Every adventure race I’ve ever done requires you to carry a source of light. For longer races where you’ll be racing in the dark, this seems like a no-brainer. But it doesn’t matter if it’s “only” an 8-hour race that begins and ends before dark, nearly all adventure races force you to carry a light because you never know what will happen out there. An 8-hour race can easily turn into a 10 or 12-hour struggle in the dark. But there are thousands of choices out there. What should you take? With nearly limitless options, I’ll share what we at Team Virtus use most of the time.
First, let’s rule out flash lights. A handheld flashlight isn’t going to do you much good in an AR. Yes, you could probably hike or run well enough holding a flashlight, but picture yourself paddling down a river at night trying to hold your paddle and your flashlight. Or imagine riding down some singletrack in the dark with one hand on the handlebars and the other holding the flashlight. That’s a recipe for disaster. A headlamp is the smarter choice for adventure racing.
The choices I’m about to share with you meet our three requirements for most of our gear: 1) Affordable, 2) Durable, and 3) Lightweight. I’m sure you could find lighter and brighter headlamps, but they usually cost anywhere from 3 to 10 times as much. And there may be cheaper or lighter models out there, but they usually don’t hold up to the rigors of adventure racing. So we try to find gear that is the best mix of price, durability, and weight.
For shorter races where I’m over 90% sure I’m going to finish before it gets dark, I take the Petzl e+LITE. This thing is tiny! It is roughly the same size as a few quarters stacked up. Seriously. It weighs a scant 27 grams (just under an ounce!!!), has two white light outputs (high and low), a red light for night vision, and a white-flashing and red-flashing mode for signaling. It lasts for 40+ hours on steady mode and up to 300 hours on flashing mode, and it’s even waterproof down to 1 meter. It can be worn around your head, clipped to the bill of a cap or to your pack, or even worn on your wrist. The e+LITE is a great choice to satisfy the mandatory gear requirement for shorter races, and if you do end up in the dark, it will be there when you need it. And even if you decide to carry more light for technical night nav or mt. biking, at less than an ounce you can carry this baby as a backup. And at around 30 bucks, you can’t really go wrong.
The Apex offers a 3-watt Maxbright Spot light (at 200 Lumens!) which is great for spotting the Checkpoints at a distance and for mountain biking in the dark, and 4 Ultrabright LEDs for map checks and hiking/biking/paddling in less technical sections where less light is needed. The super-bright spotlight and the ultra-bright task light both have a high, low, and flash mode. The Apex is also waterproof down to 1 meter. At price range between 70 -90 dollars, this headlamp is one of my top choices.
I prefer the model that uses 4 AA (Alkaline, Lithium, or NiMH Rechargeable) batteries since every gas station and grocery store in America carries them which makes finding replacement batteries super easy. Although with incredibly long burn times, it’s rare to need extra batteries. There is a Pro model that runs on CR123 Lithium batteries to save some weight and bulk. However, the burn times are lower, and it can be a pain trying to find replacement batteries on the fly. There is also a new Extreme model that uses 8 AA batteries for longer burn times, but it comes at a price of added bulk.
For an “in-between” headlamp (one which is bigger/brighter/more expensive than the e+LITE but smaller/less bright/less expensive than the Apex), I’d recommend the Princton Tec Remix. I’ve done several races with the Remix with no problems, but again, if I know there will be technical sections at night, I prefer the 200 lumens of the Apex over the 100 lumens of the Remix, but it is a very solid choice at $25-$40.
Princeton Tec also offers a lifetime warranty on all of their products. I had one of my headlamps break after several years of heavy use, and they happily replaced it with a new one. That’s just incredible customer service. And on top of all that, they are made in the USA (with the exception being they use some LEDs made outside of the US).
As I stated, there are brighter lights out there, and more light is usually a good thing. However, more light comes at a cost – usually the price and/or weight and bulk increase as the lumens go up. So you have to decide for yourself what will work for you with your budget. For us, the three headlamps mentioned above all meet our expectations and then some.