Gifts for the gear nut

Headlamps are a hot outdoor gift idea for the holidays

Jefferson Dodge | Boulder Weekly

The technology used in headlamps for backpacking and camping has continued to grow by leaps and bounds over the past year, and local outdoor equipment shop managers put them at the top of their list for holiday gift-giving.

The newest headlamps on the market today burn longer and brighter than their predecessors — and some models don’t even need batteries.

Lenny Enloe, manager of the Boulder Army Store, sells a headlamp with a solar panel that charges its battery during the day. He says six full hours of sun provide enough energy to power it all night long.

Other solar- and human-powered items have also been a hit this holiday season, Enloe says, citing the fact that he is sold out of hand-crank lanterns and flashlights, which provide an hour of light with only about a minute of cranking. He also says solar-powered panels are being made for everything from tents to backpacks — and they can charge anything from a cell phone to a laptop to a car battery.

Among battery-powered headlamps, Enloe says LED (light-emitting diode) technology is still advancing at an incredible rate. “LED headlights have come eons, even over last year,” he says, adding that the same models that only put out 25 lumens last year are now emitting 50. Only three LED lights are now enough to provide bright light for dozens and dozens of hours. Unlike bulbs, the diodes are efficient, put off very little heat and can last about 160 hours on a low setting. Standard incandescent bulbs in previous headlamp models only lasted about seven hours, Enloe says.

His advice on which one to buy?

Depends largely on the batteries. “Don’t buy a headlamp with batteries that cost a lot and that you can’t find.”

Enloe says his store and McGuckin Hardware have become the prime local places to go for last-minute holiday gifts for the outdoors, such as headlamps.

Tracy McDermott, a manager at Neptune Mountaineering, recommends the Petzl TIKKA PLUS 2 headlamp, which she sells for about $40. An upgrade over a previous model, it has a very simple design, she says. Another model that makes for a good holiday gift is the Mammut Lucido TX1, which runs about $80 and which McDermott says is good for people who want a super-bright lamp that is not too big and bulky.

REI Store Manager Ali Bennett suggests buying that special jogger in your life a Black Diamond Sprinter, a headlamp that is specifically made for those who run at night. It is ergonomically balanced across the front and rear and can shine up to 50 meters. Bennett says it also has a red safety strobe in the back and a removable strap that can provide additional support.

She also recommends another type of light, the Gorillatorch LED flashlight. It is made by Joby, which is widely known for its Gorillapod camera tripods with flexible legs. The Gorillatorch is a flashlight that has similar legs that let you attach it to a tree branch while cooking dinner in the woods, for instance. It costs about $30 and can burn for up to 80 hours on the economy setting.

Other popular gift ideas recommended by Boulder outdoor store managers include:

Therm-a-rest NeoAir sleeping pad — Available for $120 to $170, depending on the size, this pad is one of the lightest-weight pads on the market, at 13 or 14 ounces. Bennett says it is three times warmer than uninsulated (air-filled) pads and has a reflective barrier that returns heat back to the body.

Jetboil Flash Cooking System — For about $100 you can pick up the newest version of this award-winning system, which combines burner and cooking vessel in one compact unit. With the click of a button, it can boil two cups of water in two minutes, and it has a thermochromic indicator that tells you when the contents are hot.

STABILicers — Enloe calls them “snow tires for your feet.” They fit over your regular shoes and have metal spikes on the bottom that help you keep your traction on ice and packed snow. They cost $20 to $40.

Guyot Squishy Bowl and Cup Set — Nearly indestructible, this $15 set can be folded, squished and crammed into a pack and always bounces back to its original form. It is temperature-resistant to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

REI Flash 65 Backpack — This $149 item can serve as a full-service pack for multi-day trips, or you can remove its frame sheet, stays and top lid to scale it down to a two-pound daypack.

Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife — An oldie but a goodie. Enloe says he still sells a lot of these over the holidays. “How many people have had theirs taken away at the airport this year?” he asks.