Serge Giachetti is an Assistant Photographer at National Geographic.
I made a resolution eight years ago, deep in the Glacier backcountry, after spending the better part of a night getting stalked by a grizzly bear with only a dim headlamp between my brother and I. Having to track those beady eyes of impending doom behind us, and light the trail ahead of us quickly and permanently, convinced me to carry a bright headlamp.
Headlamps have evolved a lot since then, perhaps most interestingly when Petzl decided to give its headlamp a brain. The Nao, meaning brain in Japanese, is smart enough to adjust its beam to the needs of its user. Look up the trail—the Nao throws a veritable searchlight. Look down, and immediate obstacles are coated in a soft, even glow. This seamless magic trick benefits both micro-route finding and technical trail running. Having one for the last few years has helped transform the ‘big scary night’, into just another chance to do fun stuff in the mountains. Plus, now I can spot animal eyes way before they are right in front of me. Yet, I still wanted a smaller lamp to better fit in a running pack, and on my head at camp.
Enter the REACTIK +—the Nao’s smaller, but smarter, younger brother, always on his smart phone. Actually, the REACTIK + has its own app for programming brightness, beam quality, and burn time via bluetooth. Say you are lost after sunset, you can program the REACTIK + to burn as bright as possible until sunrise. You can also set lighting style profiles for activities from mountaineering to trail running. Obviously, gear nerds will love this headlamp, but so will folks who just want to shred pow on a week night. But, everyone should plan on reading the instructions. The REACTIK + does a lot for having just two buttons.
I unboxed the REACTIK + in late May and promptly put it to the fire. That night I was cruising confidently down the backside of a local peak, reacting to obstacles as they emerged clear in front of me. That weekend I was in Holy Cross shivering and swearing down 2,000 feet of talus, as lightning cracked the summit we had just stood on. The REACTIK + only fed my unhealthy delusion that it’s possible to outrun a lightning storm. It instills confidence through its bright, evenly spread beam, giving you both a sense of the space around you, and the terrain ahead. Feeling nimble and in control at night can turn a potential epic into a fun and engaging challenge. Not that it’s ever a good idea to challenge the lightning gods like we did that night.
Over the next few months, I finished many sunset runs and delayed many bag dinners with the REACTIK + on my head. It was comfortable enough I’d forget to take it off on the ride home. I also wore it to bed at camp, which I wouldn’t do with the Nao. Although most of its 4 oz are front-loaded, adjusting the REACTIK +’s dual-part strap makes for a balanced and stable ride.
I had trouble connecting the REACTIK + to my phone, so I wasn’t able to give it the full geek out. That aside, after a few months of hard use, I feel confident recommending it to anyone who refuses to let the sun set the terms of their adventures. Small and light enough for just-in-case situations, but powerful enough for fast-moving endeavors, it’s a worthy quiver of one. Its rechargeable lithium ion will also save money and waste. Unfortunately its 300 lumens won’t scare away a bear, but at least you’ll have enough light to get a decent picture of one.