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Head torches – a piece of kit that every climber has or should have, in the top of their rucksack. Ten years ago you could open the lid of every climber's sack to find a Petzl Zoom shinning back at you. Zooms were great, indestructible, bright and very reliable, and for their day, very lightweight and compact. In 2001 Petzl lit up the sky with an LED revolution, climbers could now buy a torch that weighed less than a fifth of a Zoom, had batteries that lasted for ever and easily fitted in a jacket pocket. At this time Black Diamond muscled in on the head torch scene and what followed was a Franco-American arms race between their respective research and development departments.
Primus Primelite Race
© Primus, Sep 2008
Shortly after this a number of other manufactures, notably Primus, Mammut and Silva started producing their own ranges of excellent LED torches, and we now see a huge variety on the market.
Climbers have really benefited from this constant rivalry, with each manufacture striving to keep ahead of the pack. There have been some amazing innovations in lighting in the past five years, most notably the development of super bright diodes, like the Luxeon Rebel featured in the Primelite Race.
Early LED torches like the Tikka, produced a vague, unfocused, white light with a limited range. This meant that in situations where one needed to focus in on something at a distance, the halogen bulbs featured on the older Zoom type torches were superior. The big challenge was to create a diode which created a powerful, far reaching, yet adjustable beam of light. This has now been achieved and is demonstrated in the top-end torches from all the major manufactures.
Over the past few months I've been using the Primus Primelite Race – a top end torch composed of a super-bright LED bulb surrounded by alloy housing, powered by four AA batteries contained in a separate battery pouch which can be stuffed into a pocket. This feature means that the weight of the battery pack isn't on your head and the batteries can be kept warm in cold climbing conditions. Overall a very robust and well designed package. I've used it to; wander back to my tent, post pub, at the Lakes Festival of Climbing, to hitch home (unsuccessfully) from Langdale at midnight; for cooking gourmet bivvy meals and to walk across the Tour Glacier, whilst approaching the Forbes Arete.
How did it perform?
When I first received the Primelite Race, once I'd mastered installing the batteries I then sought to turn it on. This appears obvious, but no matter how many times I pushed that big red button, the damned thing wouldn't turn on. I resorted to the instructions and I realised you had to hold the button down from two seconds. An excellent features as I'm sure I can't be the only climber who has had their torch turn on whilst inside their bag, leaving them with no source of light to pitch their tent by. Next thing I did was shine it in my eyes, man that hurt. Needless to say the Primelite Race is very bright indeed, it has three levels of brightness and even the dimmest is brighter than most torches I've used. Used in anger the torch exceeded my expectations - whilst most LEDs I've used just produce a very bright, yet vague, defused light, you can actually pinpoint things several hundred metres away with the Primelite Race – great for searching out a track on the Tour Glacier at 4:00 am. Another ingenious feature, which my climbing partner noticed, was the reflective printing on the headband, significantly improving the wearers visibility. I suspect it will prove to be invaluable when taking bearings of each other in a full on Scottish storm, hopefully this feature with become more common.
The Primus Primelite Race is not the lightest or most compact LED torch, but the separate battery pack means that its weight is unnoticeable on your head and you can keep the batteries warm. The torches bulk and weight is compensated for by the obscene amount of light it produces. A brilliant head torch for trying to pick out features on the pitch above whilst fighting your way out of an epic.
A bicycle clip is also available to fasten the torch to your handle bars.
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