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The 10 Essentials: Illumination

While a comprehensive packing list depends on many factors, certain outdoor gear is considered essential whether you’re heading off on an extended backcountry bushwhack or exploring the trails in your local woods. As part of a weekly series, here's a look at outdoor essential number four:

#4. Illumination

It was supposed to be a short day hike with you at home before dinner, but somehow you found yourself out after dark. A headlamp or flashlight can make the difference between an inconvenient nighttime walkout and an emergency situation.

Headlamps are widely preferred by backcountry travelers for their hands-free design, compact size, and light weight. Even on short day hikes a light should be carried; small emergency ones can be easily stashed in a pack. Always bring spare bulbs and batteries that fit your model of light.

    Tips:

  • A light can be used as an emergency signaling device; some have a strobe option.
  • You can carry fewer extras if your light, camera, and/or GPS receiver use the same batteries (just be sure your headlamp and GPS won’t die at the same time).

Have tips or suggestions for this essential? Share them with us.

Read the full "10 Essentials for Backcountry Travel" article in the Gear Guide.


Filed under: Gear News, Outdoor Skills

Comments

Bill S
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,219 reviewer rep
5,181 forum posts
May 19, 2008 at 7:35 p.m. (EDT)

I see all too many people carrying the "police baton" flashlights - 6 to 10 C-cell monsters, when the modern LED lamps would serve virtually all backpacking needs. As Jim S has noted several times in the Trailspace forums, the tiny LED "keychain" lamps that use a coin-battery weigh an ounce or less and give plenty of light, plus the coin batteries, being lithium-ion have shelf lives of decades and useful lives in the 10-12 hour or longer range.

I currently have a Petzl e+lite in my pack, a tiny headlamp weighing just over an ounce and small enough carrying case to fit 2 or 3 in a shirt pocket (red and floats so you are not likely to lose it) - 2 levels of brightness for both white and red plus white and red flashing. It uses 2 CR2032 lithium coin batteries. The bright setting allows a moderate jog along a rocky trail or to walk crosscountry (or even night skiing back to camp).

I also have slightly larger Petzls and Black Diamonds which also have very long life, one of each being bright enough to bicycle on a fairly dark night.

I also use the headlamp for looking into dark places before sticking my hand in - never know what type of critter is lurking in there. When going geocaching around here, this is a vital precaution.

There really is no excuse for being caught out without some sort of light adequate to follow a trail to camp or the trailhead, with modern headlamps adequate for crosscountry travel being not much heavier. LEDs also allow for several sets of backup batteries for just a few ounces (be aware, though, that there is a restriction on carrying spare lithium batteries in your carry-on luggage on a commercial plane and a strict prohibition against spare lithium batteries in your checked baggage. Luckily, you can buy batteries for your headlamp in almost any town or city in the world. Rechargeable batteries also are restricted in quantity and placement for plane travel. With the long life, though, it isn't much of a worry.

redpatch5
0 reviewer rep
84 forum posts
May 19, 2008 at 11:56 p.m. (EDT)

My preference is for a LCD headlamp,(Garrity brand, 3 functions) it keeps my hands free for other tasks. Yes Bill OGBO spare batteries can be small and light weight.
If planned right, for those who take extra stuff with them, a mini mag light type can come in handy, as well as/or their smallest light. It could be dangled around ones neck and still be usefull. The light is bright, unit is light in weight. I have used this type to set up my tent well after dark. My hands were free.
I am amused with all the black coloured flashlights for sale. Think about it, it may be dim light, to dark and you are looking for a BLACK flashlight, probably in a BLACK bag or container. It could also be with a group of other BLACK flashlights just the same. Type, size, colour, weight doesn’t matter so long as they work. Hand free works great. For those shopping think about the purchase before you buy.

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
471 reviewer rep
2,910 forum posts
May 20, 2008 at 10:49 a.m. (EDT)

I second the Petzl e-Lite as a convenient light to take along on day hikes: http://www.trailspace.com/gear/petzl/e+lite/

If backpacking or camping I still use a regular size 3-LED headlamp, but the e-Lite is so small and light it can easily live in my day pack.

Jim S
37 reviewer rep
747 forum posts
May 25, 2008 at 7:08 p.m. (EDT)

Heck, when I need a light to ski by I just flip open my cell phone and point it forwards.
Jim S
As I carry fewer pieces of gear that are better arranged, I can pretty much get by using my sense of touch in locating my gear in the dark.
I may go spend my REI dividend on an elite. I'm always losing head lamps so spares are a good thing. Currently I'm using a photon and a little princeton led unit. I just realised I've never opened it or changed the batteries and it may be lithiums... I do ski with the little princeton "Tech?". I can infact still go ski camping if I want to. Theres lots of snow 2,000 feet above my house, this late in the year a headlamp may not even be needed.

mattblick
0 reviewer rep
7 forum posts
May 28, 2008 at 11:45 p.m. (EDT)

Photon Freedom Micro + clip attachment is always packed.

If I am doing night time hiking or activity that requires a headlamp, my ZebraLight H50-Q5 comes along. If not, a LiteFlux LF3 and its diffuser cap gets packed. Each light is under 2 ounces and both lights use CR-123A Lithium cells. I have recently started using the rechargeable Lithium cells in them (RCR-123A). Though the capacity isn't as high as the throw aways, they still have the high 3.7 volt power and decent 800 mAh capacity. I don't mind bringing along an extra battery to save landfill space.

f_klock
100 reviewer rep
762 forum posts
May 29, 2008 at 6:16 p.m. (EDT)

This past year, at conservation camp, we did a little experiment with the kids. We did a no light night. It was a bright (full)moonlit night. After our eyes adjusted to the darkness (about 90 minutes) we hiked, set up tents, and collected fire wood - in the dark with no problems. Once the fire was lit, all the fun went away. The kids asked of we could put it out. We did.

I'm not saying you don't need a light, I just wanted to share the experience. Lights can be overrated sometimes.

Don't get me wrong, I like light, lots of light. For searches I use a Petzl Duo 15 led/halogen combo. In my pack, there is a Petzl TacTika plus as a backup, and I also carry a ShurFire Outdoorsman 3W led in a holster on my packstrap. My helmet sports a red led flasher on the back I also keep a white waterproof strobe beacon handy. Spare lithium batteries are also packed for all of the above.

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