Is there anything more handy than a light that you don’t have to hold while you’re doing a task with your hands? Headlamps are a staple of the outdoors. They come in all shapes and sizes, but for the most part, you have a small boxy thing strapped to your head. It’ll have a button or two, a few LEDs in both red and white, and some batteries inside. Some do a slightly better job of sucking juice out of the batteries more efficiently, leading to brighter lighting or better run time. One of the buttons usually turns the headlamp on. The second switches between modes and brightness levels.
But that second button – doesn’t it sort of defeat the purpose of hands-free lighting? If you have to take your hands off your task and fumble with a button to switch through five different brightness levels before getting back to your task, that’s not right, man.
What are we insinuating? Well, what if that same hands-free light source automatically adjusted the brightness and beam pattern to suit the task at hand? The answer is Petzl’s new Tikka RXP with their REACTIVE Lighting (their yelling, not ours) technology.
Petzl’s REACTIVE tech has been around for a few years, first appearing in their Nao headlamp. The Nao was overkill for most people – it’s rated at 575 lumens and costs $185 – but it was the first.
With the new Tikka RXP, Petzl’s REACTIVE tech is available at a slightly more reasonable price point of $99.95. Yes, it’s still twice as expensive as a comparable headlamp from Black Diamond. Whether it’s worth the premium is up to you. We’ll try to help you make the decision.
The Tikka RXP comes with three LEDs. There are two white LEDs, one spot and one flood, and one red. The white LEDs are Cree XP-E2, which aren’t the latest and greatest from Cree, but do a good job without pushing things too hard. The two LEDs gain their spot and flood attributes via the lenses in front of them. We found the red beam to be surprisingly bright, enough that it may wake someone up if you shine it in their face at night. The white beams are as bright as you want them to be, since they’re adjustable. We found the spot and flood beam patterns to be well focused.
Petzl’s strap is really very nice. It widens at the front to completely cushion the lamp against your forehead. It also splits in the back to provide adjustment and make the lamp more stable during high activity. Petzl says it’s washable and it looks like it would be, but we haven’t figured out how to get it off the housing yet.
Below, you can see the face of the Tikka RXP. The upper left lens is the red LED. The two on the right are the white Crees – spot up and flood down. And, the lower left is the photosensor.
Instead of having a case that opens to reveal the battery, the battery itself makes up the rear of the headlamp. This saves some thickness and weight and makes it easy to detach and replace the battery. The Tikka RXP comes with a rechargeable Li-ion battery rated at 1800 mAh. (that’s about the same as an iPhone). That rechargeable battery will save you up $1400 in battery costs over 350 charges. The included battery is rated to keep 70% of its capacity after 300 charge cycles. You can carry a spare Li-ion battery (costs about $29) and keep it charged separately – the charging port is on the battery, not the lamp.
You can also get a pack that houses 3 AAA batteries for about $10 if rechargeables aren’t your thing or if you’re concerned about charging and longevity on a longer trip. That said, we tried a few solar chargers on the Tikka RXP battery pack and it charged from the sun without issue. Petzl recommends at least 5 watts or 1 amp of output on a solar panel to charge the Tikka RXP. For you true worry-worts, the Tikka RXP has an hour of reserve power at 25 lumens to get you out of trouble.
I know we just made a whole speech about extra buttons on a headlamp up there, but the Tikka RXP does in fact have two of them. The top button turns the Tikka RXP on and off, switches between max power, standard, and max autonomy modes, and, if you tap it twice, will give you a boost to full brightness Hold down for two seconds to power on or off – the Tikka will tell you you’ve done it by flashing the red LED twice. The side button switches between REACTIVE mode, constant mode, and red. The buttons are tiny, but positive. You’ll have to remember where they are, but once you do, you can press them easily with gloves on.
We’ve mentioned modes a few times now – there’s a lot to absorb. The nice part is, you don’t have to learn any of this stuff. You can turn the Tikka RXP on and completely forget about all of the buttons, modes, and doodads because you don’t have to adjust the brightness. It’ll do it for you. If you’re concerned about performance and burn time, here’s a fancy chart that goes over all of the modes and how long the battery will last in each of them:
Let’s get down to brass tacks, though. There are two headlines with the Tikka RKP – REACTIVE lighting and programability. Both are pretty awesome.
Petzl REACTIVE Lighting
Petzl’s REACTIVE Lighting uses a photosensor to automatically adjust the brightness and beam pattern of the white LEDs to your situation. REACTIVE can adjust output on the Tikka RXP from 220 lumens down to 7 lumens and from a spot pattern to a wide flood. It does this by reading the amount of light being relfected back off of whatever is in front of you and adjusting to your needs. If you’re looking at a map right in front of your face, it recognizes that, dims the beam, and widens it to a flood. If you’re hiking down a trail at night or searching for the dog in the back yard, it adjusts to full brightness and incorporates both the spot and flood beam to provide as much light as possible.
Obviously, this also affects battery life. On Max Power mode, Petzl expects the battery to last 2.5 hours; max autonomy gets you at least 10 hours. One thing that’s nice about Petzl’s burn times – they give you a minimum guaranteed burn rather than the upper limit of what might happen under ideal conditions.
We found the Reactive lighting to work effectively. It quickly dims when you shine it on something close-by, but takes a bit longer to ramp back up to full brightness when you shift to a distant target. We think that discrepancy is ok – it’s more important that the light dims quickly so as not to blind you than that it brightens quickly. There is a bit of notchy-ness in the adjustment. It doesn’t seem to be a smooth ramp up from dim to bright, but rather a series of small jumps between different levels. While it’s noticeable, it’s not bothersome and doesn’t change the performance of the light.
Petzl OS Programmability – Software requirements, adjustments
The Tikka RXP is programmable. What? A programmable headlamp? Yes! You can adjust the minimum and maximum brightness. Or, you can adjust based on the run time you want. We messed around with Petzl OS to see how it worked and what you could do. We also discovered a few quirky issues.
First, Petzl OS requires the installation of Adobe Air. The Petzl OS itself seems pretty light, but Adobe Air comes with some hardware requirements that may cause issues. We tried to install it on a 2015 MacBook Air – which you would think it would like, being named Air and all – and found that Adobe Air didn’t like us. On a Mac, it requires at least a 1.83Ghz chip. On Windows, you need at least a 2.33 Ghz x86 or 1.6Ghz Atom processor.
Once we found a computer that we could install it on, we got to messing. Petzl OS allows you to adjust based on runtime or based on brightness. So, you can tell the OS you want the light to run for at least 10 hours and it will figure out how much brightness it can give you. Or, you can tell it you want MORE POWER (ht: Jeremy Clarkson) and it will tell you how much run time it can give you. You can adjust both REACTIVE and CONSTANT lighting levels within the software.
While you can only store one profile at a time on the Tikka RXP, you can store as many as you want on your computer. All you need to do to switch is plug in the Tikka, boot up the software, and click a few buttons. Petzl OS will also let you compare two of your profiles side by side. We made a profile to see how far we could push battery life in REACTIVE mode – 24 hours it seems!
The Petzl Tikka RXP is cool. REACTIVE lighting works. If you spend a lot of time working or playing outdoors, especially with gloves on or hands otherwise occupied, the premium over a non-REACTIVE headlamp is probably worth it.