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Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Princeton Tec Fuel 2009 > Test Report by Carol Crooker

PRINCETON TEC FUEL HEADLAMP
TEST SERIES BY CAROL CROOKER
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - September 23, 2009
FIELD REPORT - November 29, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - February 02, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Carol Crooker
EMAIL: cmcrooker AT gmail DOT com
AGE: 50
LOCATION: Phoenix, AZ
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 10" (1.78 m)
WEIGHT: 165 lb (74.80 kg)

For the past 10 years, I've backpacked about 30 days each year, usually in Arizona and the western mountains on trips that last 3 to 6 days. Weather has varied from 107 F to a low of 0 F (42 to -18 C). My three-season base pack weight varies from about 8 to 12 pounds (4 - 5 kg) and my winter base pack weight is about 18 pounds (8 kg). I normally use a tarp for shelter. I also packraft (backpacking that includes travel by raft) and apply the same lightweight principles I use backpacking.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
Princeton Tec Fuel headlamp.
Manufacturer: Princeton Tec
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.princetontec.com
MSRP: US$26.99
Listed Weight with batteries: 2.75 oz (78 g)
Measured Weight: 2.8 oz (79 g)
LEDs: Four, ultrabright 5 mm
Brightness: 43 Lumens
Distance: 35 m (115 ft) on high
Burn time: 146 hours on low
Modes of operation: high, medium, low, flashing
Batteries: Three, AAA alkaline or rechargeable NiCad or NiMh
Water resistant? yes
Aimable? yes, hinged bracket
Regulated? no

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The first thing I noticed about the Fuel is that it has a different tilting mechanism than I've seen before: It rotates around a single bracket on one side of the housing rather than two. The strap is typical of other headlamps I've seen except that the buckle has an extended lip that is used to pry open the battery compartment.

I chose the green color which I liked when I saw it in person.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

There is a single page document included with the headlamp which includes instructions, specifications, warranty, troubleshooting and return policy.

The light switches on high, another press takes it to medium, a third to low, and the fourth press to flashing mode. The light can be turned off by cycling through the modes or by pressing the button once more than two seconds after the last press.

Photos illustrate how to use the headstrap to open the battery compartment.

The instructions are minimal and clear.

It is not clear whether the Fuel warranty is for as long as you own it or for 5 years.

TRYING IT OUT

The first thing I did was use the headstrap buckle to open the battery compartment. I had to use a lot of force to open the hinged lid. The battery polarities are indicated on the lid and it was easy to insert the provided AAA batteries.

The lamp rotates down about 45 degrees and up about 30 degrees. The rotation is stiff and takes two hands when the headlamp is strapped on my head. It is set up for right handers, with the hinge on the left side (I hold that side still and twist with my right hand).

The headstrap does not have to be undone and threaded through the bracket on the lamp housing, it can be slotted through openings in the bracket.

The headstrap is big enough for my medium sized head with plenty of room to expand if I'm wearing an insulating hat.

The button on top of the lamp housing is easy to find with my bare fingers. It is rubber as opposed to the rest of the housing which is plastic and there are three ridges to help locate it by feel. It takes a lot of pressure to push this button and I'll probably need to push it twice (medium) or three times (low) each time I turn it on.

SUMMARY

The Fuel seems like it will be a useful backpacking light. It is not too heavy, has four LEDs and can be tilted. I don't like that it takes two hands to adjust and needs a lot of force to open the battery compartment and to press the on/off switch.

Please check back in two months to see how it fares in the field.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

IMAGE 1
The Fuel in the Grand Canyon.
September 18-20, Yellowstone River, Montana north of Yellowstone Park from Gardiner to Emigrant
Elevation 5260 - 4880 ft (1600 - 1480 m)
Weather hot and sunny with strong breezes in the afternoon. Temperatures from the mid 80's to 40 F (29 - 4 C) with rain on the second night.
This was a packraft training course with camping next to the river.

October 15-19, Grand Canyon, Hermit Trail to Hermit Creek, then Hermit Rapids, then Monument Creek , then out Hermit Trail
Elevation 6640 - 2300 ft (2020 - 700 m)
Weather warm (90 - 61 F, 32 - 16 C) and clear with some stiff breezes during the climb out of the Canyon.
This was a night in my car at the trail head followed by a four-day backpack trip on rocky trails that were sometimes steep and sometimes slick with water.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I used the Fuel in camp on two nights along the Yellowstone River. Even on low, it was quite bright for camp duties and I needed to make sure not to blind my fellow camp mates. It got a little extra use the second night when we were kicked out of what we thought was a legal camp by a home owner and a sheriff's deputy after we had retired for the night. The Fuel lighted my way as I packed up in a light rain, walked out to our waiting bus, then set up camp once again at a new site.

I used the Fuel about half an hour each of four nights (including one night on the rim) during my Grand Canyon trip. I kept it on low for all in-camp chores. I broke camp and started the hike out of the Canyon in the dark on the fifth morning. It was pitch black with no moon and of course, no light pollution. I set the Fuel on high for the hike and it easily lighted my way for a half hour until the sun came up. The Fuel had the right angle adjustment so that the path was lighted ahead of me and I could still see the ground close to my feet.

I used the Fuel for about two hours at home. I spent about half an hour putting together some furniture in dim light. A low level of brightness was plenty to help me see where to start the screws. I spent an hour and a half putting up Christmas lights when the electricity in the neighborhood went out. Again, the low level was just what I needed.

I've used the Fuel about 5 and a half hours on low and half an hour on high so far.

Other observations:
- The head band is wide enough to be comfortable on my head and adjusts to my medium head.
- It takes two hands to tilt the lamp head; it would be more convenient to be able to use just one hand.
- I still have to fumble to find the on/off switch by feel in the dark.

SUMMARY

So far, the Fuel has worked well for me.

What I like so far:
- Comfortable to wear on my head
- Good angle for night hiking

What I don't like so far:
- It takes two hands to angle the light

Please check back in two months for the Long Term Report.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

January 3 - 6 Grand Canyon, Hermit to Bright Angel
Elevation 6860 - 3000 ft (2090 - 910 m)
The temperature varied from 56 to 27 F (13 to -3 C) with mostly clear and still, days and nights.
This was a hike on three trails that almost form a loop. It began downhill on a steep rocky, snow covered trail (Hermit); followed by an undulating dirt trail (Tonto); and culminating in a steep uphill trek on packed snow (Bright Angel).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I used the Fuel in the Grand Canyon on a four-day winter backpack trip for about 6 hours total in the evenings plus 1 hour one morning. I kept it on low except for a few minutes when I searched for a noise source one night (it turned out to be a mouse munching on my foil pot cover).

The total number of hours I used the Fuel over this four-month test period was 11.5 hours on low, 0 hours on medium, and 0.5 hours on high. The light does appear to be less bright on low now, but there is still plenty of illumination for my camping chores. As I mentioned in the Field Report, the Fuel was initially quite bright on low so that I had to make sure I didn't blind my camp mates with it.

I continue to have trouble finding the on/off switch by feel when I'm wearing thin gloves. There are ridges on the non-switch side of the Fuel that I find by feel then press to try to turn on the light. The ridges on the switch are much closer together and I shouldn't confuse the two but I do. It would be easier for me to turn on this light if the ridges on the back were removed and the ones on the switch were raised more.

SUMMARY

Overall I like the Fuel headlamp. It is fairly lightweight and provides plenty of light on low for camp chores and bright enough light on high to trail hike at night.

What I like:
- Comfortable to wear on my head
- Good angle for night hiking
- Plenty of light on low for camp chores

What I don't like:
- It takes two hands to angle the light
- The low ridges on the on/off switch are hard to find with gloves on

CONTINUED USE

I expect to take the Fuel along on most of my future backpacking trips.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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