Owner Review By Bob Dorenfeld
May 13, 2014
active hiker, snowshoer, skier, and
backpacker. Home base is the
Southern Colorado Rockies, where I'll
hike from 7000 ft (2100 m) to above
treeline, with desert trips to lower
altitudes. Six to 12 miles (10 to
20 km) daily is my norm, with elevation
gains up to 4000 ft (1200 m). Many
of my backpack trips are two or three
nights, other trips are longer, and I usually
carry about 30 lbs (14 kg). My
style is lightweight but not obsessively
so - extras like binoculars, camera, and
notebook make my trips more enjoyable.
||Salida, Colorado, USA
||5' 6" (1.68 m)
||140 lb (64 kg)
Listed Weight (w/
2.75 oz (78 g)
Weight: (w/ batteries): 2.75 oz
Black/Charcoal, Green/Charcoal, Pink/Charcoal
Photo: Princeton Tec
The Princeton Tec Fuel is a lightweight
headlamp using an LED lamp array powered by three
AAA batteries. It is water resistant
(but not immersible), the headband is made
of stretchy material, and its length is
adjustable using the built-in strap buckle.
The top-located power switch cycles through
each of four lighting modes on
successive clicks: high, medium,
low, and flash. All LEDs light up on each
cycle. The headlamp beam angle can
be aimed up or down by rotating the entire
body on its axis. The Fuel comes in
three color combinations, and includes
three AAA batteries in the package.
The Princeton Tec Fuel headlamp has been in
production since at least 2008 when I purchased
my first one. I have several of these in
the black and green color combinations.
Since there is a large selection
of LED headlamps on the market, narrowing the
field of options can be difficult; but I like the Fuel's
ease of operation and its overall dependability
(with one exception regarding the battery door,
described below). I estimate that I've used this
headlamp model on about 40 backpack and other camping
trips. I like having an extra for loaning
to a friend who lacks a headlamp for our trips.
Some of my Fuels have three-lamp LED array,
while the latest model has a four-lamp array;
Princeton Tec has changed the design
sometime since I started using them.
and using the Fuel is not complicated. Adjusting
the headband length is easy using the slider buckle
on the strap. Depending on whether or not
I'm wearing a hat, it takes me only a few seconds
to get the headband comfortable around my forehead,
and its length seems generous enough for the
largest head plus a hat.
The batteries are loaded from the side of the case
after snapping open the thin plastic lock tab.
But be careful here: applying too much pressure
all at once, or from the corners instead of the
center, may eventually break the tab. If it
breaks only at one side, as I have done several
times on different headlamps, the lid will still
close (see photo). However, if both sides
break then the lamp will be rendered useless
(unless tape or another method is used to keep
the battery door closed).
Although a coin or the back of a knife blade can
be used to gently pry the lid, Princeton Tec
has molded a correctly-sized and shaped blunt edge
into the headband buckle, and that probably works
best. On their website Princeton Tec calls
this their "virtually bulletproof, easy access
battery door", but I think that there is room
for improvement in the design.
I always note the battery polarity indicators
before sliding in the batteries - two are negative-side
up, one positive-side up. Batteries can be
either non-rechargeable or rechargeable; I've
used both over the years, with no practical
differences in performance for me. (Note:
discharge times may differ between the battery
types, as well as voltage, but I haven't
measured them with this headlamp.)
I'm wearing the headlamp, turning it on is via a
firm press of the single button on the top of
the case. I like that it takes some
pressure - this keeps
the lamp from operating unintentionally when stored
in my pack or anywhere else where it's not needed.
The first press of the button puts the Fuel in high
power/brightness. Second press is medium brightness,
third is low, and the fourth press blinks at
approximately once per second at high brightness.
If more than about a second passes between
button presses, then the next press will turn
the lamp off. A final option is to press and hold the power button
(when the light is off) - the lamp will stay on
at the highest brightness until the button is released.
Changing the vertical direction of the light is
simple: just rotate the case up or down as it "bumps"
over internal ridges. Like the power button,
rotating the case takes firm pressure, but that
also keeps it from moving when it's not supposed
to. The maximum downward angle of the light
(measured from horizontal) is 70° and the maximum
upward angle is 45° (see photo).
In practice, I've
never had a use for pointing the lamp up, and directing
the light straight out or down is where I almost
always keep it set, either slightly down for moving about
camp, or all the way down for reading. Also,
in practice, I almost never use the two brightest
settings - I find that the extra light is unnecessary,
and I can get longer life from the batteries by
using the lowest power mode exclusively. I've
also never had to use the flashing mode, but in
an emergency or for signaling across a distance
it could be useful.
Although I find that
wearing any headlamp for a long period of time is
not very comfortable, the Fuel's light weight, thin
layer of padding on the headband, and slight curve
molded into the case is sufficient to keep it comfortable
enough for the time I need it at night around camp
- usually about an hour or so, sometimes longer.
Over the years I've found the Fuel to be
quite water resistant for normal use around
camp. Although I've never had to test this
water resistance for hours at a time in a
driving rainstorm, it's never failed on me due
to water infiltration when exposed for short
periods to either rain or snow.
I've noticed over the years that the clear
plastic lens does get lightly scratched, but I don't
see any effect on the light quality. I do
try to pack my headlamps with the headband wrapped
around the lens to reduce the chance of scratching.
Concerning battery life, I have not verified
Princeton Tec's claim of "146 hours of light" from a single set of
new AAA batteries. However, since I average
no more than, say, 4-6 hours of headlamp usage on
a 3-4 night backpack trip, I can easily make one
set of batteries last over 2-3 months (including
inactive time between backpack trips, when the
batteries continue to drain power slightly).
In my experience the light maintains good to
excellent brightness for most of the installed
batteries' life, fading only toward the end.
That's good for preserving good light, but bad
for knowing when the batteries need to be
replaced. I always carry a spare set! In
between camping trips, storing alkaline batteries
in the refrigerator can extend their life.
Finally, I try to never store batteries in the headlamp
for more than a couple of weeks at a time, since
they can possibly leak and ruin the interior of the headlamp.
To sum up, the Princeton Tec Fuel headlamp is one
of the most reliable pieces of electronic gear in
my pack. I also keep one in my daypack for
emergencies. The Fuel is comfortable, easy to
use, comes in pleasant colors (well, the black and
green anyway), and has a long burn time.
• easy push-button
• easy tilt adjustment
to angle light up or down
battery-door lock tab prone to breaking if not opened
Southern Colorado Mountains