Petzl NAO+ Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Excellent optics for trail finding and close proximity, cool technology, charge off any usb plug
Cons: Poor battery life, crazy expensive, reactive lighting can be as annoying as useful
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Petzl NAO+, with reactive lighting, an app, and bluetooth connnectivity, is one of the most technologically advanced light to be marketed to the general public. Cavers and divers have even more elaborate lights, but they are not really appropriate for general recreational use.
This headlamp has an excellent trail finding beam and scored a 8 of 10. The light is even over distance and powerful. But, its utility for trail finding is hobbled by relatively short battery life in high mode. In the beam comparison photo with the Zebralight H600 Mk IV below, you can see the NAO can't quite keep pace despite its $200 price tag.
The quality of the NAO's beam is excellent. However, Petzl's otherwise innovative reactive lighting technology is distracting. In the NAO+ and Reactik+ lamps, Petzl uses a forward facing light sensor to adjust the beam strength in order to maintain even lighting. This, in theory, saves battery by avoiding excess lighting. However, with any other light source nearby (like a campfire, other headlamps, or even reflective surfaces), the instrumentation gets confused and the light flickers annoyingly. Even when the light doesn't flicker, the stepped changes in light prove to be distracting at close distances. The good news is that the reactive technology can be overridden to fix the brightness to a preselected level. In this configuration, both of Petzl's reactive lights cast wide, even flood beams for close proximity use. The reactive mode is the default, which means effective close proximity lighting requires extra steps initially. Also the reactive mode increases the price considerably. However, if the other attributes of the NAO+ work for you, realize that you can make the light work well in close proximity situations.
The NAO+ was one of the lowest performers in our ANSI battery life test. The fact that it throws a long beam and can be locked off in a backpack help justify and defend the low battery scores, but the fact remains that if you run this in high mode it will not last very long. In high beam mode, as shown in this battery life vs. beam distance graph, the NAO+ beam power falls off a cliff after 1.5 hours and is only as bright as most lamp's flood mode after that. The Zebralight shines for 3.1 hours on high mode, with an impressive beam which is dramatically better than the NAO+. An hour and half 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!
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 and bulk than most people want to move around with.
Ease of Use
The reactive technology is very cool in theory and no other manufacturer in our test 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, we found reactive worked pretty well for trail hiking, but around camp this technology can be as annoying as it is useful. For starters, this and the Petzl Reactik+ (which also uses reactive lighting) are some of the few headlamps where we felt we needed the manual in order 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. We didn't like the frequent changes in lighting level when working in close proximity situations.
We're at a loss to pick exactly what the NAO+ excels at. 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 a USB charging port.
This $200 light is one of the most expensive tested. You can buy one of our every award winner for just a little bit more. If the reactive lighting worked a little more smoothly and there was some decent life in the rechargeable battery, the cost could be worthwhile. However, Petzl has some kinks still to resolve.
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 for charging, and the reactive lighting. Unfortunately, it's 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 Zebralight is the natural choice for someone looking for performance and willing to pay for it — it outperforms the NAO+ at half the price. If you do love the reactive technology, check out the Petzl Reactik+ which is about half the cost and weight but has double the high beam battery life.
— RJ Spurrier