your campground an unwanted visit.