Petzl Ultra headlamp

The Petzl Ultra headlamp has a whopper of a retail price ($450), but it delivers an impressive 350 lumens of light, and burns for more than 16 hours on one charge.

When we heard about the new Petzl Ultra headlamp in January 2010, we had to see for ourselves if it could actually deliver on the promise of 350 lumens of light and more than 16 hours of burn time on one charge. So, we ordered one and tested it pretty thoroughly before, during and just after a ridiculously fun 24-hour adventure race (the BAAR Brawl) in Marin, Calif. And we have to say "wow" on two fronts.

First, the light is truly amazing. On high beam (the unit has three brightness settings of low, medium and high), the illumination made objects 300 feet away (and even farther) appear brightly lit. We mostly kept the beam on low, which was more than adequate for nocturnal running even on narrow, winding tracks or while trying to find the trail after it disappeared into a field of grass, shrubbery and weeds. The light is also impressive because it casts a wide beam in front of you while running, biking, hiking or paddling, rather than throwing the type of narrow, focused beam typical with other lights in this genre.

The second thing that wowed us was the price. While we are serious about our illumination, the headlamp’s retail price of $450 seriously impacts the wallet. Is it worth it? That’s one thing we can’t decide for you, but one of our testers who has worked search and rescue, run safety patrol at night for Western States 100, and participates in the adventure racing scene says this, “Having a light, such as the Ultra, that you can count on no matter the weather, all night long on one charge is, frankly, priceless.” And, if you like to mountain bike or ski at night, this just might become your go-to lamp.

What does $450 buy?

• A light with three brightness settings that you can set easily with a large selection dial. This dial sits on the side of the headlamp and can be adjusted easily while you’re on the move. There’s even a lock setting that ensures the light won’t accidently turn on when stowed in a pack…great feature!

• It is weather resistant and shock resistant, meaning it will perform even after it has been dropped into streams or puddles, soaked by heavy rain and covered in serious dust.

• A rechargeable lithium ion battery pack offers sufficient power when fully charged for 1.5 to 2 hours when set to high. It offers five hours of use when set on medium, and 16 hours of use on low. The light recharges from a car battery or standard outlet in about three hours, and the computer control on the light ensures a consistent light output until it is almost out of power. At that point, the light switches to a power reserve mode buying up to 20 minutes of time we found with adequate illumination.

• An easy-to-read energy gauge bar graph on the battery pack shows clearly how much battery power is left…very useful feature as well.

• The stretchy side and top straps require a bit of fine-tuning, but once adjusted, they hold the light securely to your head, or to a bike or climbing helmet.

Our other quibble, if you can call it that, is the weight. Batteries that provide the kind of power necessary to generate the light output the Ultra has are not light, and in fact feel a bit bulky. But, during the adventure race, both of our testers were very surprised with how “light” the headlamp felt once securely in place on the noggin.

SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

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