Gear Guy

Are LED headlps powerful enough for night climbing?

I starting to gear-up in preparation for climbs of Mount Baker and Mount Rainier this summer. I have an older Princeton Tec headlp that I use for backpacking, but can you recommend a good replacement? Are any of the newer LED headlps good enough to use when climbing? Kleet Renton, Washington

Two or three years ago, LED lights were pretty much used as “task lights,” illuminating small jobs such as reading or tying bootlaces. But now they’re serious candidates as all-around lights. The three LED bulbs on the Petzl Tikka ($29;, for instance, provide more than enough light for basic route finding or night hiking.

Still, they don’t quite match the light output of tried-and-true incandescent bulbs. In particular, they don’t “throw” light that well over a distance. So, if for any reason you really needed to spotlight something 30 feet away, the typical LED light is going to leave you in theBdark. So while I think an LED headlamp would be adequate for Rainier or Baker, where the summit climbs start in the pre-dawn hours (often at midnight on Rainier), you might be happier with something more traditional. Your trusty old Princeton Tec would likely work just fine. Petzl’s Zoom Zora ($30) is another compact all-around headlamp, coming with an adjustable zoom lens for any close-up work. Or, get one of the hybrid models that use LEDs for low-light tasks, then add an incandescent bulb for when you need more light. Black Diamond’s Supernova ($65; is one such model.

Have fun on those climbs. Baker in particular is a great climb, more remote and much less crowded than Rainier. Keep an eye peeled to the north for an aurora display.