The discovery of electroluminescence in 1907 is finally being perfected a century later. The first electronic component debuted around 1962. Most noticeably recognized as indicator lights in various electronic devices. Our forefathers weren't reaping the greater rewards just yet. They lugged around heavy incandescent(emitting light as a result of being heated) flashlights powered by multiple D or 6V lantern(Fx4) batteries for another quarter century.
LED headlamps and flashlights have come a long ways since the first electronic component debuted around 1962. In 2008 the Lexus LS 600h was the first automobile with factory installed LED headlamps. As of this writing LEDs have not surpassed HID(xenon headlamps) in performance but are expected to in the future. Currently(no pun intended) thermal management has not been perfected. Contrary to popular belief LEDs produce a significant amount of heat per light unit.
Anyhow, back to hiking...
As of 2010 technology has advanced. While usable white LED headlamps surfaced 10-20 years ago, only in recent years have they been perfected.
In hopes of replacing my old first generation Petzl I'd like to share some of my research. Simply going into REI and buying the latest mid-range 30 lumen LED headlamp will likely net you the best usable and value packed headlamp. Nevertheless I like to know what's going on and the difference between mediocre and outstanding. So topping the list...
- Power management is the most important factor. The ability to restrict excessive brightness (longevity enemy to LEDs) with new batteries and consistent light throughout the life of the battery.
- Multiple output levels to conserve power when full beam is not needed
On/off switch durability and safety from accidental turn on in backpack
- Focusing the width of the beam
Most will come to one important question - how much light does it emit? Beware the deceiving market. Some are advertised by watts while others by lumens. So how many lumens in a watt? Good question. However a watt is power input whereas a lumen is the brightness output. Since power consumption is so little compared to the old incandescents we are more concerned with lumens.
When researching lumens you are interested in torch lumens not emitter lumens. Once again power management of the torch lumens is important. If possible select your device by viewing a power consumption curve chart. Some units claim upwards of two years of light. Most likely an unusable glow if it's powered by consumer batteries.
AA or AAA batteries are preferred. This gives you the opportunity to swap batteries with your GPS and other devices in a pinch. Your options include rechargeable NiMH, alkaline and lithium. Stay away from button cell or coin sized battery devices. These tiny batteries are more difficult to find, expensive and generally difficult to replace.
Design should be taken into consideration too. You want a headlamp that will withstand the abuse of trail life in your pack, on your head and being dropped. Since the average LED lasts over ten years, replacement bulbs are of little concern. The unit is likely to wear out and technology will probably be advanced by then too. Some feature diffusers that slide over the lens. Just beware of those breakable parts. A single LED headlamp with the option to focus(typically by moving the base of the element) is preferred albeit likely more expensive. Just remember more LEDs does not translate to better or brighter. Headlamps with no technical data on the package are probably not worth buying.
2010-07-13 joe bartels
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