Every so once in a while I score a piece of review gear from Lou which is better than any amount of roses or chocolates. Such a thing happened this week when the Petzl Ultra 350 lumens headlamp landed in my lap.
I love road riding and I’m fortunate to be able to bicycle commute along a lovely 12 mile path from April thru October. My days at the office start early and often end late, so at this time of year, many of my rides are cold and dark. Wearing my lightweight backcountry skiing gear works perfectly to keep me warm, but I seem to constantly play around with lighting setups. I prefer to keep things light and versatile, so a headlamp is my preference. I get scared when I’m alone in the dark, and none of the ones I’ve tried were bright enough to help me see well enough to feel comfortable.
But now, with the 350 lumens duct taped to my helmet, I see far enough ahead to zip along and feel safe in the darkest morning. As the sun rises, I can easily dial down the power to conserve battery life (a big, glove-friendly dial provides control). The Petzl Ultra battery pack is heavy, but the cord is long and I stash it in a pocket. My helmet doesn’t get weighed down so neck strain isn’t an issue.
The one drawback to this type of headlamp, especially for backcountry use, is that you have to recharge the battery from a wall socket. I’m sure Lou could build a battery pack for the Ultra that took AA cells, and perhaps Petzl even has that as an option. But considering you’ve only got three hours available at the brightest setting with the larger Li rechargeable battery the unit comes with, running the Ultra with disposable batteries would dent your bank account rather substantially.
Speaking of battery life, Petzl Ultra runs like this: Two battery options are available. The larger cell will run about 3 hours on bright, 9 on medium, and 34 on the economy setting. The smaller battery option yields about 1.5 hours on max, 5 hours medium, and 16 in economy mode. An easily operated and intuitive “energy gauge” gives you a power reading by pushing a button, so you won’t be mystified about how much light you’ve got left. (Bear in mind this is a lithium/ion power source, so it will age and loose capacity just as your laptop computer battery does.)
While we’ve seen other “flame thrower” headlamps that provided more complex settings and options, I actually like the simplicity of the Ultra. Three settings. Big control knob. Power gauge. Tilt head. That’s it.
So far no big downsides (other than the typical wallet cleaning price of super bright headlamps), though Lou pointed out that the “lock” feature of the control knob is not positive enough for total confidence that the unit wouldn’t get turned on inadvertently while stowed in a backpack. Solution to that is of course simply disconnecting the battery during storage. Meanwhile, we be biking — and seeing well.