Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Perfect 10's for trail finding and close proximity, cool technology, charge off any usb plug
Cons: Abysmal battery life, Reactive lighting can be as annoying as useful
Best Uses: Short hikes and trail runs
This was the only headlamp to score perfect 10's for both trail finding and close proximity. The beam quality and power are all you can ask for in a light. That said, three things kept it from getting an award: it has abysmal battery life, the re-active lighting can be frustrating, and it is 3-5 times the cost of many lights that scored higher and are much lighter. If you love Reactive lighting, we would likely go with the Petzl Tikka RXP which is much less expensive, lighter and has a much longer battery life.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This headlamp has a near perfect trail finding beam and scored a 10 of 10. The light is even over distance and powerful. In the beam comparison photo with the Coast HL7 below, you can see the difference between a beam that just goes far (Coast), and a beam that evenly and fully lights over the same distance (NAO).
Another 10 score here. Below the NAO casts an even beam across the target where another 10-scorer for trail finding, the Fenix HP11 concentrates too much light in the middle.
The NAO was one of the only headlamps to score a 1 for battery life. In high beam mode, as shown in this battery life vs. beam distance graph, the NAO beam power falls off a cliff after an hour and is gone after 2. The Coast HL7, which only scores a 3 for battery life, is still dramatically better than the NAO. One hour of high beam, for such an expensive and heavy headlamp, is a bit hard to swallow. Yes it's cool that you can charge the NAO from any USB source, but if you only get a few hours of use between chargers, that power source better be handy!
By comparison, the newly released Petzl Tikka RXP lasted 5.2 hours in our test for ANSI measured high beam test (to learn more about ANSI, check out our Headlamp Review). This battery life vs. beam distance graph shows just how much better the RXP does over the NAO.
With a measured max beam distance of 103 meters, the NAO is powerful but not particularly noteworthy. The Coast, costing over $100 less shined 128 meters.
At 190 grams (6.7 ounces) this is one of the heavier headlamps. The unique headband carries the weight well, but we still feel this headlamp is more weight than most people want to run with, especially considering good trail finders like the Black Diamond Spot that are less than half the weight.
Ease of Use
The Reactive technology is very cool in theory and not other manufacturer in our tests offered it. Turn on this mode, and the light chooses the best brightness for your needs: high beam for trail finding and low beam for close proximity and battery saving. In practice, this technology can be as annoying as it is useful. For starters, this and the Petzl Tikka RXP (which also uses Reactive lighting) are some of the few headlamps we felt we needed the manual for to operate. Once through the learning curve, the Reactive technology was frustrating around camp. As you mill around people, the kitchen and campfire, the lighting mode is constantly changing and not always where you want it to be.
This is hard to recommend for trail running because it is so heavy. So many lights with almost as bright a beam are half the weight. With the short battery life, this is really for short excursions near and usb charging port.
This $175 light is one of the most expensive tested. You can almost buy one of every award winner for just a little bit more. This would be OK if the Reactive lighting was a game changer and there was some decent battery life, but this is not so.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Petzl e+LITE, $30, is the size of a small stack of quarters and is the lightest headlamp we know, by a large margin. It wins our Top Pick award as the best lightweight headlamp and does so by a good margin.
Petzl Zipka Plus 2, $45. Like most Tikka headlamps, it's compact, durable and has an above average battery life.
The Petzl MYO RXP, $95, delivers great close proximity lighting and has more beam power levels than any light we tested. The extra "R" in RXP stands for "regulated" as you there are three lighting modes, for each of which the user can select the power from among ten possible levels, from 8 to 140 lumens.
The NAO Rechargeable Battery Pack, $60, can be used as a spare battery. This battery charges via a USB plug on the battery pack. The NAO Belt Kit, $33, can be used to attach the rechargeable battery to a belt, a pack, etc.
This is one of the most innovative headlamps ever designed. Everything about it is cool from the look, the headband, the built in USB plug and the Reactive lighting. Unfortunately, its hard to recommend this headlamp because the battery life is so short and it is dramatically more expensive than many headlamps that scored higher. The Coast HL7 is much easier to use, lighter, has a longer beam distance and is a 5th the price. For just slightly less beam performance, the Black Diamond Icon has a bright beam that lasts about 10 times longer for half the cost. If you do love the Reactive Technology, check out the Petzl Tikka RXP which is half the cost and weight but has triple the high beam battery life.
— RJ Spurrier and Chris McNamara
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: September 26, 2014
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