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Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Princeton Tec Fuel Headlamp > Test Report by Douglas Wayne McCoy

PRINCETON TEC FUEL
TEST SERIES BY DOUGLAS MCCOY
LONG-TERM REPORT
June 25, 2008

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Douglas McCoy
EMAIL: dmccoy805@msn.com
AGE: 35
LOCATION: Spokane, Washington (State) U.S.A.
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 1" (1.85 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I've always been intrigued by the outdoors, as a kid I remember playing "survival" and was always drawn to the wilderness, but never really had the opportunity to fully enjoy them. I got serious about backpacking 4 years ago, and it is now more of a lifestyle than an activity. Most of my backpacking is solo and often off trail "via throw a dart on a "topo" and plot a route. In accordance with this, I've transitioned from "heavy" to "ultralight", and constantly seek ways to lighten my load and share my ever growing knowledge with others


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Princeton Tec
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: www.princetontec.com
MSRP: US$ 24.95
Listed Weight: 2.75 oz (78g)
Measured Weight: 2.75 oz (78 g)
Other details: Measured weight includes batteries.

IMAGE 1
Princeton Tec Fuel in Packagaing

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Princeton Tec Fuel headlamp came packaged with the headlamp, head band, and 3 AAA Energizer batteries, along with a set of instructions written in English, French (Francais), and German (Deutsch), each item was in its own separate compartment within the packaging. The Princeton Tec Fuel is a compact water resistant headlamp measuring 2.25 in x 1.25 in (5.7cm x 3.0cm) and has a single strap head band that attaches to the lamp via a slit on each side of the headlamp base. The head band is 1 in (2.5 cm) wide and has a max measurement of 25 in (65 cm) diameter and a minimum of 14 in (35 cm) diameter.
It contains 3 high output LED's that are in a row in the center of the headlamp assembly. The on/off button is a recessed rubber button with 3 little ridges to aid in grip. The LED's have 4 modes, High, Medium, Low and Strobe. The button is depressed once for high, twice for medium, three times for low and a fourth time for strobe. The fifth depression will turn it off again, if the modes are being cycled through with no more than 1.5 seconds in between depressions. If there is a delay of more than 1.5 seconds between depressions the light will switch off from whatever mode it is in. With each depression there is a positive click feeling and sound letting me know I have gone to the next mode.
The three AAA batteries are placed in a battery tray that is in the side of the lamp, they form the shape of a triangle when in there. There is a door that flips open by using the adjusting buckle of the head band which is also a built in opening tool for the battery tray door. The door also has the markings of + and - to let me know which way to place the batteries in the tray. The hinge is a small metal pin that is placed through the door and two outside pin holders on the headlamp body. The battery door closes via secure snap latch that comes up and over the battery tray housing and clamps to the front of the headlamp.
The headlamp itself is held to the base via the ratcheting arm that completely encases the body on the left side of the lamp (as it is being worn) There is a locking "clamp" with their signature "P" on it that holds the lamp in place and keeps it from getting off the ratcheting track. All of this is then screwed to the base using two (one on top and one on bottom) small Phillips head screws. The ratcheting action has a good solid feel and the light stays in place where I put it. The range of motion is about 75-80 degrees up or down in either direction.
The fit and finish is of good quality with no sharp edges or anything out of alignment. Overall craftsmanship seems to be very well done and no flaws or blemishes are apparent at this time.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The instructions that came with the headlamp have 2 diagrams of the light output. One diagram explains the lumens and burn/on time totals for each mode setting. The other diagram shows the distance of each setting on fresh batteries and how long the light will last in burn time with each mode. It also has a diagram/photo illustration of how to open the battery door and the order the batteries need to be placed in. Along with this it gives some general information about battery usage and recycling and some trouble shooting tips. It also outlined it's 5 year warranty.

TRYING IT OUT

My initial experience with the head lamp thus far has been positive. I took it to work where I am required to be outside at night a lot of the time. Currently where I am working we have about 11 in (27 cm) of snow and the temps have been ranging from 10 F to 36 F (-12 C to 2 C). The head band fits me nice and snug and is easily adjustable while on my head. Turning on the head lamp and cycling through the modes can be done with my light utility gloves on (haven't had my thick winter ones on yet) or bare handed. I can adjust the ratcheting head with one handed most of the time but sometimes I do have to hold the base and pivot the head with the other hand.
All 3 LED's are lit at the same time and cast the typical blue hue on the ground or wherever I am looking at or in. I have not noticed any micro pulsing which is an indication to me that this may be a regulated lamp but I have not found any data to support my claim.

TESTING STRATEGY

Some of the testing criteria I intend to use are as follows:
Is it bright enough to cook with outside after dark?
-Is it comfortable to wear for extended periods of time?
-Do the batteries last as long as stated by the manufacturer?
-Will it get accidentally get turned on while in my pack?
-Is it as bright as stated and at what point does it begin to fade away?

The field and long-term reports would expand on these criteria as well as testing for durability.
-Will the head lamp take the stress of riding in a pack for days while being sat on, dropped, jostled, and generally abused?
-Does it function when wet?
-Will the switch continue to operate properly after months ofuse?
-Does the ratcheting head wear out over an extended period of time?
-How well does it do in the cold winter nights?
-Do the lumens fade away after an extended on period while reading a book or on for an extended time duration?
-Can I operate it with thick winter type gloves on?
-How water resistant is it?

SUMMARY

I am well pleased with the headlamp thus far and can not really find anything too terribly bad about it as of yet. I look forward to continuing my testing in the months to come and plan on using it daily at work as well as on my upcoming backpack trips.
This concludes my Initial Report.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

A lot of my testing was done at my work location during winter and early spring (Jan - Mar). Average temperature range was from -10 F (-23 C) to 20 F (-6 C). Winds were generally constant at around 5 to10 mph (8 to16 km/h) and gust up to 50 mph (81 km/h) on occasion throughout January to March, the elevation is 2376 ft (724 m).
Approximately 3 ft (91 cm) of snow was on the ground at all times, until it melted off in March. Areas where I used the headlamp were maintained plowed but there was consistent snow fall through out the duration of the test.

I did a winter trip from Jan 25-26, 2008 that was supposed to be a 3 day trip but became an overnighter because of severe winter weather conditions. The trek was through the Turnbull Wildlife in Eastern Washington. Terrain is scab land with a combination of marshes, lakes and forested areas. The elevation was a steady 2175 ft (663 m). The trail is a railroad bed that has now been turned into a horse, bike and hiker path. Snow pack on the trail was approximately 15 in (38 cm) and the off trail average was 4 ft (122 cm) with snow drifts up to about 6 ft (183 cm).

During early spring I did an overnighter on Mar 8-9, 2008 along the Columbia River by Saddle Mountain and Hanford Reach, Washington, USA. The temp range was 45 F (7 C) during the day, and 25 to 30 F at night. (-3 to -1 C), winds were constant at 20 to 30 mph (32 to 48 km/h) with consistent gusts up to 50 mph (80 km/h). Terrain was rugged and rocky desert plains and mountains. Elevation ranged from 1450 to 2050 ft (442 to 625 m). Skies were overcast for the duration and slight spattering of rain for about 20 minutes fell during the middle of the night.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Each Test is based upon the life of the batteries (3AAA). Though there was still light being emitted from the Princeton Tec it was not enough to warrant any feasible light output to where I could see. This is when I considered the batteries dead and changed them out.

During the first set of batteries (which came with it) I used the Princeton Tec at work for doing my outside security checks around the premises and to look inside large shipping containers and semi truck trailers and other anonymous vehicles at night. I would always have the headlamp on the "high" setting and would be outside with it on for approximately 30 minutes. After about 3 weeks of use I took it home for a weekend because I was going to do some winter back yard camping/testing of gear. It was unusually cold weekend with night time temps of -25 F (-31C) and day time temp of 5 F (-15 C). The headlamp stayed in my tent for two nights and 3 days. Upon returning to work with it, the batteries were no longer able to supply enough power to emit any significant light from the headlamp and I changed the batteries for round two. I got an estimated 10 hours of use out the first set of batteries. This is a far cry from the advertised 50 hours on high that the company suggests. However given the extremely cold and windy environment the headlamp was forced to perform in, and the last two nights of sitting out in the elements, may have been what prematurely drained the battery life.
The headlamp always provided plenty of light and never was uncomfortable on my head. I could easily see the reflectors we have around the premises from about 50 ft (15 m) away and I would use this as a guide to measure how well the headlamp and batteries were doing. The button was kind of difficult to push down with my thick winter gloves on but I was still able to eventually press and depress the on and off button with enough firmly applied pressure. I really like the positive click I feel when I move from one light setting to the other. Also the amount of movement up a down the headlamp has is really remarkable as well. When conversing with fellow employees I could flip it up or down (usually down) enough to not blind them and could look directly at them without having to turn the lamp off.

The second set of batteries started off with another week of work and then the winter overnighter. For the overnighter the headlamp was on for about 6 hours straight with varied settings. I had it on high for about 2 of the 6 hours while I was doing some night time reading. The "blue" light did not hurt my eyes and covered the page well enough to see both sides of the book. The second day I was forced to abandon the trip because the snow was falling at about a rate of 0.8 in (2 cm) an hour (we got about 13 in / 33 cm over an 18 hour period) but at times I was in almost white out conditions. Travel was so slow that I ended up hiking about 3 hours in the dark to be able to finally reach my car and the trailhead. I was able to have about a 6 ft (1.8 m) wide patch of light on the ground about 10 ft (3 m) in front of me and could see the trail through the snow fall very well and I was very thankful to have the head lamp with me. I was able to use the headlamp for about another 3 weeks at work until I needed to change the batteries again, so about 16 hours this time with 95% if the use being on high.

I am now on my third set of batteries which also was the beginning of my overnighter at Saddle Mountain. For this trip I had the lamp on about 3 hours or so, on medium while doing camp set up and chores. I then switched it to high for about another 2 hours or so for some reading and map examining. Again no discomforts and all the parts function like they did on the first day of use. I was able to use it for about another 3 weeks at work. But now the evenings have gotten to be too light out for me to need a headlamp to do my checks. I am still on the third set of batteries, and have been using it at home now when I am working on cars or some other project that is requiring me to have a hands free light.

SUMMARY

I have put the Princeton Tec Fuel Headlamp through a lot of abuse. The "Fuel" lettering is completely worn off, the back side is scratched and worn from me ratcheting the head up and down so much, and the on and off rubber button is showing signs of wear as well. But the headlamp still continues to perform as well as it did the first day I took it out of its packaging. The head band is still solid and not frayed or showing signs of wear. The ratchet head still has a positive feel and stays in place when repositioned, and the on-off button still has a nice solid "click" when turning on and cycling through the 4 modes of lighting. I really like the way the batteries are put into the headlamp via the side through a door that can be opened with the provided tool which is incorporated into the band adjusting buckle.

One item I do not like about the battery tray however, is I always get confused on which way to place the batteries. It takes me a couple of tries and to get the positive and negative sides in the right direction. If I go by the symbols on the door itself I end up getting backwards, so then I have to put one battery in at a time and half way close the door to see if it is the spring side (negative) or non spring side (positive) is touching the end of either the positive or negative side of battery and adjust accordingly.

The other item that bothers me thus far is the battery life. I have used the exact same brand batteries the head lamp came with in an effort to keep the test parameters constant. But both sets (the ones that came with it and the ones I have replaced it with) are short lived in comparison to the advertised battery life. I have taken into consideration the weather conditions in which the first two sets of batteries were tested under but even at the longest battery duration, 16 hours on high is a far cry from the advertised 50 hours on high.

Likes:
Durable and can handle the abuse I give it.
Very comfortable to wear for a long duration of time.
Positive ratcheting head placement.
Button has a good click feel when depressed even with thick gloves on.

Dislikes:
Battery door placement directions.
Battery life on high.

TESTING STRATEGY

My continued testing strategy will now be to attach it somehow to my cycling helmet to use in flashing mode while riding my bike at night, or if it will work on my head under my helmet for the same purpose. Also I have a 40 mile (64 km) 3 day backpacking trip planned at the end of April in the Wennaha Wilderness area in south eastern Washington. It is mountainous terrain and I will be hiking to the estimated snow line for that time of year which is an elevation of about 4000 ft (1219 m) but will be starting out at an elevation of 1500 ft (457 m) with a temp range of 50 F (10 C) during the day and 30 F (-1 C) at night. I also have two over night hikes scheduled but the destinations are still in the planning stages. I will also use it as much as possible on my daily bike commutes from work and around the house for odd jobs. As far as what I will be looking for will still be the same as mentioned in my initial report.

Check back in June for the Long Term Report.

This concludes the field report portion of the Princeton Tec Fuel Headlamp. I again would like to thank BGT and Princeton Tec for giving me the opportunity to test and continue to test this gear item. Have a blessed day.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I have had the Princeton Tec Fuel (PT Fuel) on several outings since my last report. The outings varied from 4 day treks to short day hikes. The terrain has varied from easy trails to rugged mountain climbing. The elevations have been from 1500 ft (457m) to 4500 ft (1372m) and the temps have been from 10 F (-12 C) to 65 F (18 C). I have gone through rain, sleet, hail, sun, and snow with it, some of it being all on one trip and in one day.

On my 4 day Wenaha River (in Troy, Oregon U.S.) canyonlands hike with the elevations ranging from 1500 ft (475m) to about 3000 ft (914 m) the temperatures were about in the mid 40's F (4 C) range during the day and either 35 F (1 C) and drizzly or clear and freezing at night. I used the headlamp the most on this trip because by the time I came into camp on the first night, it was dusk and I had to use it for tarp set up and cooking. The rest of the nights I used the headlamp just for quick around camp checks when I heard some noises or to find something in my ditty bags. I don't take books with me on my regular 3 season hikes so there was no extended use of the lamp at any one time. On my overnighter trips I used the headlamp pretty much in the same style as the Wenaha trip save for the late night set up.



PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Well I am still on the same set of batteries as when I changed them out during my field report. So I am pleased with the battery life this time around. It is amazing how the cold will suck the life out of something. The PT Fuel was a flawless performer in the field. It lighted my path and gave ample light for cooking and miscellaneous searching of goods when needed. I used the head lamp on low most of the time and it still gave off enough lumens to be able to see clearly at what I was doing. The head lamp was exposed to snow, rain, and everything in between and the water resistant seal held up to the task. There was no sign of leaking into the lamp lens or any other area that may cause harm to the circuitry or LED bulbs themselves.

When not on the trail the PT Fuel rides in my trunk bag on my bike as a reserve/emergancy light, where it endured some more abuse. On one occasion my main light went out on me coming back from work. I still had about 5 miles (8 km)or so to go before I got home. So I put on the headlamp and it fit fine around my forehead under my helmet band, though a little awkward it did the job. Surprisingly it illuminated (on high setting) the road well enough for me to see to get home. It was a real life saver.

SUMMARY

The headlamp got stashed into my main front pocket on my pack and there it rode for the duration. It got sat on, pushed around by other items in the pocket, beat up on by branches and twigs when on my head while walking, and endured many other types of abuse and it still performed without a glitch. The button still has a positive click feel, the band is not faded or falling apart in any way, overall workmanship still is functional. Though the lens is very scratched from all the abuse the light emitted is just as good as when I took it out of the packaging.

The things I really like about the PT Fuel is:
Its durability!!!
The positive click of the button, even with gloves on.
The barrel ratcheting head is very functional.
The ease of opening the battery tray with the special built in tool.
The head band is not uncomfortable.
It is light enough that it does not bother me to be on my head.
The lumens are actually bright enough on low to be able to see for most camp chores. This will save battery life.

Dislikes: NONE



CONTINUED USE

I plan on using the PT Fuel as my regular headlamp for backpacking or in my bike bag for commutin, or it may just go into my tool box at work for when I need to work hands free and can't see what I am working on. Whatever I do with it, it will get very used.

Once again I would like to thank BGT and Princeton Tec for letting me test such a fine piece of equipment.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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