Jouni Laaksonen 15.4.2019
Last week I told about a headlamp test I conducted for Finnish outdoor magazine Erä in 2014. Naturally the lamp models have changed after that, but I thought it might still be of some interest to know which lamps were the best ones – and how have they performed during these five years after the test.
The person on right has Led Lenser SEO7R, and the person on left uses Petzl Tikka RXP.
As an eager hiker, I want my headlamp to
- be lightweight and compact
- have a mode of a long beam of light
- give good performance when used in close quarters, like reading a map or book
- have as good battery duration as possible, also in freezing temperatures
- be relatively easy to use
- and if it has some handy extra features it doesn’t hurt
With this in mind, and with the weights for each category I told in the previous post, the top four models (out of 19 test lamps) were:
- Petzl Tikka RXP
- Led Lenser SEO 7R
- Coast HL7
- Olight S10 Baton
Also the next couple of lamps were very good, but as I didn’t happen to buy them, I’ll omit them from here. Also I didn’t buy Coast HL7, but a friend of mine did, and I know he has been happy with it all these five years.
Here’s the top part of the review table. How the categories were weighed, see last week’s post. 5 was the highest possible score.
After six years of use
(As the test period was almost one year, it adds up to six years of use now. )
Olight S10 Baton is super lightweight and small, it weighs only 67 grams! It fits to every pocket, is easy to use, is totally waterproof (IPX8) and has good beam for both long distance and close quarters use. Battery life is average.
After six years of use the only negative things are the same as I stated in the test review: it is a bit of a problem that the lamp uses CR123 battery, which is not found in every grocery store. The biggest problem is that the lamp is essentially a hand-held torch which is converted to a headlamp with a headband. This is okay in every other aspect, but the shape of the lamp forces you to wear the lamp on the side of your head. This means you cannot direct the beam as versatilely as in the “real” headlamps.
Olight S10 Baton on left, Fenix HL50 on right.
Right after we published the test, we got a brand new headlamp model, Fenix HL50. It was not part of the large test, so it did not get to the same battery duration tests as the others, but it felt like it was almost a copy of Olight S10 Baton in many aspects. But with two great improvements: 1) Fenix HL50 uses also battery CR123, but with an extra part you can use it with AA battery. This is very handy. 2) And this lamp is held on your forehead, not on the side of your head, and this makes turning the beam up and down easy.
Fenix HL50, it’s easy to turn the beam of light up and down as you wish.
Fenix HL50 was almost my favourite lamp for five years. It’s so small I took it with me everywhere. But during this winter the lamp turned unreliable. It used the battery out when stored in a drawer, switched off. This was remedied by turning the battery upside down while stored, and turned the right way only when in use, though this is a bit inconvenient. Then it started another symptom: it wouldn’t switch on, no matter how many times I pushed the on button. At last I took it to a repair man. He examined the lamp and told me that the printed circuit board was faulty. It could not be replaced or repaired. So, to my big disappointment this lamp is now useless.
Led Lenser SEO 7R on left and Petzl Tikka RXP on right.
Led Lenser SEO7R is also very lightweight (93 grams) and small. It has a mode for a very long beam, and it also serves nicely in close quarters. It wouldn’t hurt to have one more dimmer mode, though. The lamp has good battery life overall, and it was a pleasant surprise in –30°C battery test. A plus is that the lamp has a rechargeable battery, but that can whenever be replaced with three normal AAA batteries, if you cannot recharge during your travels. The lamp is waterproof (IPX6), and there’s also blink and red mode if you like them.
With Led Lenser SEO 7R it’s very easy to change from narrow and long beam to wide and shorter one.
After six years of use I am still happy with this lamp. The lamp claims to have some kind of reactive technology (more on that below), but this feature does not really work. Still, I use the lamp a lot and I love the long slim beam that can easily be rotated to a wide softer beam. The lock mechanism of the lid of the battery case got broken a couple of years ago. I fixed it with rubber band and a small fishing tool, as you can see on the pic. The lamp works fine, but I suspect it isn’t IPX6 any more. 🙂
The lid of the battery case of Led Lenser SEO7R does not “click to shut” any more, so I fixed a rubber band around the lamp. The lamp performance is as good as ever.
Petzl Tikka RXP has reactive technology. I was dubious about this at first. Why would I want the lamp to decide whether I need a longer beam or a dimmer one? But soon I had to acknowledge that the Petzl reactive technology really works great! It is handy that the beam is long when you look far away, and when you turn your head towards the map, the beam dims as quickly as you turn your head. The reactive technology takes into account both the distance you are looking to, and the lightness of your surroundings. (I still think lamps without reactive technology can perform extremely well, but I don’t have anything negative to say on Petzl’s reactive technology.) This lamp is not quite as lightweight as the others mentioned here, but 112 grams is still not very much.
Also you can by yourself, with help of a computer and USB cable, custom different modes into the lamp. With factory customization the close quarters use was not very good, but I found from the customization tool a special close quarters mode, without reactive mode, and it’s perfect if I for example want to read the guest book of a wilderness hut. So, in my lamp the first modes are now 1. reactive longish beam, suitable for walking or skiing in normal dark conditions, 2. close quarters wide and non-reactive mode. Further on (meaning some more clicks on the buttons) there are many other modes, like longer reactive beam, red beam and so on, but these I use seldom.
Petzl Tikka RXP was one of the two best models in battery duration tests, both overall and –30°C. Impressive performance.
After six years of use the only slight problem that has occurred is that sometimes, not often at all, the lamp switches off right after I have switched it on. It has never switched off later than right after switching on, so I don’t see this as a big problem.
The other negative thing is what I stated in the test review back in 2014: The buttons (there are two of them), are way too small. They are okay-ish with bare fingers, but with mittens you are helpless with them. However, this is the lamp I use most. It’s highly reliable and good in every aspect (except the buttons).
Upper pic: The on/off buttons in both Led Lenser SEO 7R (blue and white) and Petzl Tikka RXP (orange and white) are easy enough to use with bare fingers. Lower pic: The on/off button is not too large in Led Lenser SEO7R, but you can use with gloves. The small buttons (one on top, the other on side) of Petzl Tikka RXP are difficult to hit with even gloves, let alone mittens.
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Test policy: I get no money or any other benefits from mentioning brands in this post. I got paid for my journalistic work by magazine Erä when I conducted the test I mention above, but this piece I wrote just because I wanted to write it.
2 thoughts on “Best headlamps for a hiker”
Was happy to read your article in the Pilgrim this week.
I’d sent them your details when they had asked for possible contributors. I hope you didn’t mind! 😀
Hi Kate! No, on the contrary, thank you for spreading the word! And yes, I indeed wrote an article to the new UK based outdoor magazine ‘The Pilgrim’, https://www.thepilgrim.org.uk/, about Finland as a hiking destination. I just returned from a week long journey to Lapland, so I haven’t had time to read all of the issue, let alone to mention it here. (This blog post here I wrote already a couple of weeks ago and just scheduled it to be published today.)
So, if anyone is interested, see the link above! The online issue is available from the subpage ‘Shop’ at a price of 3 pounds.