Trail Running Light Options

Posted by on May 4, 2013

One of the missing items in my ultra gear bag of tricks is a quality trail running light. I found this out the hard way at the North Face 50m in Sept. of 2012. I quickly discovered that a camping headlamp is not a realistic option for trail running. These are light but nowhere close to providing enough light to run single track trails or even fire roads in the woods with no other light available other than other runner’s headlamps. The camping headlamp is best used for road running and it only make you more visible to traffic. Luckily at the North Face race I carried along my Nite Rider MiNewt Mini. It was a last-minute decision but a good one.  The MiNewt is a mountain bike bar style light that has a rechargeable batter pack. I had no way to mount the light so I carried it in my hand. It worked pretty good for the North Face race since I only needed to have a light on for about 1.5 hours. Its battery life capacity is not enough time for a 100 mile ultra where I will be running throughout the night most likely alone. Regardless of the battery life issue, the MiNewt was a lot brighter than my camping headlight at about 300 Lumens and it did the job.

Now that I am toying with the 100 mile ultra this year or next I need a quality light that can last more than 9 hours. I would prefer something that I did not have to swap out a batter pack or batteries at each aid station. I need at a minimum of 200-300 Lumens that I can wear on my head. I don’t want to pay more than $300 for the total package. This week I started to research what options I have and I narrowed it down to 3 viable solution that might meet my needs.

The first two options look promising. These both get pretty high reviews and seem to be trail proven. Let’s take a closer look at the Petzl – Nao Reactive Headlamp and the Black Diamond Icon Headlamp. Here are the vital details of each.

Petzl Nao Black Diamond Icon Headlamp
Running Light Comparison
no light battery type max life charge time weight max lumens water proof list price
1 Black Diamond Icon 4 AA 75 hrs n/a 220 g 200 1 meter for 30 minutes (IPX 7) 79.99
2 Petzl NAO Li-Ion rechargeable battery 1 hr 20 min 3-4 wall 5-6 USB 37 g 315 30c for 30 minutes (IPX4) 174.95

After looking at the specs for both headlamp my initial vote went to the Black Diamond. It has a much lower price tag with a battery life of 75 hours. That is incredibly long. But the Lumens and battery options go to the Petzl.  Both of these lights are some of the best options here in the US at this price point but neither of them stand out for me. Petzl gets the cool factor points for it banned design. But the battery life on the Petzl just is not long enough for my needs.

After some continued searching, I found a post on some obscure message board about a newer company called Gemini Lights. Gemini is a new comers to the lighting industry and started by a 25-year-old up in Canada. People are raving about their lights and how many Lumens they offered. They offer several different models so I thought I’d check them out. To be honest, I was expecting them to be out of my price range based on the Lumens they offered.

The Gemini light that caught my eye was their Xera Light System. It was a single beam and didn’t weigh a lot. It was priced right and I was blown away by the 850 Lumens it offered at 100%. Here are the specs and a photo of the Xera compared to the Black Diamond and the Petzl.

Gemini Xera
Running Light Comparison
no light battery type max life charge time weight max lumens water proof list price
1 Black Diamond Icon 4 AA 75 hrs n/a 220 g 200 1 meter for 30 minutes (IPX 7) 79.99
2 Petzl NAO Li-Ion rechargeable battery 1 hr 20 min 3-4 wall 5-6 USB 37 g 315 30c for 30 minutes (IPX4) 174.95
3 Gemini Xera 2600mAh / 5200mAh Lithium Ion Battery 2-4 hours 3 hrs for 2 cell and 5 hours for 4 cell 52g Light Head. 122g 2-cell battery or 229g 4-cell battery ??? 850 199 + optional $30 4 cell pack

Just by looking at the battery life on max above the Xera is 2-4 hours. That is a little deceiving since the max lumens is 850. I don’t think I will ever run the light that bright or have the need to.  400 lumens is really enough for running on trails. Check these two charts for the battery life of both the 2 cell battery and the 4 cell. I would pay the extra $30 and get the 4 cell. The Xera has an extension cable that would allow me to put the battery pack in my running back and keep the head band as light as possible.

Gemini Xera 2cellGemini Xera 4cell

Running with the 4 cell battery I can get 520 lumens for more than 9 hours.That is very bright and a lot of light! The other thing I like about the Xera is that it is packaged with both a handle bar ring and a headset. I can use this on any of my bikes in addition to running. Here is a photo of what come with the Xera not including the helmet of course.

Gemini Xera LED Light Package

Based on the battery life and the lumens I can’t find a better light. Not on paper anyway. I went ahead and ordered the Xera this week. It ships from overseas so it will take a while to get here. I am expecting it at the end of next week. Once I have the Xera in hand I will post an unboxing and then follow that up with a full review and real world test on the trail at night. I will have to get some video for the final review. I am really interested to seeing how the headset fits and what 850 lumens really looks like in the woods at night.

What light do you use? Post a comments and let me know.

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8 Responses to Trail Running Light Options

  1. Erik

    Those are some interesting options. I never found anything I liked on my head. I ended up going with Knuckle lights, but they are not good enough for the trails. They are great for the road, though! If I get back into ultras and end up running overnight, I’ll definitely need to get something else, whether in addition to the KL’a or something completely different.

  2. MIke McElmeel

    I use the Black Diamond Storm $70 and the Fenix F11 hand held $30..that combination works awesome and the take AAA and AA batteries so easy to change

  3. Matt B

    I also went with a Black Diamond ReVolt and Fenix LD22 handheld combo. $60 each. They combine for a total of 330 lumen. Now I just need to hit the trails at night to try them out. Need to find your report for Then North Face 50. I am signed up for this year.

    • Ed

      Matt, I’m running again this year. Need to register but that’s the plan.

  4. Mike Place

    Hmm, interesting. Personally, I’ve never felt like more light has been all that beneficial. In fact, I often turn my BD lamp down to its lowest setting. My reasoning is that when running technical terrain, it’s not detail that you need, but contrast. With a really bright light it feels to me like I’m running in a tunnel of light and it’s tough to pick out what’s what. When I turn things down, my eyes adjust to the darkness and the contrast between the rocks and the ground becomes a little easier for me to pick out.

    • Ed

      I agree. Sometime she best contrast comes from the position you have the light as well. I hope to have a video of the testing soon.

  5. Derrick Kleiner

    I would like to hear what you thought about the Xera. You mentioned you would write a review when you got it. Hopefully it is still not in transit.

  6. Morten

    Hi Ed, thanks for the nice insite. now you have had the Gemini Xera for some time what is your experience with the light ?