Here’s a brief overview- full review to come. I’m very lucky to have been sent a Petzl Nao headlamp for testing and review. What makes me so excited? Well, it truly is a new technology applied to an old concept. For a full description, check out this video
It’s an ambitious goal, and it mostly works well as I’ll explain. I’ve been using the Nao for over a week both in built up areas and in the bush.
It’s amazingly bright- my Petzl MYO RXP has about 140 lumens, the Nao is 350 (and the MYO RXP is pretty bright to start with!). Even on the low setting straight out of the box other runners were saying they thought a car was coming up behind them. The battery pack is lighter than the MYO RXP. The reactive circuits work as advertised, and they’re amazingly fast. The headlamp is held on to your head by a new system that puts less pressure on your head than the old elastic strap, and it’s easy to adjust. It has a square, rotating momentary switch on the front that allows you to turn it on and adjust easily even with gloved hands- this is a major improvement over the RXP- I loved that lamp but the ‘on’ button was a pig to use. Running at the front of the group along some quite technical single track was just a joy- I’m not a fast runner but others in the group were calling on me to slow down- it was a great feeling. I don’t think the lamp makes me run faster, simply that I had more confidence than the others because of the light output. OK, maybe a little bit faster? It has an uncanny ability to adjust when you swing your head around and up the trail. When standing around in a group, it turned itself down so that it didn’t annoy others. It’s particularly good when there isn’t much light ‘pollution’ around, or bright spots (reflecting packs etc).
The Nao initially doesn’t feel ‘right’ when I put it on- the cable that leads to the battery hits the top of my ear which is very annoying, and it’s not long enough to re-route. It doesn’t feel symmetrical on my head, but perhaps that is my head! After a while, I forget about this and it’s no problem but I’ve experienced this every time I’ve put it on so far. There’s a few circumstances where the reactive lighting is incredibly annoying. Running along partly lit streets at night, the Nao keeps on making wild adjustments to the light output which is disconcerting to watch. Also when in a group, if you’re travelling along single track and you have someone in front of you, the sensor will detect any light reflecting from that person and turn your light down! Have you noticed how much reflective stuff is attached to the back of your gear? The effect can be vicious, making you work harder to see the trail than if using a normal headlamp. On wider tracks, you can avoid this by simply running to one side of the person in front, which is best practice anyway as you can see more of what is coming up.
I should point out though that this is simply the way the Nao works- you can program the light modes using your computer and a program called OS by Petzl, which is a free download. Unfortunately it doesn’t recognise the Nao battery yet, meaning I could not change the reactive lighting modes or simply use regulated mode.
(UPDATE- this is why I’m not a real journalist. If I’d given the instruction manual more than a cursory glance I would have realised that you can easily set the headlight into regulated mode by simply holding the momentary switch for 2 seconds. I also found that Petzl have a way to re route the battery cable so it doesn’t hit my ear. So I’ve gone from cranky to amazed, and all it took was a bit of RTFM). So that’s 2 out of my 3 grievances with the product gone, time to give it a higher score!
Regulated mode means that the headlamp regulates the power output (and therefor the light output) so that the lamp stays at the same brightness, without dimming as the battery runs low. So most of my concerns about this headlamp can be fixed by simply programming a mode that does not use the reactive mode. This might sound counter intuitive to not use the technology available in the lamp, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s strengths lie in being in front, or not in suburban streets! One mode for bush running, one for street running- perfect! Using the instructions provided, I have figured out that this sequence will be best for me during the North Face 100- turn it on, then hold the switch for 2 seconds to put it in regulated mode, then one more click to put it in level 2 (approximately 88 Lumens output). This will give me a burn time of approximately 8 hours, and I should only need about 6-7 hours. Perfect!
It’s not available Nao, er I mean now! Official release date is July. I’ve already had several offers of cash under the table to part with it. And I’m wondering if I can keep it long enough so I don’t have to be without one for long. Before I used this headlamp I wondered why I could possibly want another one- we’ve got others in just about every room in the house. But this is definitely a headlamp that will be added to my collection. If not Nao, then soon!