BioLite knows how to do one thing really well: designing products that stand out. Since BioLite’s slick-looking, wood-burning, phone-charging CampStove hit the market in 2012, every product the company has put out—from its techy grills to its techy lighting and charging systems—has had the Apple-esque combination of form, function, and millennial appeal that has made its products hard to ignore.
So it wasn’t all that surprising that the company’s first headlamp was different in a number of ways from your average headlamp. More like a headband with a slim light buried in the forehead, the new headlamp—aptly named, the HeadLamp—is a fair bit sleeker and more comfortable than your average luminescent elastic strap. More like second skin than a strap, the fabric holds a slim light housing that doesn’t jostle our bounce when running. It’s easy to forget it’s there. BioLite figured out a way to bury the electric line into the fabric itself to maintain a slick look. It’s lightweight (2.4 oz), cheap ($50) and puts out an impressively bright and gradient dimmable light, with flood, spot, flood/spot, red, and strobe settings.
It’s not the brightest light on the trail, but trail running downhill on a technical trail after dusk, I felt like I had just about all the light I needed. The slim light doesn’t bounce around on your forehead, which is essential for a running light. It’s also easy to rotate the light down towards your feet when needed—the slim light swings out from its housing on a tiny hinge.
While I was happy overall with the HeadLamp, there were a few annoying ways it comes up short.
First, while the company take pains to point out how the light—being so slim and low-profile—doesn’t bounce around on your forehead. What they don’t mention is the not-so-slim, not-so-low-profile battery housing bouncing around on the back of your head. A lot of headlamps put the battery on the forehead, where the weight causes the light to bounce. Those that balance the weight with the battery on the back of the head typically include a strap that goes over the top of the head to keep the light from slipping down, especially headlamps built for runners. Not so with the BioLite.
The other big problem is the slipperiness of the band itself. The fabric is slick, almost slippery, and so if you are, say, running downhill, the light slips down on the back of your head and down towards your eyes. You have to tighten it beyond what’s comfortable to have it stay put. Not good. And while navigating the light settings and dimmer with one button is fairly intuitive, that button is so small it’s hard to find—and good luck if you’re wearing gloves.
The HeadLamp is a great idea, and it’s nice to see some energy going into fixing the classic problems of headlamps—especially on-forehead comfort, bouncy lights. And while the BioLite HeadLamp is a step forward in design, it has its quirks that will keep it in my backup drawer to other lights except for casual car camping, bike trips and front country fun.