Alpkit Gamma

As the nights continue to draw in (until tomorrow when it will finally start getting lighter again (I wonder when we’ll notice that happening), (if of course the Mayan’s were wrong, and tomorrow is not the last day of the world (though, if it is then why are you wasting time reading this?)) unless you enjoy the luxury of running in your lunch break, or enjoy the tedium of running in a well lit town, then it is time to get out in the dark and run.

However, despite the proliferation of black running garments on the market, it is advisable that you do all that you can to see and, perhaps more importantly, be seen. Many items do have little flashes of reflective stuff stuck to them – though I have found that with wear (as I tend to do with my running clothes) these little flashes can often rub off in time. In addition to this built in safety feature I purchased a reflective bib off of t’interweb for a couple of sheckels that does a great job of being bright yellow and incorporates a couple of thick strips of reflective stuff.

That pretty much covers my ‘being seen’ bit. And on the whole, people at work who drive past me on the way home, have so far intimated that they saw me perfectly well, and have not yet hit me. Which is nice.

But as for seeing, now that is where light plays a part. There are a huge range of head-torches on the market today, of massively varying quality. Last winter I purchased a cheap and cheerful device to light up my runs around the tiny market town where I lived as there were no street lights. If memory serves me well it cost about £13 with delivery, and had 5 LEDs. The button on the top allowed to switch between using three or five of these LEDs depending ono the brightness needed. I say brightness, but as it turned out, the torch merely allowed for slightly less blackness in the world. It certainly served a purpose of ensuring that I was seen by others, it did not do much to ensure I could see more than a couple of feet infront of me.

You can of course spend a lot of money on a head torch, and for about £250 you can purchase a petzl ultra headlamp.

350 Lumens, £250
350 Lumens, £250

A very popular purchase, and frequent winner of running magazine ‘top torch’ prizes is another petzl offering, the tikka.

60 Lumens, £50
60 Lumens, £50

A recent addition to the market is the insanely clever Nao, again from Petzl, which is programmable on your computer, and recharges via USB. The light bulb is auto dimming depending on light conditions and so provides anywhere between 88-355 Lumens of lighty goodness. Even better, is that it is pretty space-agey looking!

88-355 Lumens, £140
88-355 Lumens, £140

But the little beauty I have makes all these just seem a little expensive. The Gamma, from Alpkit, is a tremendous piece of kit that cost a measly £15 in comparison. The Thunder Run team purchased a bunch of these in the summer for the night running sections of the challenge. For the price I really wasn’t expecting much at all given the previously useless experience of a cheapy head torch. The Gamma is simply worlds away from the torch that was in the same price bracket.

80 Lumens, £15
80 Lumens, £15
Comfortable all round fit
Comfortable all round fit

Unlike my first torch, and something like the Tikka, this torch uses three AAA batteries that are held in the pack housed on the back of the head. Keeping them here means that the light unit up can remain small and light, and evens out the weight around the head strap. It also means that at the back of the unit there is a small LED strip which either provides a constant or flashing red light so you can be seen from behind.

Up front, there are 4 LEDs. the big one is a 1W LED which provides the full 80 Lumen light coverage. It also has a second, weaker, battery saving mode, or the option to flash. Above this main beam are 3x 5mm LED lights which provide enough light to work under. The first is a white LED which just offers less brightness than the main beam. I can’t light a trail run with this LED, but I use it in the slightly more built up areas where I don’t need full-beam, but it means that I can be seen.

The LEDs
The LEDs

The next light is a green LED. So far I have not had much call for this one, but apparently this is brilliant for map reading as it will help the contours pop straight out of the map. The final LED is red, and this one is ideal for preserving night vision. Just don’t use it for map reading as all the hill contours will disappear.

What, a, goon
What, a, goon

£/Lumen

  • Petzl Ultra – 71.4p per Lumen
  • Petzl Nao – 40p-£1.75 per Lumen
  • Petzl Tikka – 83.3p per Lumen
  • Alpkit Gamma – 18.8p per Lumen

To sum up this amazing running headtorch review (the headtorch, not my review), for the price I am not sure that a better headtorch exists. OK, so I can’t program it with my computer, or recharge the batteries, but that said, since buying it in the summer I have only replaced those once. This head torch is nice and light, it is comfortable on the head for at least a couple of hours, and…. it’s blue cammo. Not sure I’ve ever found a surface in which I am camouflaged though. It is bright enough to keep running through twisty turny trail stuff, and the orange button on the top makes use easy. Most importantly, it is intuitive to use, and generally just brilliant. On a sour note though, it looks like they’ve sold out and aren’t restocking until the new year. I highly advise you to get one once back in stock.

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