Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lighting the way in a Trail Ultramarathon

I’m less than a week out from my next ultramarathon, the North Face 100, so it’s time to start deciding what I’m going to wear and take with me.  Being a tough 100km trail race, there is going to be a significant amount of running done in the dark, and having a decent torch is very important. From a recent post you will be aware that my head torch (a Petzl Tikka Plus) has reached the end of its useful life, and I now have two new torches, a Petzl Tikka XP2 and an Petzl 3+Lite. I haven’t had a chance to use them much so this evening I headed out with the intention of deciding which to use in next week’s race.

The feather weight e+Lite
On first impression the major difference between two is size, the XP2 is small and the e+Lite is tiny coming in at only 28gms!

To be so light the e+Lite has a small body, thin strap and uses 2 of the flat disk CR2032 batteries. What I found with this was that running along the road you hardly knew you had it on, there was no bounce at all. On a technical decent on a trail however I did find it bounced, and tightening the strap made no difference, but this wasn’t so bad as to have too much of a negative effect on one’s ability to see where you were going. The thin strap, whilst effectively holding the lamp well on your head, it does mean that when you adjust the angle or setting of the lamp you do need two hands to avoid it sliding off your head. Again not a big drama, but if you have a handheld water bottle, or have a hand torch, this could be a nuisance.

Cap clip, and ball and socket angling
The e+lite does offer a nifty feature of a ball and socket connection between the lamp and head band which gives complete flexibility as to the angle that you set it. In addition to this it also has a clip function so that it could be attached to the peak of a cap (which would be ideal for running in the rain as I detailed in a previous post) or to your waist band to offer shadow contrast which is so important to see obstacles when running on trails. It is also waterproof, which is a nice feature given that I frequently find myself running in the rain, and it was rain that ended the life of my old head torch.

The other nice touch is that the clasp on the head strap is also a whistle, an item which is becoming more common on the mandatory gear lists for trail ultras.

The XP2 is a different animal to look at. It has a wide headband, and the lamp itself has a wider “footprint” making it far more stable. I experienced no bounce at all on any surface, and it has easy to adjust angle settings which click in place easily using one hand. This is also the case when changing between light settings as you scroll through each function at the click of a button.

Who are you calling "Big Nose"
Being a larger unit the lamp sits forward from your head, whereas the e+Lite needed to be positioned higher up my forehead to avoid glare off my nose! I am known to be well endowed in this department so it may not affect everyone.

What really matters with a head lamp is of course how well they illuminate your path. Both torches have the same functions, maximum beam, economy beam and flashing, as well as infrared beam and flashing.  The infrared is great for being able to read your watch, looking at the ground 2 metres in front of you and road signs at 50ms, but other than that it’s not a function you’ll get much benefit from whilst running. Certainly if walking it would be a nice feature to use.

So let’s look at the battery and range stats:
Economy – 45 hours
Maximum – 35hours (19m range)

Tikka XP2
Economy – 120 hours
Maximum – 55 hours (35m range)

XP2 Light diffuser slides up over the lens
It’s clear the winner here, but really it depends what you actually want to use the lamp for.  The Tikka XP2 shines much brighter with a great range, but to be honest the e+Lite range is more than enough to run by safely.  I’d always run with a decent hand torch anyway for that shadow contrast, and for me the head lamp is about providing general illumination.  The XP2 has a nice function for this, with a light diffuser that slides over the lens converting it from a spot light to a wider diffuse beam. Without a handheld torch you would be better advised to keep the head lamp in spotlight mode as when diffuse it didn’t give me as much confidence in where I was stepping, especially on downhills.

The standout memory of this test for me was when running along a straight stretch of road wearing the e+Lite. The lamp was picking out the road side reflectors at over 120m distance (I’m sure the XP2 would have been as good if not better). For the night time sections of TNF 100 the track is marked with reflective tape, so being able to pick them out from over 100m is comforting and shows that it is a very effective torch.

So both headlamps have their good and less good points. Which will I be using for next week? Well I’ll probably go with the XP2 for my head and may use the e+Lite on my waistband, or I may still go with the handheld. Don’t get me wrong the e+Lite is a great head lamp which I would recommend to anyone, and being waterproof with a 10 year guarantee would be a really good investment for a trail runner. I do prefer the one hand operation of the XP2, and the wider beam function and that has been the clincher for me. It is so light though that I’ll keep it in my bag as a wet weather option if it’s raining.

Good luck to all heading out on the trails this weekend.

Run Happy
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Check out my other Ultramarathon Running Gear Reviews


  1. Good luck on Saturday - hope to see you out there. I'm going for a more heavy-duty lighting system with Avaya lights at night. Will be carrying the e-Lite during the day.
    My full gear list is up at

  2. I was using the e-Lite during tnf100 and found it to be inadequate. I couldn't really see my own light when others shine their's in my way, casting my shadow right in front of me. Furthermore the light was a little too dim to allow running.

  3. Hey Rtexal, I can see that others lights behind would be a problem, as that did effect me too during TNF. I couldn't test for this out on the trails by myself, but a good point to note for future. However, using a separate hand torch as well will overcome this, so the head torch provides the ambient lighting and the hand torch to create shadow. If you had to run with one only, you're far better off using a torch which is positioned away from your eyes so you get the shadow to define obstacles clearly.

    You also hint at another good point that the faster you are travelling the brighter the light needs to be. Something else to consider when buying a torch. That said if you were not running on trails the e+Lite would be a very effective solution.