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Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

A quick glance at the Langdale Mountain Rescue Call-out Log (and any MRT nationally) reveals a recurring pattern of walkers and hikers being caught out by nightfall without adequate lighting.

It’s hard to overstate just how dark it can get on the hill, away from the ambient lights of town, especially if the moon isn’t up or the cloud is down. Add to that uneven terrain, adverse weather and fatigue; it can turn a relaxed stroll into a very serious situation, very quickly.

One simple step can mean the difference between a good story in the pub later that night and volunteer members of the rescue team being called up from their homes to head out into the hills and begin what can be a very long drawn out process of searching for a missing party.

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Being able to see the path or terrain ahead makes an enormous difference to your ability to get yourself out of a worsening situation. Not only does carrying a light make self-rescue much easier but also helps in the event of a more serious emergency when it comes to signalling for help or directing rescue.

But what if the batteries are flat or have leaked? What if the adverse weather has caused a short and the torch isn’t up to the job in the first place? Or perhaps it’s a rechargeable torch but has run-down while sat in your pack. It’s probably best to address these questions while at home in the warm rather than when it’s all gone a bit wrong and you’re fumbling in the lid of your rucksack as night falls and the rain’s getting heavier.

The first question is probably going to be choice of lighting – headtorch or handheld? Headtorches are undoubtedly more practical as they leave hands free for map reading, handling walking poles or managing casualties but handheld torches are sometimes more powerful, having more room for larger batteries and so can be useful to signal for rescue.

If your plans include time spent on the hill after nightfall then kit yourself appropriately; that mini emergency headtorch may be fine for finding your way back to the car but after half an hour or so it will begin to strain your already tired eyes, they will start to play tricks on you and it’s easy to begin making mistakes. Look for something that is not only bright but also adjustable, it’s all very well having a super-bright light but it’ll ruin your own night vision as soon as you look at a map.

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It is also worth considering the weather conditions, is it always going to be nice and dry up there? We might have a skewed perception of typical conditions here in the Lakes but it always seems things only go wrong once the weather takes a turn for the worse. While waterproof torches are available, they are often more bulky and expensive, look for ones with water resistance, they’ll keep the worst of the rain out while not being too heavy or bulky.

Electronics are given an IP Code (International Protection Marking) which refers to the level of protection the product has against various elements making their way into the housing i.e. dust and moisture. For most uses i.e. blowing a hoolie up on Helvellyn with the rain blowing in from a few different directions, IPX4 will do. This sits in the middle of the table, it’ll put up with sprayed water but not immersion.

Brightness is often the measure that most people are concerned with, how far will it illuminate and from how far can it be seen? Lumens are the most oft-quoted figure on the packaging. But there are lumens and then there are lumens, what is quoted on the packaging can sometimes just be the potential output rather than the actual generated lumens. It gets a bit technical at this point but basically, try the torch out in the shop first, don’t just follow the numbers!

20140313_191807 If you don’t plan on getting caught out but want something to see you down, there are plenty of small, lightweight options out there that can sit in your pack for when they are needed. Its tempting to sacrifice performance to save weight or money but when it comes to it and you really need it, which would you rather have, a few extra lumens and longer battery life or an extra couple of quid in your pocket and a lighter pack?

If you are going to be leaving the light in your pack indefinitely, there is a risk that the batteries may run down or even leak. Consider storing them separately or reversed in the housing (though there is the worry of then fumbling in the dark to put them back in!). Its also worth keeping a spare set of batteries in with your kit too, that way if they have run down or you’re out longer than anticipated after dark, you have a back up.

Rememeber too that rechargeable batteries will run down faster than non-rechargeable lithium batteries. If you opt for a rechargeable unit, which is undoubtedly more economical, it may not be a good idea to store it in your pack but rather take it out, allow it to run down and recharge as and when you need it. It is, of course, a little harder to carry a back up for rechargeables too.

 

So, once you’ve decided “What’s it for?” its time to think about, in no particular order:
–    Lumens
–    Distance
–    Burn time
–    Batteries
–    Rechargeable
–    Adjustability
–    Functions
–    Handheld or headtorch
–    Weight
–    Pack size
–    Comfort

So, do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light and buy a headtorch!

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