The best way to free up your hands when caching at night is to use a head lamp. I can’t imagine night caching without one. Over the years I’ve tried a variety of head lamps. I don’t know that there is one perfect head lamp for all tasks so at some point you will most likely make some kind of a compromise when selecting a head lamp.
Here are what I consider the most important criteria for a head lamp:
- Beam type
- Battery type
Most flashlights you buy today will give you the lumen output on the package. When it comes to head lamps they range anywhere from about 12lumen on the low end to over 100lumen on the high end. For geocaching I prefer something more in the middle. Output is just one criterion to evaluate when you are picking a head lamp for your needs. For instance the Irix has a maximum of 35 lumen output compared to the 50 lumen output of the Irix II but the Irix is my preferred head lamp. The beam type is the deciding factor for me.
What is beam type? The head unit of a flash light, head lamps include, contain three basic elements that affect the beam type. These are: light source, reflector and lens. The characteristics of those elements determine the type and quality of the light emitted by the head lamp. A spot beam tends to be narrower but will throw the light to objects further away. A wide spread beam has a smaller or non-existent hot spot in the centre. The lights are ideal for working up close like reading or working around a campsite. The broader the spread the higher lumen output you will need in order to achieve the same apparent brightness on distant objects like fire tacks or when searching for a cache.
Just about all head lamps you can buy today use LED as the light source. Fire tacks are much easier to spot when using and LED light. The colour quality is also much better from and LED.
As I mentioned in my post about choosing flashlights I prefer a light that uses AA batteries. These batteries are easier to come buy than CR123 batteries which are the kind used in higher end flashlights. Low end flashlights tend to use AAA batteries. This is primarily done to conserve weight. I also like AA batteries because that is what my GPSr uses. I have standardized on one battery type for my main geocaching tools. Higher output head lamps consume power faster then low output types. This can be mitigated by having a head lamp that has variable output. The Irix head lamp I use has variable output. It will last for 3 hours at high on one fully charged AA battery. I usually get about 6 hours of caching on one battery. My 100 lumen head lamp uses batteries about twice as fast. In that case I need 2 AA batteries for 6 hours of geocaching. I use rechargeable batteries and I always carry a Powerpax Slimline with extra batteries.
If you are like me you’ll be walking around with your head lamp on for a few hours at a time. It’s important the light is comfortable on your head. This includes if you are wearing a hat (baseball hats tend to cause a shadow at your feet which is not ideal). If you’ll be wearing a bicycle helping or other kind of hard hat you will want a head lamp that has some kind of slip resistance. The larger the headlamp the less comfortable it will be on your head. The lighter your head lamp is the happier you will be.
The first thing most cachers do when thinking about a head lamp is to consider price. I think price is important but it should come lower in the priority list. When I started night caching I bought a small head lamp that was within my “budget”. After about six months of night caching I bought a larger, AA, head lamp that was in my “budget”. This was a budget based head lamp and it just didn’t have the performance or quality I wanted so I went in search of a head lamp that met my needs first and my budget second. The price of my poor choices was more than had I just bought a quality head lamp in the first place. Learn from my mistakes and buy the best head lamp you can afford based on your needs.