The Case for a Flashlight - Part 1, General Musings
Why a headlamp and not a flashlight? In some respects the answer is obvious, viz. "hands free" operation. For the UL backpacker, this is a compelling reason, especially if one's hands might be otherwise occupied with either trekking poles or ice axe (for some, nearly full-time) or with scrambling (a part-time endeavor, generally). I'll leave climbing and mountaineering out of the picture because what I personally know of these could fill a thimble!
Once I "discovered", so to speak, electric headlamps, I never gave flashlights another look - at least, until recently. So, what's changed? Well, I came across some very small, very rugged, very light, very bright, somewhat expensive tactical flashlights. No, not those from Surefire or Streamlight, but from a Chinese company that I had never heard of called "Fenix".
Fenix makes a wide variety of tactical or pseudo-tactical flashlights - a couple of low power models (which aren't of any particular interest to me), and a whole array of high power ones (which are very interesting, to say the least). The high-powered ones use either 1W, 3W, or Cree 7090 XR-E LEDs. In Fenix-speak a "CE" designation means "Cree Edition" (for some Fenix models there are CE versions and non-CE versions). A Cree LED has 'bout TWICE the light output and about 95% of the "burn" time of a more typical non-CREE, Luxeon-type hi-power LED, like those currently used in Petzl, Princeton Tec, and Black Diamond headlamps (as well as a host of very power "Caving" headlamps). In the future, when Cree LEDs are finally used by PT, Petzl, and BD, then one of the most compelling reasons, for some (e.g., light "hawgs", like me) for using a Fenix flashlight will be moot.
So, why the sudden appeal of these Fenix flashlights? First, before I answer that self-posed question, let me enumerate some limitations of these flashlights that immediately "pop" into my head and also reasons why they may not be for you.
1. They are somewhat expensive - figure $30-$70. This might be an issue for some, and understandably so, IMO. The better ones are ~$53-$70 in price.
2. You might know from firsthand experience that you really don't need any more light than a single 5mm microlight provides.
3. You don't wear a hat (Huh, a hat? Johnson, have you lost it? What's a hat got to do with a "hand"-light?)
4. You do wear a hat, but it has a wimpy, limp, flexible brim.
5. You don't mind carrying an ounce or two more weight than you might actually need to carry, and so prefer a traditional 3xAAA headlamp.
6. You really need the 50 gazillion hours of light output, all the way down to 0.25 lux, that a single 5mm 3xAAA headlamp provides, and simply refuse to perform a simple battery replacement in the field.
7. You are sooo enamored with the PT Eos headlamp and are so closed minded that you just can't look anywhere else for fear of committing "headlamp unfaithfulness" with but a glance.
There are probably other reasons why a Fenix flashlight isn't for some, but these are the ones that just "pop" into my head at the moment as i type these words (remember, i said "my head", which is both small and not terribly clever. if other reasons "pop" into your head as your read this, feel free to share them with me or the Forums - i for one would appreciate it.).
The main disadvantage of these Fenix flashlights, as i see it (for those who DO wear a hat) is the shorter battery life. However, there are some mitigating "burn" time factors which i'll get into later on which somewhat ameliorate this issue.
So, what are the advantages of including a Fenix flashlight in one's UL kit?
1. Other than microlights, they are generally lighter, or can be lighter if the proper model is selected, than a headlamp. Weights range from 0.7oz for a model that uses just 1xAAA batt all the way up to a whopping 3.7oz for one that uses 2xAA batts.
2. The put out a WHOLE lot more light than virtually all headlamps - even the smallest 1xAAA Fenix can nearly rival 3W headlamps like the Apex, Myo XP, and BD Icon for example, but of course doesn't have the "burn" time of 3 or 4 AA batts (generally, you don't get somethin' for nuttin').
3. They seem to possess far better constant current regulation than ANY popular headlamp we normally use for our UL backpacking endeavors.
4. Their light output is a very nice, pure white, and their beam size/pattern is quite good - not too much of a "flood" which would minimize "throw" and distance viewing, and NOT too tiny a "spot" to be useful.
5. They utilize, depending upon the model, one of three common battery sizes, viz. AAA, AA, or CR123A.
6. They can utilize alkaline, NiMH, or Li batteries (of course, CR123A are Li batts).
7. They only need just ONE or TWO of these batteries, NOT three or four batteries.
8. They can be clipped to a stiff hat brim or a ballcap brim for "hands free" operation - just like a headlamp.
9. On hot & humid summer nights, if one is really exerting oneself, then the hat/cap probably comes off in order to dissipate the heat. So, on these occasion, a "Jakstrap" or similar generic headband (which i use) can be worn into which the flashlight is placed. I've added a small velcro loop to my generic headband which is used only when moving quickly to secure the flashlight better and prevent and "bouncing" of the flashlight in the elastic retention loop on the generic headband).
10. They are much smaller than all but microlights and take up less pack or pocket space than a headlamp. Some of this is the lack of a band (unless one requires a "Jakstrap"-like headband for use), and much of it is also the packaging, especially in the smaller single-battery versions, requiring just one AAA, AA, or CR123A battery.
11. They have a very rugged aircraft grade Al case which is quite weatherproof. [Note: they do have a RECESSED glass lens which is extremely optically clear. Can glass be more optically clear than ANY plastic? Don't know. That's a question for Dr. Caffin, which I hope he, or another knowledgeable person will answer.]
In Part Two, i will compare some of the Fenix flashlights with the "sacred cows", so to speak, of headlamps, so that side-by-side "hard and fast" numbers can be used to tell the remainder of this "story". Remember, as the saying goes, "sacred cows make the best hamburger"!!
Please feel free to reply and rip me to shreds. I'm attempting to think "outside of the box" here. Something that should be easy for a "block-head" like me, but, like in many things, i could be totally off-the-wall here, and so far out in "Left Field" that i'm no longer even in the "ballpark"! I would value your input - whether it takes the form of constructive criticism, or just plain criticism. You may fire when ready. Shields Up!!!