In early-July, Petzl approached me to test out their newest sport headlamp: the NAO. After a few months of long night runs, an overnight 50K, Leadville 100, and Wasatch 100, I found that this headlight sets the standard for headlamps.
Here’s a quick rundown on this sophisticated piece of equipment:
1. Lumens – at a max of 350 lumens, this headlamp can light up an entire canyon. I know I’ve done it and others have witnessed in awe. In fact, my training partner has headlamp envy. The lumens are so powerful that you can easily use only one headlamp when running with a friend or a group if the trail is wide enough. In testing, it was so bright that other runners had to slow down on single track after we’ve separated because their speed and safety depended on the NAO’s illumination; other headlamps alone were not good enough to maintain the same pace.
2. Reactive Illumination – the headlamp uses a light sensor which measures the amount of reflected light. Using this sensor, it adjusts the amount of light projected. Not only does it determine the amount of light but also the beam–diffused or spot. As the headlamp adjusts, it appears to do so on an analog curve although it is a digital step-up/down process. I found that the only time the reactive lighting falters is when you are behind someone with reflective material on their back. The headlamp becomes too reactive; either it does not provide enough light or adjusts the light too often based on the amount of light hitting the reflective gear. The solution? Easy fix: set the headlamp to a constant burn which is done simply by turning and holding the adjustment switch for 2 seconds.
3. Battery Life – the headlamp conserves as much energy as possible because of the sensor technology. Using the 2nd stock setting, which provides less illumination, I was able to use the headlamp for 11 hours during the Wasatch 100. After unpacking my gear 3 days later, the NAO’s three bar battery indicator still showed two bars remaining. I have no doubt it would have lasted 24 hours. Note that on this lower setting, the NAO still provided as much illumination as any other headlamp on the course.
4. Comfort – I may be immune to the size or shape of headlamps because none have ever bothered me. This is true of the NAO as well. I do like that there are multiple quick adjustment points. My training partner who wears her hair in a high ponytail pointed out that the center-strap might get in the way. Another easy fix: remove the top strap. It’s optional.
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5. Durability – I am not gentle with my equipment because I always consider it “under review.” The NAO has been stuffed into bags and packs, dropped and manhandled. I have generally not been considerate of its well-being. It has come through like a champ without any failures. I had previously reviewed the Rayovac Indestructible Headlamp which has not faired as well as the NAO. Although, at $12 the Rayovac is still a great buy.
6. Charging – This headlamp charges via USB connection. So not only does it last an incredibly long time, but charging can be done from any energy source that supports a USB adapter. The NAO also supports 2 standard AAA batteries as a backup when charging is not available.
7. Programability – while the stock settings are all I have tested, the headlamp allows for a very broad range of programability. You can modify the stock settings as well as create your own profiles via their user-friendly software.
8. Cost – $175 retail. A great deal when you consider that this headlamp could prevent an unexpected trip to the emergency room.
In summary, the NAO is a winner. Its long battery life, ease of use, durability, power and innovation put it at the top of its class.
Final Note: Per FTC rules. Petzl provided this headlamp for testing and has not asked that it be returned.