Come On, Baby, Light My Trail
3 innovative headlamps to light your nighttime adventures.
By Michael Benge
Trail Speed 4XT
Known for inventing the first liquid-filled compass (for fast needle stabilization), the Swedish company Silva introduced its first headlamp two years later, in 1935!, and has been innovating ever since. Amid its extensive line of headlamps, the new flagship Trail Speed 4XT (used by ultrarunning phenom Francois D’Haene) incorporates some unique features, including Intelligent Light and Flow Light technologies. Over the previous model, the company touts an improved headband, headband adjustment and back plate (for better weight distribution of the battery pack).
We have not tried previous versions, but the headband felt comfortable and easily adjusts with two sliding side buckles. Make no mistake, the USB-rechargeable battery pack is substantial in terms of weight and bulk, but snugs up on the head comfortably. Plan B: included with the lamp is an extension cord that allows you to detach the battery and carry it in your hydration pack or pocket for a lighter feel on the head. A nice feature of the battery pack is the five-LED battery-life indicator; the battery seemed to hold a charge well even after extended disuse.
The Trail Speed 4XT cranks out some serious light, with a whopping 1,200-max-lumen setting (advertised two-hour burn time) and two battery-saving lower settings (600lm/five-hour burn time and 80lm/20-hour burn time). The Intelligent Light feature simultaneously utilizes the lamp’s two bulbs, one of which provides a wide, floodlight beam for close-up and the other acting as a spotlight for seeing farther down the trail. We loved this feature, as the light quality from our feet to well down the trail is the best we’ve experienced. For most trail runs, the 600-lumen setting felt quite bright, while the 80-lumen setting was adequate. Save the 1,200 lumens for blinding that pesky, stalking mountain lion. We actually liked the bright setting for nighttime ski descents.
The innovative Flow Light technology is based upon the different lighting needs for slow versus fast movement, e.g. trail running vs downhill skiing or mountain biking. Tilting the lamp down results in wider beams on both lights for slower-moving activities, while tilting it up shifts the light to narrower beams so you can see farther down the trail. And, if you prefer, it is simple not to activate this feature by how long you hold down the button on startup. For bikers, the lamp comes with helmet and handlebar adapters.
If you’re looking for a bombproof headlamp for extended night runs, if you don’t mind the hefty price tag, the Silva Trail Speed 4XT makes a dependable partner.
At a feathery three ounces, the Spot325 packs a pile of technology into its compact package. BD says this model’s redesign features include a more compact body, a second switch to easily change the lens mode and improved optical efficiency for better brightness and battery savings. Powered by three AAA batteries, the lamp fits in the palm of your hand, and delivers a max of 325 (surprise!) lumens, which is plenty bright for any trail situation. Battery life at a medium, 160-lumen setting is advertised to be eight hours, and is trackable via a three-LED array on the side of the housing.
The Power Tap function allows you to simply press and hold the on button to adjust the brightness down. The Brightness Memory feature lets you to turn off the light at a preferred power level, then turn it back on at the same brightness. The new switch is quite small, so can be hard to operate with gloves on. It serves to change modes from between the main bright bulb to the auxiliary Proximity light for closeup jobs and a Red night-vision LED, both of which are also dimmable by pressing and holding the main button. In any of the light modes, simply double tapping the main switch activates a strobe function.
For a mere 40 bucks, the Black Diamond Spot 325 is a great value for such a small, multi-functional headlamp that you barely notice you’re wearing (or carrying).
Halo Fire Runners’ Headlamp
Once you sort out the operational details—don’t try this when you’re zonked out halfway through an ultra—the Halo Fire functions as a lightweight and bright headlamp, with a couple of distinctive features. With a max output of 280 lumens, the lamp, like the Silva above, offers a combination of floodlight and spotlight lighting (called Run-Right Light), in two different brightness settings, as well as a floodlight-only option.
Perhaps the Halo Fire’s most interesting feature is the RunWave technology, which allows you to switch between various lighting settings (as long as you’re in Setting 2 or 3; a bit awkward to sort out) by—voila—simply waving your hand a few centimeters in front of the lamp housing. And, for running on roads at night, in Setting 3, the Auto-Strobe sensor is activated, so that, when you encounter oncoming vehicle headlights, a warning strobe comes on. The Halo Fire features a USB-rechargeable battery, but no battery-strength indicator.
For the urban runner who has to sometimes battle the roads, with its Auto-Strobe feature, the Nathan Halo Fire Runners’ headlamp is a great option, and the dual-lighting feature offers great, even lighting on the trails.
Michael Benge is the Editor of Trail Runner.
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