Monday, June 25, 2012

Low light headlamp use

Just a quick tip that's related to my previous post about light positioning. I recently went out for a short walk to do some much needed geocache maintenance. It was the night before the biggest full moon of the year, so there was plenty of natural light to walk by, and I didn't want to draw attention to myself, so I decided to keep a low light signature (how can I say that so it sounds less ridiculously tacticool; low light profile?), but, as noted in a recent post, I don't walk by moonlight, I learned not to. My solution was simply to leave my headlamp, the Zebralight H51Fc, on low while walking. Low is rated at a somewhat diffused 2.6lm, which is so dim compared to very bright moonlight that it's hardly even noticeable while walking, but because the light is mounted in close alignment with the eyes it will still cause reflective surfaces, such as the eyes of nocturnal animals, to stand out at 50+ feet, even without aiming the central spot at them. Of course it also allows for a high level of adaptation. This allowed me to walk by moonlight and stay safe too, and it didn't require me to walk in any awkward torch-aiming position. A simple trick, but I think it's one worth pointing out because it's easy to overlook how useful light can be even when it's not serving to illuminate in a typical fashion, and even at an output that might initially seem too dim for the environment. I don't think I'd want to rely on this in a more wildernessy area simply because skunks tend to plop themselves in the way and not turn their eyes in my direction until I'm almost on them, but it gives a comforting added awareness in more open areas without having to resort to lighting the place up.

Of course I was still carrying my 170Cn in one hand; I really don't like walking by handheld light, but just relaxedly carrying one is usually fine, as well as just a good and prudent idea. It's said that you need a torch to look for things and a headlamp to do things, and that's an apt assessment. You can do things (like walk, or work on something) with a torch, but it's awkward and often inefficient; you can look for things with a headlamp (checking out a noise in the dark, peering into dark crevices) but the fixed relative position and shadow/contrast-minimizing alignment can reduce clarity and make it difficult to put the light right where you need it. When walking, especially when keeping light low as in the example, it's ideal to have a headlamp providing the longer term "doing" lighting (monitoring for eyes, navigational light) while still keeping a big torch (let's be serious, a 170C is a very "big" light for most any normal, non-competitive use, especially when you're not blowing out your rhodopsin) immediately accessible to provide "looking" lighting (checking on eyes and sounds, responding to the unexpected). I'm preaching the obvious but, again, I think it's worth it: not enough consideration is given to the optimal and most practical use of different kinds of lights. That goes even, or perhaps especially, for lightphiles/flashaholics, who often get distracted by the hobby mentality with which they approach lighting, resulting in a "more lumens!" lighting technique, or a "torch *or* headlamp" choice based on which "camp" they fall into, as silly as that sounds. The night is its own wonderful world, and considered use of light can greatly enrich the appreciation of it.

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