One of the most exciting aspects of acquiring new gear is the thought of how you are going to use it. I felt these emotions when I was gifted the Petzl Nao (version 1) torch. The Petzl Nao had been out a few months when I first got my hands on it. I was looking to replace my previous headlamp, Petzl Tikka which worked great, but lacked the lumens I was wanting. There was a trip a few months earlier where we had to do some route finding in the dark on a minimally marked trail. It was not fun having only 80 lumens to work with. Yes we could find our trail markers (eventually) but they were difficult to spot, especially with the lack of a far reaching spotlight feature. The Petzl Nao packed a solid 355 lumens in a highly customizable torch. I was immediately enthralled.
Initial Impression- The Petzl Nao is a sleek looking headlamp that houses Petzl's newest light sensor technology. The torch's main selling point is the ability for the device to recognize the proximity of things and adjust your light needs automatically. Gone are the days of having to reach up and turn a nob, so exhausting. The face of the torch has three circles that make a triangle. The top circle is the light sensor which determines how much light to throw out and how the beam of light is thrown. The bottom two circles house a wide beam and narrow beam light. The control knob has a locking feature to prevent accidentally turning on in your pack. This knob also works as a way to change between different predetermined light profiles. By rotating the knob and holding it you can change the profile in the field. Similar to other Petzl torch design the light housing pivots to point the lamps ahead or down low. The headband is comprised of nylon cord (similar to 550 paracord) that runs alongside your head and connects to a rear battery mount. This area houses the battery which is connected by a thick wire on the left side of the headlamp, below the strap. The rear battery pack pivots and unlocks, allowing for you to plug the USB port in for charging. The USB port is housed in a weather resistant enclosure, providing protection from rain and splash. It should be made clear that the headlamp is NOT waterproof. The battery pack also has a battery charge indicator, allowing you to see the amount of charge. By connecting the torch to your computer you are able to further customize the lighting profiles to better suit your needs. The software is a little clunky, but it gets the job done and allows for more control then you really need. Included with the torch is an optional strap that goes across the roof of your head and further supports the weight of the torch. Due to the rechargeable battery the Petzl Nao is rather heavy feeling and I did have some concern about the weight while in motion.
Use- The Nao immediately replaced my Petzl Tikka torch. It has been used backpacking, night hiking, and for trail running. For backpacking this torch is a beast. It is rather heavy for my liking, out weighing my previous model by a few ounces. The battery life of the headlamp leaves a lot to be desired for anything more then an overnighter. With the proper battery pack/solar charger this becomes a moot point. But by requiring a charging device in addition to the torch you care quickly adding weight. Although I have never run out of battery on a trip, I am diligent about making sure the torch is fully charged. My current backpacking battery does not have enough juice to power the headlamp. Of course I should mention that there is the option to run the lamp off standard batteries also which could get you out of a pinch. But again this brings us back to the talk about weight. The torch does require about three times the space my previous model. This is a rather small nitpick though as torches are small to begin with. The torch is easily placed on the head even with different thickness hats. When wearing baseball cap styles, some of the light hits the bill instead of the ground. One thing that bugged me about the torch was that there is no red light. Almost all torches have them for preserving night vision, but not the NAO.
For night hikes this torch works great. It provides tons of light during group hikes. I have even used the torch to light the trail for those who have forgotten theirs. It is also great to use for spotting wildlife in the distance and has allowed us to see some night creatures. The Nao can be too bright at times and finding that balance between enough light and too much light is a common issue. The Nao adjust the light well but tends to throw more light then is needed for slow moving activities like hiking.
Trail running is where this torch really stands out. To be fair this was the sport it was designed for, but I expect my gear to be multi-sport. When running descents the torch cast a beam that allows for minimal pace adjustment. Because the torch throws so much light the strange shadows are eliminated, allowing for a more secure feeling. I have found that the added light has inspired confidence to take the descents faster then when using less lumens. Obviously all the talk above about the long beam for spotting trail markers, and wildlife applies here also. My initial concerns about the weight/movement when running were eliminated quickly. I have yet to have an issue with the torch moving or suffering any discomfort when wearing it.
Final Thoughts- The Petzl Nao is shaking up the torch industry with their new reactive lighting. It is redefining what a headlamp can do. By combining this technology and the ability to customize the lighting profiles through a computer, the torch is really ahead of the competition. The NAO is an excellent torch for trail running. The features indicate that the torch was designed around a runner's need and this really pays off on the trail. I don't see a need to replace the NAO for this application. Although not ideal the torch can be used for hiking/backpacking but it comes with tradeoffs. If the Petzl NAO was slightly easier to use and included a red lamp for backpacking purposes this would be a better torch. Hopefully Petzl can come up with a solution to the battery life that will allow for multi-day trips with out having to be concerned about the battery life. Since purchasing this torch Petzl has come out with a second version. This newer version packs 575 lumens, better battery life and easier to use controls. I have not had any experience with the torch, so I can't tell you if these claims are true.
*This product was gifted to me by family.