Today marks the autumn equinox, where in the Northern Hemisphere, the days become markedly shorter as we move toward winter. While that means less sweating during runs in the mid-afternoon sun, it also means we get to enjoy running in the dark. Whether that’s because you’re an early bird, up before sunrise as the leaves start to fall, or you prefer to crunch through new snow in the twilight after work, the darker time of year is here. As with any change of weather or season, it’s best to be prepared for the conditions while out on the trail, the condition at this time being a lack of light. iRunFar has covered the logistics and important details of night running in the article Into the Night: An Introduction to Running at Night.
One of the best pieces of gear you can add to your trail running kit is a high quality headlamp – one with reliable battery life, that sits comfortably on your head, and that’s easily stowable in a running pack for ventures that start early or end late. While you could get by with any old flashlight, a great headlamp gives you clear vision, a steady stride, and peace of mind. Because of technological innovations within brands like Petzl, you don’t have to look too hard to find the ideal running headlamp.
Founded in the mid-1970s by French cave explorer Fernand Petzl, the namesake company specializes in climbing gear and rescue equipment, but is most commonly known for their high quality headlamps. Ranging from single-light, multi-beam, high-quality-performance, and innovative models, Petzl makes a headlamp for just about any outdoor enthusiast’s need – including for trail runners and ultrarunners. While many runners start off with a classic, single-light model, those venturing out for overnight or multi-day adventures where weight, comfort, and rechargeability are key, Petzl offers technologically advanced and specialized lamps.
What Makes a Good Headlamp?
Before we dive into the details of some of Petzl’s new and exciting products, let’s explore what makes a great headlamp.
No one likes to run with uncomfortable gear, especially at night when you’re focused on every step you take on the trail. The comfort of a headlamp is one of the most important elements. Does it fit snugly — but not too snugly — on your head? Is it easily adjustable? Does it chafe your scalp or tug at your hair? Does it fit well over a headband or hat? Finding a light that is adjustable to and comfortable on your head is key.
The next element is visual comfort. Is the light dispersed evenly? Does the light bounce around while you move about on the trail? Are the lumens sufficient for the type of terrain you encounter? Your eyes are already tired from a lack of sleep, so straining even more to see that hidden root in front of you is no fun.
Long Burn Time
There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a run — or even worse, a race! — with a dead headlamp battery. It is likely a race-breaker, puts a damper on what could have been a nice nighttime moving meditation, and can be downright dangerous. Anyone who has run a 100-mile race is also intimately familiar with the need for a good headlamp — unless of course you’re Jim Walmsley at the Western States 100 who finishes before sunset. While short jaunts in the darkness on relatively flat terrain are manageable on a light with less battery power, if you’re en route to your first 100-mile finish, out in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in the winter, or taking on the next fastest known time, you want to be extra sure your battery will last longer than you’ll be running. Some lights use single-use batteries, while others operate with a rechargeable lithium ion batteries, and still others will work with either! Consider what best fits your needs for your specific adventure.
Easy to Use
Almost as bad as a dead headlamp battery is a headlamp that’s hard to operate. Ease of use is of utmost importance – to turn on and off, brighten or dim, turn on the red-light option, and adjust on your head or stow away – it’s almost impossible to do these things on the go if a headlamp doesn’t have easy-to-use and easy-to-reach buttons, switches, and straps.
So, Can Just Any Light Work?
Technically, yes. However, it all comes down to comfort, safety, and a product that can enhance performance. Just like you can bust out a 1990s Walkman for tunes, you can use any old headlamp, but that will be neither efficient, nor enjoyable. Consider what a higher quality headlamp gives you: rechargeability, different battery-power options, extra comfort, bounce-free light, and longer burn time… not to mention reflective elements and water resistance. All things to help you run safer, longer, and later — or earlier, you early birds.
With all this in mind, let’s dig into some of Petzl’s offerings. While the company does make simpler – but still excellent – headlamps like the ACTIK or TIKKA, the SWIFT RL, IKO CORE, and NAO+ are specifically made for your longest and hardest nights out on the trail.
Petzl SWIFT RL
Made with comfort, visibility, and longevity in mind, the Petzl SWIFT RL is an ultralight (100 grams), extremely bright (900 lumens at its brightest) headlamp that will power you through your longest endeavors: heading out for a pre-dawn, double-digit-miles training run; attempting an alternative-season fastest known time (like Pikes Peak in winter); or undertaking a-depth-of-winter ultramarathon (like the Arrowhead 135 Mile).
This headlamp is particularly battery-efficient, as its REACTIVE LIGHTING technology senses the ambient light around you, and automatically adjusts to the lumens necessary to see clearly, optimizing a mixture of spot and flood light. On the REACTIVE LIGHTING setting, the rechargeable battery lasts a minimum of five hours and can keep on shining for a few dozen hours if you’re using it in a landscape where some light is provided. You pre-dawn or nighttime runners who still need a headlamp on your half-lit neighborhood and city streets can rejoice, a headlamp like this will last for a couple weeks of running before a recharge is needed. The battery is a 2,350 MilliAmp hour rechargeable lithium ion battery.
Running at night can be magical and meditative, and a comfortable headlamp ensures that you can focus on what’s in front of you instead of what’s on your head. With soft but solid straps covered in reflective stitching, the SWIFT RL centers well on the head, making the ride comfortable, bounce-free, and highly visible. On the back of the head, the band splits to provide further support and steadying of the device. Those who wear ponytails may find that threading your ponytail between the straps reduces headlamp-hair interference and lends a bit more support to the headlamp.
A single button keeps it simple, no more fumbling with gloved hands to find the right one: push it to go through light intensity levels, or hold that button to cycle through the different modes.
Petzl IKO CORE
Where the SWIFT RL excels in long-distance comfort, the Petzl IKO CORE leads in innovation, keeping scores of tech-savvy trail runners satisfied.
At the core of this little package is the patented AIRFIT headband, which is semi-rigid, silicone-dominant, and highly adjustable using an integrated elastic tensioner. Both the lamp on the front and the battery pack on the back are thin, compact, and balanced in their layout. With all this, this ultralight (79 grams) headlamp nearly disappears onto the user’s head. If you’re someone who’s run into headache problems from the pressure of a headlamp on the front or back of your head, you might find the pressure-less sensation of the IKO CORE exactly what you’re looking for. And for those of you who love your running caps during warmer months, or headbands or cozy hats when it gets colder, this versatile little lamp will sit snugly onto all of these.
The CORE technology offers another piece to the innovation puzzle, in that the battery pack works with either Petzl’s CORE rechargeable lithium ion battery or 3 AAA batteries – Petzl calls this technology HYBRID CONCEPT. While the 1,250 MilliAmp hour rechargeable lithium ion battery delivers the most power for the brightest and longest-lasting IKO CORE performance, those of us with only rechargeable headlamps have all run into times where regular batteries would have made life easier — think adventures and travel in a foreign country or way in the backcountry where recharging just isn’t possible. Using that rechargeable CORE battery, the headlamp produces a maximum of 500 lumens, and battery life ranges from two to eight hours, depending on the setting used.
Once again, there is a single button to power this headlamp: push it for different amounts of light or hold it to cycle through different modes. Because of its unique design, the IKO CORE can also be slung around the neck, attached to a tent pole, or turned into a lantern when placed in its storage pouch. For all of our scrambling and peak-bagging enthusiasts, this headlamp is also specifically designed to fit on Petzl helmets.
If you’re a fan of nighttime endurance sports, then you’ve likely run across the Petzl NAO+, a headlamp existing in a category of its own for its ability to deliver strong light for a whole night of adventure. With up to 750 lumens, this light is bright enough for even the darkest trails and most technical terrain. Like the SWIFT RL, the NAO+ offers REACTIVE LIGHTING, adjusting the brightness based on the ambient light available. A variety of lighting modes offers a wide range of battery life, from highest-beam CONSTANT LIGHTING (1.5 hours) to the maximum autonomy REACTIVE LIGHTING (15 hours). A red flashing light on the back can be seen from over a kilometer away for safe running. A prominent lock button keeps the lamp from being turned on while in storage.
Another versatile feature of the NAO+ is the belt kit accessory, where users can move the rechargeable battery pack to the waist to reduce head weight and to keep it warm in the winter, the latter of which will prevent battery drain. Weighing in at 185 grams, it’s a bit heavier than other offerings, but the technology attached is worth it. With the accompanying MyPetzl Light app, you can pre-program your headlamp (including specific modes for trail running, mountain biking, and mountaineering), change the settings on your light, and see remaining battery life, all from your phone. A really fascinating element of the NAO+ is that you can also write a message in the MyPetzl Light app, which the headlamp translates into morse code! This could really come in handy in case of an emergency.
Whether you’re an after-work runner or multi-day high mountain adventurer, outdoor enthusiasts need the light that suits their specific activity. With a variety of styles, comforts, battery life, and innovative technologies, the SWIFT RL, IKO CORE, and the NAO+ have the specificity to meet your needs.