Exposure Headtorches Review

Unless you're a keen cyclist you may not have heard of Exposure Lights - we hadn't until recently - but they turn out to be a serious player in the outdoor lighting market. Based in the South Downs, Exposure's parent company Ultimate Sports Engineering designs and builds its products in the UK, including a line of bike components, torches, bike lights and marine lights.

Dusk approaches on Belles Knot - time to get out the headtorch  © Dan Bailey
Dusk approaches on Belles Knot - time to get out the headtorch
© Dan Bailey

Head torches aimed at climbers, walkers, runners and general outdoor use are a fairly new departure for the brand. For several months I've been testing the HT500 and HT1000, which have lumen outputs roughly equivalent to their numbers. Both are rugged and powerful, with super-bright Cree LEDs. As you'd expect from British-made electronics this is high-end stuff, with the feel of being made to last and a price tag to match. Very powerful head torches from reputable brands don't come cheap in general - you could spend similar sums on a 750 lumen Petzl NAO+ for instance, while the 500 lumen Black Diamond Icon is a bit (not much) cheaper than Exposure's HT500.

HT500 (left) and HT1000 (right)  © UKC Gear
HT500 (left) and HT1000 (right)
© UKC Gear

Are they worth the outlay? While they're undeniably an investment I think that for a quality UK-made product the money seems fair. I've never used lights this powerful!

But they aren't perfect, and my major gripe is with the low temperature performance of the HT1000, ironically the more expensive of the two. For winter use, my experience suggests that the HT500 is the one to go for.

HT500 - £125

In terms of brightness it may be the less powerful of the two, but for a lot of outdoor uses - and I'd include most hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers in that - the HT500's balance of output versus battery life makes it a pretty handy torch. Its maximum range is easily far enough to pick your way down a tricky slope or abseil off a route in the dark, while medium mode is more than sufficient for most walkers. Battery life, meanwhile, is good.

It is really quite small, for the punch it packs  © Dan Bailey
It is really quite small, for the punch it packs
© Dan Bailey

Weight and robustness

At 129g (my weight; Exposure say 118g) this is a notably light torch for the power on offer - the similarly powerful BD Icon, for instance, weighs 300g with batteries. The head unit is a durable aluminium, while to get the weight down Exposure have used a carbon casing for the battery. It might be light, but it all feels robust, not plasticy like most headtorches. The HT500 comes with a 2-year warranty, which should be reassurance that you're not throwing money at a turkey. This thing is well built, and with an IP65 rating it's effectively weathertight, so there's no worry about using it in the rain.

Fit

The wide stretchy headband gives a really secure fit without the need for an overhead strap. Thanks to the close fit of the strap and the lightness of the head and battery, there's no wobble as you bounce around (running for instance) - a big advantage over some torches I've used. It is soft and comfy, and adjusts with simple velcro. This is better than a buckle in terms of softness, lightness and simplicity, though I have occasionally noticed the hook side of the velcro feels a bit scratchy on a bare head. A silicone strip on the inside helps the strap stick in place, and despite my initial concern this manages not to feel particularly sweaty. The Exposure logo on the outside of the strap is reflective, which is good for being seen by cars if you're running at night, or walking along the verge of a mountain road.

There's enough length to fit the strap over a climbing helmet, though I'd have preferred if the wire connecting the light to the battery was a fraction longer, or more springy, to settle any worry about loose connections developing over repeated helmet mounting.

The HT 500 on a murky evening in Easedale  © Dan Bailey
The HT 500 on a murky evening in Easedale
© Dan Bailey

As this is an expensive product I'm entitled to be picky about the plastic mountings of the torch and battery. These are both flat, while a slightly curved inner profile would have fitted the head better. It's a small thing, and I certainly wouldn't call this torch uncomfortable. On the other hand the current shape means that if you remove the strap, the head unit can be fitted to a Gopro mount or an appropriate attachment on your bike handlebars.

Output and burn time

The HT500 ranges in output from 60-465 lumens.

"Burn time and lumen output are [inversely] proportional" Exposure explain. "If you double the burn time, you halve the lumen output."

To help you get the combination of brightness and battery life that best suits what you're doing, the torch can be set in two different programs.

In program 1, the full 465 lumen output lasts for three hours, say Exposure, while on the 230 lumen 'endurance mode' you've got six hours. The less powerful 'walk mode' gives you 60 lumens of output for 12 hours. Program 2's settings are: high - 3 hours, medium - 12 hours and low - 24 hours. In use I've found their quoted burn times feel pretty accurate.

The HT500 has a max 465 lumen output  © Dan Bailey
The HT500 has a max 465 lumen output
© Dan Bailey

At full power the HT500 has a quoted 91m range. While I've not measured it on the ground, again I'd say this sounds about right. This is a dazzling torch. You can see miles on full power, easily enough to negotiate a fiddly scrambly descent after dark, or flood the trail with light when you're out on a night run. Distant trees and rocks are picked out in bright detail; you can be sure you're visible for miles. Rather than spreading wide, the beam is quite narrow and focused - but with enough peripheral vision that you don't feel blinkered.

I've been using program 1 on single day trips so far, since I'm only anticipating walking out in the dark for a couple of hours at the end of the day. For overnight trips it's nice to have the longer burn times of program 2, which still gives you the full 465 lumen blast when you need distance.

I've tended to stick with medium power most of the time, and since this is itself way more than many torches it is easily sufficient if you're walking on easier hill terrain. Down at low output the range is noticeably shorter, but the sense of dimness is only relative to the incandescent full power mode, and even this low output will do fine if you're striding along a gravel track or hanging about at camp. For really close use, lying reading in a tent at night for instance, it'd be best to go into program 2 and get as low as possible since anything more is really too bright.

Output for the HT500 is regulated, so the brightness is maintained for a long time and then rapidly dims as the battery nears the end of its capacity. I'm told it drops by about 50% in the last half hour.

The remaining battery life is indicated by a coloured light that comes on for a few seconds in the lens when you turn the torch off. It's a green, amber, red and red flash progression (red flash means it's nearly dead). Being slightly colour blind I wouldn't be certain of ascertaining which colour I'm seeing in the short time allotted (it's not as if they all display at once to compare), but I'm sure most users won't have this problem.

HT500 on maximum brightness  © Dan Bailey
HT500 on maximum brightness
© Dan Bailey

Feeling the heat

Perhaps it's something to do with the shape of the light unit (smaller than the HT1000's, and with less pronounced heat sinks) but the HT500 gets noticeably hotter than its big brother. After prolonged use at high output it's almost too hot to touch! Naturally it will get hot, but is this a problem? It's designed to be used outdoors, and Exposure say that the heat will not damage the light. However my review model also has a tendency to intermittently start to flicker when on full for a while; turning it off and back on fixes it. Exposure assure me that they have now corrected this fault.

Operation

The torch is operated via a single button on top of the light unit. Protected with a robust and weathertight rubber seal - which also covers the power input - the switch is just big and prominent enough to be usable when wearing gloves, and this helps boost the HT500's winter mountain credentials. While there's no locking function, a double click is required to activate the torch, so there isn't really a worry about it accidentally turning on in transit. Once switched on, a single press scrolls between output settings.

When the torch is off, holding the button in makes the torch emit a series of flashes; releasing the switch after a certain number of flashes is the way to set the output program. I will probably never commit this to memory, so if I want to change programs it'll have to wait until I'm home. Ideally I'd prefer a simpler setup with four or five output modes in total and no program change - but as a luddite one of my primary requirements from a torch is simplicity, while other users may be more willing to fiddle.

Recharging is via USB  © Dan Bailey
Recharging is via USB
© Dan Bailey

Battery

Having in the past suffered loose wire connections in torches with a separate battery, I'm generally a little dubious of this design. If the torch is likely to get a bit of rough treatment, but I can't afford for it to break (mountaineering overseas or winter climbing spring to mind), then I'd tend to favour a model with both battery and light housed in a head-mounted unit since - rightly or wrongly - I just think there's one less thing to potentially go wrong. However, I've yet to have an issue here with the Exposure headtorches, and since the general build quality feels so good then perhaps it's not a big concern.

Located on the back of the head, the HT500's battery unit is a cylinder which clips onto a mount on the headband. This spreads the weight, which helps the torch stay put when you're bobbing up and down - something that trail and hill runners in particular will appreciate. Because it can be removed from its mounting you could in theory carry the battery in a pocket in order to prolong its life in very cold conditions; however the wire connecting to the head-mounted unit is really too short to make this feasible. With that in mind I'm not sure why Exposure made this battery unit separable from its mounting.

The 2900mAh lithium ion battery is inbuilt, so you don't have the option of using shop-bought batteries, or replacing it during use. It charges via a micro USB port, with a charge time of two hours from a 1500mA power source or up to six hours from a 500mA source. If you're out for more than a night or two then you'll need to carry a power pack - something most backpackers and bikepackers do as a mater of course nowadays.

Head tilt

The head pivots up and down through about a 90 degree range, with a nice robust-feeling action that can be re-tightened with a screwdriver. There is more upward tilt than necessary, since if you're looking up to climb then your head will be turned up anyway; on the other hand there's rather less downward-pointing range than on some torches I've used. If you're scanning directly at your feet, or half a step ahead, then you have to deliberately look down to illuminate the ground. While I haven't yet had a sore neck I can imagine getting one on a long fiddly descent. I'd rather sacrifice 10 degrees or so of upwards tilt in favour of more downwards.

Exposure say:

Engineered to be a super compact and lightweight high power head torch, the HT500 emits up to 465 lumens from a single Cree LED. Protected in a lightweight aluminium head it balances power and weight perfectly. The ultra light carbon battery unit evenly distributes the weight between the front and back of the head. Combined with our sweat-wicking, reflective band the HT500 is very stable and easily adjusted with a front mounted switch. Exposure's patent-pending program selection and colour coded battery feedback allows you to fine-tune the light to your needs, whatever the length or terrain of your run.

HT500 prod shot

  • LED Configuration: 1 x White XPL2 Cree LED
  • Lumens: 60 - 465
  • Max Beam Distance: 91m
  • Battery: 2,900 mAh Lithium-Ion
  • Runtime: 3hrs - 24hrs
  • Rechargeable: Micro USB
  • Charge Time: 3hrs
  • Water Resistance IP65

For more info see exposurelights.com


HT1000 - £150

Exposure's most powerful headtorch, the HT1000 on full beam is like walking around with a miniature star on your head. Is it brighter than strictly necessary for hillwalking and climbing? Well, yes. But there are bound to be occasions when that range comes in welcome - think route finding on complex treacherous ground. When out at night I've never once wished I could see less far; and there's always the option of turning it down if battery life is a concern. I really like this torch, but recent weather has revealed a major flaw - and for winter use I think it's a deal breaker.

The HT1000 feels robust enough for winter mountains  - so why would I not recommend it for cold weather use..?  © Dan Bailey
The HT1000 feels robust enough for winter mountains - so why would I not recommend it for cold weather use..?
© Dan Bailey

Weight and robustness

At 155g (Exposure say 145g) the HT1000 isn't notably heavier than its less powerful relative, so if I thought the HT500 gave a lot of brightness for the weight then the 1000's weight:output ratio really is something. For a torch with a separate battery pack, this seems very light and compact. It's small enough to carry in your pocket if you had to - and you just might (why? read on). If anything the HT1000 feels tougher than the 500, with a metal battery case and no exposed rubber seal on the head. I'm not sure how, technically, its IPX5 rating differs from the HT500's IP65, but either way this thing is easily water resistant enough for use in heavy rain.

Fit

The HT1000 has the same broad elastic headband and simple velcro adjustment as the HT500. I would have assumed it was an identical strap, and was surprised to learn that the one fitted to my review model is actually a few centimetres shorter than my HT500's (max head size 28cm vs 34cm). I guess I have a fairly large noggin (all brains, honest) and for me this fits at the outer limit of its range. I've still managed to stretch it onto a climbing helmet though, so perhaps Exposure have judged the length well.

To paraphrase what I said about the other torch, this single strap works very well. It holds the torch securely and with no wobble if you're running; it's soft and breathable; and I like the simplicity of the velcro. Again, the only slight niggle for me is the scratchy feel of the hook side of the velcro; it would be better if this were placed on the side facing out away from the head.

If you remove the strap, the head can be fitted to a Gopro mount.

Ghost hunting with the HT1000  © Dan Bailey
Ghost hunting with the HT1000
© Dan Bailey

Output and burn time

The HT1000's output ranges from 50 lumens right up to a dazzling 1000 lumens. At its maximum this is a seriously bright torch; you'd be well advised not to look directly into it, and I've actually been a little wary when running at night not to dazzle oncoming motorists. At full power the quoted maximum distance is 125m, and again while I have not tried to measure this on the ground the claim sounds about right. Beside the HT500 the 1000 is noticeably brighter, and its beam reaches a good deal further. For route finding on tricky ground this extra reach is brilliant, and I can imagine appreciating it if doing long abseils in the dark too.

It's more than you need for most hillwalking situations, but I have found myself going full beam when running off-road at night. Of course, battery life being a finite resource, you don't get the benefit of the full 1000 lumen super nova for very long - we're talking just 1.5 hours on a fully charged battery. As a result, when out on the hill I've been careful to switch down to a lesser setting whenever I wasn't specifically testing the torch. In program 1, the medium setting of 250 lumens is easily adequate most of the time.

Just like the HT500, with its 'optimised mode selector' you can pre-program the torch to different output levels depending on the balance of power and burn time that best meets your needs. The HT1000 has four different programs. In program 1, for instance, it's 1.5 a hour burn time on high mode, 250 lumens for 6 hours on medium and 125 lumens for 12 hours on low. In program 2 you get half the output at maximum power, or 500 lumens for 3 hours. Programs 3 and 4 give you various other options, down to a maximum time of 48 hours (still bright enough for a hut or tent).

A bright and focused beam  © Dan Bailey
A bright and focused beam
© Dan Bailey

The program is selected by pressing and holding the single button. Flashing lights tell you which mode you've selected. It sounds simple, but to reiterate what I said about the HT500, I'd only ever change program at home with the benefit of the instruction book. A torch with no programmable function, but a greater number of increments between 1000-50 lumens, would better suit my needs. Other users will doubtless enjoy the chance to tinker.

Lights on the battery case indicate the remaining charge when the torch is switched on: green is 100-85%; green pulse 85-70%; amber 70-55%; amber pulse 55-40%; red 40-25%; red pulse 25-10% and red flash 10% or less. As well as this feedback, the torch flashes a number of times at a single press of the button to indicate the remaining battery percentage, making it doubly easy to keep track of your remaining charge.

With a fully charged battery, I used the torch (on a cold night) on full power for about 45 minutes to get off the hill. At the end of this it was showing amber, or somewhere between roughly three quarters and half charge. This accords with the 1.5hr max burn time that Exposure quote for full power mode. Tests carried out at home subsequently confirm that their burn times for the various levels of output are reliable at room temperature. I can't vouch for cold weather battery life other than to say that it seems good in real world use.

Like the HT500, the HT1000's output is regulated, which means you get a consistent brightness for longer (followed by a rapid crash at the end) rather than a gradually dimming beam. Also like the HT500, the beam is quite focused rather than being wide and diffuse.

photo
Lost on Endor
© Dan Bailey

Operation

As with the HT500, the HT1000 is operated with a single button. This is a metal switch, located on the battery unit rather than the head, and because of this I don't find it quite as easy to use when wearing gloves as the HT500's (though it's still do-able). Operation is as simple as the HT500's - a double press to turn on, single presses to toggle between modes and press-and-hold to switch off.

Battery

Its 3100mAh Li-ion battery may be quite a lot of power to be carrying around on your head, but despite its tough aluminium case it really doesn't weigh much. With the weight spread between back and front, the HT1000 feels well balanced and comfy.

A full charge takes 3.5 hours from a 1500mA power source, and 6 hours from a 500mA source. The charger cable has a USB attachment at the power source end, and a round pin at the torch end, so it's not interchangeable with the HT500's micro USB (a more common fitting that you may already own several of).

The option to add an extra battery pack (sold separately) gives you a massive boost of run time - up to 5.5 hours on maximum output according to Exposure. With the purchase of a different cable, it's also possible to use the HT1000 as a charger for other devices, which might at a pinch give you some options if your phone dies in a crisis.

Charging it off a laptop  © Dan Bailey
Charging it off a laptop
© Dan Bailey

I don't doubt that this is a good battery for many uses, but in my opinion winter mountains is not one of them.

Out on the hill on cold nights I've sometimes found it hard to get this torch to do what I want, and twice I have struggled to turn it on at all, let alone scroll through the settings. The first time this happened, in sub-zero conditions on the way off Ben Lawers, it took a couple of minutes and some swearing before the light would come on. Once working it still didn't want to change setting for a while, though I got it to the desired output eventually. The second occasion was worse. Topping out on Mess of Potage at dusk in cold, wind and spindrift, I reached for the HT1000, already fitted on my helmet. Try as I might, the torch just wouldn't turn on - and this in conditions in which I really needed to stop faffing and get moving. This could have left me up the creek. Luckily I never leave home in winter without a backup torch, though it was a little galling that a model 1/3 the price of the HT1000 was my saviour.

This lack of response has only ever been an issue for me in windy weather below freezing. I tried both models in a home test, first in the fridge and then the freezer. After one hour in a fridge at about 4C both torches still worked as normal, turning on straight away and scrolling happily through their modes. After one hour in the freezer at -18C the HT500 still worked fine. But it took a few minutes before I could get my HT1000 to wake up at all, and it was then inconsistent scrolling between modes at first ask. Once the torch had warmed up again, operation returned to normal.

We've all heard of battery life being affected by the cold, but I think this is the first time I've had a similar issue with actually operating a torch. I ran it by Exposure, and here's what they told me:

"Unfortunately the nature of lithium ion batteries is that they do not perform optimally in cold and they can lose some charge, although some of this will normally return when the battery is back in the warmth. You may have experienced this with your phone. If using it in cold temperatures we recommend to keep the battery warm when not in use, ie. in an inner pocket, and to avoid switching it off in the cold when the battery is low as the charge may decrease to a level that it can't be switched on again. We think this is what occurred with your HT1000."

For this torch there's the option of attaching a support cell which can be carried in your jacket to ensure it stays warm, but I don't know a winter mountaineer who'd welcome that extra faff. While the HT1000 is small for its power, I just don't think that keeping the torch itself in a pocket all day until needed is a viable option either. That's not something I've ever had to do with other torches.

When you're up a snowy mountain in the dark your torch just has to turn on when you need it, even if it's been in the pack or on your helmet for hours. For this reason I really can't recommend the HT1000 as a winter or alpine headtorch. Spend £150 on a torch that you can only use in the hills for half the year? No thanks.

Oddly my review sample of the HT500 seems to have no such issue with the cold, though it also has a lithium ion battery. Perhaps its carbon case keeps the battery warmer than the HT1000's aluminium?

That's as far down as the head tilts  © Dan Bailey
That's as far down as the head tilts
© Dan Bailey

Head tilt

As per the HT500, the head on the HT1000 pivots through about 90 degrees. It's a pretty much identical range, so again some of the upwards tilt is redundant and a little more downwards tilt would have been better instead.

Exposure say:

The HT1000 is Exposure's most powerful, versatile headtorch, suitable for all off-road activities from mountain biking, trail running and skiing through to Search and Rescue! On maximum power, the 1000 lumen, 20-degree soft spot beam illuminates object up to 125 meters away. The single Cree LED and high capacity lithium ion battery are protected in a lightweight aluminum casing, ensuring high strength and maximum air cooling. The rear battery unit evenly distributes the weight allowing you to focus on your fast-paced activity. Exposure's patent-pending program selection and colour coded battery feedback allows you to fine-tune the light to your adventure, whatever the length or terrain.

HT1000 prod shot

  • LED Configuration: 1 x White XPL2 Cree LED
  • Lumens: 50 - 1000
  • Max beam distance: 125m
  • Battery: 3,100 mAh Lithium-Ion
  • Runtime: 1.5 hrs - 48 hrs
  • Rechargeable: USB
  • Charge Time: 3.5 hrs
  • Water Resistance: IPX5

For more info see exposurelights.com




29 Jan

The first number tells you how good it is at resisting ingress of solids and dust, the second is water protection.

So the IP65 rating of the HT500 tells you that it shouldn't be harmed by dust or being gently sprayed with water. The IPX5 rating of the HT1000 tells you that it should have the same resistance to water but hasn't been given any certification about dust.

Higher numbers generally indicate protection against more severe conditions. There's only one higher level of dust protection but quite a few more options for waterproofing.

It's kinda weird that they wouldn't just get the same certification for both of them. Makes you wonder whether the HT1000 was expected to fail the dust test for some reason. Though on their website spec sheets they describe both ratings as "water resistance" so perhaps they only tested the water resistance and whoever wrote the copy misunderstood the system.

Oh yeah, elsewhere on their website there's a comparison table for a variety of their torches which shows all of them, including the HT500, with an X for dust protection. So the difference is probably just an error on the spec sheet and they haven't bothered certifying any of them for dust ingress. Which seems logical.

29 Jan

I think some people in the Spine race were using these, so they must be doing something right.

29 Jan

Try the Fenix HL55. 

Four modes of output plus a "Burst" mode

High:  420 Lumens (3 hours 45 min.)

Mid:  165 Lumens (10 hours)

Low:  55 Lumens (30 hours)

Eco:  10 Lumens (150 hours)

BURST:  900 Lumens

Battery on front so no wires, replaceable 18650 cell, widely available, or you can use 2 CR123A batteries, up to 3,400 mAh, waterproof (widely used by cavers) aluminium body, mineral glass lens, less than £50 (battery and charger extra if you don't already have them). There's also a version that you can charge via a USB port. Brilliant headtorch. (And no, I don't work for them)!

29 Jan

I have a Fenix PD35 which is a small handtorch running the same 3,400mAh 18650 battery. A very tough little lump of aluminium with very good battery life, if the HL55 is as good it'll be a good bit of kit. (Wouldn't bother with 2 x CR123A batteries, they drain far too quickly).

Sounds like they need to look at the temp/weather issue affecting the more powerful light. I don't think I would risk one at this stage! However they are a great brand, and I have one of the bike lights (joystick) and it is brilliant in design and function.

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