Few bits of outdoor gear have evolved as quickly in recent years as flashlights, so deciding which is the best mountaineering headlamp has been a bit of a moving target. A couple of years ago a classic headlights such as the Petzl Zoom would have been at the peak of technology.
When one looks at some of the performance figures on these old headlights you can see how dated they have become. The Zoom, for instance weighed 170gr and claimed to throw a 100 metre beam. But that would only be with really fresh batteries (with a claimed life of more than 5 hours, but the beam would have been pretty sickly by then.) And remember having to carry spare bulbs! That seems right out of the steam age now.
In the past 5-6 years it has been knocked off its perch, first by hybrid designs that incorporated LEDs for low-energy up close work with a powerful halogen bulb to throw a beam. Good examples of these would have been the Black Diamond Polar Star or the Petzl Myo or Duo (which was actually made for caving) families of lights. These were a good compromise between the sort of lamp you need around camp and the ones that are strong enough to get off a mountain at night, if needed. Their drawback, however, was that when on full beam they would burn through battery-time just as quickly as the older lamps.
So it is not surprising that even those are looking a little dated now when compared with more modern lights that are now run on LEDs alone. Many new lights will put out a lot of light for 30 hours or more and 150 or 200 hours at lower outputs. And the range of choices has gone way up with half a dozen excellent manufacturers offering great lamps. Even mid-range lamps with built in battery packs like my favorite the Petzl Tikka XP can do a lot of the work that their big brothers used to do.
Choosing the best mountaineering headlamp
Before deciding what is the best you really have to decide on the use and conditions. A small micro-weight lamp is great for around camp but useless on the slope. Similarly a belt-pack lamp may be overkill if you aren’t going to be in freezing temperatures. That said here are a couple of lights that I really like.
Petzl MYO XP Belt
This has a great range of features including high-output that will really light up things in the distance as well as a wide-angle capability so you don’t feel like you’re shooting down World War 2 bombers when trying to cook supper. It gives a good balance between weight, light output and battery life and you can keep the batteries warm by tucking them into a pocket. It also has a boost mode that runs for a couple of seconds so you can light up the path ahead.
Princeton Tec Apex Extreme
This has to be one of the coolest looking headlights about at the moment. More than just good looking, it puts out a blinding 130 Lumens and also has a pack that can detach and be worn close to the body so that the batteries keep going. It will eat pretty much anything from alkaline to lithium and rechargeable batteries. The only downside is that some users complained that its little brother (the Apex) wasn’t quite as waterproof as it should be and that the straps have a habit of popping off when you least expect.
Black Diamond Icon
This headlamp is getting rave reviews from users because it seems to have an amazing battery life with good output. It is also remarkably light. A downside in comparison with the two lights above is that its battery is firmly attached to the head (though I reckon if you wear a hat you’ll keep it warm enough)
This list is by no means complete, mainly I guess because there is such wide choice of really good gear out there that it would be dishonest to say that any one is the best mountaineering headlamp when in fact quite a few make the grade.