Monday, July 13, 2009

In Search of the Beacon of Hope: Energizer Trailfinder Headlamp Review

It’s difficult to explain how important the perfect headlamp can become to the success (or failure) of a particular mission. When considering the implications of this piece of backcountry equipment, I always recall the story of my husband guiding two young men on a climbing route on Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower.

They had begun climbing late in the day to avoid the oppressive heat of the July afternoon. Topping out at dusk, after eight thirsty p
itches of classic but strenuous climbing, Andrew discovered that neither of his clients had remembered their headlamps. Setting up a long series of rappels in the dark, with two inexperienced climbers and only one headlamp, was a less-than-ideal scenario.

“The beam from the light didn’t shine far enough,” he explained. “We missed a critical rap anchor, and the rest of the descent was in trouble after that. What we really needed,“ he went on gravely, “was the Beacon of Hope.”

“The Beacon of Hope?” I thought perhaps this was some internal measure of desire, and one’s ability to press on through the suffering.

“You know: a good headlamp.” He nodded knowingly. “It would have made all the difference.”

When Energizer sent me their Trailfinder Series Headlamp to review, that was my first question: Was this the long-sought Beacon of Hope that might also serve the more practical aspects of backcountry travel? I was excited to find out.

Here’s a basic run-down of the features of the Trailfinder’s 6-LED light:

• Four different lighting modes:

- 2 spotlight LEDs

- 2 flood light LEDs
o spot and flood lights together
- 2 red LEDs

• Push-button switch scrolls through each lighting mode

• Pivoting head to adjust direction of light

• Runs on three AAA batteries

• Stated MSRP is $14.99-$17.99 (Although I had difficulty finding it available online for less than $21)

• 50 hours of run-time with either the spot or flood lights, 20 hours of run-time with both spot and flood lights, and 75 hours with the red LEDs

• Weighs 2.6 oz with batteries

Here are some of the things I noticed and experienced when testing the light:

The light features a single headband-type strap, which was simple enough to adjust. It was thinner than that of most other headlamps I have used, but this didn’t seem to present any problems.

Directly behind the light there is some thin foam padding where the light rests against the forehead. This made it very comfortable to wear and kept the light securely against your head. I really liked this feature!

The usefulness of the red LEDs seemed questionable at first, but there are some scenarios where I could see the benefits. In the summer of 2006, Andrew and I were on a long canoe trip through northern Canada. We were paddling through the dark, battling a fierce wind and a stalking Grizzly (no kidding) and we had to repeatedly check the map to get our bearings. Unfortunately, turning on the headlamp to see the map also had the affect of ruining our night vision. Using the red LED’s would have alleviated this issue. This benefit is reinforced to me by childhood memories of my father bringing the family, all the camping gear and our giant telescope to Joshua Tree for weekends of star-gazing. He insisted all of our flashlights be covered with red cellophane. I guess he was on to something.

Unfortunately, here’s the downside of the design for the red LEDs: There is only one switch, and you have to scroll through three modes of white LEDs before you get to the red ones. This sort of defeats the purpose, I’d say.

For running, I preferred the flood light setting to the spot light, because it lit the general surrounding area best. The spot light was helpful for sighting things farther in the distance.

One of the first things I noticed on my initial run was what I consider to be the major drawback to this headlamp. Some of the light shines down onto my face, impairing my night vision and making it harder to see. I could actually see the headlamp while wearing it. This seems like a pretty major issue to me if you are someone who likes to run with the light on your head. I typically run with the light at my waist, but I do like the option of being able to move it if needed. The problem was also mitigated by wearing the headlamp over a hat with a brim.

The light worked well for general camp chores, as well as for reading in the tent.


This light had many good features, the best of which was the reasonable price. Even at $21, it is about half the price of my Black Diamond Spot. I like the idea of the red LED’s (if the on/off system for it had been designed better), and the other lights were plenty bright for trail running. The light shining into my peripheral vision, though, is enough to keep this from being my primary headlamp. It makes a great back-up or general purpose light, but when all is said and done, it is not the Beacon of Hope.


  1. Hmm. I'm always looking for a better, brighter light as well. Sorry this wasn't it.

  2. Hi Gretchen,
    Here's a real beacon of light--The Brunton L3:
    I tried almost all running lights and this is by far the best one--not the lighest, but definitely the brightest.

    For optimal night running, it also really helps to have a waist lamp (or two). See: