BioLite HeadLamp 30-Day Review
by Edrick Deery
Core77 asked me to review BioLite's HeadLamp because I wear a headlamp every single day. Not just when I'm camping or spelunking; I live out in the country and walk my dogs in the woods every night. I wear a headlamp when I'm repairing something in a dimly lit area, tackling a property maintenance task that I could only get to after dark because of my schedule, and at the end of the night, when I'm reading in bed.
Headlamp usage examples: I use headlamps not only in pitch darkness, but in situations where there is some light but more light would be better. Some examples of everyday (for me) tasks where I've used the BioLite HeadLamp recently:
- To run wiring in my attic
- While demolishing walls in a studio space
- In a dimly-lit music studio to see where to plug cables in on the back of amplifiers and speakers
- To clip the dogs' nails on the porch (it helps me see the detail better)
- To install wall outlets behind my TV in the living room
- When visiting friends of mine in the evening who don't have any lights along their walkway (again, we live out in the country)
- To check the oil in my truck in the evening (the under hood light is not bright enough)
- When I was camping at a music festival
- To check that all my chickens are in the coop at night
- To inspect a leaky brake line and a leaking fuel line under my truck
Because of my headlamp-heavy lifestyle I own multiple kinds, from a low-end $4 Harbor Freight unit (cheap enough to buy multiples and stash in various areas for emergencies), a mid-range $100 Black Diamond Icon that's fairly versatile, to a high-end $175 Petzl Duo for spelunking. The reason I own so many is because each one works well for a specific purpose.
After using BioLite's HeadLamp every day for a month in a variety of conditions, I've concluded that their designers took a different approach. Instead of designing a broad portfolio of headlamps each intended for a specific purpose, they put their heads together and built one really good one. It's compact, comfortable, has an array of different lighting options, provides great quality light, is easy to use, and has good battery life. But overall, it's really the thoughtful design that has made this my favorite headlamp to date.
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Here's my breakdown:
There are five different lighting modes: Spot, flood, spot/flood combo, strobe, and red. Despite the color temperature of the LED being listed as 6500K, it looks just right to my eyes on the color spectrum for what you want in a headlamp: Not overly yellow nor hospital-white-harsh.
The spot, flood, and combo modes can all be dimmed by holding the mode button down, which smoothly fades the light dimmer or brighter to achieve the perfect level of lighting for your situation. When you're adjusting the brightness of the light, the light 'blinks' once to identify when the light is at its dimmest or brightest setting. Brilliant!
Another of my favorite features is that the headlamp retains the dimmer setting when you turn it on/off. If that sounds like a rudimentary feature, I should point out that even high-end headlamps that cost twice as much as the HeadLamp omit that feature. It's that kind of attention to detail that has BioLite's winning me over.
The floodlight puts out 100 lumens, the spotlight, 230. Combo mode provides, you guessed it, 330 lumens! BioLite claims that the floodlight and spotlight reach distances of 50 and 250 feet, respectively. After testing, I feel that's accurate. The floodlight on its brightest setting puts out more than enough light for walking through the woods at night or doing chores outside the house after dark with no external lights turned on. I typically dim the floodlight to about 50%, which provides adequate light and helps preserve battery power. When I'm doing very detailed work in the dark – like, inspecting a car engine that doesn't have an under-hood light or trying to find a small bolt that I dropped in a gravel driveway--the floodlight at 100% brightness is more suitable. When I want to light up a large outdoor area, like a one acre field, the combo spotlight/floodlight at 100% brightness accomplishes the mission. It's truly impressive how much light is projected considering the HeadLamp's compact form factor.
This is where the HeadLamp really pulls ahead of the competition.
The lighting elements are enclosed in an adjustable bezel that when fully recessed, throws light straight ahead. The bezel can also be tipped down to light up the area directly in front of you. There are four different angles that the bezel can be set at to project light to your preferred distance. Most headlamps I've used allow you to adjust the direction of the light up or down. However, there are two common problems with that: Either it takes two hands to adjust the angle of the light up or down, or once it's adjusted, normal activity like walking or running causes the adjustment to fall out of place. The HeadLamp has neither of those issues. It's easy to adjust the direction of the beam with only one hand. And once it's set, it stays securely in place when you're active.
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Here's another area where the HeadLamp surpasses others: The lighting module is extremely thin and compact, yet sturdy and embedded within the strap itself. There is no bulky, dangling lighting pod that bounces around with every step you take. The battery pack, compact and curved, sits comfortably against the back of your head. But what's most impressive in terms of comfort is the headlamp's light weight--just 69 grams (2.4 ounces).
A portion of the wiring that runs from the lighting element to the battery pack is embedded in the strap itself. This provides a more sleek appearance, if that matters to you. The strap is adjustable and comfortable, and features a reflective strip over the battery compartment.
The small ridge on the top of the bezel around the LEDs makes the direction of the light easy to adjust, and also prevents the on/off/mode button from accidentally getting pressed. Simple. Effective. I've tossed the BioLite HeadLamp in a backpack with a bunch of stuff bouncing against it, carried it around in my pockets, and regularly tossed it on tables and floors - not once has the light turned on accidentally.
My only complaint is how small the on/off/mode button is. If it were bigger, it would take less precision to press, a helpful feature when you're wearing gloves. Then again, a bigger button might make accidental activation more likely, so I suppose it's a sensible trade off.
The BioLite HeadLamp has a 900mAh rechargeable, but not replaceable, lithium ion battery in a sealed compartment. Fortunately, rechargeable lithium ion batteries tend to last for hundreds of charging cycles. BioLite claims that at full brightness (i.e. combo mode, putting out 330 lumens) the battery will last 3.5 hours. At 5% minimum brightness (flood mode, putting out 5 lumens) the battery lasts 40 hours.
I only found full brightness necessary when I wanted to light up an acre or more of a field. For most activities, I only needed the floodlight at 50% brightness (about 50 lumens). I used it daily for an average of 30 minutes at a time, and went 14 days before I needed to recharge the battery. Charging the battery from zero to 100% charge took approximately two hours using a common 2.1 amp USB charger. (Because the HeadLamp can only accept up to a 500 mA power source, that high-powered fast-charger that came with your new cell phone should not be used.)
The rubber cover over the micro-USB charging port keeps the elements out and contributes to an IPX-4 rating against light rain or splashes. I used the headlamp in the rain several times without issue.
Ease of Use
While other headlamps require memorizing non-intuitive sequences, the HeadLamp's one button is simple and intuitive: A single push is on/off; consecutive pushes cycles through the five lighting modes; and holding the button down fades the brightness.
Another welcome feature is a tiny LED battery level indicator right next to the micro USB charging port. The indicator light comes on automatically when you turn on the headlamp, and turns itself off a few seconds later to conserve power. The battery level indicator also lights up during charging, so it's easy to know where you are on the charging cycle.
The BioLite HeadLamp checks all the boxes for me. It's comfortable, bright, feature-rich yet uncomplicated. I'm happy with the battery life. And frankly, it's less dorky looking than all my other headlamps. Since I started using it, there hasn't been one situation where a different headlamp would have been better suited for my needs. And in the end, that's really what it comes down to: Having the right tool for the job. In this case, the fact that it's one tool in place of five makes it a winner for me.
(Note: That's not me, it's a press photo.)
Edrick Deery is a tech strategist and hobby farmer in central Virginia.