A headlamp is a useful piece of kit when you need light and both hands free, whether you are camping, caving, working on your car, walking your dog, or, in my case, using it almost every day for work.
I’ve used a few different types of headlamps over the years, and for the most part inexpensive models have worked satisfactorily for once-in-a-while excursions. Recently, however, I started working for a local family owned HVAC company doing installations. Although my working conditions change daily they are usually dark, cramped, and can be dangerous, and I quickly found that the headlamp I used for casual camp chores was not going to do the job and would not survive its rigors. After a few days of frustration with a broken switch, dead batteries, and simply insufficient light, I called Surefire.
Surefire is a vendor at the Overland Expo, and I had the chance to take a look at their products at the last show. The company builds a variety of high-quality products for the military, law enforcement, and rescue teams. If Surefire lights can withstand that abuse they should be able to hold up to what I could throw at them.
When I first opened the box containing the Surefire Minimus headlamp, several things struck me. It’s bigger than some other lamps on the market, yet surprising light thanks to all-aluminum construction. After setting the strap and positioning it on my head I realized the size would not be an issue and the light weight would be a big plus. The moisture-wicking head pad was and remains comfortable to the point that you hardly realize you have it on your head.
The Minimus lamp unit can pivot a full 180 degrees within the headband, which allows you to aim light exactly where you need it. Many other lights either do not adjust or are limited to a smaller range. I found this feature extremely useful, as there are times I need to crawl into some pretty tight areas. Having a full range of adjustment is a good thing when you don't know what to expect. Usable light is obviously a priority, and the Minimus has the best of any I have used. The high-power LED and well-focused lens assembly provides a strong, broad beam of light. With many other headlamps I’ve used the light pattern is either too narrow or too diffused to be of any real use.
Surefire claims the Minimus can be adjusted with one hand. I found this to be true except for turning on the unit and setting the brightness. This is done via a dial on the end of the unit, and I need two hands to prevent the light barrel from rolling. However, the dial is robust and, unlike a conventional switch, cannot inadvertently turn on in your bag.
All but one of the four Minimus versions use a single, now-common lithium CR123A battery (the exception takes a AA). These can be expensive if purchased by the pair at a hardware store, but become quite affordable when bought online by the dozen. (They’re still uncommon in many developing countries; take spares in your carry-on—they’re not allowed loose in checked baggage.) I squeaked out a solid twelve hours of use at an estimated 75 percent brightness from the single battery in the Minimus. I found full power (Surefire’s 100-lumen rating) too bright for most up close work. I also tried slightly more expensive replacement batteries from another company, found their performance to be inferior to the Surefire branded cells. I did note that the listed run time on the Minimus seems relatively short compared to Surefire flashlights that use a single CR123. Whether this is due to a different emitter used in headlamps I don’t know.
Using the light constantly for work I found I was depleting a battery every two days on average, so I ordered Surefire’s rechargeable kit, which includes two cells and a charger (120VAC and 12V capable). I added two extra cells. Surefire says the rechargeable cell has about half the run time of the lithium cell, and I found this to be accurate. For my situation this works perfectly. With the amount of use this unit sees, the savings of the rechargeable cells will more than cover their cost.
I’ve now been using the Minimus in the field for about two months, and it’s become my go-to light for many other uses. It now stays with me in my backpack, not my tool bag. Although the batteries are a bit more expensive than your typical AA or AAA cell, the quality of light you get from the Surefire unit more than makes up for it.
- Aluminum construction shrugs off abuse.
- Comfortable headband and moisture-wicking forehead pad.
- Adjustable brightness from 1 to 100 lumens using a dial.
- 180 degree adjustment of light beam.
- Perfectly focused pattern.
- Lithium batteries cost more than alkaline cells.
- Relatively inefficient run time.
Find out more about the product at Surefire.