Headlamps, Flashlights, Chargers, Power Packs, Batteries
Since the first time we skiied above the Bow Hut in 1972 on a full moon night, we have been hooked on night skiing to this day. The equipment has come a way since then, the experience has remained the same:
While the major recreational headlamp manufacturer's have not been keeping abreast of the technology, the headlamps we have listed here exceed the needs of those souls who fall into that user group. So now we find ourselves preaching to the converted. Most recreational users never need to worry about patient assessment parameters, RFI Shielding, multiple burials and flux lines, IPX8, or the contents of their crash kits. While others might be fussing about the best contents for a Bug Out Bag, or the best tools for their weekend survival during a Zombie Apocalypse, those humble souls involved in our industry usually try to make it home to their family every night via Rib, Road or Rotor. While so engaged, have had to compromise on a very important piece of equipment, a purpose built headlamp assembly. So we decided to try and address that situation. And we're still trying, but we're closer than any of the other website we've found so far, so please bear with us.
Until recently the best headlamp I could find locally was the Princeton Tech Apex. It is a Weekend Warrior light that uses heavy NiMh AA cells, unless you want to use lighter, but very expensive AA Lithium energizers. I've had to send 3 of them back to the manufacturer in 2 years. The last time the hinge assembly broke when I was coming out of the backcountry in the dark, and I had to fix it with gaffer tape. In the winter, the cool white wavelength is not good for revealing terrain features, the old emitter sucks power fromn the batteries, and the throw spill ratio of the reflector can not keep up with a descent speed greater than 10km/hr.
Snow reflects short wave radiation and absorbs longer waves. That's why fog lights are yellow for better visibility. And that's why you should not be skiing at night or participating in avalanche rescue at night with a headlamp that is a 'throw' light with a high wavelength tint (which unfortunately most of the common recreational headlamps are). Ideally, you would be using a neutral white light with a wavelength <4500K that puts up a flood 'wall'. (Cool white LEDs make it very difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between brown and red shades on the snowpack or ground, and assess patient vitals such as cyanosis or cap refill.) Then, in an ideal world, if you had to egress down a trail at speed, you'd be able to change the flood pattern to a 'throw' beam with adequate peripheral spill that exceeds 300 lumens while maintaining the neutral tint that will help you identify potential terrain hazards by not reflecting all that light back at you. Again, a neutral tint also renders colors at their most natural state (which is the level your brain was trained at during the day) is used to working at for identifying distant hazards.
Now back to that venerable Princeton Tech Apex and some facts. The XM-L emitter used in the Spark lights is 20% more efficient than the popular XP-G emitter used in many high end lights. Wondering what my Princeton Tech had, I assumed it may have an XP-G. Not even. The Apex sports a Luxeon III emitter. In fact some die-hard cavers were doing a frankenstein mod to upgrade the Apex to an XP-G. See our spec's on the SX5 in order to compare the closest Spark and see the differences. The latest XM-L2 emitters are 20% more efficent than the XM-L.
So we went off with that as being some of our criteria, and eventually found an relatively new manufacturer of esoteric headlamp designs some of which specifically address the needs outlined above. There are cars from Mercedes and Volvo, there are watches from Rolex and Tag Heuer, and there are lights from SureFire and Spark. For example, whereas other headlamps are made from reinforced plastic or 6061 aluminum, the Sparks are made from 7075 aluminum. Read on to see the other characteristics that set the Sparks apart from the others.
Credits and resource links
A note on the image sources used. Most of the images we have used for reviewing the lights have been selected from publicly available sources and downloaded to our server so we do not leech their bandwidth by linking directly to their source files. These sources include:
- Google Image Bank,
- Candle Power Forums,
- BudgetLight Forums,
- Going Gear,
- flashlight reviews.ca,
- mtbr.com (night riding with ST6)
Q: How do I decide the best lumen capacity for my activity?
A: Lumen ratings of LED lights are pretty subjective (compared to lightbox readings for example), but I can share a rule of thumb that I use for mountain biking or skiing that can give a rough ballpark figure to use as a starting point. (Activities such as climbing uphill, avalanche rescue, camping, or ice climbing are simple: the most powerfull flood beam you have at your disposal). For downhill you need a spot beam with good spill. If you are on a narrow trail you need enough space to find a feasible stop zone before you encounter the obstacle. As a base line start with a flat incline at 5km/hr = 80 lumens (l). For every 5 degrees of extra gradient add 50l. For every additional 5 km/hr speed add 100l. So for a typical valley bottom ski egress where 10 degree slopes are encountered you may typically want around 280l. If the terrain is undulating you would want the ability to easily toggle intensity so save battery life on the flatter parts. Come back in the summer and bike that same trail, you may want the ability to sustain 500l for long enough to make the trail. At that point you will be looking at an 18650 based light. (Also may experienced mountain bikers find that a preferred setup is to have a flood mounted on their handlebars and a spot on their helmet.)