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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.