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Dan Bailey road tests the new improved Petzl E+Lite, and reckons it's the best mini emergency headtorch he's seen.
For more info see Petzl website
When you're out in the hills at night suddenly going blind could drop you in a real pickle, so it's a good idea to bring some sort of lighting backup in case your main headtorch fails. In blasé younger days I assumed spare batteries were enough, never really thinking through the process of changing them in the dark, in a blizzard. But what if your torch breaks, or gets lost? A series of headtorch failures - from loose connections to split casings – eventually convinced me that the best insurance was in fact a second torch. After all, when it comes to something as fundamental as seeing at night, 100% redundancy isn't overkill – it's just plain common sense.
Since the backup will ideally spend its life unused in your bag a smaller, lighter model is preferable; so long as it can reliably do the job when needed. Enter the mini emergency torch.
'The E+Lite can be stored with batteries for 10 years and still be good to go when needed'
A first generation mini LED headtorch from a rival firm has accompanied me for many years now, but it's quite dim and its bacon-saving powers would be fairly limited in a tight spot. Mine has seen more use in less desperate straits such as toilet trips in huts and hostels. As it's beginning to look a little antiquated I was interested to find out what an up-to-date and far brighter mini model could do, and the launch this spring of the new generation Petzl E+Lite gave me the chance.
This is an updated version of the original E+Lite, which first emerged in 2006 and has since found a place in many rucksacks. There have been a number of improvements. Firstly the price, which is down from £27.50 to £25. Gone is the original's plastic carry case; the torch is robust enough not to need one. And at less than 5cm long and 27g in weight the new version has slimmed down very slightly too; its ancestor was a whole 1g heavier.
More significant by far, with a maximum output of 26 lumens the new style E+Lite is much brighter than the 16-lumen older version, giving you a range of up to 29m at full power with fresh batteries. This would be a genuinely useful distance in tricky situations like mid-crag benightment or after-dark descents, and it means you might even consider using the E+Lite in some routine non-emergency settings too. In white economy mode there's a maximum burn time of 70 hours – quite a few night outs. But now for the caveat. The E+Lite has what's called non-regulated lighting, which put simply means that its output steadily dims as battery life drains. Within 30 minutes that 29m range reduces to 13m; and by 10 hours you'll be down to 6m. To maximise its useful life I've taken to running the E+Lite in the less power-hungry economy mode (15m top range - still a useful distance), and only briefly switching to full beam when a more distant view is needed. It would not be realistic to expect more longevity from a pair of CR2032 watch batteries, but if you plan to walk all night then this clearly wouldn't be the best choice as a main torch.
'For its simplicity, robustness and respectable power-to-size ratio, Petzl are onto a winner'
The various light modes (economy white, bright white, white strobe, red strobe, red) are all operated by means of a simple lever on a dial, which is usable wearing thin gloves. In off mode the lever clicks in place to lock.
As for being seen, the strobe is visible from as far away as 2100m, say Petzl, hopefully helping rescuers pinpoint your position should the worst have happened.
Crucially, for a bit of kit that's likely to spend most of the time in your rucksack, the E+Lite can be stored with batteries for 10 years and still be good to go when needed, Petzl promise. Obviously I've not been able to put this claim to the test just yet, but what I can say is that it is robust and weatherproof.
Attachment is with a pull-out retractable cord, housed internally. This replaces the old style elastic strap and toggle arrangement, and while it's more compact and it certainly holds the torch securely in place the cord is so cheesewire-thin and the reel-in mechanism so strong that I do find it slightly less comfortable worn on a bare head. The cord can easily be attached to a pole or helmet though. A neat trick for helmets is that the cord doesn't need to go all the way around the head; just slip it through the front clips and let it double-back across the forehead (see picture). When mounted the torch head is free to tilt and swivel a full 360-degrees on a simple ball-and socket joint, so you can twist it to any angle you like. The torch can even be persuaded to stand upright on its base for directional spotlighting in a tent.
For several months over summer and early autumn the E+Lite has gone pretty much everywhere with me - on climbs, hillwalks, wild camps, bivvies and post-pub stumbles. It's so small and light that it slips into a pocket almost unnoticed, giving you a get-out-of-jail card when doing multi-pitch climbs without a rucksack, say. Thanks to the tide times we arrived at the foot of Cornakey Cliff's Wreckers' Slab with only three hours of daylight in hand. For what might be one of the longest sea cliff routes in the south west that's less of a margin than I'd really like, but with the torch in my pocket I reckoned we'd make do even if sunset arrived sooner than the top. In the event we were up the climb and back at the car before darkness really set in. Though the E+Lite wasn't needed on that occasion, and on a couple of long rock climbs since (I'm glad to say), it's so small that I couldn't resent carrying it just in case. It beats clipping a full-sized torch to your harness when you're pretty sure you won't even need one.
As a last-resort backup, then, it's everything I'd expect. But it can go a little further than that too. For several day walks this summer I've ditched bigger torches and their heavier batteries altogether, in favour of the E+Lite - (with my old model in reserve for 100% redundancy of course). This was fine so long as I was back in daylight – which I invariably was – but what about a planned night on the hill, when you're actually intending to use it?
For a gruelling two-day fell bagging mission around the Lakes every weight saving was welcome, and again bringing the E+Lite spared me some bulk and batteries. While I haven't measured Petzl's quoted 29m maximum range to the metre, I am impressed, for its size, by how much light this wee gizmo can throw out even in economy mode. For a bivvy on a short summer night it proved perfectly adequate, highlighting nicely the clouds of midgies that besieged us. This level of output isn't just for reading the map or finding your next handhold – it's reasonably OK out on the move in the dark too. I didn't finish the Lakeland walk until long after nightfall the following day. Coming down the steep rocky trail off Catbells I could discern the details far enough ahead to feel happy, and the path along the wooded shore back to Keswick wasn't too spooky either, even as the torch power gradually dimmed. Of course it lacks the range and power-stamina of a decent full sized torch, but on non-serious ground in friendly weather it's still good enough for an hour or two. However now that nights are drawing in I've gone back to a bigger torch, and the E+Lite has been relegated to just-in-case role again. That is what it's designed for, after all.
As LED technology improves increasing miniaturisation is only to be expected, but for its simplicity, robustness and respectable power-to-size ratio I suspect Petzl are onto a winner with the new E+Lite. It's the best emergency light I've yet come across.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com: