Rechargeable Headlamp
Petzl Actik Core
$70, 3 oz. (with Core rechargeable battery)

If you agree that a rechargeable headlamp is the way to go—and I’d recommend one to any backpacker, dayhiker, climber, or trail runner willing to foot the added up-front cost, because it eventually pays for itself through what you save not buying (and throwing away) batteries—then the question boils down to which rechargeable headlamp is the best for most backcountry recreationists. Taking Petzl’s compact, rechargeable Actik Core on a three-night, mid-September backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range convinced me that there’s an argument for this one.

A multi-beam headlamp, the Actik Core has the usual white and red modes (for night vision) and two beam patterns—a focused beam for seeing straight ahead and a proximity beam for illuminating a wider area. But it stands out among ultralight, backcountry headlamps for its maximum brightness in white mode of 350 lumens—and even more significantly, delivering that much brightness even when using the rechargeable battery. Other rechargeable headlamps, including the Black Diamond ReVolt, only achieve maximum brightness with standard batteries; they aren’t as bright operating on their rechargeable battery.

On a dark night in the Winds, I found this headlamp, with a nearly full charge, clearly lit up trees about 300 feet away across a meadow, a range consistent with Petzl’s claims for the Actik Core’s max range (95 meters). That kind of range can make a difference when navigating an off-trail route, searching for rappel anchors, or trying to find a campsite in the dark.

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Petzl Actik Core turned on.
Petzl Actik Core headlamp turned on.

Operation is simple and intuitive: Hold the power button for two seconds to switch between white and red modes. The middle white setting puts out enough light to hike a trail or see across a campsite in the dark, while the dimmest (five lumens) will light a tent interior dimly and is adequate for reading. Red has one brightness level and a blinking mode that Petzl says is visible for up to 700 meters for 350 hours. The comfortable, reflective headband has a 100-decibel emergency whistle—a unique and useful feature on a headlamp.

The 1250 mAh Core battery recharges via a standard USB port using a USB cord that comes with the headlamp. It took about two hours to fully charge it the first time when plugged into my laptop; Petzl reports it can take up to three hours. Access the battery compartment easily by lifting a tab to open the back of the headlamp; the Core battery’s power indicator glows red while charging and green when fully charged. At the brightest setting, Petzl says the Core battery’s charge lasts two hours; between the middle and dimmest brightness settings, it ranges from seven to 160 hours.

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While with standard batteries, brightness diminishes steadily as the batteries drain, the Core battery maintains constant brightness over the duration of a charge before power drops off abruptly; you’ll appreciate that on a long slog after dark. It can also run on three standard alkaline, lithium, or Ni-MH AAA batteries. (Petzl cautions against mixing battery brands or new and used batteries.)

Its biggest shortcoming is that, unlike some headlamps (including many Black Diamond models), the Actik Core does not have a lockout switch to prevent it from accidentally turning on. But with its low-profile power button, that never happened to me.

The Verdict

Super bright, intuitive to use, with multiple modes, the Petzl Actik Core is a top-performing, rechargeable headlamp for backpackers, dayhikers, climbers, trail runners, bike commuters, and other outdoor recreationists.

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See my “Gear Review: The 5 Best Headlamps,” (the Actik Core is one of them), and all of my reviews of headlamps, hiking gear, backpacking gear, and trail-running gear at The Big Outside.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza


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