Unlike my husband who loves all things gadgets, I just don’t get excited about that sort of thing. I prefer to keep my running low key and simple, so the idea of learning how to use a headlamp is not appealing. But, I signed up for a hundred, have terrible night vision and an inclination to twist my ankles, so on the advice of my tech-savvy, gadget-hungry, research-driven husband, I threw down $199.95 for the Petzl NAO+ headlamp.
The first time I pulled it out of the box, felt how heavy it was, and how complicated it looked, I made a negative snap judgment and handed it to Matthew. I wanted nothing to do with the atrocity in front of me… until I tried it. My biggest concern was the weight as it felt like a brick (185 g). What I found though, is the battery pack fits snuggly on top of a low bun, which makes the weight a non-issue. The headband also supports the additional weight and creates a snug fit. I have big, poufy hair, so my low bun must be tightly secured or the bounce of my hair while running causes the band to slip. Separately, you can purchase an extension cord, which allows the battery to be worn on the waist or in your pack. Despite my initial skepticism about the weight, I never even bothered with the pack extension because of the Goofy-like images of me getting tangled. It does have a more complicated appearance and is heavier than my other headlamps, but these features have not outweighed the benefit of night vision.
The NAO+ has 750 lumens and if you haven’t experienced a lamp this bright, you are going to be blown away. The brightness and field of illumination are AMAZING. You can actually see the trail at night. It has four basic settings: constant max, constant autonomy, Reactive max, and Reactive autonomy. Additionally, there is a red light on the battery in the back (static or blinking, which can be changed with an app that it connects to via Bluetooth). This is a great feature for city running; and it also helps identify your runner during a race, because many runners don’t have a back red light.
You change between the four basic settings by turning a square knob on the right side of the front light, which is easy to find and work with gloves. Simple. The only challenging thing is knowing whether the short or long turn is for the Reactive setting. The Reactive setting saves battery life by automatically adjusting the brightness of the light relative to the amount of surrounding ambient light. The power knob also has a lock setting, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally draining the battery when it is stuffed in your bag or pack, which can also be mitigated by disconnecting the battery.
Petzl reports this lamp has up to 15 hours with the rechargeable 3100 mAh Lithium-ion battery on the Reactive setting. I haven’t tested the full life of the battery, but it has lasted at least 7 hours during a 100 miler. There is a battery-life indicator on the battery and the light blinks two minutes before going into reserve mode. There is a chart on the website that spells out the battery life for each setting, including reserve mode, which varies depending on the current setting, e.g. the time of reserve mode for the constant max power setting (this setting requires the most charge) is shorter than the Reactive max autonomy setting. The battery is rechargeable, but it does take a long time: 6 – 8 hours and gets approximately 300 charges.
My last commentary on the battery is related to how it plugs into the headlamp. It does require a minute to figure out, so it is best done before leaving the house. In brief, there is a USB port, which is how you charge it, and a plug to connect to the light. The plug is a straightforward twist and lock mechanism but removing the USB port is more involved. Check out my video for a quick tutorial.
The Petzl NAO+ has many features that are outside the scope of this review. The website has the specifications nicely organized and includes a great FAQ page. The app, which I briefly mention in the article, is connected via a Bluetooth SMART connection and allows you to customize the beam (both lumens and illumination pattern), red backlight, and check battery status.
Two hundred bucks is a lot of money for a light, but if you run on the trail in the dark, it is totally worth it. The back red light makes it great for city running too, as your visibility to drivers is crucial for safety. I highly recommend the Petzl NAO+ headlamp for all your dark adventures!
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