Petzl Actik Core
$70, 3 oz. (with Core rechargeable battery)
If you agree that a rechargeable headlamp is the way to go—as it is for any backpacker, dayhiker, climber, trail runner, backcountry skier or other user willing to foot the added up-front cost, knowing 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. Numerous backpacking and other trips with Petzl’s compact, rechargeable Actik Core have convinced me that this one ranks among the best.
The Actik Core has the usual white and red modes (for night vision) and two beam patterns—a spot beam for seeing straight ahead and a proximity beam for illuminating a wider area. Its maximum brightness in white mode of 350 lumens makes it one of the brightness ultralight headlamps—and even more significantly, it delivers that much power even when using the rechargeable battery. Other rechargeable headlamps only achieve maximum brightness with standard batteries; they aren’t as bright operating on their rechargeable battery.
On a September night in the Wind River Range, 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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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 charges via a standard USB port. 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.
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.
Powerful, intuitive to use, and versatile, 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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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.