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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Thanked: 5

    Default Which Headlamp is best for adventure racing?

    Which Headlamp is best for adventure racing?

    The adventure racer is a special bread of outdoor enthusiast, with exceptional demanding requirements on their gear. The ideal headlamp should be light weight, very bright, durable and reliable, with run-times that last multiple nights. Sadly these requirements are mutually exclusive. The good news is as technologies improve it is possible to get a light that is better suited for the demanding adventure racer.

    When an aspiring adventure racer considerer a light they would prioritize there requirements as follows: First waterproofing, ruggedness and reliability second to that is runtime and then only then light output. This article will discuss the current state of technology. We will not so a cross brand compare of product but rather a technology summery.

    Light Emitters

    The first headlamps used incandescent (krypton, halogen-type) bulbs, which was soon replaced with the HID (High Intensity Discharge) types. They were able to produce about 2%-3.5%(1) of radiated energy, which equates to 13 – 24 lumen per watt.

    In recent years the LED has come to dominate the mobile lighting market for two good reasons.

    Today’s LED can convert 22%(1) of the energy to light which is equal to over 150 lumen per watt.
    Unlike incandescent filament lamps, LEDs are practically impervious to vibration.

    Battery Technology

    In the past head lamps use to be powered with Alkaline, Lead-Acid, NiCd and NiMH. They all have various benefits, but due to the high demand for a super power density storage for the mobile market, a new contender has emerged: the Lithium base batteries. The first where not much better than Alkaline long-life but today Lithium cells packs an incredible amount power.

    Battery Type Wh/kg Wh/liter
    Lead-acid 41 100
    Alkaline 110 320
    Lithium(2)(3) 297 560
    NiMH 95 300
    NiCad 39 140
    Lithium-ion (Low grade) 128 230
    Lithium-ion Panisonic 18650B (4) 260 739
    When it comes to energy per weight (Watt Hour / kg) there are two contenders: the Primary Lithium and the new Secondary Li-ion(Lithium-ion) batteries packs. Primary batteries can not recharge where secondary batteries can.

    The Lithium batteries should not be confused with li-ion batteries. Lithium are not rechargeable but do come in the standard AA and AAA sizes. Li-ion on the other hand is rechargeable but does not come in the standards battery sizes. The reason for this is that Li-ion has a cell voltage of 3.6V and if installed into devices that are designed for 1.5V will result in permanent damage.

    Temperature sensitivity

    This is one area that adventure racers set them self apart. Their gear must be temperature insensitive.

    LED’s ability to produce light improves as temperatures drops below Zero degree and therefore is an ideal choice.

    Both Lithium and Lithium-ion exhibit good temperature sensitivity response. There is a common misconception that Li-ion has a very small sensitive temperature range. This misconception results from Li-polymer, which is found in your cellphone, which cannot tolerate temperatures below 0 Deg C. On the other hand Li-ion range extends from -20 Deg C and up to 60 deg C.

    The primary Lithiums are quite exceptional in this area, having a temperature range of -40C to +60C and only a 10% reduction in capacity at 0 deg C. Compared to the Li-ion which has a range of -20 Deg C to 60 Deg and reduction in 33% in capacity at 0 Deg C. This is still significantly better than other chemistries. It is clear why Arctic explorers would prefer the Primary Lithium over others chemistries.

    Price consideration

    If price was not a factor then the Primary Lithium would win but at a price tag of over R20 per cell the running cost would amount to a very large number over a span of a year. Taking in to consideration that a high power head lamp with normal training will easily deplete a set in 8h – 12h. Compare that to Li-ion which can be recharged between 500-1000 times and the few advantages that AA lithium batteries have quickly become negated.

    Light design and configuration

    An adventure racer needs light to read maps, find beacons and see where they are going. They also need to be able to travel fast over rough terrain by running, cycling, canoeing, abseiling etc.

    Each adventure racer should find what works best for them, but the race itself and its demands should be taken in to consideration when selecting your gear.

    Our experiences have shown that a multi light approach is best. In the event that one fails, you have a backup, as well as the two lights complement each other. For example, a high power zoom headlamp with a forced high powered flash-light is a very good combination.


    Undoubtedly one of the most important lights to have. It frees your hands and it is instinctive to turn your head where you are looking, therefore providing light where you need it. With today’s technology there is no reason why this cannot be your primary light.

    Weight on head

    The only major draw back is the weight on your head. Most headlamps have the battery pack built into the light or as a battery pack on the back of the light. You need to find what you feel comfortable with. In our experience, over 300g gets uncomfortable. Wieght is the limitation for the runtime and brightness of the unit.

    Zoom lights vs Reflector lights

    In recent years the popularity of zoom headlamps has sky-rocketed. If you choose to use your headlamp as the primary light then we would advise against such lights. Here is a in-depth explanation on how it works. In short, the benefits of a zoom type light is the uniform beam it has in flood mode, which allows it to be ideal for trail running and map reading. The draw back is that it tends to waste a lot of light especially when in focus/zoomed mode. The misconception is that one can concentrate the light in a powerful beam when focused. When hunting for beacons or cycling the lack of reach becomes a major drawback in flood mode and the focused mode will not be able to compensate.

    For this reasons a secondary flash-light that has a very focused beam will compliment a zoom headlamp well.


    There are a huge variety of flash-lights to choose from. What we find to be important is to select a small flash-light that has a very concentrated beam as well as a wrist strap. When searching for beacons or pointing to far off formations at night, a laser type beam is ideal.

    Our preferred flash-light has a very, very deep reflector which concentrates all the light into a sharp and directional beam. It also make use of the Cree XM-L2 and the fatter higher capacity 26650 li-ion cell (Assault XM-L2)

    At then end you need a light that is small and robust with a focused beam that can run for very long.

    Cycle lights

    Today’s cycle lights are very well suited for adventure racing. The benefits of using a cycle light are: separate battery pack, larger batteries, higher outputs and more robust.

    Most cycle lights are supplied with a head strap or one can be bought separately. This allows you to put the heaver batteries packs in your backpack and reduce the weight on your head. Because they have larger battery packs it is possible to have brighter and longer running lights. For example the Extreme 1400k can run for 7h on high and over 42h on low mode. We find low mode to be more than sufficient for adventure racing, it produces over 1000 lumen and weights about 150g for the light and 250g for the battery. You will most likely forget you have a light on you head. The beam pattern of a cycle light tends to be mixed with a wide flood element and a hotspot, which is focused. A good quality cycle light tends to have better waterproofing than equivalent head lamps.

    Water proofing and robustness.

    One of the most impotent aspect of a light is its ability to withstand what ever nature can throw at you. There is a standard called the IP Code, Ingress Protection Rating. You can read the complete code here. But in short the higher the number the better. For example an IP68 is a lot better agents water ingress than IP23. This is one area where commercial head lights seems to fall short. An IP67 rating or better would be ideal. It states that the light can be submerged to 1 meter for 30min with out water ingress effecting its function. IP68 on the other hand can be submerged to a depth beyoned 1m which is specified by manufacturer.

    What we have fond is that bicycling lights seems to be in general better suited for bad weather conditions. But when purchasing a headlight make sure that the IP rating is better than IP67.

    Suggested lights:

    Based on the above we would recommend the following in this order.

    Extreme 1400K

    Extreme 1000

    Assault XM-L2

    Niteye HA30 (IP68)
    Light Up Your Adventures with Extreme Lights TM
    Cycling, Trail running, Motor Biking, Diving and much more.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Thanked: 159


    Nice article - will need to get a new proper headlamp for night trail running races.

    2010 Mazda BT-50 3.0 CRDi

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