The first time I used the Petzl Nao I didn’t think anything special was happening: it shone a bright light ahead of me to guide me along a path, then when I glanced at the map in my hand it illuminated it so I could easily check my course. But don’t all headtorches do this? No!
When a normal headtorch is used, it creates an over-bright ‘hot spot’ on the surface of a map for example. I’ve learnt to tolerate this annoyance and usually direct the light beam away or turn the light down. But with the Nao I didn’t need to! This headtorch figured out the problem and intelligently adjusted the light accordingly without me having to touch it or even think about it.
To prove to myself that the headtorch was actually being smarter than me, I only had to override the intelligent ‘Reactive Mode’ and set it to ‘Static Mode’ to see the problems the headtorch was overcoming. In Static Mode the Nao performs like a normal headtorch by punching out 355 lumens, which is plenty of light so you can easily see where you are going. Glance down at the map and there is a white ‘hot spot’ that you have to tolerate to read the details. In Static Mode you can turn the headtorch down to a lower setting, but even this setting is too bright sometimes. Switch back to Reactive Mode, and the Nao does all this instantly without the need to touch a button.
The system works by a sensor detecting the distance to and reflectivity of the surface it is lighting; so for example a map held close throws back lots of light and therefore the Nao does not put out much light. But look into the darkness on a hill at night, and there is no light being reflected – and so the Nao shines brightly.
Operation of the headtorch is extremely easy thanks to one large control knob that you just rotate to select the settings you require. If you want to tweak the output profiles to your own needs you can program the Nao via your laptop and Petzl’s OS2.0 software.
The Nao’s system also optimises battery output, for as it is not always set on full power, according to Petzl it is possible to obtain at least three time longer battery life compared to a headtorch set on full power all the time.
The Nao has a rear battery pack consisting of a lithium-ion unit that can be recharged via a USB connection, and there is also a belt version that allows it to be worn around the waist. The battery pack can also be fitted with 2xAA batteries. Battery life is very short compared to other Petzl headtorches, so it is going to need to be recharged more often and a spare pair of AA batteries would thus be a wise addition to your rucksack; but for running and biking this burn time is fine.
At £135 this is a big purchase, especially when Petzl’s excellent Myo XP and Myo RXP cost £65 and £80 respectively; but for regular users of headtorches the Nao’s benefits may be worth it.
Brightness 355 lumens
Maximum BEAM 108 metres
Min burn time 1 hour 20 minutes on full power Static Mode; 3 hours on Reactive Mode
Batteries rechargeable lithium-ion or 2xAA
Weight with batteries 185g
Stockist details www.petzl.com
The Petzl Nao is clearly an indication of the direction that headtorch design will take in the future. When the Nao is set to Reactive Mode it really does provide hands-free lighting that is perfect for most situations.
Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine November 2012