PRINCETON TEC FUEL HEADLAMP
TEST SERIES BY MIKE DAURIO JR.
June 18, 2008
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Mike Daurio Jr.
6' 0" (1.83 m)
183 lb (83.00 kg)
I am quite new to backpacking. My experience lies mostly as a canoe guide. My inspiration to get more into this sport/hobby was a backpack trip to Thailand in 2005. Due to my experience I am fond of lightweight, waterproof quality gear. I backpack in mainly hilly forested areas and of course near rivers and streams. I also do a lot of backpack traveling to other countries. I am a 3-season backpacker. Every year I spend time in the Ozarks in Missouri and in Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. I'd love to explore Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I am originally from the Midwest, but have recently moved to the Washington DC area and more importantly about 40 miles (64 km) from the Appalachian Trail.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Princeton Tec
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.princetontec.com
MSRP: US$ 24.95
Listed Weight: 2.75 oz (78 g)
Measured Weight: 2.7 oz (77 g) with included batteries
1.5 oz ( 42.5 g) with out batteries
Light output: 15 lumens in high setting*
Distance: 85 ft (26 m) in high setting*
Run time: 160 Hours max in low setting*
Power consumption: (3) AAA batteries (included)
Water resistant *
4-mode beam setting: low, medium, high and flashing
*Data taken from the packaging
According to the owner's manual the Fuel has these specifications at the following settings:
LOW: 160 Hour run time and 37 ft 9 in (11.5 m) distance
MED: 110 Hour run time and 57 ft (17.5 m) distance
HIGH: 50 Hour run time and 85 ft (26 m) distance
FLASH: 120 Hour run time and 85 ft (26 m) distance
The above data also came with two disclaimers:
"The times listed on this chart assume you start with fresh batteries and use only one mode" and "Princeton Tec calculates total burn time as the time it takes for the light source to produce a minimum of 0.25 lux at 2 meters (6 ft 7in). 0.25 lux is about the equivalent of a full moon on a clear night."
The Fuel came on cardboard with the lamp, batteries and headband all attached with blister type clear plastic. The package is just enough to display the contents nicely.
The headlamp is assembled easily by slipping the headband in the holders through the openings. (see pics) The green plastic is hard and seems sturdy. The headband is soft and is composed of woven thread and elastic. Sizing can be adjusted by a sliding plastic adjustment bracket. The sizing bracket also doubles as a tool to open the battery compartment. (The tool is pictured in the second picture in the row of thumbnail pics.) The tool slides behind the battery compartment's locking latch and I pry open the door. The latch seems sturdy when it snaps closed. I loaded the included Energizer brand batteries in the compartment and snapped the door shut.
The power button is located above the lamp's light source and is seen clearly in the picture with the battery door open. It is a gray piece of rubber with three raised indicators on it. The power button is depressed once to activate the high beam and by pushing it again it toggles to medium beam. By depressing the power switch again the lamp goes to its low setting, and again to flash. One more depression will return the lamp to an off position. I have discovered that by having the lamp in a selected mode for a period of time one push of the button will return it to the off position.
The Fuel has a hinged bracket allowing the beam to be aimed up or down in approximately a 45 degree angle. The batteries power three small Light Emitting Diode (or LED) bulbs. When illuminated the lights burn a bright white color. Although some other headlamps come with a red mode also the Fuel only comes in white leaving no option for a different colored light.
TRYING IT OUT
I received the Fuel on a day set aside for a couple of items on my honey-do list. I had to venture into the crawl space and fix a couple of loose floorboards. I got dressed in my scrubby clothes, grabbed some gloves a drill and of course the Fuel and jumped in. Another project I should do is wire lights in the crawl space but instead I am left with one light bulb when I first enter the crawl space and the Fuel's three LEDs to light my way.
The Fuel's power button was a little hard to find with my thin leather gloves on and the lamp on my head. I finally found it and depressed it one time to the high setting. The light illuminated the sides of the crawl space approximately 30 ft (9.1 m) away. I then tried the medium setting and found it did the same just not as big of a light beam on the wall. Toggling one more time through the settings I tried the low feature. The setting still got a beam to the wall but it was not as powerful as the other settings. I quickly skipped through the flash and off settings, went back to the high mode, and got to work. The output of light from the Fuel was useful for my project. The convenience of having the beam attached to my head was perfect for when I had to lie on my back and screw in things above my head. I wore the lamp for about 45 minutes to an hour while army crawling under the plumbing in my crawl space.
When I finished I removed the light and depressed the power button once, expecting it to go to medium. To my surprise, the Fuels beam cut straight into the off mode with only one push of the button. I don't know how but the light bypasses the toggling between the beam settings after a period of time. I have no idea how long it takes to activate this feature but will hope to test it for the Field reporting section.
After an hour I did have a small uncomfortable spot on my forehead where the hard plastic met my head, separated only by the small strap. When I looked in the mirror while washing my hands there was a small red spot on my forehead caused from the hard plastic being pressed on my head. Based on this initial usage, I think that it will be uncomfortable to wear it for long periods of time.
I expect to take the Fuel on two camping trips in the cold. I will comment on how the cold lamp fires up when pulled from my pack and if the temperature affects the power of the beam. I will also use the lamp on projects around the house and for reading before I go to bed. These out of field usages will help contribute to my testing around durability and longevity of the battery times. I also plan to test the run times of the lamp by leaving it on in the closet. I may not be able to get exact times but should be able to speak to how close it comes to the advertised times. I will also try to get rechargeable batteries and see if those have any bearing on run time. I will comment further on the comfort of the lamp as it rests on my forehead. I expect to use the headlamp around camp and in the tent reading or writing. I will comment on how the beam illuminates the paper. Is it uniform or is the light broken up leaving dark spots on the paper?
So far the Fuel seems to be a great, lightweight, light with limited features. The inclusion of the battery compartment-opening tool is smart and the construction seems quality. I am concerned on the lack of comfort features will comment more heavily on them in the Field Report. Please check back later for more info.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
The Fuel headlamp has been my companion on an overnight stay in cold weather in Kettle Moraine State Forest, and on a few evening hikes in Glacier Park, part of the McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD). It has also accompanied me on a couple outings in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park's Tow Path trail. In addition to field use the Fuel has been a trusty light for use on household chores needing an extra light source, bedtime reading, and kept with me for emergency uses. I once pulled it out to help change a tire on my fiancée's car. The Fuel was a handy addition on my recent move when I had to check the map on my drive to the Washington D.C. area. My Jeep was packed so tight, the cargo blocked my dome light and I relied on the Fuel's tiny LEDs to get me cross country. I mention the off field use because the Fuel is so versatile and lightweight I bring it all over the place. Sometimes I bring it and don't use it; however, I always feel better knowing it is stowed and readily accessible.
My trip to Kettle Moraine State forest was a 22 mile (35.5 km) hike in, spend the night, hike out trip. It was my first trip camping in the cold weather. The trail consisted of about 8 in (20 cm) of fresh snow covering a dirt trail that had been frozen before the snow. Temperatures ranged from about 30 F (-1 C) to 19 F (-7 C) from weather forecasts.
The evening hikes in Glacial Park, MCCD were taken in temperatures above freezing 32 F (0 C) and on soft mud and gravel trails. Most recently the Fuel has been out on the Tow Path with me in temperatures around 55 F (13 C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Fuel creates a beam of light that has lit my path on my evening hikes as well as my tent on my overnight trip. The output of the three LED lights has been sufficient glow to complete many tasks and has allowed enough light for me to navigate the trails in MCCD. Bottom line, the Fuel's three LEDs emit an impressive beam for all I've required of it. Its beam has reached an estimated 45-50 ft (13.75-15.25m) on the trail. I don't want to give the impression that the light floods the whole trail but rather reflects off of objects in my path to help me navigate safely. For a three bulb headlamp I was impressed.
The temperature does affect the output of the beam. I am rather sure this is due to the temperature of the batteries rather than the LED bulbs. After unpacking the headlamp, in Kettle Moraine, the light emitted from the LED bulbs was noticeably more dim. I removed the harness from my head and put the light under my shirt and jacket to warm it up. After a few minutes in the shirt, the light returned to what I'd call the normal level of output. The lamp illuminated nicely inside the tent and allowed me to check the map, log a few notes about the trail on paper, and do some reading. While eating ,the independence given to both my hands by the lamp being attached to my head is great! I was able to see my food and not have to hold a light in my hands. Although this could be accomplished by many headlamps, the Fuel has 12 adjustable positions that range the light beam from straight forward to about a 30 degree upward or downward position. This range allowed me to not have to over compensate my head position to allow the beam to hit, and illuminate, my plate.
For the majority of the testing period I have kept the headlamp on the highest output setting. I do like the fact it has the lower settings. I attended a group picnic at Riley's Lock park part of the C & O Canal National Historic Park. The park is a picnic area along the Tow Path. I used the Fuel to help pack up after the picnic and left it on my head in my conversations afterward. I used the lower setting of the lamp and the adjustment to shine the light downward, as not to shine it in my colleagues' eyes. If I did any long distance hiking I would keep the light in the lower modes to conserve batteries, which I'm guessing is why it comes with them.
As for battery life, I have not seen any detrimental effects in the light beam due to the battery life. I have not changed the batteries since first installing them. The only effects I've seen in the battery performance have been in the cooler weather of my Kettle Moraine overnighter.
The comfort of the headlamp is my only complaint so far. My forehead has felt the burden of Princeton Tec's lack of padding on the back of the lamp. I don't believe it is all Princeton Tec's fault as I may have a pointy and boney forehead; however I do think the Fuel could benefit from a bit of padding.
I think he Fuel is a great light for the weight. The beam emitted by the LED bulbs is tremendous for the amount of batteries it needs to function. I am still concerned by the lack of padding.
During the next few months I will try to wear the batteries out. I hope to get a few more nights of camping in on the Appalachian Trail. The final report will come about june of '08. Please stay tuned for the final results.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I have used the Fuel in my first visit to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It was on a day that brought afternoon thunderstorms with hail. After entering the park's gates we hit an afternoon gusty thunderstorm that brought a lightning show, a heavy dousing, and even pea-sized hail. Temperatures were around 80 F (44 C) before the storm and cooled to about 70 F (21 C) before we started out on the trail. We took the Matthew's Arm Loop and gained 600 ft (183 m) of elevation while climbing the Cut Off trail to the Knob Mountain Ridge Trail. The trailhead starts in woods abutted to the parking lot and descends down a hill before winding along a gushing stream, swollen by the storm. After crossing the stream over a downed tree trunk, the trail gains elevation for 1 mile (1.6 km) to the ridge trail with a total elevation of 2657 ft (810 m). The trail consists of packed mud, leaf covered earth, and hard bouldered mountain side.
I also did a day trip in Gambrill State Park on the Yellow Poplar trail, 4.6mi (5.3 km) and the Black Locust loop 3.3 mi (7.4 km) trails totaling 7.9 mi (12.7 km) . Terrain consists of packed dirt over mountainous rock. The park is located just south of Catoctin Mountain National Park. Most of the hike was spent under a forest canopy. The Black Locust trail was the more difficult of the two sections, as it climbs and descends on the mountainous terrain to 3 overlooks on the 1600 ft (488 m) summit of High Knob. Temperatures were around 85 F (29 F) and we were pestered by small gnat-like bugs.
The FUEL has also been carted around with me numerous times for emergency use only. I've used it on a project I have completed at work, and on some tasks around the house.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The Fuel has been a trusty little headlamp for the duration of this test. I've had the lamp for just over 5 months and have never changed the batteries. I hav probably used the Fuel about 30 times in the past months and probably have about 20 hours in total burn time. I have rarely used the lamp for over an hour. The average time I've used the Fuel is about 20-30 min. I have no way of measuring LUX; however, I don't think the light output has been affected. I still get a bright full beam.
In Shenandoah we arrived at our destination and set up camp. We dined at dusk and I had to retrieve the lamp to finish eating. After dinner we ventured off to find the place we picked out earlier to hang our food. The lamp's LEDs were bright enough to light the trail and ample for when we had to bushwhack a little bit. On the hike back, my nerves were a little on edge, due to our bear encounter earlier that day. Having the Fuel calmed me a bit but the light's beam is more of a spot light than a flood lamp. The beam has power, just a smaller field of view when night hiking. Task completed, we arrived back at camp unharmed and without event. I then used the Fuel to help me get situated in the tent and to plan the logistics of the next day's hike out. The Fuel is an ample tool for all of the tasks completed.
I have hiked with the Fuel in my pack at Gambrill State park in Maryland. I never used the light on the trail but had it included in the pack. What is great about the Fuel is its low weight. The Fuel is light enough that even if I don't need it, it is worth the extra weight to have it in the pack anyway. Most of the time I don't even know it is there, which makes it an easy decision to bring it. I am a "better safe than sorry" kind of guy.
Things I LOVE about the Fuel:
1. Light weight- easy to bring even if not needed
2. Battery life- over six months of use, and no noticeable change in light emitted from the LEDs
3. Light output- the beams consistency is perfect for camp chores and hiking
Things that concern me:
1. Comfort- If wearing the Fuel for long periods of time I do get discomfort on my forehead. For short orders of use the Fuel feels fine.
I am planning on using the Fuel on my Ozark trip this July and will continue to bring it along on overnighters in the backcountry, and just in case on day hikes. It is a great little lamp and at the MSRP I may pick up another to store in my car for emergencies.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
This concludes my report series. I'd like to thank Backpackgeartest.org and Princeton Tec for the ability to test the Fuel. It has LIGHTENED my load.
Read more reviews of Princeton Tec gear
Read more gear reviews by Mike Daurio Jr.