Headlamps are invaluable, whether you're deep in the backcountry, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing after dusk, or even at home when you need a focused beam and your hands free.
The folks at Light & Motion have come out with a blinding lamp to light up the darkest spots, one with an output of 250 lumens.
The Solite 250 enters a category with several competitors -- headlamps from Petzl, Princeton Tec, and Black Diamond, just to name a few. It can be a pricey category, too, with some lamps running upwards of $500.
What you need to take into account when browsing this category are your needs: How much light do you need, how long do you want it available, even how convertible the lamp needs to be.
Light & Motion has two relatively affordable candidates in the lower end of this market, the Solite 250 (MSRP $149) and its smaller brother, the Solite 100 (MSRP $99). (The company's Seca 1400 runs $500 and puts out 1400 lumens.)
Long having relied on the Princeton Tec EOS, a rugged, LED unit that casts what I've long considered to be a more than adequate 80-lumen beam when set on high, I was understandably impressed with the Solite 250's dazzling beam. Bright and far-reaching, the 250 lit up the outdoors in whichever direction I turned my head.
But you don't always need that much light, such as when you're in your tent readying to bed down for the night. In that situation, the Solite can be dialed way back, from 250 lumens down to 125, 30, and even 6, an output sufficient for reading.
The lamp itself comes attached to a headstrap and is tethered to the battery pack by a cord that can be stretched roughly 12 inches. This comes in handy if you would rather have the lamp clipped onto a pack chest or shoulder strap. You also can use the lamp as a flashlight by clipping the lamp atop the battery pack, which also comes off the headstrap.
The output and versatility of this headlamp make it something to consider for your gear list. Something else to keep in mind, however, is that it's powered by lithium-ion batteries. As the company designed the Solite to be recharged via a micro USB cable, recharging this headlamp when you're in the outback can be challenging unless you're carrying a solar charger or the BioLite Campstove (more on that in a future review).
But even then recharging can take some time -- the company says five hours -- as it will depend on what you're using for charging; solar chargers can take considerably longer than tying into your computer. Ditto with the campstove.
You can get around this approach by carrying an aftermarket battery pack, though the Light & Motion folks discourage this approaching, saying "lithium-ion batteries need to be properly enclosed and well designed with their product. Companies that offer replacement lithium-ion cells are subjecting their consumers to some pretty serious risks."
Another option would be simply to invest in a USB battery charger.
Of course, you also could simply pay attention to your "burn time" and use the lamp accordingly. The 250, which weighs just over 5 ounces, will burn for two-and-a-half hours at maximum output -- a relatively short time if you're on an extended backpacking trip, though there's no need to use it on high all the time. Dial it down to a 125-lumen output and the lamp will burn for five hours, down to 30 lumens and it will last for 20 hours, or down to 6 lumens and you'll have 100 hours of light.
To help you keep track of battery life, there is an indicator on the battery pack that points to a full battery, one with three-quarters life left, one when it reaches the half-way point, and finally an indicator for when you're down to the last quarter of life.
While the 250 does cost $150 new, to provide a similar amount of light over the life of the lithium-ion battery with alkaline batteries would cost $891, according to the company.
Curious about the competition? The Princeton Tec Apex Rechargable (MSRP ~$150) is rated at 200 lumens, has a maximum burn time of 90 hours, and weighs nearly 10 ounces.
When all is said and considered, the Solite 250 is a powerful little light that can serve you well -- again and again and again -- in a number of activities and settings.