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Know your lighting products

June 2007

Lighting: Is smaller better?

Ten years ago nobody but serious mountaineers or cave divers would dream of wearing a lamp on their heads. Nowadays it is rare to find a household without at least one headlamp. MARK JOHNSTON explores how the proliferation of head lamps affected the lighting market

Ten years ago when I bought my very first headlamp, the purchase was simple: "I’ll have that one," I said, pointing to the only model on the rack: a rather cumbersome beast with a battery only marginally smaller than my car’s battery. Then headlamps were still something of a novelty, and I remember standing around the campfire the following weekend, smugly flipping the boerie with one hand and holding a beer with the other, while my mates looked on in envy (or tried to emulate handsfree lighting by clamping torches between their teeth).

How things have changed!

These days it seems like everybody around the campfire has a headlamp strapped to their noggins. And if they don’t, they certainly want one — after all, headlamps just make a lot of sense, whether you’re hiking, camping, climbing or wandering around your house during yet another power outage.

For one, they leave both hands free. And, because they’re positioned directly above your eyes, the beam always points in the direction that you are looking.

All of which is fantastic news if you’re selling the things. Only, as the retailer, how do you guide the buyer to make the right choice (and let’s face it, there’s a lot of choice out there right now)? And are headlamps stealing the limelight from other excellent outdoor lighting products?

LEDS: the future of lighting

With the LED revolution in full swing, you’d think most shoppers would be well aware of all the advantages of this awesome new lighting technology. Not so, according to Leni Hamilton of Hikers Paradise, who says a large number of her customers are still completely in the dark.

"People still need to be educated about the advantages of LED headlamps," she advises. For example, about the fact that LEDs are four to five times more efficient than normal incandescent bulbs, and have a lifespan of up to 100 000 hours (which equates to big savings on batteries and replacement bulbs, not to mention convenience).

LEDs are also much more robust than incandescent bulbs, so they’re less likely break in the field.

Of course, there are now a variety of options when it comes to buying a LED headlamp — ones with little one watt diodes for proximity (close-up) lighting, ones with more powerful three-watt diodes that kick out a spot beam, and various hybrids offering combinations of the two — and here you must be guided by the customer’s needs.

"Find out what sort of activity they want to use it for," suggests Hamilton.

Somebody who just wants a light for reading in their tent or checking on the potjie can get away with a basic LED headlamp, while people involved in nighttime adventure racing, trail running or mountain biking will obviously require a more potent beam.

"Most of the time you can actually convince the customer to buy up and go for the spot beam, especially once you’ve explained the benefits to them," she says. "Whether you’re hiking, 4x4ing, cycling or fly fishing, there will invariably be some situation when you will need a nice, strong beam."

To buy cheap or not?

There’s also a big choice when it comes to headlamp pricing, with the established brands like Silva, Petzl and Black Diamond costing anything from around R200 up to R500, and a flood of new cheaper names coming in at much lower prices. Are these budget headlamps a liability, and are they denting sales of the premium brands?

John Fontyn of Eiger Equipment, the local distributors for Petzl, doesn’t think so. "We haven’t noticed a drop in our headlamp sales," he says, pointing out that there will always be a market for the more high-end products.

Ram Mountaineering’s Simon Larsen agrees. "People are definitely prepared to spend money on an expensive head torch," he says, referring to the Black Diamond Icon, which has been doing exceptionally well despite retailing for around R500.

Hamilton also agrees there’s room in the market for both the budget and premium brands: "The cheap headlamps are fine for your once-a-year camper or Boy Scout hiking trips. But if somebody comes in and tells me they’re off to climb Kilimanjaro or Mt Kenya, I’ll obviously encourage them to buy something more robust and reliable."

It’s important to remember that the influx of cheaper brands also grows the market. People who might not have wanted to splash out on an expensive headlamp before, can now take advantage of the price break and buy one. Once they’re sold on the concept there’s a good chance they’ll end up buying a more expensive model when the cheap one gives up the ghost.

Choice galore

Another positive effect of the cheaper competition is that the other manufacturers are upping their games. Headlamps are now coming out with all sorts of added value features, such as different lighting modes and beam strengths, different coloured beams, and even personalized styling.

"Customers like to compare features," says John Fontyn, "so having lots of different options is now a major selling point."

It’s not all pointless gimmickry, however, and it’s important that the retailers know the advantages of the different settings so that they can educate the customer.

  • The strobe function, for example, is handy if there had been a car accident and you want to warn other motorists to beware.

  • Red light doesn’t affect your night vision as much as a white light, so a red beam is useful for things like nighttime map reading.

  • Green beams are preferred by hunters because they are less conspicuous to animals.

  • Some manufacturers, like Black Diamond, have also introduced things like different coloured casings and patterned headbands. "This way they become more personalized," says Larsen. People can now choose a headlamp to suit their personality, sex or age group.

    Other lighting options

    With the headlamp boom some other forms of outdoor lighting have had the carpet pulled out from underneath their feet, most noticeably handheld torches. But this certainly doesn’t mean there’s no market for them at all — on the contrary, established brands have maintained a strong following, especially those that offer LED options.

    Indeed, the introduction of LEDs has been a major boost, allowing folk who still prefer to use a handheld torch to now enjoy the same benefits as LED headlamp users. Some manufacturers even offer a LED conversion set, allowing existing customers to upgrade their torches, rather than having to buy brand new ones.

    There is also a growing demand for mini LED torches, some smaller than an index finger, that have a surprisingly bright light. These are small enough to attach to a keyring or belt, always ready when needed, for example to find a key hole in the dark or during power failures. Hikers will also appreciate the big weight savings.

    Finally, don’t forget about the good old rechargeable camping lantern. "Lanterns are great because they offer a wide spread of light, filling the whole hut or tent, where headlamps only really provide light for the person wearing them," says Hamilton. There’s no doubt that there were some real shockers in the past (many models had burn times shorter than their charge times!), but some of the new-generation LED ones are surprisingly good. Some of these new models sold incredibly well during last year’s power failures in the Cape.

    The big thing to remember when you sell a customer a rechargeable lantern is that most need to be charged for an extra-long time initially, and must be topped up every 6 weeks to 3 months, even if they haven’t been used.

    June 2008

    Lighting the way

    BEVAN FRANK switches on his torch to see what the power outages had done to the sales of traditional outdoor lighting products

    Although load shedding has come to a halt for now, no one can say for sure if power failures are a thing of the past or whether the outages will strike again soon.

    One thing is clear though: after the recent spate of power failures, the sales on headlamps, gas lanterns, torches and other lighting products increased significantly.

    “There was a massive increase in sales, and turnover was only limited by the availability of stock,” says Mark Ponting of Trappers Trading. This increased demand for outdoor lighting products is confirmed by Ben Loots, senior purchasing manager of Kaap Agri.

    “We have had a definite increase in sales across our entire lighting range,” says Rupert Merl of Ramrod. “We have experienced unprecedented sales of LED emergency lanterns, designed for camping, and higher demand for the standard camping lanterns and fluorescent lanterns.

    According to John Fontyn of Eiger Equipment there has undoubtedly been an increase in the purchase of headlamps since the outages started last winter. “Headlamps are best suited for use in a power failure as they allow both hands to be free to perform all sorts of tasks in an outage — from cooking to reading,” says Fontyn.

    Now that load shedding has come to a halt (hold thumbs), the question arises: has demand for these goods now slowed down?

    “There has been a slight drop in sales since the beginning of May,” says Merl. “However, the only certainty and definite truth in SA at the moment is that winter is on the way!”

    Derrick Akal of Akals/The Midas Group believes that it is too soon to tell, but he expects that demand would be slowing down.

    Fontyn, however, does not think that this will be a drastic drop. “We do expect sales to level off eventually, but demand for headlamps has always been pretty good,” he says.

    “I think it may take a while before people believe anything Eskom has to say — let alone that the outages are over.”

    Major lighting product buyers

    Who are still the major lighting product buyers? Is it households who desperately need these lighting products for power failures — or want alternative light sources to cut down on electricity use? Or are the main buyers still the campers, anglers and other outdoor people?

    While outdoor lighting products had in the past mainly been bought by campers, hikers and 4x4 enthusiasts — their intended target market — Loots says that the products are nowadays bought as much for general household use, as for camping.

    During power failures the main buyers have actually been households, says Akal.

    “Household buyers have been the biggest category for the past 4-6 months,” confirms Ponting. “However, the camping and outdoor lifestyle categories are normally the biggest spenders.”

    The demand for headlamps remains strong. According to Fontyn headlamps have their roots in the outdoors where demand is still quite strong from campers to hikers and mountaineers.

    Most popular products

    “Since the advent of compact LED headlamps, they have become popular with just about anyone who needs a portable light source,” explains Fontyn. “Headlamps are more versatile than hand held torches. They are hands-free, give light where you are looking, and provide excellent light quality and duration.

    “But, hand held torches generally still outsell headlamps, although in specialty outdoor stores you will find headlamps sell better,” explains Fontyn.

    “Compared with hand held torches and lanterns, headlamps are the new kid on the block. Many people are still discovering the advantages of headlamps in work and play environments, and cannot believe how they managed before without them.”

    Merl says they experienced the highest demand for LED emergency lights, followed by torches. This was a direct consequence of the power failures.

    The emergency lamps are compact units that can be either wall mounted in a convenient spot close to a power source to provide maximum light, or may be free standing. The compact size is great for taking on camping trips, and when used at home takes up very little space. It is portable as it has a convenient fold away carrying handle with a torch function, so the unit may be easily moved around the camp or from room to room during a power failure.

    Alternative lighting methods that step away from the traditional are also playing a role in the current market where consumers are increasingly aware of electricity consumption.

    “Customers will buy anything that is different — as long as it works!” says Reno van Heerden of African Outdoor and Sport, distributor of Kovea lanterns.

    Given the lifespan of traditional batteries, the question arises as to whether to consider other lighting methods which don’t rely on batteries — e.g. gas or new torches on the market that one just shakes to light up.

    Loots says that the shake torches are popular, even though they might be somewhat of a gimmick, they sell well across their stores.

    But, although shaking torches are selling well, the re-chargeable battery-operated torches are still the most popular, says Akal.

    “We only deal with battery operated models,” says Merl. “The rechargeable units are more popular as the consumer does not have to concern themselves with additional battery costs and having to consistently remember to purchase spare batteries.”

    Shedding some light

    Do people want bigger or more compact lighting options? “Both are popular, the concern of the consumer should be about the run-time offered by the lantern or torch, as well as how safe the unit is,” says Merl. “LED units are becoming more popular because of the increase in light output, as well as run-time where the internal circuitry has been constructed properly.”

    Merl points out that there are LED units available that look the same, however there are vast differences in the light output as well as safety margins.

    “The future will be great, brilliant and awesome in both sales as well as technological developments regarding power saving,” he says.

    Loots believes that LED technology is doing well while the rechargeable products are declining, mainly because of poor battery quality.

    In terms of headlamps, Fontyn believes that people prefer compact, ergonomic designs. “The ongoing development of LEDs means that headlamps are getting smaller and more powerful all the time,” Fontyn says.

    According to Akal, all sizes are selling —depending on their purpose.

    “People prefer the new LED technology, as it is more efficient and more compact,” says Ponting. “I feel that there will be an over supply for the next couple of months, unless load shedding resumes.

    “Many new products (good and bad) have been introduced into the market, and I hope that consumers have learnt that quality (not price) is the most important factor when selecting lighting products.”

    August / September 2008

    Lighting up!

    Lighting products, big and small, were one of the main features of the OutDoor Show in Frierichshafen. The new award-winning headlamps have stronger beams and lanterns are becoming pocket-size

    PETZL developed their new award-winning Ultra Belt headlamp following requests from Norway and Sweden where they do a lot of sports like running and skiing in dark conditions and therefore need a lot of power in a headlamp, explains Petzl’s export sales manager Arnaud Tisserant.

    The product has been in development for two years, and has been tested for the past year in all kinds of conditions all over the world — including by the top Cyanosis adventure racing team in SA and intrepid adventurer Martin Dreyer.

    Petzl created a blog where the testers could make recommendations, some of which were incorporated in the final design.

    The ultra light lamp fits snugly around the head and can also be used with the Petzl harness belt or without a battery when extra lightness is needed during a run. The light is 10 times more powerful than the Tikka Plus — for example, when Tisserant cycled with the Ultra Belt on his head at night, a motorist signalled for him to dim his light.

    “This should be especially popular with local cyclists — especially as it will retail for approximately the same price as a good bike light, but is so much more versatile,” says local distributor John Fontyn of Eiger Equipment.

    While the Ultra Belt has already landed, the exciting new programmable MYO RXP, also launched at Friedrichshafen, will arrive this month. It is the first Petzl headlamp that is regulated and programmable, allowing the user to choose the order of lighting levels and the level of light required. There are three lighting modes, and the user can select the power for each from among ten possible levels, from 8-140 lumens, depending on which type of activity he/she is engaged in. For example: maximum power can be used for a short run, but when light will be needed for a much longer period, power levels should be reduced. And when the batteries are about to lose power, it automatically switches to reserve power mode.

    The e+LITE headlamp — as its name implies its ultra-lightweight — is designed for any adventure situation, especially for the wearer who wants to move fast. The 28gm headlamp comes in a hard case and can easily be stored in a backpack, jacket, or emergency kit for up to ten years. It provides white or red lighting in continuous or blinking mode and a long-range whistle that can signal one’s position for rescue (the SOS Morse code illustration on the whistle) is attached.

    BLACK DIAMOND’s new pocket-sized mini-lantern is another award-winning lighting product that should appeal to the adventurous traveller. Weighing only 84gm and 10mm high when collapsed, the compact Orbit fits in any backpack and is therefore ideally suited for trekking and travelling where weight and size is a problem. Yet, it is one of the brightest and most energy efficient LED lanterns in its category and can cast light at a maximum 3m radius. A dimmer allows adjusting the brightness.

    SILVA has also introduced a new headlamp strong enough for cycling, orienteering, adventure racing and skiing – what’s more, it can be detached and clipped to the cycle bars like any regular cycle light, or even clipped to a helmet when horseback riding, explains Silva’s director of international sales, Goran Anderson.

    “It is so strong that you can read instructions as far as 150m,” he says. It also has “intelligent light” — it does not only illuminate in a long beam to the front, but also spreads its beams to light up on the sides.

    It is expensive, says Anderson, but if one had spent such a lot of time training for an adventure race why spoil your chances by using inferior equipment?”

    The winners are...

    Among the products available in the SA market that received awards at the OutDoor Show are the Black Diamond Orbit lantern (silver), distributed by Ram Mountaineering and the new Petzl Ultra Belt headlamp (see left) from Eiger Equipment.

    The gold award-winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir mattress from Cascade Designs is locally available from Outward Ventures. This ultralight product packs to the size of a one liter bottle and is warm to sleep on, thanks to a patent-pending Reflective Barrier that reflects heat back to the user’s body. A second patent-pending technology, the Triangular Core Matrix, contributes to the warmth by creating a multitude of air cells that minimize air movement and convective cooling. The mattress also remains very stable.

    The MSR Hyperflow Micro-filter, from the same manufacturer, not only won an award in Friedrichshafen, but also received the 2008 Editors’ Choice Award from Backpacker magazine.

    The Steri-PEN JourneyLCD handheld water purifier that uses universal symbols to take the guesswork out of the water purification process (below), is locally available from Ram Mountaineering.

    June 2005

    Look ma, NO hands!

    Headlamps are no longer a curiosity, they have become a part of everyday outdoor equipment as consumers realize how much easier it is to have your hands free when working in the dark, reports ANNELIZE VAN ROOYEN

    In the time of hands-free and remote control mechanism we live in, it makes sense that this trend would also establish itself in outdoor lighting equipment. In fact, it is completely logical: if you need to light up a subject or area, it is usually because you need to DO something where there is no light. So, if you can light up the dark area and at the same time have your hands free for the task you have to perform, you would achieve two goals with one shot.

    People working in confined spaces with little light, such as installers of airconditioning and electricians working in ceilings, have long been users of headlamps. But, recently the lighting trend in the outdoor market has also shifted towards headlamps. In fact, according to the Backpacking Light Magazine, headlamps are the number one outdoor specialty item bought by US consumers during summer. This trend seems to have established itself in SA as well.

    Due to the growing popularity of headlights, there are literally dozens of brands and products available, which leads to the next problem: how to choose a light.


    Interesting fact:

    The SA Police Service are nowadays the main users of the conventional flashlights – not surprising, since the very sturdy aluminium casings of Maglites, can, thanks to their baton-like shape, double as a weapon if the need arises.

    It is first of all necessary to determine exactly what the light is going to be used for, and, if this is known, where, i.e. in what circumstances. There are many applications for headlamps:

    Hiking/backpacking: The user will need to see at least 30 metres ahead, although the terrain may sometimes require a longer beam. He will usually be carrying hiking equipment and will not want the battery pack to interfere with the top of his backpack. He may also not always have both hands free for frequent adjustments of the lamp. Since both LED’s and and halogen lamps have advantages for hiking, a hybrid is probably the best solution.

    Cycling: The cyclist is going to be moving fast and can easily ‘catch up’ with a too short beam. The broad, deep throw of at least 50 m of a halogen lamp is therefore required, which means that he will carry more weight (batteries) in order not to sacrifice safety.

    Running: For running, a shorter throw of 10 – 15 m is probably fine. The jerky movement of the head while running would however mean that a lamp with the batteries in the casing could bounce and move forward. A hybrid lamp would probably be more useful in this case.

    Adventure racing: This multi-sport event (it could encompass mountain biking, trail running, kloofing, climbing, abseiling and paddling) during which it could be necessary to read a map, requires versatility, or more than one lamp. The lamp would also have to be completely weather resistant. Weight and bulk then becomes an issue.

    Caving: A maximum throw, extreme waterproofing and a good battery life are the main requirements for caving. Once again a hybrid seems to be the solution.

    Camping/braaiing: The ideal lamp would have a built-in burn detector or sing a wake-up song in case you fall asleep in your chair, but since that is not available, the main requirement is a short to medium throw strong enough to see whether that chop is ready, or for reading in your tent. The headlamp would almost certainly not be the only or the main source of lighting, which means that it need not be top of the range (and expensive).

    Back-up : In most circumstances it is wise to have a back-up ready. This does not have to be a lamp of equivalent strength or features. Something smaller, lightweight and durable is the logical choice.

    According to suppliers who are experienced users of headlights, a retailer should advise customers on the following aspects when choosing a headlight:

    1: The headlamp design

    The lamp should feel comfortable, but the wearer should also consider that a lamp that sits too close to the head can cause an annoying glare in the eyes. This is especially important for users wearing glasses.

    Depending on the circumstances in which the lamp will be used, water and weather resistance is another factor to consider.

    2: The type of lamp

    There are three categories of head lamps:

    Standard: i.e. halogen (gas), incandescent bulbs or xenon bulbs that have a longer, brighter beam or throw, but shorter life. Halogen lights can, for instance, have a beam reach of up to 175m, while the LED’s reach 65 metres. The beams of halogen lights are also brighter than LED lights, but constant improvement in the LED technology is closing the gap.

    LED (Iight emitting diodes) come in hyper- bright or regular, depending on whether you want a a shorter beam, or longer life. LED lights have a broader, more diffused beam than halogens, which have a much narower focus, unless the light is lensed.

    Hybrid: a combination of LED and halogen, seem to offer the best beam intensity, but there are disadvantages, such as weight.

    3: The battery life of the lamp

    This is where the LED’s kick the halogens out of the bus. A LED light with three AA batteries can give you 500 or more hours of lighting, depending on the mode (low, medium or high) at which you use it.

    A halogen light will only have a burn time of 3 to 10 hours.

    4: Functional burn time

    The output from some lights follow a hyperbolic curve. It will start with a strong, long throw, but start declining after a period (this differs from lamp to lamp) and not really be functional for the full advertised time.

    Other lamps shine at a constant brightness for a certain period of time and then warn you that the batteries are starting to go down.

    The customer should be informed about the actual burn time in order to decide how much he wants to see and for how long.

    5: The weight of the lamp

    The LED’s also have a clear advantage in this regard. Some of the LED lamps weigh as little as 23 g. The more and the bigger the batteries, the longer/stronger the light, but the more the light will weigh. Weight should therefore be considered in conjunction with how the batteries are housed.

    6: The battery pack

    In the smaller lamps the batteries are stored in the casing of the lamp unit itself, which adds to its weight and can cause the lamp to slip forward. However, some lights have separate, detachable battery packs which are not attached to this unit.

    This makes the light less cumbersome and more flexible, but the cable attaching the light to the pack, usually mounted at the back of the head, can become a hindrance in some circumstances.

    Temperature has a distinct influence on battery life. Batteries die quicker in cold. Batteries housed in the same casing as the bulbs benefit from the heat given of f from the bulbs (halogens more so than LED’s). Separate battery packs can be carried close to the body and have the body heat lengthen its life.

    7: Adjustability of the light

    Both LED and halogen lights come in various configurations of adjustability in terms of emergency modes, brightness modes, hybrid adjustability, swivel, tilt switch mechanism or bulb replacement. Although a clear advantage, it has also been said that this feature on many lights is also its weak spot as the mechanism often becomes faulty. Therefore, inform the customer about the relevant guarantee.

    8: The size of the light

    LED ‘bulbs’ are much smaller than conventional bulbs. Up to 7 LED’s can be housed in a light that is smaller than a squash ball. If size is important, the design of the strap will most probably also be crucial.

    9: The strap

    All headlamps have at least one adjustable headstrap. These come in different sizes and some allow for the possibility of wearing it over a helmet. Some lamps also have a top strap, which fits over the centre of the user’s head, and keeps the light from slipping forward, thereby keeping it stable.

    10:The switch

    Switches — push buttons, slide switches and twist switches — are especially important in the case of lights with different mode settings. Customers should try it with gloves on as it is often necessary to change modes while in motion, or when wearing gloves. It is important for left-handed people to be able to reach the switch easily with their left hands, and vice versa. Switches that can accidentally be turned on in a backpack, resulting in flat batteries, can cause a nasty surprise in a crisis.

    11: Cost of the lamps

    In the majority of cases the customer’s budget will be the deciding factor in the lamp he chooses. He will, for instance, have to work out a compromise between power output, weight and battery life.

    A general rule of thumb is that more normally costs more. This also applies to special features like waterproofing and emergency modes.

    The customer should know that the weaker LED’s don’t blow, but the stronger halogens do — which means that a customer would have to carry spares if he chooses the option of the brigther light and longer throw of a halogen.

    12: General

    Lamps can come with built-in locator lights (low intensity flashing) and different kinds of reflectors. They can also have a red or green beam, which is convenient if a leader needs to convey direction to people following some distance behind.

    LED’s are considered to be more environmentally friendly, as the batteries have a much longer life (average 10 000hrs) and do not tend to get thrown away in the veld.

    The initial purchase price of LED lamps can be more expensive than halogen, but they are generally cheaper to run. They are usually not replaceable.


  • LED Headlamp Review Summary: Petzl, Princeton Tec, Black Diamond, and Photon by the Product Review Staff. Backpacking Light (ISSN 1537-0364). Article No 00270.

  • Buying an LED Torch: Headlamp Design Considerations to Help Guide your Purchasing Decisions.

  • June 2006

    Why xenon burns brighter and LED lasts longer

    Whether its a lantern to illuminate a campsite, a focused beam to bait a hook, a torch to show the way on a hiking trail or a light at the end of the tunnel when diving, there are a myriad lighting options practically tailor-made for every outdoor activity. Some burn long, some burn sharp, some burn hot, some burn cold and some just burn once

    Some, like the ordinary vacuum-filled incandescent bulb do not burn very efficiently: it has a short life span, dims as the atoms escaping from the tungsten filament form a dark blob on the bulb wall and wastes energy as only 10% of the light produced is within the visible light spectrum.

    Filled with cheaper inert gases like nitrogen or argon with atoms that are big enough to bounce the tungsten atom back to the filament when they collide, it becomes slightly more efficient.

    But, unfortunately, these gases also convey heat away from the filament, and as they become hot and rise to the top, they again deposit the atoms on the bulb wall. The bulb burns out when too much tungsten evaporates from the filament, so that electricity current can no longer be conducted efficiently across the filament.

    Fill the bulb with a premium inert gas like krypton or xenon (even better!) and their seriously big atoms will allow even fewer of the escaping tungsten atoms to pass and they speedily send them back to the filament.

    Pros: Premium gas-filled bulbs will conduct less heat away from the filament than ordinary gas, so that it can burn hotter and longer ... a xenon bulb can therefore draw from .35 to 10 amperes as opposed to the roughly .5 amp drawn by the standard gas bulb. They will burn twice as long as the standard gas bulb.

    A xenon bulb also has about 15% more candle power per watt than a krypton lamp and the light colour is very close to daylight (6000° Kelvin).

    Cons: Krypton is slightly more and xenon considerably more expensive than the cheaper gas-filled bulb. They do not "catch" all the tungsten atoms and some do escape to form a dark film on the bulb wall. The tungsten therefore develops weak spots that do break at some stage.

    Add halogen to the gas fill and you’ve got an even brighter light that shines even longer. A halogen "capsule" or bulb is normally filled with over 99% inert gas (cheaper argon, better krypton or top end xenon) and less than 1% halogen vapour.

    A halogen bulb uses a chemical trick to prolong the life of its filament ... the halogen combines with the tungsten filaments that have condensed on the inside of the bulb and carries them back to the filament. When they touch the hot filament, the tungsten atoms are redeposited there, and the gas is released to do the same trick again.

    Because the bulb wall is cleaner, a bright light shines through, even as the bulb ages.

    In order for the halogen cycle to work, the bulb surface must be very hot, generally over 250° Celsius, because the halogen may not adequately react with condensed tungsten if the bulb is too cool. This means that the bulb must be small and made of either quartz or a high-strength, heat-resistant grade of glass known as "hard glass".

    Costs rise when moving to a harder glass, so typically the glass envelope is made much smaller, but this means that it gets hotter. Since the bulb is small and usually fairly strong, the bulb can be filled with gas to a higher pressure than usual, making it economical to use.

    Pros: Halogen provides a very bright light that can be focused well on a specific spot. The hotter filament of a halogen bulb emits relatively more blue or white light, and relatively less infrared light than a regular bulb, giving it a whiter appearance and making it more energy efficient than a regular bulb — it lasts 2 to 3 times longer than a regular bulb and is often 10 – 20% more efficient.

    Halogen lamps are ideal where a relatively small, bright lamp and high wattage are required. They are good for providing tightly focused bright pools of light, rather than general illumination over a larger area.

    Cons: Halogen draws a lot of power and therefore drain batteries fast. Although the halogen cycle lasts longer than the incandescent light bulb, it has a limited lifespan because the halogen gases cannot place the tungsten on a specific spot on the filament. Therefore, weak spots with too little tungsten covering will develop and the filament will eventually break.

    It is more expensive than incandescents and because it burns hot the risk of fire is higher than with cold burning fluorescent and LED lights.

    Fluorescent lamps, used in battery-operated camping lanterns, burn much cooler than incandescent lamps, because they convert 3 – 4 times more energy into visible light, and far less into heat. Like other gas-filled bulbs, they also work through electrons and atoms bumping against each other.

    The bulb is filled with low pressure argon or krypton gas and mercury vapour and the inner surface of the bulb is coated with a fluorescent paint made of varying blends of metallic and phosphor salts. The coiled tungsten cathode releases electrons at relatively low temperatures, which collide with the gas atoms. They are rapid conductors of heat, which causes the mercury to emit ultraviolet light. This is absorbed by the bulb’s fluorescent coating, which radiates the energy back at longer wavelengths as visible light. The phosphor coating on the bulb controls the colour of the light, and prevents the harmful UV light from escaping.

    Blacklights are a subset of fluorescent lamps that provide long-wave ultraviolet light, rather than visible light, that are used to attract insects to bug zappers.

    Pros: Fluorescent lamps are much more energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs because they convert three to four times more of the consumed energy to usable light, and less energy into heat. With the result that a fluorescent lamp usually lasts between 10 – 20 times longer than an incandescent lamp. Although a fluorescent bulb will initially cost more, this is offset by lower energy consumption over its life.

    Cons: The light transmitted by lower end fluorescent lamps are often harsh and unnatural, colouring skin tones blue. This is because the phosphor used mainly emits yellow and blue light, and relatively little green and red. The triphosphor mixture now used in better quality lamps distribute the emission bands more evenly over the spectrum of visible light and gives a more natural colour.

    The disposal of phosphor and the small amounts of mercury in the tubes may also be an environmental issue in some areas.

    High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs — found in some high end dive lights — differ from incandescent bulbs because they produce light by creating a tiny spark between a gap in a pair of electrodes, which heats a gas in the bulb to a temperature where it emits an extremely bright light. They are also used when a high level of light is needed over a large area.

    Compared to fluorescent and incandescent lamps, HID lamps produce a much larger quantity of light in a relatively small package. There are many different types, like mercury vapour, metal halide, high-pressure sodium, low-pressure sodium and less common, xenon short-arc lamps, which are used in operating theatres, or for lighting on movie sets, because they provide excellent colour projections and flesh tones.

    Light sticks are becoming increasingly popular amongst divers and backpackers overnighting. By snapping a light stick, they have an instant, extremely lightweight, source of light. A lightstick consists of a transparent plastic tube that contains chemical fluids that are held apart in two compartments. The inner compartment breaks when the lightstick is bent and when the two chemicals mix, the reaction emits light, but not necessarily heat. The industrial strength lightsticks used in the outdoor industry can emit a useful light for up to 12 hours.

    Pros: Lightsticks are ideal for carrying in a backpack or for diving as they are lightweight, weatherproof, non-toxic and nonflammable. They are easy to use and require no batteries. They are small enough to carry as emergency back-up on all trips.

    Cons: Once used, its broken. The amount of light they provide is very limited.

    Light Emitting Diodes (better known as LEDs) differ completely from incandescent or gas light bulbs, as they do not have filaments that can break or burn out. Therefore they last very long on low battery power — which contributed to their popularity for use in headlamps and just about every make of torch, diving or cycling light.

    A LED is a special kind of diode (a diode only allows a power current to flow in one direction) that has the unique side effect of producing light while electricity flows through it.

    An LED is made with two different kinds of material that carry electrical current: one type that has too many free electrons, and another that doesn’t have enough free electrons. Electrons from the over-supplied material gets pushed across a thin barrier into tiny spaces in the other, and a particle of light is produced.

    The colour of the light depends on several factors: the chemical composition of the material it passes through, and the wavelength, or the amount of energy used to cross the barrier.

    For example: if the band gap is small, fairly weak electrons can cross, and a dimmer red or infrared light with a longer wavelength is emitted. On the other hand, a large band gap that can only be crossed by the strongest electrons will emit a strong blue or violet light.

    The different light colours emitted by LEDS would have the following benefits in the outdoors:

    White light is all round the best colour for ordinary vision and gives excellent colour recognition. The modern bright white lights are brighter than incandescents, but not yet as bright as xenon.

    In coloured light, everything is seen in monochromes.

    Red: is best for night vision preservation at low lighting levels — for instance when a few friends go kayaking or fishing at night, the red light will prevent them from blinding each other, yet provide enough light to see if the fish are biting.

    Amber: Focuses well in the eye and is usually a very comfortable monochromatic light to use in a group.

    Blue: Good for hunters following the blood trail of wounded game. The blood shows up as solid black in this light.

    In many torches and headlamps different colours of LEDS are combined so that the user can switch between settings.

    Three primary types of LEDs are used in torches: 3mm LEDs are very small and are used in some of the tiny lights that produce little light (e.g. keyrings and novelty lights); 5mm LEDs are most commonly used in flashlights; while Luxeon LEDS are very bright (almost as much as incandescents) and big.

    Luxeon LEDs have improved light output, sometimes as much as 5-20 times brighter than standard LEDs.

    When several 5mm LEDs are used together, a good amount of bright light can be produced for a very long time. But the light beam from 3mm and 5mm LEDS cannot be well focused. Luxeon LED lights are focused better when using special optics or reflectors. But, their battery life is not as long as that of 5mm LEDs, although they last longer than incandescent lights.

    Pros: LEDs last and last. They burn much longer than incandescent bulbs at their rated power — typically 10 years, twice as long as the best fluorescent bulbs and 20 times longer than the best incandescent bulbs — and can last 5 – 10 times as long on a set of batteries (eliminating the need to carry too many spare batteries).

    LEDs gradually dim over a period of time, and will not abruptly switch off when, for instance, the filament breaks… a caver or hiker will therefore not suddenly be left in the dark in precarious terrain because his light source has burnt out.

    LEDs are insensitive to vibration and shocks, and can therefore safely be carried in backpacks, without fear of becoming damaged. They can operate in temperatures ranging from -40° to as high as 80°C.

    They light up very quickly and can achieve full brightness about 10 times faster than a normal incandescent light bulb.

    Most high brightness green and blue LEDs, and all of the usual high-brightness blue-green LEDs, have a spectrum that is much more nightvision-friendly than the usual light spectrum of incandescent lamps. White LEDs, on the other hand, have a spectrum somewhat more favourable to day vision than the spectrum of typical incandescent lamps. In dim light conditions, white LEDs can usually outperform most incandescents watt-for-watt.

    The even, clear light produced by some LEDs is brighter than light coming from the standard incandescent bulb.

    Cons: The light beam produced by LEDs is, however, considered to be less powerful than incandescents — although that is fast changing with the latest models coming on the market — and more of them are required to produce the same amount of light.

    LEDs are currently more expensive than more conventional lighting technologies. Since it takes a thousand or so 5mm LEDs to equal the light output of a 100watt light bulb and LEDs are expensive, LED is generally not the way to go for lighting a large area, like a campsite.

    LED technology is, however, constantly evolving.

    For instance, in the 6 years since the first Tikka headlamp with LEDs was introduced, Petzl has been able to improve so much on the LED technology that the current Tikka shines three times brighter than the original.

    They have now developed their LED technology even further by this year introducing a new generation of 5mm LEDs that shine up to 80% further than the previous models in the compact Tikka and Zipka and the hybrid Myo headlamps, and 30% further in three of the special purpose Duo models.

    What’s more, the light life on the maximum brightness setting is considerably longer. (This is not applicable in the Tikka XP and Myo XP, which use another type of LEDs).

    For example, the Tikka Plus, which until last year emitted a white light beam of 17m, will now shine up to 32m — and the light duration when set on maximum increases from 80 to 100 hours.

    In order to make their compact headlamps even more user friendly, Petzl now makes it possible to remove the new Tactikka XP Adapt from a headstrap and to attach it to a jacket or belt or cycling helmet — and the Zipka or Zipka Plus with retractable battery cords are so small and light that they can even be attached to a wrist, or anywhere else where light is required.

    Universal models like the new Myobelt XP, with a choice between a wide-angle beam or high-powered LED with three lighting levels, work on a rechargeable battery that is carried separately and therefore does not increase the weight of the headlamp. In boost mode it can shine as far as 65m for up to 20 seconds.

    Special purpose headlamps, or hybrids, provide the best of both worlds in that they combine a focused long range halogen beam to light up a larger area, with long-life LEDs that work well at close proximity — although these headlamps have to sacrifice some of their lightweight and compact benefits.

    Petzl’s heavy duty special purpose headlamp, Duo, now comes with 14 and 8 LEDs — entry level models can be upgraded — and several models now work on rechargeable batteries. The larger capacity batteries can be worn on a belt, in a pocket or even in a backpack, to reduce weight. The IP X8 is waterproof down to 5m.

    Princeton Tec, originally known for their dive lights, have produced several highly rated best of both worlds lighting products that combine the spotting benefits of incandescents and the battery conservation of LEDs. The waterproof Yukon headlamp, for instance, contains 3 LEDs for low light use and battery conservation, as well as a xenon pin bulb for when a more focused, brighter light is needed. In the new generation Yukon HL, the xenon bulb has been replaced by a Luxeon Star (side emitter) LED with reflector that can be focused when a brighter light is required, and which provides a longer lasting and brighter light than the xenon.

    The website gives full marks to the Princeton Tec Apex that combines four 5mm LEDs with a Luxeon III LED focused beam, both with two output levels, and each with a separate switch. It also has a battery level indicator and a heatsink at the back of the head to draw heat away from the LEDs so that they can run at higher than normal output levels.

    The Princeton Tec Pilot is a single 5mm LED light that can be attached to another headlamp strap or backpack with a moulded clip, to be used as a pivoting secondary light, or as a back-up light source in emergencies.

    The benefits of LEDs are, however, not only used in headlamps. The Princeton Impact XL flashlight with a Luxeon Star bulb and reflector is, for instance, designed for good light output as well as long battery life.

    The designers at US mountaineering gear manufacturer Black Diamond have designed their headlamps based on their experience in the field. The very highly rated Supernova (see is a hybrid that have placed 2 LEDs for close-up work and an incandescent bulb for when a larger area needs lighting (e.g. hiking) or a focused beam is required for spotting, on one bezel. A digital regulator makes it easy to select from the three levels of brightness offered by the 2 LEDs, as well as the incandescent — lighting up an area of 100m for 3 hours, 70m for 5 hours and 50m for 10 hours, or alternatively, enjoying 500 hours of LED light with 10m reach.

    The comfortable and water resistant Helion is a 3 LED/xenon hybrid, providing either a long lasting (220 hours battery life) even light spill in LED mode, or a focused spotlight (xenon) with bezel adjustment.

    The Swedish outdoor manufacturer Silva, locally distributed by Lynx Optics, has three different series of headlamps on the market to provide for every kind of activity.

    Despite its compact design, the low weight L-series is robust and will withstand all weather conditions — rain, snow or heat. In the M-series the good light beam provided by halogen technology is combined with the long life of LED lamps for those who need to do close range work over a long time.

    The Silva high-power series will appeal to those customers who want to light up a large area — like adventure racers, mountain bikers or rescue teams. The powerful 10watt and 20watt halogen light bulbs, aided by large reflectors, will turn night into day.

    The various light mode options on most headlamps (power save, medium, bright and blinking) offer a versatile selection to suit every need — from the L1s very bright long range (63m) beam (made possible by the Luxeon LED bulb) with a life of 200 hours in power save mode, to the ultra bright 43m long beam provided by a 4 watt halogen lamp, combined with 3 LEDs that can burn for 100 hours with rechargeable batteries in the M1; or the extreme, but short-lived, 20watt halogen beam of the high-power 480 or 478 hybrid lamps that can light up an area of 110m for half an hour at a time.

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