Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Post Hike Thoughts and Review: Part II

This is #2 in a series that started here. This one will be about flashlights.  The revolution in flashlights is incredible. Everyone over 40 should remember this.


They made them in plastic later on. We had them in the military. Took 2 D cell batteries. Provided a couple of hours of dim light. Heavy, clunky, but it was what was available. The idea that you could have used them to hike long distance on an unknown trail would have been laughable. You used them to find things in the tent and light your way to the latrine.

The revolution happened when light emitting diodes that provided white light became available. Flashlights using the LED technology came into the market around the early 2000s. Then they proliferated. Everything from tiny keychain LEDs to flashlights similar in size to the one above, but putting out thousands of lumens. That set the stage for this:


This is the revolution. Two or three AAA batteries, from a single LED to a bank of three to five, it is the headlamp that is the game changer. Plenty bright enough to light up the ground before you, strapped to your head and tiltable so it looks where you look, keeping your hands free for everything from cooking to reading to holding your hiking poles.

I was solo hiking, which creates the logistical problem of getting back to my truck on the day I come off the trail. I had called a man that makes side money providing shuttles along the Appalachian Trail in the area from Connecticut to Vermont. He said he could pick me up where the trail crosses the highway north of Bennington, Vt., but he would have to meet me no later than 9:30 AM. The shelter was four miles from the road. In that terrain with a pack, I'm not averaging much over a mile to a mile and a half an hour.

I woke up at 5AM. It was full dark. As I dressed and got ready, I was using the headlamp. I used it while I packed, while I made breakfast, and most importantly, at 6:10 AM, I put on my pack and hiked off onto an unknown trail, trusting the headlamp to light the way. I hiked with the headlamp until after 7, when it got light enough to see clearly. I came down the long descent to the highway about ten minutes after nine and met my ride.

It would not have been possible to make that choice without that LED headlamp.

There are lots of designs, some brighter, lighter, more efficient, and more expensive. Mine is middle of the road and I bought it in a local outfitter. Even the cheapest of them, available in a big box store, are like science fiction compared to what was available less than 20 years ago.

12 comments:

Backwoods Engineer said...

Great points. I haven't hiked the AT, but I have the same headlamp as the one in the photo, and several others. This allows me to continue working outdoors after the sun is down, especially this time of year when it goes down around 5PM.

Eric Wilner said...

The newfangled ones are so much more convenient than the GALVANICK LUCIPHER!
The improvements in LED technology the past few years are a Big Deal. But a lot of other things have gotten truly amazing of late: batteries, brushless motors, and of course chips. (It's completely nuts that I'm now using a microcontroller as a reset-button signal conditioner... just because it's cheaper and takes less board space than a conventional solution. And I'm looking at using low-end FPGAs in places where they would have made no sense just year-before-last.)

Gorges Smythe said...

I remember one that looked similar that you pumped with a caulkinggun-like handle. I don't know if it was military or not, but the one I saw was the right color.

Old NFO said...

Yep, DEFINITE improvements! I keep one of the headband version in the glove compartment, and one in my bugout bag.

c-90 said...

One of the reasons, the light was so dim, was that the D cells were so dang old, because of the supply chain. MFR under contract shipped to DSA Logistics Depot, DSA stores them in hot/cold bldgs, and then shipped to various supply chains for the services. And by the time they got to a unit, they were badly past due date, and bone tired.

waepnedmann said...

Great piece of kit.
I have a bunch of them in different bags, cars, and by my bed.
I no longer have to hold a flashlight in my mouth for operations requiring both hands.

EF G said...

And they need far less energy!
My chinese-made (but high quality) flashlight takes one AA and runs for... I don't know - a couple months of sporadic use. And I never depleted the battery, I always change them when they get "dim" :D

If you don't want a light that can double as a FLAKscheinwerfer you can squeeze more operating hours out of an AA as was possible with dimmer lights operating on two Ds.

Richard said...

Personally, I think headlamps are rude. Someone says something to you, you look at them and shine 500 lumens in their eyes. They are convenient for some things but not in company. I am experimenting with a wristlight to see whether I can get the convenience without being obnoxious.

mdmnm said...

For hiking, especially off-trail or on a poor trail, having a more powerful flashlight to supplement your headlamp and get your bearings is also a good idea. Battery life for the flashlight isn't very important, since you only use it for a few seconds at a time, so you can use something light. Also, you're right, LED headlamps are pretty amazing compared to what used to be available.

doubletrouble said...

Couldn’t agree more! During a prolonged power outage 10 years ago, my first generation led headlight saved the day- starting the generator, dealing w/water issues, & etc. Best invention since beer.

Eric Wilner said...

A further reflection on flashlights....
Back in the 80s, I took a beginner backpacking class. It ended with a backpacking trip in the Ventana Wilderness.
The hiking part started around midnight; it was planned that way. It was the night of the new moon; that was just the way it turned out. The instructor encouraged us to use flashlights sparingly if at all, because they'll ruin your night vision and the batteries will soon run down.
So there we were, hiking along a narrow trail with a fairly steep drop-off on one side, by starlight. Sometimes the starlight was filtered through trees.
It's amazing what you can perceive under such conditions when you really need to.
Somehow, though, I haven't felt motivated to repeat the experience. And I keep various modern flashlights scattered hither and yon, just for those times I need some extra light somewhere.

Will said...

As your eyes age, you need more lumens to see the same. 3X age 20 at age 50. So, batts tend mot to last as long for us oldsters if we want to see good. The problem is that the detail washes out as the batteries run down, and it tends to happen at a slow enough rate that you don't notice soon enough.