Torches, Batteries and the Cold
In this review we're going to depart from our normal format as we're looking at multiple options which may be mixed and matched depending on conditions, environment and use-case. We're not going to rate these individually or as an "ensemble" or provide an all encompassing conclusion. Instead we'll simply state that all these torches are mainstays of the Scramble kit tests; are regularly used by the Scramble team and (by consensus) have out-performed comparable options by brands such as Black Diamond, Silva et al.
The review is in three sections. 1) Standard / budget options, 2) Battery performance (in cold conditions), 3) Performance / sub zero (and night trekking) options.
As always, we're looking at these torches from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.
Test item(s): Various
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer
Disclaimer: None required (items not provided by manufacturers)
- Part 1: Budget Options
- - Main Head Torch
- - Backup Head Torch
- - Focused Beam Torch
- Part 2: Batteries
- Part 3: Sub Zero Options
- - Main Head Torch
- Conclusion & Product Images
Whether you only need some light around camp (proximity lighting) or you're trekking deep into the night (long distance beam), you're going to need some artificial light to get things done while the sun is rolled away by the mighty scarab.
It doesn't matter how great the electronics and LED bulb(s) are on a headlamp if the batteries that power them are rubbish or have been rendered so by the cold. So, in part 2 we'll quickly skim over the effect of the cold on battery capacity and output and summarise what you probably already know.
We'll then segue smoothly into the final section, where we'll recommend our ideal head torch and battery setup for operating in low sub-zero temperatures.
Lighting Part 1: Budget Options
Summary Datasheet: Weight (incl. batteries) & Price (RRP)
|1. Main: Petzl Tikkina (Hybrid), Max Beam = 150 (current model = 250) lumens (w. AAA / Petzl Core*)||84g / 73g*||£19.99|
|2. Backup : Petzl e+Lite, Max Beam = 50 lumens||27g||£26.99|
|3. Focus Beam: Nebo iProtec Pro 100, Max Beam = 100 lumens||70g||£9.99|
By "Budget" We Mean ...
Firstly, we're not making a distinction here regarding the user; we're not suggesting that a "lower-end" user would get away with the budget setup and a "pro" should use the "performance" option. On the contrary, we're taking the user as a constant (someone like us) and instead we're saying, let the conditions and use-case dictate which torches are suitable.
For example, the three torches in this section, all served me perfectly well in the last winter kit test (2020). This kit test only saw temperatures drop to a low of -5℃. Knowing that the cold wasn't going to be a major issue, I packed regular (non-sub-zero) default batteries (NiMH rechargeables, alkalines, and standard lithium CR2032s in the backup head-torch).
The torches featured in this section offer superb performance for their price, each serving a particular purpose (whilst providing a degree of redundancy / backup) and are likely all that one would need for most long distance treks where nighttime activity is limited rather than the norm and where temperatures don't drop too far below freezing.
1. Main Head Torch: Petzl Tikkina (Hybrid)
Datasheet (2020 specs)
|Max Burn Time (lumens / burn time)||6 lm / 120 hrs|
|Standard (lumens / burn time)||100 lm / 9 hrs|
|Max Power (lumens / burn time)||250 lm / 2 hrs|
|Batteries (type x number, can also take Petzl Core rechargeable cell)||AAA x 3|
|Weight (measured without batteries)||49g|
The Petzl Tikkina is a classic, reliable, simple head torch, ideal for finishing off a trek as the light begins to fade, setting up camp, conducting general chores around camp etc ... The Tikkina offers 3 settings which you "scroll through" with a repeated press of its single power button. Providing long duration proximity lighting (low setting) with a standard setting for locating items slightly further afield but still in your locale. The max beam will burn through the battery quite quickly, but works well when you need some extra distance. I hardly ever use this setting (other torches do a better job, more on this later).
This is also a useful head torch for those times when you're forced to walk along road sections at night and require a little light to warn potential oncoming traffic of your presence without blinding them in the process.
The Tikkina (like most Petzl headlamps) has an IPX4 (weather resistance) rating, which means it's suitable for use in rain, snow and humid environments. I've not had problems using the Tikkina in poor weather (a cap provides useful added protection in stormy conditions).
The more recent Tikkinas are called "hybrids" in that they accept both 3 x AAA batteries as well as Petzl's rechargeable lithium-ion Core battery cell (more on this later). Unless conditions are going to be very challenging for batteries, I use standard Energizer NiMH 800mAh rechargeables. In summer, when days are long, battery life is rarely an issue. In winter, I will often be getting to sleep around 8pm (around 3 hours after dark) and will get up around 4am to 5am, with the aim of setting off between 6am and 7am (since everything takes longer in the cold). That's potentially 5 hours of artificial light required. Eight nights of that is 40 hours of light to budget for, all when the cold is reducing battery life.
Spare batteries and/or a power-source to recharge them would seem like a sensible option. I'm conservative (and not in the slightest cavalier) when it comes to lighting; I like to have backups (as electronics can and do fail). Three AAA NiMH batteries weigh approximately 35g. Which brings us to our second head torch in this section.
Assuming no weight difference, would you rather:
- carry a spare set of batteries for your main head torch? or
- carry a spare head torch with its own spare set of backup batteries?
Well, we'd choose (2) every time. Which is why Scramble recommend the Petzl e+LITE emergency backup head torch.
2. Backup Head Torch: Petzl e+Lite
Datasheet (2020 specs)
|Standard (lumens / burn time)||15 lm / 12 hrs|
|Max Power (lumens / burn time)||50 lm / 9 hrs|
|White Strobe (lumens / burn time)||15 lm / 95 hrs|
|Red (lumens / burn time)||2 lm / 15 hrs|
|Red Strobe (lumens / burn time)||2 lm / 70 hrs|
|Batteries (type x number)||CR2032 x 2|
|Weight (measured without batteries, 2 x lithium CR2032 = 3g)||24g|
|Watertightness (waterproof to -1 meter for 30 minutes)||IPX7|
The Petzl e+Lite makes a superb backup head torch. It uses 2 x CR2032 lithium "button" batteries to power its 50 lumen (max) LED bulb. A pair of CR2032s weighs in at 3g. So, with one set in the e+Lite (27g) and another two sets (6g) as backup, the total weight (33g) comes to less than the 3 AAA batteries (35g) you might carry as backup for a standard head torch like the Tikkina.
Unlike the Tikkina, the e+Lite is fully waterproof, making it a trustworthy backup option should your batteries begin to flatline on your main head torch, or the torch itself fail / break. However, at a max of 50 lumens it's not suited to lighting up the way when traversing tricky terrain at night.
Hinting at its emergency status, the e+Lite has a number of strobe options and includes a useful steady 2 lumen red light for times when you want to preserve your night vision.
You could make a case that if you're only using such torches in and around camp why not just use two e+Lites (for main and backup) and save some weight. The issue here is that the larger head torches, like the Tikkina, have more lumens in the bank when you need that extra light boost and the larger AAA batteries have more capacity. The 50 lumens from the e+Lite is pretty bright, but I can think of a number of situations (even) around camp when I've been glad of having a more powerful head torch than the e+Lite.
Aside from the light weight, one of the things we like about the e+Lite's CR2032 batteries is that they're lithium and so handle cold weather better than alkaline and nickel–metal hydride batteries, plus they're very cheap when bought in bulk.
As, we've hinted in the two Petzl head torches we've looked at so far, these are not really night trekking options. To make good decisions you need context; an appreciation for the lay of the land. A long focused beam helps provide this. The distance of the beam is not as much about power as one might think, the focus of the beam is equally (perhaps more) important. Generally speaking, the narrower the beam the more distant the illumination.
Which brings us to our final torch in this section (and though it can be used as one, it's not natively a head torch), the cheap as chips iProtec Pro 100.
3. Focused Beam Torch: Nebo iProtec Pro 100
|Standard (lumens / burn time)||100 lm / 2 hrs|
|White Strobe (lumens / burn time)||100 lm / 4.5 hrs|
|Batteries (type x number)||AA x 1|
|Weight (measured without batteries, 1 x AA = 22g)||48g|
The iProtect 100's LED bulb provides a modest 100 lumens of light but in a tight focused beam which projects up to 80m into the distance. A simple, robust and lightweight flashlight with a single (glow in the dark) on/off button at the back and a deeply recessed LED bulb at the front. It's made of aircraft-grade aluminum and is water-resistant but not fully waterproof (i.e. not submersible).
Out of the box, it comes fitted with a metal thing on the front which is sharp and "tactical" and intended to break / cut things. Remove that and you've got a useful torch. It uses a single AA battery and doesn't have an overly impressive burn time. However, we like this torch, especially for 3-season use when days are longer and the added weight isn't an issue. The beam is impressively long and it's got me out of trouble on a number of occasions where I've needed to get a good sense of where in the hell I am and what kind of trouble I need to navigate myself out of.
The clip is probably the highlight. It's very strong and can be attached to the rim of a cap, to the shoulder staps of a backpack or to a pouch on your pack or hip belt (if you use one) for hands-free use.
The three torches in this section have worked well together in all but low sub-zero temperatures. They compliment each other well and provide a good degree of redundancy for ones lighting setup. For long distance, unsupported, solo trekking this is a very useful feature and one seldom appreciated until batteries drain and/or torches fail.
Finally, to round out this section ...
A Non-Scientific Illustration: 'Used Main Head Torch' vs. 'Fresh Backup Torches'
Perhaps I was bored during this winter's (2020) kit test, but I thought I'd try to illustrate the three torches mentioned in this section and show how the Tikkina fared after 5 nights (4 - 5 hours per day of mixed beam usage) at temperatures between 0 and -5℃. The three battery types are noted at the base of the image.
For the photographers out there, these were shot at 800 ISO, F5.6 with a 4 second exposure. No exposure-based processing has been done, so they accurately reflect what the camera's sensor captured. The camera was on a tripod (position is marked) and the torches were positioned to the left of the camera directed at our mug of choice just 4 meters away.
You can see in the comparison below, where each light was on its max setting, the Tikkina was down to around 10% to 15% of its full brightness (~ 15 to 20 lumens? ... clearly well below the e+Lite's 50 lumen output).
Lighting Part 2: Batteries
Petzl CORE vs Standard AAA Batteries
For their testing protocol (ANSI/PLATO FL 1) Petzl state that:
Burn time corresponds to the length of time during which lighting is optimal. It is measured 30 seconds after the lamp is turned on and for as long as the lamp takes to drop to 10 % of maximum light output.
They don't provide a great deal of information on how burn time is affected by temperature (which would be helpful), but to be fair to Petzl this is really a battery performance issue, not so much a head torch one.
Petzl's hybrid lamps, like the Tikkina and the Actik Core (see below) can take both regular batteries and Petzl Core rechargeable lithium-ion cells. Each provide different output performance curves, with the Core providing a more constant output which as the battery drains, drops down in discrete steps: constant bright light steps down to constant manageable light which then drops down into the emergency reserve.
Regular batteries (the "standard lighting" curve below) provide a less consistent output which gradually attenuates until fully discharged. However, regular AAA batteries will operate a little longer on a very low-light trickle at the end of their charge.
Batteries in the Cold
Out of all the batteries, alkaline (e.g. standard non-rechargeable Duracells) are the worst performers when it comes to sub zero temperatures. These helpful graphs from Energizer shows just how much output (Voltage) and capacity (mAh) are affected by the cold.
As Arctic explorer Alex Hibbert put it, "for serious low temperature use, lithiums are the solution. In the cold, forget alkalines [...] Buy quality batteries if you're off somewhere cold."
There's a simple hierarchy when it comes to batteries for cold conditions, with alkalines at the bottom, nickel metal hydride (NiMH) in the middle and lithiums at the top.
Out of those three, when it comes to AA and AAA batteries, only NiMH batteries are rechargeable. In sub zero conditions, for devices that use AA or AAA batteries, we like Energizer's non-rechargeable Ultimate Lithium batteries (20 year storage life).
Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery packs (like the Poweradd pictured below) and the aforementioned Petzl Core both handle the cold reasonably well, but care has to be taken when charging lithium-ion batteries below freezing as they can be permanently damaged. We'll let Battery University explain:
Many battery users are unaware that consumer-grade lithium-ion batteries cannot be charged below 0°C (32°F). Although the pack appears to be charging normally, plating of metallic lithium can occur on the anode during a sub-freezing charge. This is permanent and cannot be removed with cycling. [...] Advancements are being made to charge Li-ion below freezing temperatures. Charging is indeed possible with most lithium-ion cells but only at very low currents. According to research papers, the allowable charge rate at –30°C (–22°F) is 0.02C. At this low current, the charge time would stretch to over 50 hours, a time that is deemed impractical. There are, however, specialty Li-ions that can charge down to –10°C (14°F) at a reduced rate.
Personally (and we're not recommending this for legal reasons), I charge my lithium-ion rechargeables (like the Petzl Core) inside my sleeping bag, and only after I've been in it for a while.
I store spare lithium-ion batteries (for camera, head torches etc.) and my battery pack in a Sea To Summit Cable Cell. At night this goes inside my sleeping bag, but during the day I put a single Hot Hands Hand Warmer inside a mini cotton stuff sack, and this then goes inside the Cable Cell. This will last a full day's winter trekking. As soon as I've set camp, I slide the still warm Cable Cell inside my sleeping bag.
The only thing to note here is, for the hand warmers to work they require access to air (they won't work if suffocated), so you can't put the Cable Cell inside a sealed dry bag. However, you need to waterproof the batteries, so the batteries go in zip-lock bags and the Cable Cell sits in an air-permeable part of the backpack.
Lighting Part 3: Sub Zero Option
Summary Datasheet: Weight (incl. batteries) & Price (RRP)
|Main: Petzl Actik Core (Hybrid), Max Beam = 450 lumens (w. AAA / Petzl Core*)||~90g / 80g*||£57.99|
|Backup : Petzl e+Lite, Max Beam = 50 lumens||27g||£26.99|
|Battery Pack: Poweradd EnergyCell 5000mAh Portable||100g||£12.99|
In this section we're going to look at our ideal lighting setup for sub-zero conditions and/or for those that regularly extend trekking deep into the night.
In the image above we have a couple of items we've not yet seen in this review (#1 and #2 above, along with the e+Lite [#3] and two sets of spare CR2032s [#4]). Before we get to our ideal winter combo, I'm going to mention a few changes I've made to my winter kit in terms of electronics and the effect it's had on overall power consumption (power requirements).
The three types of (potentially) power hungry devices I carry are: 1) phone, 2) camera and 3) torches. I've recently down-graded the phone (I don't rely on electronics for important stuff like navigation) and the switch from smartphone (162g) to an old dual-sim Nokia 105 (86g, 15h talk time, 1 month standby) provides savings in terms of weight but also battery-life (and thus power consumption).
In winter, I carry four batteries for my GX1 camera and (when looked after in the manner described above) this has been sufficient for eight days below freezing (recent winter kit test saw ~400 RAW images shot, 2.75 batteries used). Consequently, I no longer require the heavy 10,000 mAh battery pack (>200g) I used to carry. I now use the much lighter (100g) Poweradd 5,000 mAh battery pack (pictured above #1). Although, in the last winter kit test this wasn't required (temperatures weren't that cold, with a low of -5°C), it's always sensible to have the ability to top up critical devices if needed.
Which brings us to the final torch in this review, the re-chargeable Petzl Actik Core.
Main (Sub Zero) Head Torch: Petzl Actik Core
Datasheet (2020 specs)
|Max Burn Time (lumens / burn time)||6 lm / 130 hrs|
|Standard (lumens / burn time)||100 lm / 8 hrs|
|Max Power (lumens / burn time)||450 lm / 2 hrs|
|Red Proximity (lumens / burn time)||2 lm / 60 hrs|
|Red Strobe (visible distance / burn time)||700 m / 400 hrs|
|Batteries: Type / Number (can also take 3 x AAA)||Core / 1|
|Weight (measured without battery, 1 x Petzl Core = 24g)||56g|
|Manufacturer RRP (UK price may vary depending Euro to GBP rates)||£57.99|
The Petzl Actik Core, part of Petzl's "Active" range, is what you'd get if you combined the best features of the three torches mentioned in the first section and then gave them a substantial boost. You have the traditional form factor, proximity lighting and ease of use of the Tikkina; the red light / strobe options and native lithium battery of the e+Lite; and the high distance beam (90m on max) of the iProtec 100 (though not quite as narrowly focused). In addition the Core battery allows the Actik Core to run on a "constant lighting" regime (as per the graph above).
Although it has a few more features than the Tikkina, the Actik is very easy to use (without the need to remember a vast array of button sequences ... hint: Black Diamond). Holding down the power button will switch from white to red lighting. A single click will cycle through the three brightness levels. A four second hold of the power button will lock it and prevent the light accidentally powering on when packed away.
The Actik Core comes with Petzl's Core rechargeable battery (1250 mAh Lithium-ion) and will also accept 3 x AAA batteries. The Core is useful, as it negates the need for an intermediary USB charger (I used to carry a 35g XTAR XP1 charger) between the source power-pack and the recipient battery. All the devices mentioned above can be plugged directly into the power-pack.
"So, if it does the job of three torches why not just take the Actik Core?". Well, it's always sensible to have backups in case your main head torch fails. But yes, as long as you can keep supplying the Actik Core with juice (and it doesn't fall down a mountain or into a river), it will do all you'd want a light to do - at a price. The Actik Core costs more (even assuming you've got your "shopping-around-online-bargain-hunting" goggles on) than all three of the "budget" torches combined. You get what you pay for.
The Actik Core has an IPX4 (weather resistance) rating, which means it's suitable for use in rain, snow or humid environments. When you peruse the Petzl range you discover that the outlier is the fully waterproof e+Lite (IPX7) which makes sense, since it's an emergency headlamp.
If we had to choose just two torches (a main + backup) for year-round use, we'd go with Petzl's Actik Core with the e+Lite emergency headlamp as backup. Both are superb performers, both natively use lithium-based batteries; the rechargeable Actik can be topped up and the e+Lite's CR2032s weigh almost nothing (so plenty of spares won't weigh you down or fill your pack).
Being a "fear the worst, hope for the best" kind of person, I would still like an additional (third) torch for multi-week treks. In this regard, a case can be made for both the iProtec 100 (or a similarly reliable lightweight single AA battery narrow beam torch) and the Petzl Tikkina (especially now they're "Hybrid" and will accept the Core battery from the Actik should it fail).
I think the choice comes down to how much night-trekking you expect to do. If you want an additional backup for the Actik to cover its ability to light the way through treacherous terrain, then a torch like the iProtec 100 (with an Energizer Lithium Ultimate AA) would serve that purpose. If you want a more all-round backup and feel the e+Lite is more of a last resort, then an empty Tikkina (at 49g) would fit the bill.
Finally, if you engage in long distance treks but don't venture out much below -5°C, I would suggest that two or all three of the torches mentioned in the "budget options" section would suffice. They've served the Scramble team well, and were certainly good enough for me over the 8 days of this year's (2020) winter kit test.
Last Updated: 10/04/20