Suunto Core vs Garmin 910XT

Using GPS Watches and Smart Phones in Mountain Marathons

Mountain Marathons are a true test of a runner’s fitness, campcraft and navigation skills.

Only those who have trained to run in mountainous terrain, practised carrying and using a minimal amount of equipment and honed their map and compass skills can hope to do well.  Mountain Marathons have traditionally been regarded as “map & compass” events with rules stating that GPS devices must not be used and runners have generally accepted this.

In the past this has not really been contentious as the term “GPS devices” meant dedicated units designed solely for the purpose of aiding navigation.

a traditional GPS device

a traditional GPS device

However, advances in technology have meant that running watches and smart phones now have GPS capability and can be used as aids to navigation, even if the user does not intend to use them as such. It is now common for runners to record their training and load the data onto programmes such as Strava and understandably a Mountain Marathoner will want to know how far they ran during the event. Whilst in all likelihood most competitors would never attempt to gain an advantage by using their watch or phone as a navigation aid, it is impossible to disprove that they haven’t and this puts the race organiser in a difficult position.

Why is a GPS watch or Smart Phone a navigation aid?

Some runners will claim that their Garmin watch or iPhone isn’t a navigation tool because it doesn’t have maps loaded onto it. Regardless of maps these devices can be used to help navigate in a number of ways, most noteably:

1 – Displaying Location:

Many modern GPS watches such as Garmin’s 910XT have the function to display a very accurate grid reference.
Imagine the situation – a competitor in poor visibility finds themselves disorientated, the lake they were expecting to appear out of the fog doesn’t do so and they realise that somehow they aren’t where they thought they were. How tempting would it be to press a couple of buttons on the watch to gain a grid reference accurate to within 1 metre!?

GPS watch showing 10 figure grid reference

GPS watch showing 10 figure grid reference

There are also several free apps that can be loaded onto smartphones that give accurate grid references even when there is no mobile signal. So even if a runner only wants to “map their run” or take photos using the phone the capability and therefore the temptation to get an accurate position fix is there.

smartphone grid reference app

smartphone grid reference app

2 – Measuring Distance:

The ability to record distance travelled is a huge navigational aid and even basic GPS enabled sports watches have this as a function.  A simple press of a button will begin recording a lap distance allowing the wearer to measure distance travelled over the ground.  Devices without inbuilt GPS but using foot pods still give the user this function.

GPS watch displaying lap distance

GPS watch displaying lap distance

Here’s a scenario:

mountain marathon map

locate control number 52

Competitors trying to locate the re-entrant at control number 52 could use the bridleway and path to the east and find where it meets the change in angle of the boundary wall or fence (the solid red line) and use this as an attack point. If they then ran on a bearing of 250 degrees for 300 metres they would be at the control.  The ability to accurately measure 300 metres over rough and in this case marshy ground gives a runner a huge advantage over someone who is trying to estimate the distance by timing or pacing.

What about altimeter watches?

The use of altitude to assist with navigation is allowed, as long as the watch or the device is not a GPS device that could also be used to give location or measure distance.  These such devices use barometric pressure rather than satellite to measure the altitude.

Suunto Core vs Garmin 910XT

barometric & GPS altimeter watches

Altimeter watches such as the Suunto Core are similar in size and appearance to more sophisticated GPS watches and it is difficult for a race organiser or fellow competitor to see at a glance if a runner is wearing a GPS watch.

What if you want to use your phone or watch in an emergency?

The policy at events where GPS is not allowed is usually to allow a competitor to place the device in a sealed bag which must be intact at kit check at the end of the race. This means that the phone or watch can be accessed in an emergency situation but if the seal remains unbroken then it is clear that the device hasn’t been used.

How to use your GPS watch as a training tool:

The great thing about GPS watches is that they make it easier to develop your navigation skills. If you have such a watch but don’t know how to use the functions mentioned above then you’ve got an expensive device that you are not making the most of!

For example if you set the pace function to minutes per kilometre you can soon get used to how quickly you run over a variety of terrain. Set the lap function and run uphill for a kilometre, then turn round and go back down noting the time taken for both laps. Run on the rough stuff, on the boggy stuff, with and without a rucksack, walk up the very steep hills and all the time keep an eye on your pace. Make a note of your pace over all the different types of terrain you encounter.

Use the GPS to measure 100 metres and count how many steps it takes to run it. Again do this both up and downhill on a variety of terrain. You’ll be surprised how this changes with only a small change in slope angle or type of terrain. Over time you’ll be able to get an idea of your paces per 100 metres and so be able to apply this to scenarios such as in the previous example.

Use the altimeter and compare your time over a certain distance on the flat with the same distance that includes a few hundred metres of climb (use metres not feet as that is what the contours are shown in on the map).

With practice you’ll get the hang of estimating distance covered and the time it takes to do so over all different sorts of terrain.

If you’re not a confident navigator (you might already be scratching your head about re entrants and attack points) or want tuition to learn further skills then it’s a good idea to book some running specific navigation training.

A solution?

It is understandable that runners want to see and analyse their track after an event but unfortunately battery life on GPS watches isn’t sufficient that they last the whole of a 2 day Mountain Marathon and so the option of turning it on before the race and leaving it running for the 2 days isn’t viable. The logistics of overseeing and allowing competitors to turn on their devices, get a satellite fix then bag them up on the start line then do the reverse at the end of the day is just too time consuming for a race organiser who will have enough on his or her plate dealing with downloads, retirements, broken or lost dibbers, emergencies, results etc etc.

Using a tracking system that collects satellite data and records the route of the competitor may be an option. This would allow runners to analyse their own (and other runners’) route choices after the event but inevitably there would be a cost involved that would be passed on through the event entry fees.

So please try to understand it from a race organiser’s point of view. They know you wouldn’t dream of gaining an unfair advantage over your fellow competitors but it has to be a level playing field. If you are allowed to carry your smartphone or wear your GPS watch there is no way of anyone knowing if you pushed that little button a couple of times when you were lost in the fog!

fell running in bad visibility

“It would be handy to know our grid reference right now!”

fell running guide

Trail and Fell Runs from Peak District Stations

The Peak District is a fantastic location for trail and fell running.

A wide network of paths link woodland trails, gritstone edges and more remote, wild, moorland terrain and offers something for everyone regardless of fitness level or experience.  But what if you want to run in this beautiful landscape yet don’t have access to a car?  Well the good news is that the Sheffield to Manchester rail line runs through the heart of the Peak District and trains call at several village stations along the way.  You can hop off the train and be running off road within seconds!

Here are four chosen routes on the Sheffield side of the Peak District.

Grindleford Station Run
Distance 14km, Height Gain 450m

trail run from Grindleford Station

trail run from Grindleford station

The route shown is for a clockwise run starting up Padley Gorge, along White Edge and finishing along Froggatt Edge.

Trail running on White Edge

frosty morning trail run on White Edge

Hathersage Station Run
Distance 16km, Height Gain 600m

trail run from Hathersage station

trail run from Hathersage station

The route shown is an anticlockwise loop taking in Padley Gorge, the Burbage valley, Stanage Edge and North Lees.

trail running in the Burbage Valley

trail running in the Burbage valley

Hope Station Run
Distance 13km, Height Gain 600m

trail run from Hope station

trail run from Hope station

The route shown is anticlockwise ascending Win Hill before descending to then tackle Lose Hill.

running up Win Hill

splendid views from Win Hill summit

Edale Station Run
Distance 17km, Height Gain 740m

fell run from Edale station

fell run from Edale station

The route shown is clockwise starting steeply up towards Mam Tor then a more gradual climb Brown Knoll (easier now with a flagstone path). It then follows the southern edge of Kinder to Grindslow Knoll before a steep, technical descent off Ringing Roger back to Edale.

fell running near Kinder

high and exposed, the moorland near Grindslow Knoll

Fly through the route and see more photos on FatMap:

 

No car? No excuse! Just hop on the train and make the most of trail and fell running in the Peak District.

fell running guide

The Montane Spine Race Film

The Montane Spine Race is arguably Britain’s most brutal race.

Runners have 7 days to cover the entire 268 miles of the Pennine Way.. in the depths of winter.  This film by Summit Fever Media follows the 2015 event and gives an insight into how tough the race really is.

The Spine - Britain's most brutal race?

The Spine – Britain’s most brutal race?

The film follows a number of competitors on their adventure and captures their raw emotions; from despair at having to drop out due to injury, the sense of serenity at being alone in the bleak, wild landscape and the relief and elation on completing their epic journey through remote terrain in harsh, winter conditions.

Interviews with competitors, race organisers, medical and safety crew along with footage from the film crew and competitors (carrying Go Pro cameras) give a behind the scenes look at the logistics and planning as well as showing the extreme conditions that the runners encounter.  For some there is camaraderie as they assist and accompany each other.  For others there is isolation; alone, battling against the elements, their own emotions and sleep deprivation.

It might inspire you to do the race or it make you say “never”.  Either way it gives a fascinating look at the men and women who plan, organise and compete in arguably Britain’s most brutal race.

The Montane Spine Race Film is available as a DVD or a download from Summit Fever

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Going Downhill Fast

“How do I get better at running downhill?”

This is the question I get asked more than any other by trail and fell runners seeking to improve their running technique.

running downhill

running downhill

 

“I overtake people on the uphill only to have them fly past me again on the downhill”, “I feel out of control”, “I’m scared I’m going to fall”.  Do any of those statements sound familiar?  You’re certainly not alone if you feel that your descending skills are something that need to be worked on in order to make you a better fell or trail runner.  So what can you do in order to improve?

Some people will tell you that it’s simply a matter of disengaging the brain and letting go.  Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as that; if you haven’t got the core or leg strength to cope with the added impact forces or don’t have the neuromuscular development that allows rapid reactions and quick movements, then no amount of bravado is going to get you to the bottom of a steep, technical descent still upright and in one piece!

So is there any way of improving your descending skills?  Just like getting faster on the flat or stronger on the uphills, descending at pace and in control is something that needs to be trained.  And like most aspects of running, whilst a few people seem naturally gifted, the majority get better by hard work and regular practice.  Lots of runners make the mistake of only trying to run fast descents in races, to make improvements you should work on it in training too.  Developing an efficient technique is important so try to focus on the following:

Downhill Running Tips:

  • Don’t lean back.  Whilst it feels safer to lean back and land heel first this is inefficient.  Try to keep an upright posture or even a slight forward lean.
  • Fast, short strides – particularly on steep, technical ground.  If the angle decreases or the ground gets less technical then you can open your stride.
  • Midfoot landing.  This gives more stud to ground contact and prevents you overstriding.
  • Relaxed upper body.  Let the arms go!  They act as a counterbalance.
  • Practise on a variety of terrain.  Start on a gentle, smooth slope and work up to steeper, more technical terrain as your technique and confidence improves.

Practising downhill running

There are also other types of training that you can do to supplement the downhill run training.  Doing drills such as fast feet or ladder exercises will help develop your balance and coordination and activate those fast twitch muscles needed for a rapid stride rate. Good descenders rely on a strong core so work on this too.  Exercises such as planks, bridges, and lunges will all help, it’s not just about running.

The key to improvement is practice; you didn’t learn to ride a bike in one go and likewise it takes time to develop the various skills to improve your downhill running.  Try to incorporate downhill training into your regular runs.  This video shows how you might practise running down a short, steep hill:

So, work on your technique and you never know, it might be you flying down past others as they tentatively make their way downhill.

Fell Running Guide

Blue Skies and Skylarks

Summer is here; blue skies with high clouds, long days fade to warm evenings and trail running in the Peak District is a pleasure.

No longer is there a need to don my windproof or carry a waterproof, hat and gloves are left behind and I relish the chance to run unencumbered by rucksack or bumbag.

summer evening trail running

The ground is dryer now, the wet, peaty trails turning dusty and it’s good to finish a run with dry feet for a change.  Skipping across the dry, gritstone boulders the dry rock gives excellent traction.

trail running fun

But the thing that gives me most pleasure is running with the sights and sounds of nature. Running below Burbage rocks I hear the high pitched cheep of the Ring Ouzel whilst on open moorland I am often circled by Curlews, distinctive with their long curved bill and mournful, whistling cry.  Of all the little, brown, ground nesting birds I am fascinated by the Skylark.  I hear it long before I see it, singing away melodiously.  Today I noticed its song was particularly loud, yet it was a tiny speck, high in the sky.

So the joy of summer running; dry trails, blue skies and the sound of the Skylark, singing away high on the wing.

Fell Running Guide

Glyders Golden Dawn

Fell running has given me plenty of wonderful moments;

the thrill of a race, the sights and sounds of the countryside, the raw beauty of remote and hostile places.  But every once in a while something stands out, a moment above all others that inspires me and makes all the effort worthwhile.

There had been nothing special about the night so far.  We had left Llanberis at 1.30 in the morning, two of us supporting our mate on his Paddy Buckley Round, and trudging up through the quarries I was already thinking it was bad idea.  The promise of a pleasant night had faded as the earlier stars had disappeared behind thick cloud, and a cold wind was making it difficult to stay warm.   On the slopes of Elidir Fach we entered cloud, reducing the visibility and making navigation even more difficult; it was going to be a long, tough night.  I was tired, had a cold, should have been tucked up in bed not out in the Welsh mountains!

It was dark, properly dark, no moon behind the clouds, no faint outline of the mountains against the sky.  My world consisted of the the map and compass in my hands, the pool of light cast by my headtorch and the two lights of my companions just behind me.

Dawn crept upon us almost imperceptibly.  Descending Foel Goch the ink black sky began to lighten to the east but the worst wasn’t yet over as on the slow, silent trudge up Y Garn the cold wind increased.   In the strange half light we turned our torches off and battled with the loose, scree ascent of the Glyders.  The world was grey.  There was no promise of colour, no inkling of what was to come, the monochrome, barren landscape of the Glyders mirroring the dull stratocumulus above.

Then it happened.  The low clouds lifted for a moment and directly ahead, leading us onward the sun appeared in a blaze of gold.

sunrise on the Glyders

sunrise on the Glyders (photo Heather Marshall)

I paused for a few brief seconds to savour the moment, to reap the reward for the cold and tiredness of the previous night.  I drank in the sight; the harsh, eerie landscape around me, the contrast of grey and gold, the surreal shapes silhouetted against the rising sun.  I knew that what I was experiencing was precious.

surreal landscape - Glyders at dawn

surreal landscape – Glyders at dawn (photo Heather Marshall)

That moment of harsh beauty whilst the country slept was even more special because it was so fleeting.  It was too cold to linger and we had more running to do, more mountains to climb.

Fell Running Guide

Where did the path go?

map of kinder

which symbol is the path?

Have you ever tried to follow a path on the map but got confused as you couldn’t see it in the landscape around you?

A common mistake that people make is that they don’t understand what the symbols on their map actually mean.  Take the map above for example on which there are several symbols that might confuse the unwary navigator.

The black dots show near Crowden Head  
These are actually a Civil Parish boundary; an imaginary line separating two Parishes that has nothing to do with paths on the ground!

The black dashes at the top right and close to the Pennine Way
This is the symbol for a path that exists on the ground.  But be careful with this as there are also lots of paths on the ground made by sheep or deer for example that aren’t shown on the map!

The green dashed line running NW – SE through the centre of the map 
This is a Public Right of Way (footpath).  And this is where a lot of people slip up as the symbol is a political designation (i.e. by law you have a legal right to be there) but it does not mean that there will always be a path on the ground.  Anyone who has tried to run or walk across Kinder Scout following the public footpath symbol will know that the “path” doesn’t exist.

The green diamonds signify a National Trail 
In this case the Pennine Way.  As these tend to be more popular walking routes there is more likelihood that there will be a path on the ground, however if you look closely on the map to the north east of Red Brook you’ll see that the Pennine Way runs through steep ground whereas to the east of it, the black path symbol keeps to the higher ground.  Ask yourself “Are there really two paths there or is the Pennine Way symbol an arbitrary line on the map?”

So with all these things to confuse you how do you make sure that the path you’re on is the one you want to be on?

Look at the contour lines
Whilst paths may come and go due to animal and human feet, the shape of the landscape will remain.  A hill will always be a hill, a valley likewise.  So if your intended path is supposed to take you downhill and you find yourself running on the flat, stop – something isn’t right.

Check the compass
Look at the direction that you want to be going and check that you are actually going that way.  It is all too easy to run along a path that gradually changes direction.  If you should be going north and you’re not, then again something is wrong!  Too many runners stick their compass in their bumbag only to get it out when they are lost.. too late!  Keep it handy and check that the direction you’re running is the right one!

boggy running in the Peak District

I thought you said there was a path!

access land symbol

access land symbol

symbol showing the boundary of access land

symbol showing the boundary of access land

If you are on Access Land then you have a legal right to roam anywhere – you don’t have to stick to public rights of way.  This is shown by the thick beige line on the map and the symbol on gates or stiles.

So the moral of the story: Just because you’re on a path doesn’t mean it goes where you want to go!

Do you need to improve your navigation skills?  Click for more information about my Navigation Skills Courses.

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What are the best shoes for Fell Running?

One question that I'm often asked is "What are the best shoes for Fell Running?"  The answer is simple; "It depends..."

what are the best shoes for fell running?

what are the best shoes for fell running?

Ok, simple but not very helpful!  That's because there are a number of things to consider before making a purchase so you need to ask yourself a few questions.

What is the terrain like?
The term "Fell Running" covers a wide variety of terrain including rough mountains, steep grassy slopes and hard packed trails.  Different shoes will be suited to different types of terrain.

What will I use them for? 
Are they for for training or racing?  Your day to day trainer can afford to be a little bit heavier than your racing shoe where you might be concerned about saving weight. Likewise with grip; a steady run requires less grip than when you're going eyeballs out with your nearest rival breathing down your neck!

What's the weather like?
We know what the British climate is like and a firm, dry path can change into a quagmire after a week of heavy rain.  Shoes that were perfectly adequate one week can have you slip sliding away the next.

fell shoe grip comparison

different grips for different trips

Quite often a run or race will include several changes of terrain.  The Moelwyns fell race in Snowdonia starts and finishes with a long section of hard quarry track where road running shoes would be fine, however the seven miles in between involves steep, wet, grassy descents where a shoe with an aggressive grip is vital.  The 3 Peaks Race swaps between fell and road and runners have been known to change shoes for different sections.

Unfortunately there is no one shoe that is best suited to all types of terrain so you need to compromise.  A heavily studded shoe is not ideal for a hard, dry track but it will cope but a road or trail shoe with little tread won't cope with wet or muddy conditions.  If in doubt go with the worst scenario. (or mix your trail and fell shoes, one on each foot!)

trail and fell shoes

mixed terrain? you could always try this!

So it seems that you probably need more than one pair of shoes, in fact you could convince yourself that you require several.  Personally I classify the type of running I do into 3 categories with a type of shoe for each one:

Winter training and racing.
This requires a shoe with the most aggressive grip.  Weight is less of a concern.

Summer racing.
This still requires quite an aggressive tread but I look for something lighter in weight.

Summer training.
This requires less grip and weight is not as important.  It makes up the majority of my running so needs to be comfortable,

There are several shoe manufacturers to choose from.  The once ubiquitous Walsh is nowhere near as popular as it was although some runners still swear by it.  Inov-8 seem to have taken over as the leading brand and have a huge range of shoes to choose from. Salomon have also appeared on the market and have a range of models to suit different conditions.

Personally I use Inov-8 shoes for the majority of my training and racing.  The Mudclaw is my weapon of choice for winter running and racing, it's super aggressive sole is what I have found copes best with the Peak District bogs.

inov8 debris sock

Mudclaws for winter running

For most other races out of the winter season I opt for Inov-8 X Talons.  The 212 are a good lightweight shoe with an aggressive grip that work well in a range of conditions.  I find these too lightweight for day to day training so they are saved as my race shoes.

X Talons for summer racing

X Talons for summer racing

For the majority of my running I need a comfortable shoe that can cope with a mix of terrain and I am currently on my third pair of Roclites.  These are my favourite workhorses and have served me well for a number of years.  I used them for the Paddy Buckley Round as I needed a shoe that would cope with the mountainous terrain yet provide a reasonable amount of cushioning and comfort.  I liked them so much that I literally wore them until they fell off my feet!

inov-8 roclite

Roclites, my faithful workhorses - they didn't look like that for long!

If I could only have one pair of shoes it would be the Roclites, for me they are the best all rounder.

Much depends on personal preference and I do have other shoes including less aggressive trail shoes and even a pair of road shoes for the odd run from home.  However these are my top three:

Roclite, X Talon, Mudclaw

my top 3: Roclite, X Talon, Mudclaw

So the best shoes for fell running?  It depends on a number of things and you're most likely going to need more than one pair.  One thing I'm sure of; there's always room in the cupboard for another pair!

Note - I am not sponsored by Inov-8, this post is based on my experiences of shoes that I have purchased myself.

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Salomon Fellraiser Review

Salomon’s Fellraiser is a recent addition to the ever growing fell running shoe market.

My only experience of wearing Salomon shoes is their XA Pro trail running shoe which aren’t really designed for most of the running I do so I was keen to get my feet into a pair of their dedicated fell shoes and put them to the test.

Salomon Fellraiser fell shoes

Salomon Fellraiser fell shoes

The Fellraisers aren’t the lightest fell running shoe on the market, my pair of size 6.5 tipping the scales at 542g but then they aren’t designed as a stripped down, super light race shoe and they look and feel like they are built to last.  The uppers have a tough, stitched rand with a breathable mesh which lets water in, but also allows the shoe to drain and dries quickly.  A substantial toe cap gives good protection for when running quickly over rocky ground. The 6mm drop from heel to toe makes them a lower profile alternative to Salomon’s more established Speedcross shoe.

Salomon Fellraiser

substantial toe protection

The outsole sports aggressive, multi-directional lugs that feel like they are made of a harder compound than the Speedcross’ chevrons.  Hopefully this means a good amount of mileage before the lugs wear down and grip is compromised.  The lugs extend all the way to the toe giving grip even at the “toe off” phase of the running stride.

Salomon Fellraiser outsole

good lugs!

The Fellraisers use the Quicklace™ system that allows the lace to be quickly pulled tight with the excess then tucked away into a little pocket on the tongue.  An OrthoLite® liner gives added cushioning whilst claiming to keep the feet healthier due to its fungus resistant properties!

Quicklace system with tongue pouch

Quicklace system with tongue pouch

How did they perform?

First impressions were that the Fellraisers were a little narrower than I was used to, not uncomfortably so and in fact giving a reassuring responsive feel but maybe a little too tight for very long races.  However I took them straight out of the box and onto a 13 mile, multi terrain run with no ill effects.

The most essential feature of any fell running shoe is how well they grip in a range of conditions.  The Fellraisers gave a secure grip on short grass and felt very reassuring in the peaty Peak District mud.  In wet conditions I didn’t have any problems running over rough gritstone but on limestone I found them to be pretty slippy to say the least!

The Quicklace system kept the shoes tight without needing any adjustment and whilst it worked well in dry conditions I found it to be a bit tricky to undo when the lace was muddy or gritty when it tended to clog up.

Trail running with Salomon Fellraisers

Fellraisers on test

Verdict

The Fellraiser makes a good training or race shoe over soft ground.  They perform particularly well in muddy conditions and so would make an excellent choice for winter training and racing.  As with most fell shoes care needs to be exercised if running quickly over wet rock!  They come up a little tight on me so definitely try before you buy.
The 6mm drop is a good compromise; close enough to the ground to feel stable but offering some elevation for runners who don’t want a “barefoot” structure.  Aesthetically the shoes looks good (I particularly like the women’s purple model!)

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Petzl Nao

Petzl Nao 575 Lumen Headtorch

Some types of trail and fell running only require a modestly bright head torch giving a couple of hours battery life.  For more serious ventures you need a torch with a bit more power and one that gives you several hours of battery life on a bright setting.  For example an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon requires runners to spend upward of 8 hours in the dark during which they must navigate across the notoriously difficult Bleaklow, whilst 24 hour rounds such as the Bob Graham require route finding in the high mountains during the hours of darkness.  In these situations, having a powerful head torch to see the route and not having to stop to change batteries saves both time and hassle.  So is there a head torch that is up to the task?  Step forward the new Petzl Nao 575 lumen.

Petzl Nao 575 lumen head torch

Petzl Nao (2014) 575 lumen head torch

The first version of the Nao got good reviews for its brightness and Reactive Lighting feature but fell short of expectations on battery life.  The 2014 model not only has an upgrade in brightness from 315 to 575 lumens it also gives a much better battery life.  I tested Petzl’s claim of 8 hours on constant lighting at 120 lumens and the battery lasted 7 hrs 50 mins before the torch flashed a warning and dropped to Reserve Mode (a dim light of about 20 lumens which should last for an hour)

Reactive Lighting – is it a gimmick?
When I heard about this my first thoughts were yes.  However I then found myself navigating on a night run and being dazzled by the glare from my laminated map and having to manually adjust my torch’s brightness.  When I tested the Reactive setting on the Nao I didn’t think it was working – the change in brightness was instant as I looked down to open my bum bag and then looked up again to continue running.  I also realised the other benefit of the Reactive Lighting function; improved battery life.  As you look at close objects such as the ground immediately in front of you the torch dims, thus saving battery life.  Only when you point your head to the distance does the torch illuminate on full power.  If you don’t want the feature you can simply twist the switch to turn it on to constant lighting with a choice of two brightness settings (the default settings are 480 lumens or 120 lumens but can be altered using the OS software)

I’ve heard stories that the reactive lighting gets confused in foggy conditions or by your condensing breath in cold, damp conditions.  I haven’t really found this to be a problem although the torch was affected by the glare from the reflective trim on someone’s rucksack when I was following them and it kept flaring from bright to dim.  I don’t feel this is a major problem because if it annoys you then you can simply switch to constant lighting mode.

Programmable Power
A clever feature of the new Nao is that you can customise the brightness using Petzl’s OS software.  You simply plug the torch into a computer with the supplied USB lead and you can change the torch’s settings.  For example if you know that you are going to need the torch for five hours you can tweak the settings to allow this.  The software allows you to set up different profiles for different activities.  To be honest, unless you are going to be in darkness for over 5 hours you probably won’t need this feature.  However for an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon it is really useful to know how long your battery is going to last! Many people won’t use this software but the techie minded may love it!

customising the torch using Petzl's software

customising the torch using Petzl’s OS software

How easy is it to use?
Some torches can be quite confusing to operate requiring a sequence of press, double press, press and hold etc to select the desired light but not the Nao.  One big button needs a single twist to turn on (from the locked off position which prevents accidental turning on) and another twist to change between brightnesses.  A long twist changes from constant to reactive mode.  One thing I really like is that the big button is easy to find and twist even when wearing bulky gloves.  This is a huge advantage that the Nao has over Petzl’s other Reactive torch the RXP which is terribly fiddly to use.

A feature that is missing is a flashing / strobe. It’s probably the least used function on your torch but considering that the Nao is the type of torch that you are most likely to take on remote runs I’m surprised that it is missing.

The Lithium Ion battery pack is easy to disconnect and recharge, it simply plugs in to a USB charger (so can be recharged via 12v socket in a car).  A full recharge takes around 5 hours and three green LED’s indicate battery level.  These also illuminate briefly when the torch is turned off so you know how much battery is left.  In an emergency the battery can be replaced by two AAA’s but this gives reduced brightness and no Reactive Lighting functionality.

recharging the Nao's battery

recharging the battery (note the green LEDs)

The Nao is comfortable to wear and well balanced.  The whole unit weighs 185g with the head and battery units being connected by a simple elastic and cord system.  An additional over the head strap is supplied but I didn’t feel the need to use it.

Petzl Nao head torch

well balanced and comfortable

Performance
I’ve been using the Nao over the winter for both guided running and training.  I was particularly impressed when on a trip to an unfamiliar forest I was able to run on wet, technical, narrow trails at full pace; it was leg speed rather than illumination that was the limiting factor!  As much as the brightness it is the wide pool of light that the Nao gives off that is impressive.  Some torches give a narrow beam but the Nao allows you to use peripheral vision rather than you having to turn your head to see objects at the side.

I chose the Petzl Nao for my Charlie Ramsay Round. I needed a torch with enough power to illuminate the rough steep terrain (especially the descent off Chno Dearg) and yet enough battery power to last through the night with no faffing with battery changes. The reactive function also really came into its own, dimming every time I looked at the map then seamlessly brightening as I looked back at the terrain. I also pre-programmed the torch to give me 5 hours of battery life so I knew that it would last until dawn.

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop on the Ramsay round

The power and spread of the Nao’s light is really noticeable when you compare it with other torches. When running in a group one thing you need to consider is that if you run behind someone with a dimmer torch you will put them in their own shadow!

the Nao outshines lesser torches

the Nao outshines lesser torches

Is it worth it?
Over £100 is a lot to pay for a head torch especially as there are some decent torches around for less than half the price.  But having used the Nao and got used to how comfortable and easy to operate it is and how it literally outshines the opposition I’d say it is definitely worth it. For serious winter fell running or for anyone considering night runs where both brightness and long battery life are important factors, the Petzl Nao is a great choice.

Nao 2014, good choice for serious fell runners

Petzl Nao 575 lumen, a good choice for serious fell runners

Verdict

Pros: Great battery life, easy to use whilst wearing gloves, simple sequence functions, reactive feature is excellent when map reading.

Cons: Expensive, no strobe function.

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Fell Running Guide