Petzl Reactik Plus Headtorch Review
Several years ago UKClimbing asked me to review a brand new type of headtorch Petzl had just released. The Nao had a traditional front lamp unit with a rear rechargeable battery pack. It had many new features but the single biggest innovation was called reactive lighting. Put simply, this is a system where sensors monitor the ambient light and adjust the output accordingly.
You can read my UKC review here and if you do you'll soon see that, with very few reservations, I was a real convert. Constantly adjusting the output according to need prolongs battery life and avoids you dazzling yourself when looking at a map just as it ensures you have the long distance light needed to spot that distant feature.
I used that original Nao a lot and thought it was great apart from one thing. For my needs having a headlamp where battery and lamp are contained within the same unit is far more practical than a split lamp/battery system. For some users I can see it would be better to keep them split but for my activities I prefer an all in one. Fortunately it wasn't long before Petzl brought out the first single unit reactive lighting headlamp and, for my needs at least, the Nao was redundant.
Petzl have just upped the game again with the recent introduction of the Reactik+. This, on the face of it, looks very similar to its predecessor. A broad headband houses a lamp unit which in turn incorporates a rechargeable battery. It is a simple, stylish and capable looking headlamp.
But the Reactik+ houses a few secrets. Firstly, the continuing improvements in LED technology means the torch has a very impressive 300 lumen output. Undoubtedly this technology will continue developing and there will further improvements in the light output torches can produce, but for a torch this size 300 lumens is mightily impressive.
The second secret is something very innovative. For the first time Petzl have created the technology to link the Reactik+, via Bluetooth, to a smartphone. This allows users to easily control a range of things including light output and burn time by just downloading an app onto their Android or IOS phone. There is also the option to use a broad range of profiles to suit different requirements. It is an intriguing development in headlamp technology.
Initially, I'll be honest, I had my doubts about how useful this would be. Firstly, I don't want to drain my phone battery by using it as a control panel and I am also of the school of thought that the more complicated things become the more there is to go wrong (and the last thing you want in a tricky situation is for your headtorch to fail). It would be really interesting to see how the Reactik+ fared......
I was lucky to get a fairly early release of the Reactik+ and so I've had the chance to use it a lot. This has included camping trips, night time mountain biking (combined with handlebar lights), running and plenty of night time hillwalking. As Autumn approached it has also been used for several night time gritstone bouldering sessions and as we now head into winter it will be my main winter climbing and hillwalking lamp.
Setting aside the Bluetooth control features for now, the Reactik+ is a fully featured headlamp. Every good headlamp needs an easy to adjust and secure headband and on the Reactik+ Petzl have designed the best I've used. The band is broad with an innovative split feature at the back. This is a poor way of explaining that the strap splits into two on the rear section and a buckle at each side allows quick adjustment and a secure and comfortable fit.
At the front of the headband the strap broadens again allowing plenty of surface area in contact with your brow. It is a great design but being a secure fit is also important because, as the head unit contains all the lamp and battery unit, it is reasonably heavy (110 grams) and sticks out quite a bit at the front. I was a bit worried this would feel unsteady or front heavy, but in practice this hasn't been the case at all. It has stayed rock steady for all the activities mentioned above including running (which is one activity which will quickly reveal a wobbly fit). It is also worth mentioning that Petzl have lined the headband with a moisture absorbent material making it comfortable for high energy output or warm weather activities.
The torch comes with a 1800 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable battery which slots securely into a compartment at the back of the lamp unit. It has a micro USB socket at the top (a micro USB to USB charging lead is supplied) which makes it easy to charge the battery either while it is inside the torch or when separate. Charging time is 4.5 hours. Spare rechargeable batteries and a battery case that houses three AAA batteries are also available.
The top and side of the main lamp unit houses the control buttons and at the front of the housing there are the lamp units and the reactive lighting sensor. It is a neat and beautifully designed package. The buttons are small and, although they work well enough, they can be fiddly to operate with gloves on. A big failing of some previous Petzl headtorches I've used is that there was no locking facility to prevent accidental switch on when stashed in a rucksack. On the Reactik+ you simply press the top and side buttons together to lock it securely.
The buttons also turn the lamp on and off and allow users to scroll through the various modes - and the Reactik+ certainly has plenty of modes! There are five programmed lighting profiles and each has six different modes (3 of these utilise reactive lighting and three offer constant lighting). The five profiles are optimised for certain conditions and activities. Multi activity lighting provides the broadest range of use from close up to distance lighting while the mountaineering mode is optimised to provide powerful lighting to find your way. The bivouac mode is designed to offer close up ambient lighting and trekking mode is optimised to find your way on paths. Lastly, the trail running mode provides powerful lighting to spot obstacles in the distance.
To understand more clearly it may help to consider an example. If we then take the mountaineering profile (which is the one I use most) then within this you can switch between either reactive lighting or constant and either choice gives you 3 modes. So, say I chose reactive lighting mode I would be left with the choice of maximum autonomy, standard or max power mode. On a fully charged battery maximum autonomy would give a burn time of 12 hours and maximum beam of 66 metres, standard gives a burn time of 6 hours and distance of 85 metres and max power gives a burn time of 3 hours and distance of 106 metres.
It is all very comprehensive and, combined with its impressive potential light output, it works well in all the situations I can imagine. It is worth mentioning at this point how innovative reactive lighting is. Once you get used to it I am sure you'll love it too, and yet to some extent the real genius is that you really don't notice when it is working its magic. If you look into the distance the sensor adapts the output whereas when you look at your map or that close feature the light output is reduced. It works very quickly so you don't even notice it happening - you just notice the advantage of it.
It is worth noting that there are a few situations where reactive lighting potentially gets confused. If you are looking into falling snow or dense cloud the sensor can become confused and cut the light output (I haven't had this happen yet with the Reactik+ but it certainly happened a few times with the previous reactive lighting models I've used). I really see it as a non problem though because, if it happens, you simply switch to a constant lighting mode and you are using the torch as a standard lamp anyway.
And so, with no further ado, we come to the addition of Petzl's My Petzl Mobile App (can be downloaded free for Android and IOS) which allows control of a number of key torch functions via your smartphone. The Bluetooth link between phone and app is very simple to connect and, once activated, it springs to life ready for use. The app is then extremely easy to operate and allows the user to switch between different modes as well as control the light output and therefore manage the burn time available.
This burn time control is the feature I have found most useful and it works brilliantly. If you are out in the dark and not sure if you have enough battery life to finish your activity there used to be no way to know for sure that you had, but now you can see, to the minute, how much is left. This also means that if burn time falls short of what you need you can simply cut down the light output until you have what you need. It is great.
The app also lets you switch to a red light mode (this can be done using the switches in the lamp too) and even allows a programmable emergency message to be transmitted if needed. I didn't know his useful I'd find the Bluetooth app facility, but infact I've found it extremely useful. It does mean you are using your phone battery but, infact, you aren't making these adjustments very often and so I haven't found this a significant issue. The system also uses Bluetooth Smart which apparently uses low operating power.
The only other consideration is that you may, in certain circumstances or environmental conditions, find it impractical to remove your phone from your pocket. I appreciate this may be a problem and yet personally I have never found an issue with this either. My phone is constantly in use as a camera anyway and lives most of the time in a chest pocket of my jacket so easy access isn't a problem. I also keep it in a Lifeproof case and so have no qualms about removing it in harsh conditions.
Since first trying reactive lighting I have thought it a brilliant system and highly recommend it. Now, with the addition of the My Petzl Mobile App, Petzl have upped the ante yet again. In every circumstance I've used the Reactik+ so far I have been blown away by the features and ease of use and, despite my initial scepticism about controlling your torch from your phone, I actually think it's a superb innovation.
You may not need it for every circumstance (which is fine because you can use the torch without it anyway), but for most situations it adds a brilliant additional tier of usability. It is also incredibly useful to be able to check how much battery life is remaining.
Besides all that, the other Reactik+ features are spot on and, for a torch of its size, the light output is extremely impressive and will happily cater for any outdoor activities I can think of. Lastly, considering the features and very powerful punch this torch packs, I don't think the price tag of around £80 (and can be found cheaper if you shop around online) is too bad at all. A massive well done to Petzl and highly recommended.
Posted by Paul
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