This August (2008), headlamp specialist Petzl launches its brightest-ever headtorch. It’s so bright, a coastal night-walk with this beacon on your head might confuse passing shipping. The Ultra is a specialist piece of kit designed for extreme adventure racers, and it has also been tested by Mountain Rescue Teams hoicking hill-users off the Welsh mountains. But at £260 it’s a considerable investment – so how suitable is it for ‘normal’ walkers? I took the Ultra to the Scotland mountains to find out...
The 350-lumen beam this six-LED torch kicks out looks like daylight. Accidentally shine it in your mate’s eyes and you’ll know about it, because they’ll yelp with retinal pain. Longer-lasting LEDs are replacing halogen bulbs as they have no easily breakable filaments, and they produce a pure, bright beam to rival sunlight. This became clear next to our bothy in the Cairngorms, as the grass turned from black to green and distant trees leapt out menacingly at the edge of its 120m beam. Four times brighter than Petzl’s next brightest torch, the 97m beam Myo XP, the Ultra outshone its 85 lumen beam like a car headlight would a bicycle lamp.
As I swivelled this comfy, well-balanced headtorch down to light the map, I found the glare too bright, so I switched easily from its highest setting to the third and lowest setting, a more economical 40m beam. Much better! At 43 lumens it was more like a regular headtorch and provided me with ample light for map-reading, while that maximum setting was second to none for identifying faraway features and obstacles at night.
The Ultra’s nearest rival is the Silva LX, but it beats it on weight, brightness, beam length and burn time. It’s 38g lighter than the Silva, but twice as heavy as more usual walkers’ headtorches, like the 175g Myo XP. Nevertheless, the Ultra is designed to balance comfortably on your head even when fell-running.
You can also buy the Ultra Belt, a version with the larger battery on an extended cable that drops easily into a pocket, or a specialised backpack accessory: the Ultra Harness. The small version, the Accu 2, lasts two hours on max strength and the larger, heavier Accu 4 lasts twice the time on all light settings.
You can recharge it 500 times, making it £5,395 more cost-effective than if it used non-rechargeable AA batteries for its equivalent lifetime.
Outside our bothy I noticed something huge moving in the edge of the beam and flipped the torch back up to full power. A scary fuzz of grey turned into a huge white horse, wandering into the wide beam of almost-daylight. Phew. At least with the Ultra you’d find out sooner that a lurking shadow wasn’t a monster, but do regular walkers really need such a beast of a headtorch?
At this price and weight, I don’t think so. Adventure racers, Mountain Rescue Teams and night-time mountain bikers will rate this high-quality, robust, lightweight beacon, but for regular hill-walkers it’s overkill. A good quality, small, light headlamp for under £50 will see you off the hill if you get caught out after sundown. Mountain bike engineers Hope (www.vision-adventure.co.uk) do an equally mega-beam torch at just £175.
Price Ultra £260; Ultra Belt £300; Ultra Extension Cable £22; Ultra Harness £26.50
Lamp size 55x100x35mm
Battery size Accu 2: 80x60x35mm; Accu 4: 80x100x40mm
Weight headtorch: 200g; small battery Accu 2: 145g; large battery Accu 4: 265g
Light source 6 LEDs
Made in France
Super-bright; high quality and performance; robust; well-balanced; long-lasting light for night-time adventure racing, mountain biking and rescues. Bit it’s a bulky, heavy, expensive, overly bright torch if you’re a regular hill-walker, and there are headtorches out there that we reckon are just as bright but cost significantly less money. Overall, a superbly designed über-light for serious nocturnal adventurers but more advanced technology and light than a regular hill-walker needs.
Review by Claire Maxted
First published in Trail magazine September 2008