Thursday, 21 February 2013

Petzl Nao review

Ah, the Petzl nao. Reactive lighting. I'd heard a lot about it, and saw someone with one of the first ones out doing the rounds this time last year on the High Peak Marathon. What a cool looking bit of kit - and only £135 or so. (Which to some people may seem inordinately expensive, but when you consider what you are getting, isn't actually all that much).
I don't actually have one, but managed to blag one off a mate for a few weeks, which was good, as he was off ice climbing and apparently didn't need it. As luck would have it, I then became inordinately busy during the evenings and didn't manage to get out with it for a couple of weeks, and then had a concerted effort at getting out and about with it just recently.

Yes, there are more comprehensive reviews out there, with a whole lot more words, but it's best not to repeat everything they say, that'd be pretty pointless.

So, in my opinion, what's it like?

To look at -as I'm sure you know if you are reading this, its got 2 lamps - one diffused and one spot, and a distance sensor thing on top of it, a head gripping head band, which seems a bit revolutionary as it uses string, elastic and plastic, and a contoured battery pack at the back, which is USB rechargeable. Nice, all well and good and a pretty design.

Considerable lack of comfort
The first thing I noticed when I put it on was that the lamp portion of it seemed quite heavy in comparison to other lamps I've used recently (mostly Silva), and it took me a bit of time to work out what was the most comfortable tightness to pull the cord to in order to keep the torch on my head. Once on, it was very stable, and certainly didn't feel like it was going to come off. However, the lack of padding on the bit attaching itself to my forehead was really hard. I'm not normally one for complaining about how uncomfortable headtorches are, but the light unit on the Nao, being forced onto my head by the amount of tension I had to crank into it was not comfortable in the slightest.

Locked on, but uncomfortable on the ear
Off I went for a run, thinking that it was going to get a little more comfortable. Well, it did, a little, but only because I put a buff on and made sure that was between me and the lamp. The only other annoying thing was the cable routing on the left hand side of the torch - when on my head, the attachment (which is non-adjustable) appears right next to my left ear, and after about 45 mins of running causes considerable discomfort.

The lighting, though, especially the reactive nature of the torch is terrific. Seamlessly translating from close up dimness to far away 355 lumen brightness, is most impressive. The adjustment is infinitely changeable via a natty bit of petzl computer progamming, however it kept crashing on me. In fact, it crashed so regularly I nearly threw the thing out of the window.

For those of you worried about it reflecting back on you in the mist, or as you breathe and steam goes up in front of your face - yes, it reflects back on you and dims accordingly - however, there is an option to have the torch on one single power setting at a time and take away the reactiveness- on downhill sections when you are pounding away and really really don't want the torch to suddenly dim on you because it thinks something is close to it - you can whack it on a specific brightness (chosen by you back at your computer) and away you go.
lower setting

The only thing I found a little concerning is that the generic brightness when I was running was just a little too dim for the speed I was going. If I looked further along the trail, the torch got brighter, but I wasn't looking at where I wanted to put my feet, and when I looked down at my feet, the torch dimmed to the point that it wasn't as useful as I wanted it to be - and I couldn't find a setting to make the middle setting brighter. I wonder if it has been set at a specific level for a certain amount of distance.
Maybe that's one which someone with more patience, or perhaps a petzl program that doesnt crash - could answer.

So overall I was very impressed with the reactive lighting tech, and that there is a solid light that you can rely on as well if you are heading through a section where you really really don't want the light to react to anything. However, I found it heavy and uncomfortable, and have some reservations about the usefulness of it while running at speed.
Its a great concept, but for running, I'll be waiting for the 2nd generation.
The on-ny off-y switch. rotational and with a lock. Excellent idea


  1. Interesting stuff. Agree that waiting for 2nd generation might be best. Would have to be fantastic kit before I shelled out £130.
    Happy with my LED Lenser H7R at a third of the price!

  2. Too true. Wait a few days though, because I managed to get hold of a Silva trailrunner. The Nao price pales in comparison to its £160rrp. I'll have something up on in in a week or so.

  3. I don't know if this is the same on the original NAO but on the 2nd one you can change that cable from bottom to top so it runs higher, it stays well above the ear if you do that.