Philip Rykwalder wrote an excellent review on caver headlamps on his blog post for Cave Now (http://cavenow.com/?p=1401). I’d like to invite you to read this before you read my post here. I’ll wait…..
You Get What You Pay For
Philip does cover a wide range of lamps in his article. The high end ones are generally for cavers who do cave a lot. Yes they are expensive, but they do last. In the long run they are not that much more expensive than other cheaper lights by the time you start replacing them. There is this notion that light is important while in the cave. It is considered necessary life support of equipment. If it fails you have a big problem. Reliability is very important. You do want a light that will not fail for the duration of your trip. You want to be able to see well for the whole of the trip.
What Can You Afford to Pay For?
If you are a first time caver or supplying a dozen lights to a youth group for a trip are you going to be able or willing to spend this kind of money? Maybe not. The mid range lights are good for this purpose. Youth Groups will be going in mostly easier caves for shorter duration trips than the avid caver. You may not need 10 hours of dependable light. But don’t go too cheap.
A cheap light will have inherited problems because of it’s construction and design. Lower lumens means that maybe it’s good for watching where your feet and hands go, but much more than 20 feet and you’ll have difficulty seeing things. If you’re in a room that’s 50 feet across and just as high, you will not be able to see your route out of that room. Poor design may not reflect a wide enough beam to see what’s ahead of you, at your feet and sides at the same time. This tunnel vision effect is disturbing and promotes claustrophobia while performing tasks like climbing a large breakdown. The housing and electronics may not endure the harsh cave environment. If you bang it on a wall or ceiling is it going to break or hold up? If you accidently get dunked is it going to short out and die while you’re climbing back up a muddy slope?
Yes you may only want something for your first 3 hour caving trip, but that light could make the difference between an exciting adventure and a miserable experience.
If you are a youth group leader, don’t risk your kids welfare on a $15 convenience store flashlight. If you can't buy then borrow or rent at least a mid range headlamp. If your Grotto is buying a stash of lights for beginners or youth groups, buy lights that you are not going to have to replace every other trip.
And remember to always carry at least 3 independent sources of light with at lease one mounted to your helmet. With any one of these three light sources you should be able to see enough to exit the cave.
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“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but well placed footsteps, kill nothing but time.” – cavers’ creed