Monday, July 9, 2012

Trail Running Gear Review – AY-UP Lights - Run the Light Fantastic!

I reviewed a couple of head torch options from Petzel last year, both of which had their place in an ultra runner’s tool kit.  While the Petzel was good enough to light the way, I noticed in races since that those runners at the top of the field without exception were using something with a lot more grunt.  What I found was that, although a standard head torch will enable you to run in the dark, if you want to run fast (or at least run with confidence) you need more.

I've been running with an Ay-Up light for the past 6 months, and it suffices to say that I haven’t touched the Petzel since.  The Ay-Up is in an entirely different league.

Running at night has become an exciting experience as no longer do I have to follow a narrow tunnel of light, now I can bring back the day at the push of a button. It’s hard to believe that so much light can come out of such a small device.  

The torch itself comes with two lights, each of which you can adjust independently.  I choose to have them slightly offset, so that one beam is focused a couple of metres in front of my feet and the other further down the trail. This gives a longer illuminated corridor to run along, and I can adjust where I’m looking without the need to move my head.

The head strap has a band and an over the head strap, which is fully adjustable, eliminating all bounce even on the most technical of downhills, and is very comfortable.  The battery pack seems too large to be comfortable (a bit smaller than a deck of cards) but is incredibly well balanced with the lights, so much so that you don’t realise that you have it on.

There are two sizes of battery, and the larger (hence heavier one) comes with an extension lead so you can keep it in your pack, rather than have it attached to the head band.  Surprisingly I found the balance (and comfort) was unaffected by removing the smaller battery pack from the rear of the head band. I put this down to the fit of the headband and that fact that the light is only 50g.

Whilst I’m on the batteries they are rechargeable (I love this having spent a small fortune on batteries in the past) and whilst using the high intensity beam they last for 3 and 6 hours respectively.  This may not seem enough for an all night race, but when you use the lower intensity setting their life doubles. The key thing here though is that there is little discernible difference between the low and high intensity beams!

I only ever use mine in low intensity mode and I am still flashed at by oncoming traffic. On one section of straight road I tested them and they lit up a roadside marker over 400m away and a road sign at over 1000m away!  When running along the beach a running friend calls me the “lighthouse” and more often than not people comment on the power of this little torch.

If you're interested in all the technical stats check out the manufacturers website.

These torches were originally designed for mountain biking, and come with a variety of options dependent on your preferred use.  You can choose the type of beach from wide, intermediate and narrow.   They are waterproof, and I can certainly vouch for their capability in this department – you need to make sure you wear it above the peak of a cap or visor though, as you get dazzled by the reflection from the falling rain which is highly distracting (and a feature of all headlights).

Apart from the obvious illuminating power of the Ay-Up there are a couple of features which to me make them an essential part of any trail runners kit. Firstly, if you’re in a race and haven’t got one, but the person behind you has, they cast such a strong shadow that you can’t see where you’re placing your feet.  This effectively forces you to slow down and get overtaken.  By the same token if you have an Ay-Up then you won’t be affected by this, but you can inflict the same curse on any other runners in front of you!

The final clincher for me is that when you’re being chased by angry dogs at night (which happens to me more often than I care to admit to) it acts as a harmless dog calmer!  Simply look at the dog and it stops barking, stands still and squints, giving you enough time to get far enough away from it that it loses interest in you.

So to summarise, these torches are a terrific piece of kit that I feel I could not do without. They aren’t cheap, but you get what you pay for, they are a top quality head torch with will serve you well and for a long time.  It has changed the experience of running at night for me, and enabled me to run tougher more technical trails which I wouldn’t normally consider outside the normal daylight hours. As it’s the middle of winter here, most of my running is done in the dark, and the Ay-Up has taken away a big excuse to avoid the tougher training sessions.

Run Happy!

Check out my other Ultramarathon Running Gear Reviews


  1. Great post. I'm running with a Feniz, and have been most happy with it. It weights 250g loaded, so clearly heavier. Graeme Harre

    1. Hi Graeme, The weight I mentioned was without the battery, but I'd say it would be below 250g in total. Regardless of the weight though you don't notice you've got it on such is the fit and balance. Hope you're running well, Andy

  2. Great post Andy! I run with a Fenix that is super bright. I have spoiled my training mates with it to the point they don't bring their headlamps on training runs, since mine is so bright! They nick named it "The Mothership"!

    1. Perhaps they should use it as a selling point - the headlight guaranteed to annoy your friends!