You’re not supposed to try new gear on race day. That’s what your training runs are for. But, when I got the opportunity to test out Petzl’s new Reactik+ Headlamp at the Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run, I couldn’t pass it up, especially since I hadn’t found a lamp yet that really delivered what I wanted. Other lamps were either uncomfortable or not powerful enough, or had poor battery life, poor light quality, frustrating functionality, or some combination of these.

But, now that I had this one, I was facing two big potential problems. I got the lamp just before catching a flight to California and was way too busy to deep-dive into the programming features it claimed to support. I was going to have to trust in the factory settings. On top of that, the lamp comes with a single rechargeable battery. I didn’t have time to order a backup, or the adapter kit that lets you run the lamp on AAA batteries. I was going to get one charge and that was it. No way could I make it through an entire night of running on a single charge—at least, not at a reasonable output. Right?

So, there I am, 12:30 AM at Chantry Flats Aid Station, mile 77.1. This is the last access point for my crew; do I ask for my spare headlamp? My next opportunity to swap lights is a drop bag 9.2 miles away…with a 2,500-foot climb in the middle. Oh, and my stomach is full-on rebelling. Will it take me three hours? If the wheels really start falling off, maybe four? I might be asking my lamp to give me seven hours or more of runtime at a fairly powerful output. Past experience has made me weary of relying on any lamp at that output in excess of four hours on a single charge or set of batteries. Seems like the smart thing to do would be to swap out the lamp now. Then again, if I were smart, I probably wouldn’t be running 100 miles in the mountains for fun.

The author putting the Reactik+ to the test during a 100 mile run.
The author putting the Reactik+ to the test during a 100 mile run.

Moment of truth

And, I’m really liking this lamp so far. It was obviously made with ultra-marathoners and other endurance athletes in mind. The headband is the most comfortable I’ve ever worn. Along the front, just behind the lamp, the fabric is a soft, lightly cushioned, sweat-wicking material, like a tennis sweatband from the 1980s. Then, along the back, the single elastic band meets dual plastic hubs, where it splits up into two thinner bands that wrap around the back of the skull and equalize pressure. The result is a comfortable fit that stays put through dynamic activity without the need for an additional top strap. Simple, but genius!

The light quality is top notch, too. A lot of lamps, especially bright ones, produce intense “hotspots,” where light gets concentrated in a small area, while what’s surrounding is much dimmer. The Reactik+ offers crystal clear quality that diffuses outward nicely.

Then, there’s the elephant in the room: Petzl’s much-vaunted Reactive Lighting Technology. The claim is that sensors in the lamp can measure the amount of light reflected back from surfaces and will adjust the output accordingly. So, if you’re running down a trail and then want to check out a map, the light will automatically dim to a more comfortable output. I’ll be honest: I was super skeptical. It sounded like the kind of thing that would be very hard to get right, and end up becoming annoying or distracting if it wasn’t perfect. But, consider my mind blown: It works great, and it is just subtle enough that you have to be looking for the auto-adjustments to even notice them.

It turns out that this technology is also a game-changer when it comes to battery life. What I didn’t realize during my race was that every time I had my head down on the trail in front of me (which was most of the time), I was actually saving a ton of battery power. I had the lamp on its medium factory setting with a max output of 170 lumens for five hours. But, most of the time, I was running the lamp on nowhere near 170 lumens! And, I always had just the right amount of light. When I picked my head up and looked down the trail, I could see plenty far while barely registering the variations in output.

So far, so good

That stretch from Chantry Flats to Idlehour Trail Aid Station was my lowest point in the race. My stomach refused to cooperate with my calorie needs. I was moving OK on the downhills, but every climb felt like I was crawling closer and closer to my own death. My watch battery died somewhere in there, but my pacer showed me her data, including an eye-popping 30-minute mile.

I made it to Idlehour at 4:04 AM. Thankfully, my stomach was starting to settle, and my energy level felt surprisingly robust. Even more surprising, my lamp was still going strong! I thought about grabbing the spare from my drop bag, but now, I was straight-up curious. Would this thing last ALL night? I only needed a couple more hours…and, last it did. It was a glorious dawn as I descended out of the Angeles National Forest toward the finish line in Altadena, CA: 100 miles in 27 hours and 40 minutes.

One month later, I’m planning a backpacking trip to Glacier National Park. This time, I actually get to play with the programming of this crazy lamp. The Reactik+ comes with Bluetooth® technology, and Petzl has a mobile app called MyPetzl-Light. You can choose from a number of preset activity profiles, including mountaineering, trail running, and trekking, among others, or create your own customized one. It’s a great tool, allowing you to preset target output or battery life for three Reactive Lighting settings and three Constant Lighting settings.

As I planned my trip, I thought about all the scenarios under which I might need lighting and for how long, and I used that set to cover all of my bases. You can even use your phone on the fly to check on estimated battery life or set new profiles.


Set it and forget it

What I really want to do next is test out the lamp on night climbs. The last time I went to a crag at night, I distinctly remember being blinded by light reflecting off the rock six inches in front of my face but wanting the powerful output for route finding and making out details in the rock above me. Is the Reactik+ the perfect lighting solution for the nighttime climber? I’m thinking yes.

It’s the beginning of fall now. Shorter days are here, which means more time playing around at night in the wilderness. Thankfully, I’ve found the perfect light for just about any activity. Powerful? Check. Comfortable? Check. Customizable? Check. Rechargeable and long-lasting battery? Double-check. Intelligent lighting system that automatically adjusts output based on your needs? Who even thought that could be a thing? I guess Petzl did, and cheers to them.