Tue, Aug 21, 2018
Review by: ROB
The Princeton Tec Solo headlamp is by now the #1 selling small headlamp on the market. At least according to Princeton Tec's website. I don't know how much you can write about a headlamp -- it's a fairly simple piece of equipment. For those of you who have never used one, headlamps are the most practical form of flashlight you can have in the woods. The idea is that by attaching the lamp to your head, your hands will be free to do those tasks that you needed the light for in the first place. And you won't have to clamp the flashlight in your teeth or under your arm, so it makes your life easier. Especially if you're trying to walk somewhere. Plus, the light is always where you need it to be; since it moves with your head, as long as your eyes do also, they should all be pointing in the same direction at all times (some of you born in the deep south or northern Maine are excluded of course).
There are a couple of different schools of thought on how headlamps (and all flashlights, really) should be built. Of course, there is the "more power" school, who isn't happy with any light that doesn't set trees on fire from 50' away. For these people, brighter is better. Then there are the people who want to be able to direct their light either onto a small object or flood an area with it ... basically they want to change the beam size of the light (like a mag-lite flashlight). These are all fine and dandy ideas, and in certain circumstances they work great, but for backpacking, they have their drawbacks. For example, bright light means a high wattage bulb. To get a bulb to burn at high wattage, you must provide either a high voltage, or an abundance of current (remember power = v x a). Either way, the battery that powers the lamp has to be big. And heavy. Not something you typically look for in backpacking equipment. Focusing lamps have their drawbacks as well. Basically, the parabolic (more or less) reflectors used in most inexpensive lights are focused for a specific distance. Or, in other words, they have to be a certain distance from the bulb in order to capture the light in the center of their curved surface and reflect it out the lens of the lamp. If that distance changes, a certain amount of the reflector no longer gathers light, and the resulting image has a dark spot in it. So, on most focusing lights, if you change the size of the beam, you end up with a dark ring around the outside or a "hole" in the middle. Not good if you need the light in the middle. To compensate for this, you could use a lens that scatters the light to fill the hole back in, but then you lost a lot of light to the scattering, and you, therefore, need a brighter light. Then you run into the problems associated with bright lights: big heavy batteries.
So the people at Princeton Tec decided that the best solution was to configure a lamp for four possible scenarios, and let the owner make the choice as necessary. With the Solo lamp, you receive two different bulbs (normal and superbright) and two different reflectors (flood and spot). You can quickly and easily change the lamp to any of four possible configurations. The change can be accomplished in only a few minutes (although I wouldn't recommend trying it in the dark without practice, because, duh, the light goes out).
The lamp housing is tough plastic and all of the possible openings are sealed with o-rings. This makes the lamp waterproof, provided you have screwed the reflector housing far enough onto the body. Unlike some lamps, the batteries for the Zoom are housed right behind the lamp. This is both good and bad. Good in the sense that there are no cords and battery packs to worry about, and bad when you need the lamp to perform in cold weather. You see, batteries don't work well in cold weather, because the chemical reaction that provides the voltage slows down, and the current output of the batteries drops. So for cold weather use you would want a light with a battery pack that you could put in your pocket or inside your jacket to keep it warm.
The lamp runs on two AA batteries, which I find to be a plus. Although they don't last as long as some of the larger lithium, specialized batteries, they are light, easy to carry, and you can find them everywhere in the world. This is great for people like me who forget a lot of stuff when packing.
Overall, I've found this lamp to be reliable, and quite useful for general camp use and moderate hiking at night. The low power bulb with the wide reflector provides great light for reading, and the halogen bulb with the spot reflector lights up any part of the camp or trail at night. I give this lamp the thumbs up, and recommend it for anyone looking for a light-duty, general purpose camping lamp.
So, in summary, the upsides: AA batteries, waterproof, and complete light without holes and complicated focusing. The downsides: battery life in cold weather, restricted to 4 light/reflector combinations, and the extra bulbs and parts mean more complexity and a better chance to lose stuff.
Please note that anything I say here is simply my opinion. I am an expert (and a legend) only in my own mind. For the official corporate scoop, check out this product atPrinceton Tec's Website.You can
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Chris Oberg & Robert Havasy