Many people consider the headlamp exclusively as a piece of outdoor gear. It's for setting up a tent, or craning over a stove, or illuminating a path when you've underestimated the hike back to camp.
But I like to stash headlamps in various drawers and crannies around my Brooklyn apartment the way asthmatics do inhalers — you just never know when you're going to need some emergency hands-free lighting. I still use one when I'm in the backcountry, of course, I just think the applications extend well beyond that. In the last year alone, I've used a headlamp to build a bed, retrieve my dog's toys from under the couch, make shadow puppets, man a grill, grope my way to the bathroom without stubbing a toe, set up an entertainment system, search for lost hardware and annoy the sh*t out of my (perhaps now partially blind) girlfriend.
In other words, I regard headlamps (or torches, which has a nice Tolkienian ring to it) as a full-sail substitute for flashlights and lanterns in pretty much any scenario. Why waste a hand on lighting your way when you can utilize your noggin for same, thus freeing up your mitts for whatever perils and challenges the world throws at you?
The next question, then, is which headlamp, and why? Until recently, I had two go-tos: a Petzl and a Black Diamond. They are both perfectly adequate and good value for their sub-$50 price tag, but their functionality and — more importantly — range are both limited.
Enter BioLite, a company we hold in the highest regard for not only their entire fleet of outdoor gadgetry (portable firepits, solar-powered lighting kits, rocket stoves, etc.), but also their commitment to supplying emerging markets around the world with a renewable energy resource.
Their latest product: a $49, 330-lumen headlamp now funding on Kickstarter that lays waste to anything currently available for under $80.
Why I love this headlamp, in four statements I hold to be self-evident:
- Look at all these lighting settings! You've got red flood, white flood, white spot and white strobe. But at least two of those (white flood and spot) are dimmable, which according to our math, adds up to approximately infinity discrete lighting modes.
- It won't jostle around like a tipsy coed on a mechanical bull. BioLite are by no means pioneers of the lie-flat fixture (the Black Diamond I mention above has a similar feature), which means the unit sits flush against your forehead at all times, even while articulated (if you've used a headlamp in which the entire frame articulates, you know what a godsend this is). But beyond that, BioLite has taken pains to make the entire rig as minimal and balanced as possible: the power source is in the back (acting as a counter-weight to the light), the light is integrated into the headband and there are no abrasion points. All in, this means it fits like a second skin.
- It can practically light up a football field. The flood setting (think wide angle, less range) will fill out any room this side of an auditorium, but it's the spot setting that really impresses: at max brightness, it'll throw light up to 75m in front of you. (There is, of course, a tradeoff for longevity: at the brightest setting, the light is good for 3.5 hours, at the dimmest setting, it'll last for 40.)
- The battery is rechargeable. Hooray for less waste!
And the one thing we didn't like:
- The light gets pretty warm after extended use. Especially on brighter settings. Not singe-your-bangs warm, but definitely enough that we'd consider wearing it over a bandanna or hat if you plan on using it all night long.
The BioLite headlamp is well beyond its goal on Kickstarter, but you can still claim one at the introductory price of $49 (or $95 for two) right here. There are four colors available, and orders are expected to ship in time for the holidays.