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Reactive Lighting; The Intelligent Choice?

Rob Howard / 19.07.2012

Petzl Nao

Using a head torch for outdoor sports and activities is taken for granted these days, so it’s easy to forget that the head torch was a revolutionary idea when first produced by Petzl in the early 1980’s.  Their original ‘Zoom’ model was one of the most ground breaking outdoor products ever produced.  Robust and functional they were a ‘must have’ for many years and it wasn’t until the 1990’s that advances in battery life and the introduction of LED’s consigned them to the bin or the cupboard, with many new manufacturers, designs and concepts taking their place.

With so many choices and functions now available you might have thought head torch design had hit the buffers again – after all, what more could you do with a torch that sits on your head and shines a light where you are looking ... ?  Quite a bit as it turns out.

The Concept

Petzl’s latest model is another first and one which looks like it will set a standard for others follow, as the Zoom did all those years ago.  The new Petzl Nao goes on sale this month, and is the first head torch to feature ‘reactive lighting’, which automatically adjusts light output and maximises battery life.  (Nao is a Chinese character which translates to English as ‘Brain’.)

Simply put, the torch adjusts the lighting output to your needs automatically, depending on what you are doing. Looking ahead at the horizon you get a narrow powerful beam, looking down at the near ground a wider beam, and looking at a map the power is reduced to a comfortable level for reading and to reduce glare. This all happens remarkably instantaneously and the Nao has already won numerous outdoor show and magazine awards and been very well received by testers in advance of its eagerly awaited launch.

What Do You Get?

All of the ‘tech spec’ is on the Petzl website, and many others, so I won’t repeat it all here. As you can see from the photo the unit has two LED bulbs (one diffused) with the sensor above them. It’s easy enough to test the basic operation, switch the torch on and as you cover the sensor you see the intensity of the light increase.  (Don’t look directly at the beam as you do this, it’s too bright to do so safely.)

As you’d expect given Petzl’s design experience, it is well made, water resistant and at only 187 grams is light and compact.  The head straps are easy to adjust and the battery sits securely and comfortably in the traditional ‘back of the head’ position. (There will be a belt attachment for those who prefer it.  Cost £20.)  I’ve found it very comfortable and stable without using the optional top strap. You get a 3 year guarantee too, which is reassuring. (One year for the battery.)

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