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Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Essential Gear K2 Focus Headlamp > Test Report by Sophie Pearson

Essential Gear K2 Focus Control Plus Headlamp

Test Series by Sophie Pearson

Initial Report - March 31, 2009
Field Report - June 15, 2009
Long-Term Report - August 11, 2009


Me Tester Information
  Name: Sophie Pearson
  Age: 27
  Height: 5' 8" (1.71 m)
  Weight: 180 lb (82 kg)
  Email address: sophiep3 at gmail dot com
  Location: Tampa, Florida, USA

  I first started backpacking as a teenager in England. I did a 28-day trip in the Arctic, but most of my backpacking experience has been weekend to 10-day trips, in a range of terrains and climates. I am a volcanologist so I also do day hikes carrying loaded packs over intense terrain. Nowadays I am generally in sub-tropical climates. I am heading increasingly towards ultralight packing, and unless I am sharing I use a bivy. I try to pack around 20 lb (9 kg) for long weekend trips but have carried over 50 lb (23 kg).



headlamp

  Initial Report  
  March 31, 2009  

Product Information
Manufacturer: Essential Gear
Year of Manufacture: 2009
URL: www.essentialgear.com
MSRP: US$55.00

 ListedMeasured
Weight5 oz (155 g)4.75 oz (135 g)
Size battery case3.2 x 2 x 1 in (85 x 51 x 29 mm)3.25 x 2 x 1 in (83 x 51 x 25 mm)
Size lamp2.8 x 2 x 1.7 in (72 x 53 x 43 mm)2.6 x 2 x 2 (66 x 51 x 51 mm)
Batteries3 AA3 AA
The listed details are from the manufacturer's website, as are their conversions. The weight of the lamp is without batteries, when they are included it weighs 7.25 oz (206 g).

There are multiple modes which have different levels of brightness and different burn times as listed by the manufacturer:
White mode
 
Burn time
(hours)
Brightness
(lumens)
 Color mode
 
Burn time
(hours)
Brightness
(lumens)
High16 (7 max. output)85 Red/Green/Blue2401.8
Low3285 Red flashing5001.8
Flashing4885 Rear red 1


Product Description
The Essential Gear K2 Focus Control Plus Headlamp is a sturdy headlamp that has 8 modes, as listed in the table above. At the front is the headlamp, with a large central LED for the white lights and three smaller ones arranged around the top of the white one that are red, blue and green. The focus of the white LED can be changed by a factor of four to more of a flood light or a spot beam. At the back is the battery compartment which has a red strip-shaped light on it. To connect the two is a cable that is coiled at the back end so that it can be extended. To wear the headlamp, there are two broad pieces of elastic that are black and grey and say Essential Gear repeatedly. One strap goes around the forehead, and the other goes over the top of the center of the head. To turn the light on and off there is a small plastic orange button on top of the light on the front, and another button at the bottom left side on the battery pack/light at the back.

lights

The headlamp has a large white LED and three smaller colored ones above it. The focus of the white LED can be controlled using a clear plastic switch at the bottom that rotates.

elastic connection

The back of the front light is padded and connects to the elastic headband.

the headlamp

The headlamp has a cable to connect the front and back lights. A small orange button on the top of the front light switches it on and off.

rear light

The back has a red strip light. The small orange button to turn it off and on is to the side at the bottom.


Instructions
The headlamp arrived in a plastic hanging container with a cardboard insert that gave the specifications of the headlamp, and also explained how to use it. To turn it on, the orange button at the front is pressed (or the one at the back to turn on the back light). To cycle between modes, the orange button is pressed a certain number of times according to the table below:
# timesWhite ModeColor ModeBack Light
1HighBlueRed
2LowGreenRed flashing
3FlashingRedOff
4OffRed flashing 
5 Off 

To change between the White Mode and the Color Mode at the front, the orange button is held for at least three seconds. If a certain mode is left on for more than three seconds, pressing the orange button again will turn off the lamp at the front totally. To install the batteries, there is a twist-off cap that is on the right side of the battery pack with labels saying Open to show the direction to twist. AA batteries are inserted according to the polarity directions inside, and the cap is screwed back on again.

cap opening

The cap on the right side of the back light twists off according to the open labels to install the batteries.

battery compartment

The headlamp takes 3 AA batteries. The cap is held on by a small piece of white plastic.


Initial Impressions
This headlamp is solid! Without the batteries it isn't too bad, but once the batteries are added it is definitely heavier than my old headlamp. A large part of this is the AA batteries, which are significantly bigger and heavier than AAA. However, I would expect them to last longer, and as I have a number of other things that take AA, it is much more convenient. The cap to install the batteries is not one I have seen before, but it seems simple and durable and I like the fact that it is attached so cannot be lost. Putting the batteries in the back is nice because it means that not all the weight is at the front, something that I have found uncomfortable in the past, and has also caused the lamp to slide down my forehead. Hopefully the balance of the batteries at the back and the strap over the head will make this a thing of the past. With the strap over the top of the head and the cable attaching the front and back lights it is not the most attractive headlamp to wear though (if there is such a thing)!

The elastic for the headband is soft and stretchy, but feels strong. To adjust it the elastic pulls through a buckle, one on the top band and one on the back to the right of the back lamp. These seem to hold under pressure, but are easily adjustable. At the front the elastic feeds through small breaks in plastic on either side of the lamp (which has a padded back), making it easy to adjust the elastic or to remove it if necessary. The cable attaching the front and back lights is clipped onto the band near the front, but sticks out a bit at the back.

To turn the front light on, the orange plastic button is fairly small, but as it is in the center on the top I find it fairly easy to find. However, the one at the back is low and off to one side and requires some fumbling to turn it on. I do prefer a pressable button to a sliding one as I find it harder to turn it on by mistake. I also like having a back light, particularly a flashing one as it makes me much more visible if I am biking, kayaking, or hiking at night. The lights at the front are nice and bright, and the one at the back is bright enough to be seen. One big beef I have is that the front goes on the brightest mode first - this seems silly to me as it requires more rapid adjustment for the eyes, and means that I have to take a guess as to whether the low setting will be bright enough. I would infinitely prefer it if the lights worked up to the brightest setting. I'm not quite sure why I would need blue and green night LEDs as well as red, but I am looking forward to trying them all out on the trail and seeing which I prefer, and which gives the things around me the most interesting hues!

colors

The beam from the headlamp at about 12 ft (3.7 m) on different light settings clockwise from top left: Broad, high beam; Focused, high beam; Focused, low beam; Blue; Red; Green.

The focus control of the headlamp is one of the things that really sets it apart from other headlamps. Wandering around at night I often find myself wishing for a broader beam, but then there are some occasions where the brightness is much more useful. By having both, this headlamp immediately scores brownie points for me. To change the focus of the beam there is a clear plastic slider that rotates. On mine it is really stiff, and requires both hands between holding the body steady and rotating the switch. I am hoping this will get easier with use, but not too easy as then it will slide unintentionally! There is a noticeable difference between the most and least focused beams, but not as much as I had imagined. Between the focusing of the beam and the ability to tilt the casing of the bulb, I found that a wide range of distances and details could be picked up on. The other nice detail about this headlamp is that it is water resistant. Although I will not deliberately test this, I frequently find myself using a headlamp kayaking at night, walking in the rain, or carrying it in my pack with leaky water bottles. I will be keeping an eye out to see if it is water resistant enough!

Overall, this seems like a really nice, well-designed headlamp. It has a lot of fancy functions, possibly more than I will need, but I will be checking on that. The weight is the biggest thing against it that I can see at the moment, but use in the field will show if it is worth it.


  Field Report  
  June 15, 2009  

Field Information
LocationActivityNo. NightsTotal DistanceMin. Temp.Max. Temp.Rain?
My complexMidnight picnic with my parentsN/AN/A71F/22C89F/32CNo
Homosassa, FloridaKayaking wedding210 miles/16 km44F/7C84F/29CNo
Myakka State Park, FloridaBackpacking111 miles/18 km69F/21C91F/33CYes
Suwannee River, FloridaKayaking363 miles/101 km69F/21C80F/27CYes
Ocoee River, TennesseeWhitewater rafting/Backpacking323 miles/37 km51F/11C78F/26CNo
Cape Canaveral, FloridaKayaking113 miles/21 km71F/22C89F/32CNo


Review
This headlamp has served me well over the last two months, in a range of situations and conditions. The only issue I have had with it so far is that it is heavy and a bit bulky for backpacking. However, there are a number of features that I really like which more than make up for this.

The Light
The brightness of the white beam in this headlamp is really astonishing. I have yet to find any other light which you can even see if it is shone in the same place as this one. It has been nicknamed 'The Sun' by my friends, and it really seems to deserve that name! I do have to be careful not to shine it into people's faces, something I always forget about with a headlamp, as it really blinds them. Numerous people have complained about that, but then 2 seconds later are asking me to shine the light in their direction so they can see something that they cannot with their headlamp!

The beam reaches a really long way, which proved especially useful when we were doing a night paddle. One of the group went off a lot faster than the rest of us, and if it hadn't been for my light reflecting off her paddle we never would have found her again. I also like it because I am lazy, and if someone needs my light for something I can just shine it in their general direction rather than get up or pass it to them!

The back light is also a really nice feature. During our night paddles I was the only one who could be spotted from the back without some else's light. This was great when we were kayaking across a busy shipping channel on a friday night with drunk boaters, and I had the security of knowing that I was flashing light in front and behind me. There isn't any way to know if the light is turned on at the back when I am wearing it though, and I have had people asking why my hair was flashing on a couple of occasions! I still find it a bit fiddly to turn on when I am wearing it, but it is definitely doable. It turned on in my bag once too, but the batteries are still going strong.

My last headlamp did not have the nightlight modes, and I really missed that. I still use the red for wandering around camp or hiking in the dark when I want to maintain peripheral vision, but in camp it was unanimous that the blue was easier to live with. Without a campfire it is nice to have a little bit of light, and the blue is good for that. The green is actually rather spooky, and I think that is a color more normally used for hunters. I haven't used it yet.

When it comes to the different white beams, I have to say that I do not notice much difference. After using it a couple of times I can now change from a broad to a focused beam more easily, but it still takes two hands. I generally keep it on the more focused setting, but have changed it to the more diffuse one for things like going to the toilet, when I want to check the area around me! In general though, there doesn't seem to be enough difference between the focused and diffuse beams, or between the dim and bright lights, to really make it useful. I do wish that the dim setting was a lot dimmer, more comparable to other headlamps, so it was less obnoxious for other campers. That is the only thing I would change about the light though.

Comfort
I have been pleasantly surprised by how comfortable this headlamp is. The band is soft but it stays in place well. With my old headlamps they used to slide down, and I found that having the weight of the lamp on my forehead would give me a headache. With this headlamp I can (and do) wear it for extended periods of time without even noticing it. The top strap definitely helps with stopping it sliding down, especially because it is so heavy, but I think having the weight of the batteries at the back and the light at the front helps the most because it makes it really balanced.

Water Resistance
This has really been tested on three occasions. The first was when I lost power for a day, and was desperately in need of taking a shower and shaving my legs. This can be disastrous without a good light! I hung the headlamp at the far end of the shower and put it on the white, diffuse beam and it worked like a charm. It did not get wet but there was definitely some spray. It did not appear to affect the headlamp at all. The second time, on the Suwannee paddle, one of my dry bags developed a hole and everything got pretty seriously wet. My flashlight/lamp, which was double bagged in another bag with a hole (D'oh!) died a corrosive death, but this headlamp, which was not double bagged, continued to function. The band did not feel wet so I don't think it got the brunt of the moisture, but it could easily have been enough to kill it. Finally, on the Cape Canaveral night paddle, the wind picked up and there was a fair amount of spray. The headlamp definitely got splashed a good few times but continues to work regardless. I am really impressed by that.

Overall
I have continued to be impressed by this headlamp, and find all the different settings more useful than I initially thought. I wish that it was a bit lighter, and that there was a white setting that was significantly dimmer, but other than that I have found it to be a really useful and reliable light. The white light is really impressively bright, and the back light and design with the batteries at the back make this my favorite headlamp so far.



  Long-Term Report  
  August 11, 2009  

Field Information
I have used the Essential Gear K2 Focus headlamp on 5 one- to three-night trips in the last two months (I seem to have developed an allergy to my apartment!). They were all in either north or west central Florida. I also used it on a night picnic to watch a meteor shower. We didn't see the shower, but we did see clouds, plenty of rain and some great cooking skills! Temperatures ranged between 51 and 95 F (11 and 35 C), but were usually above 70 F (21 C). Humidity was anywhere up to 100%, rarely below 40%.

Review
This flashlight has continued to function perfectly. The switch to change the beam from focused to diffuse is now loose enough that I can switch it with one hand, but doesn't show any signs of sliding unintentionally. The ratchet system has never failed on me, so it always stays at the angle I set it. I found myself using the beam on a diffuse setting more often than previously when around camp, and just using the focused setting when I didn't want to intrude on other people's light space. I like the ability to focus it, but to be honest the light is bright enough that I haven't used it as much as I thought I would. I still find the green light spooky, but have definitely found that I like the red best for picking out details while retaining night vision, and the blue for some background lighting while around camp. I think that red and one other color would probably be enough, but I guess it doesn't do any harm to have more! The back flashing light came in handy on a few occasions, although I night kayak more than hike so it was better for the former.

back light

The light at the back is a really nice security feature for night hiking or night kayaking. I have used it a lot.

The Essential Gear headlamp is still on the batteries it came with, which is impressive considering how much I have used it. I wanted to try testing the battery life using rechargeables (so as not to waste alkaline batteries) and made a discovery - my rechargeable batteries do not work in this headlamp. I have three sets, all pretty old, and I guess they are slightly bigger than disposable batteries because it was really hard to get them into the battery pack, and then the headlamp would still not turn on. I put the original batteries back in and it worked fine. At one point to get the rechargeables out I actually had to use a knife they were so wedged in there (not a good idea!) I was so surprised as I have never found that something works with alkaline batteries but not rechargeables before.

I have continued to enjoy wearing this headlamp, it is by far the most comfortable one I have used despite the weight of the larger batteries. The padding behind the two plastic parts is great, and the distribution of weight makes all the difference. The water resistant ability is also good - I got caught in a serious downpour and one girl could not find her glasses so we were wondering around in torrential rain using my headlamp and it never showed any signs of issues. It has proved very durable too. I just throw it in my bag with everything else, and the plastic has a few white spots and the large LED is losing the silver around the outside of it, but nothing else has suffered at all.
signs of wear

The plastic on the back has got some white spots from all the abuse I have given it.

LED silver

The silver around the outside of the main LED is pretty much scratched off around the bottom. Otherwise the headlamp has lasted exceptionally well.


Summary
This is a durable, sturdy headlamp that has an impressive range of light functions. I have yet to come across any headlamp that is even close to being as bright. The battery pack at the back makes it unusually comfortable, especially considering the extra weight of the AA batteries compared to the more usual AAA other headlamps use. The batteries have lasted great, and the headlamp has continued to function despite abuse and water exposure. Overall a reliable and useful headlamp that I will definitely keep with me. For me, the extra size and weight is worth the range of functions and durability that this headlamp offers. Plus the disco night lights are fun!!!

Likes
Comfortable
Good battery life
Impressive range of light functions
White LED is really bright
Great water resistance
Back light helps with safety out at night
Easy to cycle between different lights
Sturdy
Durable
AA batteries are useful for other things
Easy to change batteries

Dislikes
A bit bulky and heavy
The dim beam is still really bright
It goes to bright beam first, would be better to cycle up to brightest
Switch for back light is a bit fiddly
Doesn't work with rechargeable batteries


This concludes my test report. Many thanks to Essential Gear and to BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Essential Gear K2 Focus Control Plus Headlamp.



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Read more gear reviews by Sophie Pearson

Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Essential Gear K2 Focus Headlamp > Test Report by Sophie Pearson



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