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Nitecore HC50 Review

Nitecore HC50
Price:   $60 List | $43.38 at Amazon
Pros:  Burly, waterproof, with excellent optics
Cons:  Poor battery performance
Bottom line:  Waterproof and durable, this model's battery life left our testers wanting more.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Nitecore

Our Verdict

Nitecore, like Yalumi and Zebralight, is not a household name when it comes to outdoor lovers and their headlamp shopping needs. These more obscure companies make unique products that perhaps we all should be considering more. The Nitecore, for instance, is more rugged than any other light we tested, and offers lighting optics that put others to shame. The battery life is pretty poor, and the light isn't as bright as many others, but it is worth considering for niche users.


RELATED REVIEW: The Hunt for the Best Headlamps


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Jediah Porter
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Sunday
May 10, 2015

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Nitecore delivers an ultra burly light that performs well in some categories and below par in others.

Performance Comparison


The Nitecore HC50  a rugged and durable headlamp.
The Nitecore HC50, a rugged and durable headlamp.

Trail Finding


We gave the Nitecore relatively high trail finding marks (8 of 10) because of its combination of a bright beam with smooth optics. The products that scored better, the Black Diamond Icon, Petzl NAO, and Top Pick winner Fenix HP25R are all quite a bit brighter, but none of them have the smoothness of light and optics that the Nitecore does. The beam is brightest in the center, and smoothly graduates to the edges of your peripheral vision. This pattern, we found, is ideal for effective trail finding. While those three other lights scored better than the Nitecore, all are much more expensive. As compared to other lights in its price range, the beam shape and strength is above par. Check out the beam comparison below to see how the Nitecore surpasses the similarly priced Petzl Tikka R Plus in trail finding.


Beam Distance Photos


Nitecore HC50Petzl Tikka R Plus

Close Proximity


The same even beam shape and structure that makes for excellent trail finding also makes for good close proximity viewing. Again, see how this beam compares to the otherwise similarly priced Petzl lamp. We gave the Nitecore a 9 of 10 score for close proximity due to the even light distribution. Other lights have dark and bright spots that, while eventually overlooked, prove tiring and distracting.


Close-proximity Beam Pattern


Nitecore HC50Petzl Tikka R Plus

Battery Life


Nitecore clearly put a great deal of time and technology into making their HC50 bright with excellent light quality. However, the battery life suffers. Only the diminutive Zebralight H52 burned out faster in our high mode run time, ANSI-standard test. The Nitecore burned to an unusable dimness in just an hour and 20 minutes. As compared to the Editors' Choice Black Diamond ReVolt, which costs a little less, the battery life is in a totally different league. This battery life vs. beam distance chart shows how the two stack up to one another.

The Nitecore and the somewhat rare 18650 battery that it burns.
The Nitecore and the somewhat rare 18650 battery that it burns.

Brightness


Throwing usable light 75 meters, while not at the top of our test, is a pretty respectable performance. Six headlamps in our test send light further, and all do so with better battery life. Notably, the Black Diamond Icon throws light 33% further and does so for 8 times as long. The beam shape and cleanliness is lesser on the BD, but that is easily overlooked. Additionally, the Yalumi Spark Pro 120 casts a beam about the same distance and is half the price of the Nitecore.

Weight


Three headlamps in our review were heavier than the Nitecore. All three are brighter and have better or similar battery life.

Ease of Use


We could not get our first tested Nitecore unit to work. Whether it was operator error (getting the battery lid on is at least a little problematic, for instance) or an actual issue with the instrument, the fact remains that we could not get it to work. A different iteration of the same model, purchased later and coming with a different colored headband, works just fine. We also did our objective testing for beam strength and battery life on yet another product, again with a different colored band. In the end we tested three of the Nitecore headlamps, and only one gave us any troubles. Besides this one problematic device, we found the light to be fairly simple and easy to use.

All of the features of the Nitecore HC50 are accessed with this single switch.
All of the features of the Nitecore HC50 are accessed with this single switch.

Best Applications


This is perhaps the most rugged light in our test. It is fully waterproof to beyond 1m deep, making it the most weather and waterproof lamp in our review. No other light we tested meets this IPX8 standard for waterproofness. With such beefy construction, this is perhaps a good product to leave in a truck-bed tool box. It's too heavy for backpacking use, and not bright enough nor does the battery last long enough for nighttime running.

Indian Creek climbing  near Utah's Canyonlands National Park  sometimes requires an evening exit. While most trails are well-defined  sometimes you want a full function headlamp. The Nitecore is an excellent trail-finding light  when it works.
Indian Creek climbing, near Utah's Canyonlands National Park, sometimes requires an evening exit. While most trails are well-defined, sometimes you want a full function headlamp. The Nitecore is an excellent trail-finding light, when it works.

Value


This isn't the most expensive light in our test, but there are certainly products that perform better for a lot less. The primary vote in favor of its value is its durability. No light we tested will take the same abuse that the Nitecore will. If you need a light to last and withstand burly conditions, this could serve you well.

Conclusion


The Nitecore HC50 is rugged, perhaps a bit finicky, with excellent optics. It is heavy, with limited battery life and uses an obscure (though rechargeable with an optional accessory) battery type.

Other Versions and Accessories


18650 - Battery Charger
  • Cost - $13
  • Charger for 18650 Li-Ion/NiMH Battery used in this lamp
Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: January 27, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (5.0)

100% of 3 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
4 Total Ratings
5 star: 75%  (3)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 25%  (1)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Sort 3 member reviews by: Most Recent | Most Helpful
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Sep 12, 2015 - 01:47pm
rrtrad · Climber · Cedar Park, TX
I fully agree with G.Spears. You should consider revising this review or having another reviewer that has more experience with high-end flashlights and headlamps do it. This headlamp uses a Cree XM-L2 T6 LED and an 18650 battery, lumens-per-watt (efficiency of turning electricity into light) is higher than other lights that choose to use less efficient LEDs (hint: if it doesn't actually list the LED, it probably isn't very good).

Specs that were curiously absent from your review:
Nitecore HC50 - runtime @ output chart
Nitecore HC50 - runtime @ output chart

While it is heavier than many other lights, it is highly durable, IPX-8, and the turbo mode (higher than "high") puts out a lot of heat necessitating more aluminum for the heatsink. Lower output lights don't need as much heatsink and will weigh less, no surprise there.

This is my multipitch trad rock climbing headlamp and is also used for hiking/camping/backpacking and any other time I'd desire hands-free lighting. I'm of the philosophy of using the lowest light output that gets the job done safely and going to lower modes or turning off when light is not actually needed. This preserves battery life should an emergency occur and is more kind to the dark adjusted eyes of anyone else around me. The lowest mode is quite usable for flat trails with dark adjusted eyes, I'll bump it up if the trail is not flat or has significant obstacles. High and Turbo are far more light than needed for most activities, good for quickly scouting out what is far ahead of you to determine what looks like a better decent gully for instance or to clearly see where you will be rapping down to.

I have used this light cannon from 30-50ft away to illuminate things that climbers with low-end headlamps couldn't clearly see from 15ft away. Mode memory is handy so I can always start on low or lower. The long press and hold to just straight to the low red light mode is very handy for use in tents to not disturb other people. It can read out your battery voltage.

You also bash on Zebralight saying low run time, but you say that about their max mode, which is far higher output than most other lights you review. You can not make these statements. You MUST compare runtimes at similar lumen outputs. Best would be to actually test all of them with integrating spheres and graph them together.

Also, 18650 li-ions are not as obscure as you would think. Most laptops have them in their battery packs and now that e-cigs are getting so popular you are finding them everywhere because they handle high current far better than alkaline or NIMH. They have a higher voltage and higher energy density than alkaline or NIMH batteries. This means more runtime at the same light output for less weight — AND faster charge rates. The higher voltage is more efficiently used by DC-DC converters too. Very roughly speaking 1x18650 @ 3400mAh (12.4Wh) is equal to around 3-4 AA's (~2.6-2.9Wh for alkaline, ~2.5Wh for NIMH, ~2.7-4.5Wh for primary lithium such as energizer ultimate lithium L91 AA's).

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   May 25, 2015 - 03:21am
You guys totally misrepresented this headlamp in your comparison review. It's only 130g with headband and without battery and since the battery is a high output 18650 you can't make straight battery life comparisons to AAA powered lights. Comparing the max output battery life of this 565 lumen light to the max output for a AAA powered light with less than half the lumens is meaningless. A more useful comparison would have been total watt power to lumens or battery life per 100 lumens - anything other than what you guys compared. You gave this headlamp a battery life rating of "1" since it only lasted 2 hours on max setting without taking into account that its max setting was emitting more than twice the lumens of most of the other lamps in your comparison. With a 2600 mAh 3.7v 18650 battery, this lamp produces a claimed 565 lumens for 1 hour and 15 minutes, 350 lumens for 2 hours and 45 minutes, 170 lumens for 6 hours and 15 minutes, 35 lumens for 32 hours or 1 lumen for 400 hours.

How did the Petzl Nao get a "4" battery rating when it lasted 2 hours at 575 lumens and this lamp only received a "1" battery rating for lasting 2 hours at 565 lumens?

Battery:

This thing has 9.6 watts of battery power pushing 565 lumens and it's waterproof to 2 meters for hours, impact resistant to 1.5 meters, has a police warning signal, SOS signal, Beacon signal, 5 brightness levels and two red LEDs that also have a flashing mode. It's one of the most feature-rich, robustly durable and highest lumen output headlamps in the world, but you guys wrote it off as a novelty niche product that shouldn't be considered for outdoor enthusiast. The battery is an 18650 high discharge powerhouse that renders AA and AAA batteries all but obsolete - for you guys to refer to it as "obscure" is very telling of your lack of understanding of the direction in which flashlight battery technology is moving. The 500+ lumen Cree LEDs require higher capacity and higher discharge capabilities than AA and AAA batteries can provide and all the highest performance lights are transitioning to 18650 rechargeables.

Illumination Range:

Most headlamps tend to have illumination distances less than 100 meters and this one is no exception, but thanks to the 100 degree wide-beam optics anything closer than 85 meters is well illuminated.

The real selling points for this lamp are its generous feature set, high-lumen output and best-of-the-bunch water and impact resistance. The one-piece, cast-aluminum casing makes the whole body of the lamp a highly efficient heat sink and the high-output battery makes the lamp a nice hand warmer if you use it on max output for more than 15 minutes. It even has gold plated circuits and a battery power indicator light.

I really think you guys misrepresented the value and utility of this great little headlamp and anyone looking for a super-rugged and bright lamp should seriously take a good look at this one. When equally compared based upon lumen output, the battery life of this lamp is at least on par with all of the lamps that you guys rated higher and from an ease of use perspective, it can't get much easier than this lamp's single clicky-style button control. You simply fully depress the clicky button once to turn the light on and then half press the same button to cycle through the 5 brightness settings. From the on position, you quickly double full-press the clicky button to enter the SOS, Beacon and Police warning signals. From the off position, you full-press and hold the clicky button to engage the red LED's and then half press the clicky to cycle from flashing red LED's to constant red LED's. It honestly takes about 5 cycles to get used to all the settings and I've never had to consult the manual again after the first time. In reality, this lamp is far superior to most of the lamps in this comparison that were more highly rated, but due to this comparison's inaccurate battery and ease of use rating for this lamp it was unfairly downgraded.

I've owned this lamp for about a year and it's EDC gear for me. I've used it in driving rain while hiking/camping/climbing and even underwater in conjunction with my Gopro camera to take well lit underwater photos. Around the house, I've used it to clearly light everything from the inside of my furnace to the underside of my car and it's always provided plenty of illumination to get the job done on one battery charge. I've strapped it to everything from the handlebars of my mountain bike to the front of my rock climbing helmet and it's never let me down or left me in the dark. Everyone I've ever shown it to has wanted one and a few have even "accidentally" taken mine.

Of all the headlamps I've owned in the past, I'd have to rate this one the best - I literally don't leave home without it.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jan 27, 2016 - 04:03pm
Cwb37 · Camper
I don't mean to sound combative, but the ball was REALLY dropped on this review. This is the only headlamp in the lineup that uses anything other than AAA or AA batteries. Newsflash: pretty much every high-end LED flashlight or lamp out there uses 18650 or CR123 batteries. To call 18650 batteries "obscure" belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the industry landscape. These are fantastic, rechargeable batteries that you can easily get on Amazon.

Your battery life analysis is garbage--did you not notice that there is only 1 other light that you tested with a similar lumen range, and that they have similar battery life? Of course these lights making twice the lumens will have crappy life in comparison to weaker lights. Why did the HC50 get a 1 and the NAO get a 4 even though they lasted the same amount at ~550 lumens (2 hours)? Setting the light to similar levels of output (350 lumens, 170 lumens) of the other lights, you'll find the HC50 has respectable battery life across its lumen range. You *really* need to normalize duration/lumen for this test to make any sense at all.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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