Sunday, December 6, 2009

Taking Advantage of the Dark

As everyone knows our old lob lobed planet is tilting its axis away from the sun causing us Northern Hemisphere dwellers to make do with less and less daylight. Up here in the Far North, our daylight is currently about five hours and in just a couple of weeks or so it will be down to four. If I lived further North it would be zero about now.

What does this mean? It means we've got plenty of time with dark as the predominant condition. A great number of Alaskans use this time to sit inside, gain twenty pounds they'll have to work hard to lose next summer, and watch the television. This will never do for your intrepid writer. I'm already pudgy enough and I hate sitting inside almost as much as I hate watching television.

I've been intrigued by the LED headlamp since I saw the first one some years ago. I received one as a Christmas gift about 8 or 9 years ago and I've used it quite a bit. It has a "dual bulb" feature with a row of LEDs and a halogen bulb for serious work. Its quite a nice unit but it has some problems. First is the cord to the battery pack- in serious Arctic temperatures its a stiff as a coat hanger. Second is the LEDs- they are wonderful for reading in a tent but outside moving through the trail its just lacking and when you light off the halogen, battery life is short. I use it from time to time but for serious woods running after dark I generally carried a heavier conventional light but that was about to change.

During a foray with a good friend to the "hippy backpacker store" (my friend is at least on some levels a hippy backpacker but I don't hold it against him) I spotted a light that looked good and lacked a battery pack and the bothersome attendant cord. It also promised a ferocious lumen rating and a run time of 80 hours on high and 160 hours on low. Heck it even featured a strobe setting for landing rescue helicopters (a feature I hope to be able to ignore) and a red pulsing beacon for riding your bike in urban traffic (like I'll ever do that...). It also cost about half what my under performing older light did so I figured I could also relegate it to night time doggie duties and at least I wouldn't have a cord to fiddle with. I plunked down $50 for the light and took it home.

A few days later my buddy came over and started nagging me about going to Lost Lake for a hike... in the dark. I thought briefly about and gathered my gear and tossed the untried light in at the last minute thinking it would be a good opportunity for a try. When we hit the trail head I mounted the surprisingly feathery light on my wool hat and turned it on. As promised the immediate surroundings turned to day. Much brighter than any LED I've used before- I was impressed. On the diffused low setting it broadcasts to about 30 yards and on diffused high its good for at least 60 yards. With its diffuser flipped down I could readily spot my dog at about 100 yards. We hiked about 3 miles through calf deep snow that night and two nights later did five miles. I love hiking at night and plan to do a bunch more of it. Heck the light is so good I'm going to attempt back country skiing with it. Move over night! I gotta get outside and do something!

So my experience has proven to me that LEDs are out of the "cute to read and watch your dog poop by" category and into the "really worthy of serious wilderness use" category and I couldn't be happier. One of the few pieces of outdoor technology of the last few years that I've really come to appreciate. Maybe a trip to the "hippy backpacker store" is in order more often than I realize.

More nocturnal adventures to come.


me said...

Mike, Great post as usual.
I have used LED headlights for quite some time, but have never upgraded to the brighter or two-power style. There have been many occasions that I was skinning or caping an elk in the dark and wondered if there was a grizzly just outside the radius of my LED.

I'll never know.

murphyfish said...

Hi Mike,

Excellent post, although here in sunny North Wales we have an a abundance of daylight and a distinct lack of predators in comparison with Alaska at this time of year! night trails still provide myself with some of most ‘atmospheric’ walking that I do, I guess maybe it’s a link back to our primitive past when the dark held many mysteries. I only use a small LED headlight upon these occasions, enough to follow the trial and on clear, moonlit, nights the headlight is just for backup. Whist I’m laid up after an operation at the moment your posting are making me chop at the bit to ‘get out there’ soon, and are helping me (along with others blogs) keep in touch with the outdoors.

Best regards,


Keith said...

Well that would be right, just my luck! I suppose that explains why the days are so long here!
Regards, Le Loup.