The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 138: Light Lights

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Lights are getting lighter and brighter, because of the development of bright L-E-Ds. This week on The WildeBeat; Light Lights.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one thirty eight.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: There's no doubt that, in the past few years, the one piece of outdoor gear that's improved most dramatically in performance versus weight is lighting. High effeciency light emitting diodes, called L-E-Ds, have made thiese improvements possible. Three volunteer testers from Backpack Gear Test dot ORG recently completed reviews of the latest in L-E-D lights. Here are their reviews.

STEVE: Our first tester is Larry Kirschner from Columbus, Ohio. As in all backpack Gear test reviews, Larry starts out telling us a little about his backpacking experience.

LARRY KIRSCHNER: My experience with backpacking has been primarily through the boy scouts, which I got involved with because of my sons and my daughter. I try to get out seven or eight weekends a year. In general I like to travel in some comfort, so I'm not a spartan packer by any means. I think the places that I like to go to include the Zaleski State Forest and the Wayne National Forest. Those are really the nicest areas I think that I've been to.

LARRY KIRSCHNER: The gear I tested is the Coleman four-double-A Packaway Lantern. And this is a small lantern that's for purposes of backpacking. It actually folds down to a fairly small size, just a couple inches cube shape, and when the lantern's turned on it's expandable. It's made out of a metalized plastic, it's really a hard-shell coated plastic. The batteries are stored in the bottom part of the lantern, and the top part, which opens up, is a hard plastic with light bulb suspended from the top. Coleman claims that it's the brightness of a three watt L-E-D, with the battery draw of a one watt L-E-D. So it actually provides light for a good amount of time considering the weight and size of the lantern. I think the unique features of this lantern are the fact that it's really quite small and compact. My testing plan for the product was just to carry it with me on all the backpacks I had during the time of the test. I didn't really use it too much in the rain, so I don't have a sense of how waterproof it was. I think the first thing to notice is the fact that the lantern really is quite bright. It actually has two different settings. There's a high setting, and a low setting. The high setting I only used when I had the lantern sitting out by itself as I was setting up a tent in the dark or sitting around in the dark. The low setting provided plenty of light inside the tent. The only thing that I noticed about the lantern is that the light production is a little bit asymmetrical. The lantern itself is a bit of a rectangular shape. Although the light reflector is circular, so there's long sides of the lantern and short sides. The light production from the long sides is great, but the light coming out of the short sides is much reduced compared to the long sides. What this does is it gives a good area light, but is not such a great light source for providing general light within a tent. It took me about thirteen days of camping to run out the batteries, which I thought was really a pretty long time. I had no problems with light bulb, no problems with any of the casing, or the glassed areas either. It really held up very well. I think this product would be a great choice for anyone that's camping in the backcountry, particularly areas where open fires are not permissible, which is most wildlife areas at this point. I think one of the nicest things about this lantern is that it provides good area light. I would not recommend this product for someone that only had room for one source of light on a trip, for example, if you were going into the backcountry for an extended period of time where every ounce of weight was important, then I think another lighting device like a headlamp would be more efficient.

STEVE: Our second tester is Roger Caffin from Sydney, Australia.

ROGER CAFFIN: Here in Australia we call our backcountry the bush. People who go walking in the bush, we call them bush walkers. I started bush walking at age fourteen in the boy scouts. I took up rock climbing at the university and there I met the girl who became my wife and my permanent walking partner. Now I'm sixty two and semi-retired, and my wife and I always go walking together. My wife and I prefer long hard trips by ourselves. About a week long in Australia, and about three months long in Europe or the U.K. Here in Australia we have a couple of favorite areas. Wollemi National Park near Sydney is one. A bit to the south of that we have the big and more mountainous Kanangra-Boyd National Park.

ROGER CAFFIN: The Princeton Tec One Headlamp is a typical light emitting diode headlamp. It's a box mounted on a little elastic band. The headband is about an inch wide, and soft. The lamp's on a tilt mount with some positive detents so it holds its position. It has a yellow rubber are on top which is the switch. it is flush, but you can feel the sticky rubber in the dark. There are three different brightness settings, from very bright with a short life to a lower level but with a fairly long battery life. It takes three triple-A batteries. These go in from the back. There's a large screw which opens the battery compartment. Fairly easy to operate. Most of the testing in the bush was in the spring and summer time, and not in the rain; we were having a drought at the time. The bright level is very bright. I found that a bit of a surprise the first time I turned it on. That brightness level might be useful for walking on a track, but it was much too bright for use in the tent in the evening, and not really bright enough to go night walking in the bush, off track. It is not a fragile piece. The tilt mechanism is quite stable, I found. The headlamp seems fairly weathertight, although I didn't submerge it in water. It copped a bit of rain but that was all. Changing the batteries was easy enough, although you obviously have to insert them the right way around. I was able to do this once in the dark, by feel. I did have to get used to using the sticky rubber on-switch, especially in the dark, but it does work OK once you get used to it. I do wish they'd arranged the switching sequence differently. When you turn it on at first it goes to the brightest setting. That leaves me dazzled. I wish it would turn on at the dimmest setting, and then let me ramp the brightness up, if I want. That would be so much more user-friendly. In my opinion it is too bright for camp use. It might be useful if you want to go night walking on tracks, but not through the bush, or for making midnight alpine starts. On the other hand, I did find it quite useful around home when I was doing maintenance under the house or up in the attic, or working under the car. And these days, that's where I use it; not bush walking. So it's a nice unit, but I don't really think it's suitable for lightweight walkers.

STEVE: I'd like to thank Roger for providing the recording of his review. Our third and final reviewer is Tim Tessier from Greensboro, North Carolina.

TIM TESSIER: I started backpacking as a child with my father in boy scouts, and now I hike very regularly with sixteen year old son, and we routinely take twenty mile weekend hikes about once a month, year-round in the southern highlands of North Caroline, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. So we're out in all kinds of weather and all kinds of conditions.

TIM TESSIER: We tested the Black Diamond Icon Headlight. It is an L-E-D headlight. It has basically two modes. It has what they call a super-bright L-E-D mode, which features two bright L-E-Ds, it provides a wider beam, and then is also has what they call a three watt L-E-D mode, which is a single, bright light in the middle which provides a more focused, narrow beam that's you'll see farther into a distance and so forth. The Black Diamond Icon has a light element in the front and the batteries are in a separate compartment in the back. Fits on the back of your head. The entire thing, with the batteries, weighs about six point eight ounces, and the light element can be articulated up and down so you can adjust the beam to use it more easily. It uses three triple-A batteries. My testing plan for this product involved number of night hikes, but then the balance of the test plan involved a period of months of using the headlight on a regular basis, after dark, doing such chores as pitching a tent, cooking dinner. There's a single button that controls the light. And you press that halfway in to change the mode from bright to medium to dim, and then you click it all the way to change from super-bright L-E-D to three watt L-E-D. And particularly when wearing gloves that's very easy to just turn the light all the way off, or turn it all the way to the next mode, when all you really wanted to do was dim it a little bit. I found that the light, if you had it on super-bright L-E-D mode, the wide light just bounced back into your face like using the bright setting on car headlights in the fog. But when I switched it into the three watt mode so the beam was more narrow and focused, I could see the trail, I could see where I was going. It was not nearly so reflective back into my eyes. The batteries that I'm using currently are the batteries that came with the product. I've used it for about twenty five total hours so, in terms of what the long-term battery life will be, I really can't report on that. I think the product would be an ideal choice for someone who is not obsessed with weight. Who is more involved with having a product that's going to give them the ability to throw a light for a certain distance, for them to have the ability to see well while they're either in camp or on the trail at night.

STEVE: My thanks to Larry Kirschner, Roger Caffin, Tim Tessier, and the editors at Backpack Gear Test, for making this edition possible. Please remember that these opinions are those of the individual contributors, and don't necessarily reflect those of Backpack Gear Test, or of The WildeBeat. Backpack Gear Test is looking for qualified volunteer testers. To get qualified, you start out by writing reviews of gear you already own. After that, you could be offered free gear to review.

STEVE: We'd like to hear your comments or questions about the gear mentioned on this show, or about anything else we do on the Wildebeat. You can send e-mail to comments at WildeBeat dot net, or call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. To find out more about becoming a tester, or to read the original text reviews of these products, please follow the links on our web site.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Please click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Insitute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one thirty eight. Thank you for listening.

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