2017 August 14 Tech Electronics - Reviews
Imagine going on a long hike, only to find that your headlamp got switched on when it was in your pack. Now the lamp shines dimly and you've got about ten minutes of use left.
It took me a while to figure out that there had to be a better headlamp out there.
Actually, I'm mainly looking for a good all-around headlamp, not so much an extended backpacking one. But some of the features overlap, and let's see what we've got here.
In This ArticleWhat's Wrong With Most Headlamps?
An Early Winner
Time For a New Lamp
What's Wrong With Most Headlamps?
A basic headlamp like this one is useful enough, except for one problem. Every time I turn around, it seems, the lamp has switched "On" in my hip pack or vest pocket. It's wasted three more AAA batteries for what seems like the hundredth time. This lamp is OK if you store it on a shelf, but the moment it becomes part of your "EDC gear", look out. And it will get worse, the more you use the lamp... because the switch wears and gets easier to flip on accidentally.
There are two basic failings that ruin a lot of otherwise-good utility headlamps:
Switches that keep turning on in your pack. I've already described why this is bad.
"Smart" switches that are dumb. Electronic switches can really complicate the use of a headlamp. The worst, in my opinion, are those switches that require you to hold the switch for x number of seconds until they do something useful. Some people like that, but it's not for me. My primary focus is getting useful work done, and I want a lamp that stays out of the way.
There's a third feature I can do without, and that's blinking or flashing LED modes. Yes, these are great to have in case you fall into a ravine out in the wilderness and you need a rescue helicopter to see you at night. But if you're using the headlamp as an all-around utility light, blinker modes can be just one more annoyance.
An Early Winner
The old Rayovac headlamps were actually fantastic utility headlamps. One, there was no blinker mode. Two, the switch was mechanical, robust, and unlikely to turn on in your pack. The only drawback to the Rayovac lamp was its size, but actually it was tolerable. I've seen much worse headlamps out there.
Except for being somewhat dim by today's standards, the old Rayovac was a winner. You should still be able to get one through that link I posted; even though it's an early 2000's design, it's still worth getting.
Time For a New Lamp
I was looking around for a headlamp that wouldn't turn on by itself in my pack. And also, preferably it would have no "blink" mode. The old Rayovac was good when I had it, but I really wanted to try a new product just to see.
Not many companies produce a headlamp that meets my criteria. But there is one manufacturer that makes a couple of them. I decided to review them here.
Two AAA batteries, 80 hours max burn time, and weighs only 64 grams with batteries. It's also splash-resistant.
This lamp does have an electronic mode-switch. It's one of those where you have to cycle through all the modes to turn it back off. Even so, the lamp has two other things really going for it... potentially.
First, it doesn't have any flashing modes. There's just Red, Spot Low, and Spot High (48 meters). Even with the pushbutton switch, you can cycle through them relatively quickly. But you do have to cycle through them to go from "red" to "off"; that might be a deal breaker for some people. This is definitely not the ideal headlamp for astronomy parties.
Now, the other potentially good feature: it has a lockout switch. This is supposed to keep it from turning on in your pack.
The lockout switch is a type of plastic that's fairly inert and slippery, like polypropylene. I noticed it would unlock by moving only a couple millimeters... which it seems to do very easily.
I've read that a very few people have had issues with this switch not working. So the lamp drained the batteries.
After using the headlamp extensively, I'd say the lockout switch works most of the time, but not always. I don't know that I'd rely on this headlamp for extended hikes. Certainly, though, it's better than nothing. I'd also note that the lockout switch seemed to work a bit better after the initial break-in period.
UPDATE 2018: The feature that actually failed on this lamp was the battery door. The catch mechanism broke off after about a year of frequent use.
The lamp is made in USA, and for the price I still think it's worth getting. Headlamps, as a rule, are not tremendously durable, although I'd like to have seen this headlamp last more than a year.
Originally I wrote that mine was "50 lumen", but I actually got the 70 lumen one. (See photo.) Anyhow, once you turn on that Maxbright LED, wow. 70 lumens shining to 48 meters, not bad at all. I know it doesn't sound like many lumens, but I was rather impressed by how far it shined. (70 lumen model here, and there's also a 100 lumen model now. )
Just be aware that it's got a mere three hours maximum burn time at the brightest setting. In fact, I doubt it would stay at full-brightness for even one hour. The brightest mode may start to flicker if the batteries are not absolutely fresh, so keep that in mind. Also realize that the lower setting will not give you a full 80 hours at peak brightness; probably more like a few hours, then it will be much dimmer after that. I do find that the batteries have to be changed fairly often, but then again the headlamp gets a lot of use.
Get the 70-lumen Byte here
Three AAA batteries, 150 hours max burn time, and weighs 78 grams with the batteries. It's also splash-resistant.
The "5 modes of output" are Red LED, Flood Low, Flood High, Spot, and Dual Beam (38 meters). They're not all marked on the dial; it's more of an intuitive thing. You get to the brighter modes by turning the dial farther forward.
This lamp doesn't have an electronic mode switch, so right away I liked it better. The Sync has a mechanical dial switch similar to the old Rayovac headlamp. I'm glad someone was paying attention to this feature. And the thing is, if you had to cycle through five modes with an electronic switch, that would be too much. This lamp has the right switch for a multi-mode unit.
One of its best features: they have the red LED separated from the other modes.
You can turn it off without cycling through the white LED modes. If you want to preserve your night vision, this could be the lamp for you. They also have an OFF position before you go from red to any of the white-LED modes. Thus, you're less likely to overshoot to one of the night-vision-ruining modes. If you turn the dial backward, it's "LOCK" (an Off mode), and if you turn it forward, it goes to OFF before it goes to any other mode. This seems like a smart design.
I've tried the 150-lumen Sync, which in Maxbright mode is pretty darned bright. It doesn't focus as narrowly as Spot High on the Byte, so it actually doesn't shine quite as far. But it puts a lot more light into that area. 150 lumens is starting to approach the brightness of those rechargeable worklights that you can get from Dewalt, Makita, etc.
That brightest mode claims 97 hours runtime, but most headlamps can do peak brightness for only about half-hour to an hour. (Big difference, huh?) From there they start to taper off. The three AAA's do give an advantage over the two AA's used in the Byte, though.
The only thing that seems weird about the Sync is that they put the mode switch on the left side of the unit. Whether you're left-handed or right-handed, some (many?) other headlamps had the switch on the right side; I tend to look for it there. Maybe Princeton Tec figured that if you're right handed, you'd already have that on a grease-covered wrench or something. So then you'd use your left hand to work the headlamp. This might be a really superb idea; just have to get used to it.
In my opinion, overall the Sync is the better lamp of the two I've reviewed here.
Get you a 150-lumen Sync, here
Even though neither lamp is a brand-new-for-2017 design, they do what I need them to do. Both of them have a battery lockout feature that should prevent battery drain in your pack.
There are other headlamps from Princeton Tec, and not all of them have a locking switch. I chose the Sync and the Byte because they do. I've wasted enough AAA batteries that I really don't ever want a non-locking LED lamp again (unless perhaps it's an old Rayovac, because the switches were good.)
Which lamp is better? The way they implemented the lockout button keeps the Byte from being truly fantastic. It also has very short battery life in Spot mode.
The Sync is a bit more bulky, but it has a different type of lockout switch that seems to work better. Potentially it's a better lamp. You can skip more quickly to the mode you want, too. And with three AAA's it has more battery life.
If you don't carry this lamp in muddy, gritty environments, and you don't cycle the lockout switch multiple times a day, then chances are it will last for a while. The battery-door failure on my Princeton Tec Byte was from heavy use, and I also didn't take great care of it. (If you want to know how well tools work in the real world, let me at 'em for a while.) As with any product, "your mileage may vary". However, the Sync is definitely a lamp I'd buy again. The Byte is really not bad, either; in my opinion it just needs a more reliable lockout switch, and perhaps a more robust battery-door catch.
Get your Princeton Tec Sync through this link and it helps me keep bringing you reviews like this one.
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