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An Enlightening Discussion (about lights)

I am amazed at the many good lights and headlamps available these days, much better than the past.  Of the several headlamps I own, one of my favorites is the Knog Quokka, a nice compact gadget weighing slightly under two ounces, with three LED bulbs, including a red bub, adjustable light levels, and best of all,  easily rechargeable.  Simply pull the light unit out of the headband and plug it into any handy USB port.  Maximum light level is 100 lumens, which I find adequate about 80 percent of the time and I have other lights for those occasions.

For me the handiest USB port, especially on relatively short overnight trips, say no more than two nights, is the Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charger which has a outlet USB port which accepts the Quokka readily, no cable necessary.  By itself it provides a 100 lumen flashlight, a 360 degree lantern and a 180 degree lantern.  Together, the two units weigh all of five ounces.  Throw in a solar panel, and you can have light as long as you wish.  Bring the right charging cable and I can keep my smartphone working, as well

REI currently lists a variant of the Quokka, the Run, which is slightly heavier and a tad more expensive,  but still a decent unit.

Both units have worked well for me over the past six months or so, lighting up when required, with no problems.

There are other comparable light weight units available, but these two work exceptionally well for me.  I am a happy dude!!

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one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
11 Replies

Ah, ELECTRONICS, eh? 😎 My main electronic gear is...

First, my battery bank is an Anker 28,800mah! (30,000 is the most you can have on a plane, important if you hop a flight!!). If you go this route, DO get the Anker wall charger!!! A bank this size will take around a week with a cheap charger, with this, OVERNIGHT.

Next, a Goal Zero 41001 solar panel. It's a mini (and I think discontinued), but will change your phone in about 6 hours. Not speedy, but packable and not weighty, either! If your trek has you in the sun most/all of the day, multitask and charge your batt's.

My headlight is a Black Diamond Recharge with red light, memory setting, adjustable power, etc., and best of all, USB! (but will also take batteries). SUPER bright, too!! a friend wanted to look at it and turned it on while he was looking into it... he said, "I wish I hadn't done that!" (while squinting and blinking).

I have other electronics, of course, but USB is the key! (no batteries except those you want for backup and convenience). I had a different headlight, but when I tried learned BD made essentially the same one but with USB, I gave the first one (ony a month old) to a friend.


Knowing how much time you spend on the trail, your recommendations carry a lot of weight. So far, I've been only day hiking but next year is when I start the overnights and multi-day trips. Being an IT guy, my electronics are to me what the blanket was to Linus in the Charlie Brown cartoons. 

For day hikes, I have a couple small lipstick banks that I keep in an emergency but they won't do at all if I am gone for more than a couple days.

Thanks for the info on the bank and wall charger!

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@Dad_Aint_Hip, you're welcome. 

For those who don't regularly go out for weeks at a time, a few extra batteries are usually more than enough (KNOW how fast your electronics drain so you can plan accordingly!!) However, longer outings require at least some sustainability. 

With fuel, you can switch to a [small] campfire. With water, you can filter more water. Food often requires a license/permit, but there usually ARE small animals you can harvest legally, but power requires a solar panel. Moreover, there are times when the skies are patchy, and/or your electronics are topped-off, THAT'S when a battery bank comes into its own! (to bridge the occasions when there is no sun).  

Also, when you're traveling (to your adventures), there are times where you can find an outlet you can plug into to compensate for phone use while waiting. If I know that may be the case, I'll take a long cable (or two). But for charging electronics in the BUSH, I use a SHORT cable (LESS electrical resistance) and I POWER DOWN for efficient charging. 

One more thing, batteries work because of a chemical reaction. If your battery is too cold, that inhibits your battery's ability to transfer power. Conversely, if your battery is too hot, the power will drain. This applies to battery banks as well. 


I have a Biolite 200, which is (imagine this LOL) 200 lumens, 1.6 oz, 2 white and 1 red LED's, red is flood, white is spot, both are dimmable or strobe, and usb rechargeable. No issues with it yet, I've had it about a year.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Interesting. I have not seen a Knog.  I like the "rave" head band effect for night running ...seems like a good idea. I don't like the sound of its single/double press cycle interface and that it does not tilt though. Maybe I'm looking at the wrong model. 

I have a Black Diamond Spot 325 which I don't like either. It has the most stupid touch sensitive switch that will turn on the "blind your companions" mode at the slightest provocation.  That doubles as a "blind yourself" mode when you are fumbling for it at night in the tent.  Its red lamp is not powerful enough to do anything but read. Plus it is heavy, with 3 AAA batteries. They last a long time on a dim setting but the battery springs are not very strong and bend on their own making the lamp not work. Gave me a nasty turn when that happened first day out on a 7 day Sierra trip last year.  Fortunately I figured out the issue but I was not impressed. It replaced a BD spot 300 which I also didn't like because it had excessively complex mode switching, was too heavy and had a distinct yellow spot in the middle of the beam and the touch sensitive switch didn't really work...actually a blessing in disguise as it turns out.  The 325 addressed those issues to some extent but is still very imperfect.   We also have a BD Spot Lite 160 that seems to have some sort of fault that makes it not quite work right. Basically I have not had good luck with Black Diamond head lamps.

The best headlamp I have used for backpacking is the Nightcore NU25 which is ugly and cheap looking though not that cheap anymore.  It has a very sensible two button interface (one for red one for white) and switches modes in a way that just seems to work as you would want for backpacking or at least it makes sense to me.  Whichever light is chosen it comes on in its dimmest setting..what you usually want.  You adjust the brightness as desired.  No cycling through "modes" you don't want.   It has a bright red LED you can actually see by...great in camp with others, very lightweight (< 2oz with its wide strap), waterproof, rechargeable (which is quite quick and lasts for a few days of typical use and longer on dim) I did notice when comparing two examples side by side that the battery life varies between examples but both were adequate. Its head band is a bit excessive.  It can be replaced with a DIY bungee one if you care...and it is popular enough Litesmith even makes an "ultralight" bungee headband for it reducing it to about 1.2 oz

I haven't replaced my ~3oz BD Spot 325 with one because I haven't amortized that into obsolescence yet...I've only had it 2.5 years...and more to the point I didn't actually used a headlamp on my one backpacking trip this summer...early to bed early to rise means you don't need to use a headlamp...well the early to bed part anyway...and I figure the BD Spot 325 works well enough as a headlamp that is not used. 


Thanks so much for this - I am (or, will be, actually) in the market to replace my aging and heavy headlamp and one of my top "wants" is something that either comes with a red gel or bulb. So now the Knog is at the top of my list to look at.

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

The Knog does not have a  tilt function. I need to adjust it according to the irregularities on my forehead when I am reading with it at night.  Other foreheads may differ.  The interface does not present much of an obstacle in use. One nice feature is that it turns on in the setting used when it was turned off, unless the battery was recharged in the interim, in which case it turns on at full brightness.  I, too, would prefer it started dimly, but so far it has ben no biggie.

For a serious, heavy duty headlamp, I prefer the Zebralight brand.  They ain't cheap, but they are ultra dependable - potted circuits and all that.  Several models are available in all kinds of tints and color temperatures, if that is significant.

Biggest drawback is a set of really complex instructions, mostly for adjusting the the three light levels to whatever you wish.  Zebralights are very popular with the caving community, which says a lot right there.  Most of their models use lithium-ion batteries.

Surprised to hear of the dissatisfaction with BD lights.  I would have thought they would work better.....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@hikermor Thanks for starting a great discussion!

I have used an older version of the Black Diamond Icon headlamp for a few years now. While it is heavy, with 4 AA batteries, I really needed the lumen power and the 'detachable' battery pack for long rides in the dark in Alaskan winters. The battery pack detaches from head strap and can be placed inside your jacket to keep it warm, which is critical at -40° F. It's a great quality headlamp, with red, blue, and green lights (not sure what the blue and green lights are for but my kids think they're cool).

The only drawback I have to this headlamp is the seemingly complex steps to change the lights and power. Often times I just keep clicking the button until something comes up that is close to what I need. I have had no issues with the quality or performance otherwise!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I've been using the same petzl for about 10 yrs, not sure the model, but I'm sure on the lower end of the cost spectrum.

It takes 3 AAA's, and with only moderate use, lasts about 2-3yrs.

But the head band is starting to stretch a bit, so I guess I'll be back in the market soon. (from times stretched over a winter hat)

What I like is, the batteries don't just quit all at once, they start to dim, giving you a warning that they're getting low.

I agree that as a minimum the beam needs to hits the trail for at least a few feet in front of you, for night walking. But I rarely seem to be hiking at night anymore. 

My longest walks at night seem to be from the campfire to my tent or the general camp area to my bear hang or canister drop or 'go see a man about a horse'.

For me, the most critical use of my headlamp, is in the middle of the night, when and if I need to grab it FAST!

I always keep it in the exact same spot in my tent, exactly at arms length, so it's there when I need it.

And by the way, on this site, last spring I believe, someone was talking about 'glow in the dark tape'.  I thought that was a brilliant idea (ha! no pun intended) and bought some off amazon for $12, it absorbs daylight, then glows for about a whopping 12hrs.

So I put a small piece on my headlamp band, now I can see it easily when I need it in the middle of the night.  I also put a few small "dots" of the tape on my tent.



REI Member Since 1979