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CAMPING - POWER & LIGHTING

RECHARGEABLE HEAD TORCH COMPARISON
Quality rechargeable units compared for spread and distance.

Like most campers, we used to carry AA and AAA batteries with us to power lights, CB radios and entertainment kit, but the increasing number of USB-rechargeable devices has changed that situation for the better. We checked out some quality, rechargeable head torches.

We started this evaluation by selecting five quality-brand head torches that spanned the price range from $52 to $220. 

The contestants

Our base head torch was Hella’s rechargeable that was the first quality brand unit on the market. We’ve been using a couple of them for years and they’re still going fine. Read the Hella specs in our report.

Since the Hella unit was launched the competition has more than caught up. Narva has two head torches that straddle the Hella unit. The ALS pair are priced above and below it. Read their details in our report.

German maker, Ledlenser, has long led the global torch market in innovation and its rechargeable products are also class-leading. We’ve reported on two of their models here.

 

The test

Before we evaluated these head torches we charged them fully and left them charged and switched off for three months, simulating camping gear that is often stowed away for lengthy periods. We pulled them out at the end of that time and all of them lit up straight away, having dropped virtually no battery life in the meantime. 

We inspected the batteries and there was no sign of leaking and that’s one of the great advantages of rechargeables over AAs. We’ve sometimes checked our camping gear before a trip and found installed batteries that have leaked and damaged some devices, because we forgot to take out the batteries.

Another great advantage is that rechargeables can be plugged into solar-powered electrical systems and charged during daylight hours, for use after sundown. Battery life is less important with that possibility.

Next step was hosing them! All were rated for sweat and rain-resistance and a light shower proved that they all met that criterion.

We set up a simulated campsite, with a central table and stove, and a pair of camping chairs in the mid-background. Behind that were trees, at gradually increasing distances from the head torches.

We assessed the torches in price order, starting with the Narva ALS 71424.

Narva ALS 71424

This simple unit had a power switch on one side and a charging port at the other. It came with a USB cable and a 240V adaptor. This light could be detached from its single-strap band and stuck on any ferrous surface.

The switch provided high and low power, spread-beam outputs that we judged excellent for campsite lighting and great value for money.

When switched off the unit glowed soft green for a few minutes, making it easy to find in the dark.

It’s only downside was an insecure rubber cover over the charging port, so it didn’t like our rain shower.

 

Hella I-View

The Hella torch came with a USB charging cable and had a power switch on one side and a ‘motion’ switch on the other. The light could be set to activate and switch off by passing a hand in front of it.

The light had two power settings and both were spread beams. We’ve been using this light for three years and have found its beam excellent for campsite lighting.

 

Narva ALS 71426

This torch came with a USB cable, two-strap headband and a 240V adaptor. It had the same motion-activation on and off feature as the Hella, but differed in having thee separate beam LED sources: arc, spread and spot.

The arc LEDs lit up along the curved base of the unit, giving a downwards spread that was purpose-designed for cooking and other close tasks.  The spread beam consisted of two LED banks that gave a wide mid-distance spread. The spot beam used a central LED with magnifying lens to produce a useful hot-spot beam, for mid-distance spotlighting.

Like the smaller Narva torch it could be detached from the band with a simple twist and placed on any ferrous metal surface. It also emitted a green glow after shut-down.

Spread beam above

Spot beam above

Spot beam above

 

Ledlenser MH8

The MH8 came with a USB charging cable and two-strap headband. The battery housing was easily accessible with the unit clipped off the headband and the rechargeable battery could be replaced by two AAs if necessary.

The main LED shone through a magnifying and zooming lens that varied beam width infinitely from spread to spot. It had four power settings – low, mid, power and boost – and an emergency blinking function. On ‘spread’ it lacked the width of the Narva and Hella beams, but was brighter.

The unit swivelled from horizontal to 45-degrees downwards.

On its narrow setting the MH8 had more beam distance than the Narva 71426.

A bonus with the MH8 was an auxiliary LED that switched from red to green and blue. Red lighting is the preferred colour in situations where night vision needs to be preserved, such as marine.

Spread beam above

Spot beam above

Spot beam above (with moth flight path!)

Red LED above

 

Ledlenser H14R.2

The H14R.2 came with a remote battery pack, a charging cable and an extension cable to allow the battery pack to be clipped to clothing or a belt and a 240V adaptor. It was the ‘big mother’ in this test line-up and easily out-shone the others for beam distance. 

The demounted battery housing gave easy access to the rechargeable battery that could be replaced by four AAs if necessary.

It had the MH8’s ‘red light’ function, but that LED was on the battery pack; tail lamp style. Both the red and white LEDs had an emergency blink function.

Its powerful white LED shone through a magnifying lens that telescoped between spread and spot beams that were available in low and high power settings. That high-performance LED and lens combination is patented.

The low-power spread beam was brighter than the other beams, but not as wide as the Narva and Hella lights. We found it a tad heavy and over-powered for around-campsite work. but the H14R.2 came into its own when bush-walking and spotlighting.

Spread beam above

Spot beam above

Spot beam above (with moth flight path!)

 

Conclusion

The head torch with the brightest, longest distance beam was the Ledlenser H14R.2, so if you need an orienteering-style unit, go for it. Pricing we found ranged from $185 to $220.

The Narva 71426 was the best campsite-area light, offering purpose-designed beams without then need for adjustment – just simple on/off switches, plus a hand-wave function. That functionality doesn’t come cheaply and we found pricing in the $140-200 range.

For that same money the Ledlenser MH8 had less flood light performance, but brighter distance performance and a red light function, so work out what you need the most.

At the single-beam end of our fivesome, the Narva 71424 ($52-84) was judged better value for money than the Hella ($72-90).

We couldn’t settle on just one of these, so we chose the Narva ALS 71426 for general duties and the LED Lenser MH8 for a combination of camp lighting, red light illumination and spotlighting.

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