Ten Essentials: Let There be Light

By Hester Lam, Girls Who Hike Texas Ambassador

When going to the backcountry, it is a good idea to always be prepared for the worst. When going on day trips, I always have items from REI’s Ten Essential Systems.  If lost, having the Ten Essentials might be the difference between making it out of the hike relatively unscathed or much, much worse.

In case you missed the previous entries in the Ten Essentials, I covered map and compass skills (navigation systems), sun protection systems, and insulation the first three systems within the Ten Essentials. Today, we will cover illumination.

Sunlight – the source of life. Both literally and figuratively. Portable light sources – almost as important, and may potentially save your life.

Bad pun idea courtesy of Google. Bad doodle courtesy of Hester.

Bad pun idea courtesy of Google. Bad doodle courtesy of Hester.

I work an office job, so unfortunately, I don’t get to spend nearly as much time as I’d like in the sunshine, so when I go hiking, I try to maximize spending time in the sunshine (with adequate sun protection, of course. See previous post about sun essentials). 

But sometimes, I amble more than I should, or I start my hike later than originally planned and it gets dark outside earlier than I thought. What should you have in your pack in these cases? Several weeks ago, I was visiting Austin and had no plan of my days; I ambled and googled trails near me after I had finished each hike that I wanted to do. Before I knew if, I had started a hike at 4 PM, and the cloudy sky caused the area to be completely dark about halfway through the loop. I was extremely thankful I had my headlamp in my pack.

At the bare minimum, I like to have at least a headlamp and some spare batteries in my pack. Headlamps are the lighting source of choice because they a) keep your hands free, b) are small and take up a minimal amount of precious pack space when you’re not using them, c) they’re light, and d) they have reasonable battery life.

I typically carry two headlamps with me, as well as spare batteries. First, I use my rechargeable UCO headlamp as often as I can (which is rechargeable with a micro USB, but only lasts about an hour fully charged) to minimize the batteries being wasted. I also love my Petzl Tikka , which I’ve had for several years. There’s typically a new color combination every year, and you can often pick up the prior year’s model at a significant discount somewhere online. For a cheap model, Sierra Trading Post has the Black Diamond Wiz Headlamp for sale at $9.95 before tax and shipping. For a slightly less basic model, the Petzl Tikkina has more lumens and is only $19.95.

If I’m planning on car camping, I like to bring a long some of my lanterns since weight is not an issue. I like the LuminAID lantern (I received mine through the Cairn box, but they are also available from REI). It is light, takes up little space, and is rechargeable. I also love my NEBO zBug Lantern because it has the dual purpose of keeping mosquitos (and there are many of them in Texas) away from me while giving me light.


So how do you choose a headlamp?

There are several factors to consider, but for me, these are the most important.

1) Lumens:

Lumens are a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source. On a VERY high level, generally, the more lumens your headlamp is rated at, the brighter the headlamp is. That said, these lamps tend to use up battery life more, and if you are planning on using the lamp at a high brightness for a longer period of time, it is best to bring more than one set of spare batteries.

2) Headlamp brightness levels:

Most headlamps offer at least two modes: one low and one high. Many headlamps offer a strobe/ flashing mode for emergency use and/ or a red light mode as well. Personally, I will only buy a headlamp with a red light mode because they aren’t as harmful for your eyes and you won’t accidentally blind your campmates with your headlamp on this mode. I always have my lamp turned on red mode at night if I’m camping with others.

3) Rechargeable batteries:

As part of my goals to reduce my personal carbon footprint, I like to choose headlamps that are rechargeable. My UCO headlamp isn’t the most practical with its hour- long use maximum, but with its lightness, there’s very little additional weight to carry for its output.

4) Adjustability

Most headlamps come with a fairly strap, but some are more stretchy/ comfortable than others. My UCO isn’t the most comfortable because it comes in non- stretch webbing, but the Tikkina has a stretch band that fits perfectly. I also like both of these models because I can tilt them so that they are pointing at a specific place in the ground.

Headlamps are a cheap/ light addition to any pack and are SO useful. Next time you find yourself in a sporting goods store, pick up one (or more and gift them to all of your hiking friends for holidays!) and be prepared!

Hester is the Ambassador for our Texas chapter. To join her local meetups and discussions through the Texas chapter, click here.