Tuesday 22 March 2016

The Fenix HL35 head torch. A real contender for group use cave illumination? Here's what we think!

In our role as Outdoor Adventure Specialists, we are regularly contacted by companies wishing to offer us "deals" on equipment. Fenix Lighting contacted us specifically with regards to a head torch which they reckoned could out perform the competition - hands down!

OK - then  send us one we said; and they did! And as a result  - here is our review of the Fenix HL35 Head Torch.

We used a recent caving day with  two clients to put the HL35 through it's paces. In photo one Alice (left) sports one of our tried & tested Petzl Pixa II torches whilst Jess (right) started the day with the HL35.

As can be seen, both head-torches have thick adjustable headbands which allow them to sit well on our caving helmets (standard climbing helmets). The HL35 comes with an additional "over the top of the head" elastic strap to stop the light sagging down if worn directly on one's head. We can see that this additional strap might well be useful in that scenario (the Pixa II doesn't have this additional strap), but in this situation,that extra strap wasn't needed.

At a glance. The fenix HL35 (the left hand head-torch in photo two) is about two thirds the size of the Pixa II weighing 150g as opposed to the Pixa II's 169g. There's not much in it in terms of weight - not that you'd notice with it on your head anyway!

The HL35's canister is constructed of anodized aircraft grade Aluminium as opposed to the Pixa II's all plastic construction. Our concern here was that the HL35 wouldn't with withstand knocks & bumps as well as the Pixa II and indeed, the HL35 is "fall rated" to 1.5 m as opposed to the Pixa II's fall rating of 2 m. However, looking beyond this, the HL35 begins to "outshine" (excuse the pun!) the Pixa II in other respects. Firstly the HL35 has an IP68 rating as opposed to the IP67 of the Pixa II. What does this mean? well, the HL35 is fully waterproof if submerged to a depth of no more than two metres. The Pixa II is waterproof to a depth of 1 metre but only for 30 minutes! On that note  - we wouldn't advise you take either cave diving but, the HL35 is the more waterproof of the two and Fenix clearly have faith in their product as they will guarantee it for 5 years against faults & defects. Petzl only offer a 3 year warranty on the Pixa II.

Both head-torches have adjustable beam angles and both take 2 x AA batteries. Now, on to performance!

The HL35 has eight different settings from two switches and two LED's. The smaller round button operates the red LED. Press once and the red LED illuminates, press this button again and the white LED is illuminated in a Morse Code SOS pattern. Pressing the button a third time enables a flashing red LED Mode. Press & hold for more than 1 second to select off.

The larger button enables the user to select from five different levels of brightness from "Moonlight Mode to high which is 200 lumens. Pressing & holding for more than 1.2 seconds selects "burst mode" which is an impressive 260 lumens with an Alkaline or NI-MH battery delivering 1.2 - 1.5 volts. However use Fenix's own 14500 Li-ion batteries and burst mode jumps to an all illuminating 450 lumens - having recently received a set of these batteries, we'll be adding an "additional" to this review soon!

By comparison, the Pixa II is a simple beast sporting a big chunky knob which rotates from off  to two brightness settings of 30 & 40 lumens on our caving units (we understand that they have recently been upgraded to provide 20 & 80 lumens respectively).

In terms of distance of illumination, the latest version of the Pixa II will now illuminate to 55 metres though that's still 35 metres short of the HL35's maximum range. Battery life with our Pixa II's at 40 lumens is stated as being around six hours whereas using the nearest comparable setting on the HL35 (70 lumens) sees the batteries last half as long again (9 hours). This appears to demonstrate that under normal use, the HL35 is almost twice as efficient as our Pixa II's!

With respect to drained batteries. The Pixa two enters reserve mode when the batteries are getting low and indicates thus with a double flash before dropping to an intensity of something less than 30 lumens but still providing a workable beam for ten hours (indeed - we have never had a Pixa II fully extinguish after entering this mode!) The HL35's beam intensity gradually reduces until once the battery reaches less than 10% capacity, the red LED illuminates to warn that battery replacement is required.

So how did the Fenix HL35 performs on one of our caving days? Well; and with no problems we would say! The unit was used for a duration of seven hours on visits to to caving systems in The Yorkshire Dales National Park. The head-torch functioned on its medium setting of 70 lumens throughout using two basic Alkaline batteries.

We visited Long Churns in the morning; and some readers may recognise this place as being the famous Cheese Press Bedding Plane crawl where Jess emerges sporting the HL35. We spent around 3 hours underground here.

After some lunch, we moved across valley to the Calf Holes/Browgill Cave system where we spent a further 3 hours underground. The HL35 was used in a demanding environment where where knocks against Limestone were all too likely, yet at the end of the day, it still looked undamaged.

What did the clients think of the HL35?  Both initially had problems getting to grips with the settings buttons as compared with that chunky switch on the Pixa II, the HL35's buttons are harder to feel/locate and we could see this presenting a real problem  for gloved fingers. However, they both commented on the warmth of the light and the way they felt it illuminated the caves features better and not just in a brighter way than the Pixa II. In the final photo from this equipment test report, the HL35 is seen lighting up the waterfall at Doctor Bannister's Washbasin in the Long Churns Cave System.

What did we think of the HL35? Well, we were in agreeance with our clients comments, otherwise we were impressed with the HL35's performance - not just in better overall efficiency/extended battery life, but also in the products versatility. Combine that with the products extended warranty compared with the Pixa II and  its competitive pricing means that we will certainly consider  adding a number of these lights to our stock of group use caving lights in the near future.

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