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319 Hiking Skills - The Ten Essentials - Light 2010-12-13


Without a doubt lighting is one of the essentials. Try stumbling around in the dark on an unfamiliar trail and the need to have light will be evident. Automobiles have headlights, in the back country we use headlamps.

Headlamps have made huge advances in the last ten years. The new LED lights have a bright beam, long battery life, and are lightweight. The headlamp design allows you to do things with your hands while the light sits securely on your head. Gone are the days of having to hold the flashlight in your mouth while you fiddled at trying to light a stove or read a map.

Everyone carries a light if they plan on camping (backpacking) or traveling in the dark. But on a day hike in the day light hours, do you still need to carry a light? In today's "light is right" world, when is the extra weight of carrying a light justified?

If we are planning to travel in the dark, we bring a headlamp otherwise we carry a small emergency light. The extra light should be small and lightweight. On trips where lighting is critical, we carry both a headlamp and an emergency light.

A few lighting tips ...

  • The person walking in the front, needs a stronger light as long as the group stays close together.
  • The person walking behind can set their light to a lesser power as they can use some of the light from the person in front of them. My friend, Mark, ran with me all one winter and never changed the batteries in his handheld light. He had very good eyes though.
  • On longer trips, carry extra batteries.
  • Lithium batteries last longer in cold weather. For some reason it is easy to find AA lithium batteries but AAA are harder to find.
  • Hopefully soon, rechargeable AA and AAA lithium batteries will be available.
  • My wife and I use the same headlamps and are able to carry only one set of extra batteries.
  • If you are using rechargeable batteries, bring real batteries as backups.
  • When the headlamp is not in use, it can be slid down around your neck to be worn like a necklace or attached to your shoulder strap with a girth hitch.
  • The small emergency light would primarily be used to help change the batteries in your regular headlamp, limited service (short spans of lighting use) as a backup, and as a signal light.
  • If you are stuck without a light in the dark or with a limited use emergency light, the best possible solution might be to find a good location to wait until better light.
  • Know the tricks of your light. If it has the ability to mysteriously come on by itself, you might considered storing the light in the pack without the batteries.
  • Remember to turn the light off.
  • Dispose of your batteries properly.

We use ...

As primary headlamps: the Black Diamond Spot... see review

As emergency lights: the Petzl e+Lite.

Headlamps are available from all our affiliates' sites in the right sidebar. REI and Rocky Mountain Trail carry both the Black Diamond Spot and the Petzl e+Lite.


Happy lighted trails



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