$35, 2 oz. (men’s medium)
My first reaction to the Knog Bandicoot was: a rechargeable headlamp that weighs and costs less than headlamps that require batteries?! My second thought was: Hey, this thing looks kind of… cool. After using it on late-summer (think: it’s dark by early evening) backpacking trips on the Teton Crest Trail and in Yellowstone National Park, and camping in September at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, I see its minor shortcomings, but I also think the Bandicoot is the kind of new product that has the potential to upend an entire category. Here’s why.
For starters, it looks very different. The Bandicoot’s unique, very light and durable silicone housing seamlessly merges the strap, body, and LEDs, stretches to fit anyone’s noggin, and doesn’t grab, cling to, or snag in hair—it’s quite comfortable on your bare head, so much that you may forget you’re wearing it, especially over a hat. Weighing just two ounces (60g), it can do the job whether you’re hiking, backpacking, climbing, car camping, trail running—you name it.
The four sets of LEDs include a high-power beam, elliptical beams for proximity lighting, a red LED for night vision, and LED’s angled downward for reading. A fifth mode combines the high-power and proximity LEDs for maximum brightness—which I used at times while hiking in the dark, although the high-power beam alone was bright enough for that, too. In fact, the combo and high-power modes are bright enough for trail running and biking city streets after dark (and this low-profile headlamp fits more comfortably under a bike helmet than bulkier models).
The large button controls on and off (holding it down) and cycles through the five modes (clicking the button). The small button cycles through an unusual four brightness settings in each mode. At 100 lumens at max brightness in combo mode, it’s bright enough to hike a dark, wooded trail at night—although not nearly as bright as the best ultralight headlamps (which are only about an ounce heavier)—and the four brightness levels offer more convenience and utility than some headlamps. I found the reading mode (six lumens) barely enough to read by, even at its brightest level, but that may not bother everyone.
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Holding both buttons for three seconds activates and deactivates the lockout mode, to prevent accidental turning on and draining the charge inside a pack; the red LED blinks twice to indicate locked, and the white LED blinks twice when unlocked. Pressing the button on the back of the left side of the housing opens it up for plugging it directly into any USB port to recharge (no cord needed). The row of four small reading LEDs act as a charge indicator when the headlamp is off and you click the smaller button, and each light represents a 25 percent charge.
According to Knog, a full charge will last for two to 13 hours in the combo (brightest) mode, and up to 80 hours in reading mode. Starting a couple of late-summer backpacking trips (with early sunsets and some pre-dawn starts) with a full charge in the Bandicoot, it was down to about a half charge after a two-night hike on the Teton Crest Trail; and it did not lose power, but was down to 25 percent or less, on a four-night hike in Yellowstone, which included us rising more than two hours before first light on our final morning to get an early start hiking. In other words, this rechargeable has the life for backpacking without necessarily having to recharge it mid-trip.
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While not as bright or as versatile as some ultralight models, the Knog Bandicoot is a rechargeable headlamp that’s very functional for backpacking, hiking, climbing, trail running, and other outdoors activities, and actually weighs and costs less than headlamps that use batteries. That’s darn impressive.
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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 my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.