|Value for money:|
|Fitness for purpose:|
Price when purchased (2014): £115
Price now (August 2015): £90 - £100
Big and bulky, but bright as the sun. The Petzl Nao 575L is not only one of the brightest head torches on the market, it also features Petzl's reactive light technology resulting in just the right amount of light whenever you need it. The high price of the torch coupled with the bulk makes it useless for most climbers, but for serious hillwalkers who expect to venture out into the night this should be an essential piece of kit. Using the Petzl software the torch can be reprogrammed to suit most activities and needs while the one-dial selection mechanism on the torch itself ensures simple operation.
My old Petzl Tikka XP was slowly dying, a new paycheck had just arrived and my ML assessment was looming - I needed a new head torch. Having played with the reactive torches in shops for a while I decided I might as well treat myself and splash out. After all, if nothing else at least I was buying something "cool and shiny/bright". The first thing that struck me about the torch is the design. Everything has its purpose, no gimmicks, no extra faff and no unnecessary bulk. That said - the torch is heavy weighing in at 187g. Doesn't sound too heavy? Wait until you have it on your head for a while. Thankfully Petzl have thought about this and included an optional over head strap which not only distributes the weight more evenly but also enables the wearer to reduce the tension on the side straps, thus alleviating the otherwise inevitable headache.
Admittedly when I first took the torch out at night I wasn't sure what to expect. Whatever it was, I was truly gobsmacked. On maximum power mode (auto adjustment across the whole range) you never feel as if you are wasting light or need any more. Looking at your map without being blinded - check. Looking over your map at the path junction ahead - check. Panning around to see what's in the field to your left - check. Light up the tree at the end of the field and blind the pony grazing underneath - oops, check. The light output is truly astonishing. However, this kind of power comes with a drawback - the battery life in the highest power mode is abysmal. After a mere 2 hours night naving through the countryside the battery had reduced by 60% (according to the LED indicator). But even if you do run out - the torch takes standard AAA batteries as a backup albeit with reduced light output. Despite this I clearly needed a different strategy to enable me to use this torch effectively.
Nao 575L plugged in to the laptop and (free) Petzl software loaded it was time to adjust the default settings. A little while later and the torch settings seemed more reasonable. Overall the torch can store multiple profiles with up to 5 settings each in reactive mode and fixed mode. I found that setting the levels myself and knowing how the torch is set up allows me to manually adjust the torch when needed on the go. While the reactive lighting takes away some of the adjustment work and makes the light output appear more homogenous this manual adjustment upped my battery life by a significant proportion. At the time of writing it has been 2 months since I last charged the torch and I have used it multiple evenings and nights with the LED indicator still showing a full charge. Charging the torch via USB takes a while, but since USB chargers run on minimal power the torch is easily charged on car sockets, power bars, laptops - indeed any USB power supply you can think of. Since the torch battery has an actual USB plug attached there is no need for a cable, although the cable makes things easier due to the bulk of the battery.
The dial to control the torch while on the go is great with one exception. While changing modes is easy by simply flicking the dial and can easily be done wearing thick gloves or with numb hands, turning the torch off requires the user to change through all settings. It would have been useful if Petzl had stuck to their old system where after a while of inactivity use of the switch acts as the off-switch instead of carrying on cycling through the modes. While this is only a minor issue for most it can become irritating when you only quickly need a bit of light to read a sign or a map but otherwise want the light off. On the bright side the dial can be locked effectively preventing accidential turning on in your bag or pocket.
Out of the packaging the torch is set to dazzle anybody staring into its beam, but at the detriment of the battery life. Initially the weight put me off wanting to take it on the hills, but after using it on my ML and seeing it perform brilliantly during the night nav exercises I can safely say it never leaves my bag again. In fact the only time I will leave it behind is when I embark on technical climbs, purely because the added bulk on my helmet is not great. Would I buy this torch again knowing what I know now? In a heartbeat. Would I adjust the settings again before using it? Yes of course. Would I recommend you go out and buy one? That depends on what you're up to in the outdoors. If you are likely to navigate in the dark, search for individuals or objects or simply want to light up the countryside, then go ahead and get one. The final verdict at 3.5 peaks is a combination of the price, the rubbish default settings, the weight, the comparably low battery life and the oversight with the switch design.