I’m not going to tell you how to dress for a day hike, as everyone has their own preferences: high-top hiking boots, running shoes, shorts, pants, whatever. I am, however, going to insist that you always—and I mean always—bring a headlamp whenever you head into the woods.
Why? Because, as my good friend Richard Bothwell once said, “You never hear the story about the people who went for a day hike, had headlamps, were delayed, and used the lamps to hike to safety. That’s boring.” But, he points out, you constantly hear humdingers about someone twisting an ankle, getting stuck overnight without a headlamp, and having to ration out their last M&Ms.
To ensure I always have a headlamp with me, I use the cluster-bomb method. That means I leave headlamps in every pack I take out—my daypack, backpacking pack, backcountry ski pack, rafting duffel, etc. I always have a couple in my car, too. I once pulled four headlamps out of my wife’s glove compartment while frantically searching for a bottle opener.
Over the years, I’ve used and tested a lot of clever designs. But the one that I always return to is my four-year-old Petzl e+Lite. It’s a perennial favorite because the damn thing is so small. About the size of a GMO grape from Costco, the e+Lite weights 27 grams, or just shy of one ounce, and almost literally disappears in my pack. Because it’s so small, the e+Lite only packs 50 lumens, which is not enough for a night run—something I found out after tripping and falling on roots while helping a buddy train for a 100-mile race—but it’s plenty of power to get you down the trail or skin track if things go sour during the day. It’s also plenty to get around a campsite, to cook by, or for any other slower-moving task.
The current e+Lite has a normal headband, but my beloved old model has a retractable drawstring cord that’s about as thin as dental floss. It looks painful, but I’ve been able to wear the cord for hours, straight on my head or over a hat. It’s also easy to attach to my wrist or my backpack shoulder strap, which lowers the light and doesn’t blind people when you’re in a group.
You’d think such a tiny item would be pretty much featureless, but somehow Petzl packs in some smart designs. You get five different light modes—two different beams, a pulse mode, a red light, and a red pulse—and the toggle switch is easy to use with gloves on. There’s also a lock for the off position, so it never turns on accidentally in my bag. The battery can be stored inside for up to a decade, and the current model is waterproof down to more than three feet.
Finally, at just $30, I often think about buying a second e+Lite, just to expand the reach of my cluster bomb. It’s a piece of gear that provides a lot of peace of mind for less money than a dinner out and less weight than pretty much anything else I pack along. Get a couple, just to be safe.