Montana at the start of winter is, to state the obvious, dark. On December 22nd we have 8 and a half hours of daylight, and by today, over a month later, we only have an hour more. Provided you can tolerate the cold and have enough interests, there is never a shortage of things to do in winter. For me, hunting season is encompassing enough that by December 1 I’m ready for a good break. And hopefully, by the middle of December, the snow has come in well enough that skiing is worthwhile. If things are still thin on the ground, skinning resort laps or fatbiking are good options. The problem is, always, daylight. The answer is to use lights and embrace being out after dark.
This December I decided that it was long past time to stop halfassing that, and after a fair amount of deliberation bought a Petzl Swift RL headlamp. I wanted something compact, light, and with enough juice for downhill skiing and biking at moderate speeds, as well as winter route finding. I did not desire or expect enough power to, for instance, ride singletrack at daylight speeds, but did want to be able to ride at casual speeds, find snowshoe trails in the dark, and ski groomers before dawn at 20-30 mph. I had some trepidation about the rechargable battery in the Swift RL, but decided that I’d rarely use the higher levels in a multiday scenario, and would this year most likely finally make the leap towards buying and bringing along a battery pack, with which I could recharge the Swift.
Over the past month the Swift has exceeded expectations. The light is bright, as advertised, but more significantly the quality of the beam (especially in reactiv mode) has been impressively utilitarian. The balance between flood and spot always seems to be ideal, and provided I select the most applicable of the 3 modes I always have the light I want. The 900 lumen high mode is perfect for pre-dawn resort laps, and more than adequate on its own for mountain biking. Combined with a good bar light I think the Swift would do well night riding singletrack, though it wouldn’t hold pace with modern bike specific lights. The low mode is as bright or brighter (effectively) than most AAA headlamps in the same weight/size class, and being able to crank things up to the middle setting has been very helpful route finding in the dark, snowy woods. Battery life has been in accordance with Petzl’s specs, even while out nordic skiing in temps approaching -20F. Charging at home is easy; I keep the micro USB cord in a plug below my gear bench, and plug it in after every outing. I look forward to testing the rechargability on longer trips as the year progresses.
Useability and detailing are good. The on button slides center to unlock, and clicks from low to medium to high to off. Holding the button for two seconds transitions from reactive lighting to standard and back again. The strap is comfy, and the tilt clicks solid and hold fast. Petzl warns against using reactive lighting for higher speed activities, least the potentially abrupt transition in light volume cause disorientation. I haven’t found this to be an issue, and as mentioned the quality of the reactive beam makes me loath to use anything else. Most importantly, the form factor of the Swift ranks it significantly above anything else anywhere close to the same lighting power. It is not much bigger or heavier (100 grams on the nose) than a Tikka, and given how well Petzl nailed the form of that original LED headlamp so long ago, having the functional equivalent with 10x the power is fantastic. It is expensive, but the way the Swift has enhanced my daily winter thus far has made it exceptional.