Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Petzl Actik Core and Swift RL Headlamps In Depth Review - Brighter and Lighter with Exceptional Performance

Article by Jeff Valliere

Petzl Actik Core ($70) & Swift RL ($120)
Swift RL (Left) Actik Core (Right)
Petzl continues to up their game with an all new model, the Swift RL and an improvement upon one of my favorites from last year, the Actik Core.  Both headlamps are lightweight, compact, bright, easy to recharge with micro USB cable, secure fit and reasonably priced for all that they offer.  The updated Actik Core, aside from a different color, appears the same as the previous model, but Petzl has managed to up the brightness from 350 to 450 lumens and reduce the weight by 7 grams.  The all new Swift RL, like the Actik Core, has a rechargeable battery, is just slightly larger in size and weighs 25 grams more. However, the Swift RL has better battery life and double the lumens at a whopping 900!  Add to that Reactive Lighting, a heatsink to dissipate heat and a very clever and secure strap.  

Both lamps are easily bright enough for trail running on technical trails, though of course the Swift RL is superior with the added brightness.  Choosing between the two really comes down to budget and if you are counting grams, as each are exceptionally competent for running, trail running and hiking.

Petzl Actik Core 2019 Version
75 Grams
450 Max Lumens
$69.99 Available now

We reviewed the Petzl Actik Core last year (RTR review) and it ended up being my go to headlamp, the one I carry most of the time on late Winter afternoon runs where I may get caught in the dark, or early morning outings before sunrise.  The Actik Core is ideal to bring along because it is quite light, puts off a very bright beam and is easy to keep the battery topped off with he USB rechargeable Core battery. I have smaller lighter headlamps, but output and battery life is inferior.  I also have much brighter headlamps, but weigh more and take more commitment to pack along (unappealing if you need light for only a short period of time, or bring it along just in case).

Enter the updated 2019 version that retains all of the greatness of the first version, but added 100 lumens for a total of 450 lumens, while dropping 7 grams of weight, which I presume is simply from omitting the whistle on the strap.

Brightness: 450 Lumens
Weight: 75g
Beam pattern:  Flood or Mixed
Energy:  1250 mAh CORE rechargeable battery (included)
Charging time:  3 hours
Battery compatibility:  alkaline, lithium or Ni-MH rechargeable (AAA)
Watertightness:  IPX4 (weather-resistant)

Two beam patterns (flood or mixed) and several white brightness levels.
Red lighting to preserve night vision.
Reflective headband for visibility
Ability to substitute with AAA batteries
Easy single button operation (Toggling through the light modes with the single button is easy and intuitive, even with gloves on).
Detachable/washable headband
Lock function to prevent accidental on
Helmet mounting accessories available (not included)

The updated Actik Core is an amazing headlamp.  At 75 grams, it is exceptionally light and feels inconsequential when carrying along in a pocket or running vest and is very light and comfortable when wearing on your head.  Because it is so light, there is essentially no bounce, even if the strap is somewhat relaxed. This is a sharp contrast to other headlamps I have used that weigh just slightly more, yet have a very dense construction and I have to cinch so tightly to avoid bounce, they quickly become uncomfortable and constricting.

Because I most often use this headlamp for shorter runs, I always leave it adjusted to the brightest 450 lumen light setting and am impressed by the beam which projects broad, bright and distant.  At the highest output, I get a solid 2 hours, just as specified in the chart below and once I get to, or slighter over the 2 hour mark, the light will strobe several times and then reduce to a lower light setting and last another 5 or 6 hours.  The 100 lumen setting is listed at 12 hours, which I find to be accurate and quite sufficient for hiking if you are trying your best to conserve battery (on a backpacking trip), but I find it to be too dim for running and especially technical trail running.  The lowest 6 lumen setting rated at 130 hours of burn time would really only suffice around camp or very easy trail.
My only complaint with the Actik Core, one I share with most headlamps, is that the light is a somewhat cold white, which does not make for high contrast or provide a more natural lighting hue, as is the case with the Kogalla RA lighting systems.  Though illumination of the trail and surroundings is excellent, I would love to see warmer light balance integrated with this headlamp and others.

There is also a red light mode (and strobe for emergencies) where the red light helps preserve night vision, as well as being less obtrusive and less likely to disturb tent mates when camping.
In the photos above, spotting at highest setting and projecting at about the estimated 90 meters.

The included CORE battery is a huge selling point for me.  I find it inconvenient to always be keeping up with rechargeable batteries, but I hate even more burning through normal batteries due to the expense and environmental impact.  Having the USB rechargeable battery is super convenient, topping off after every use so it is always reading to go on my next outing. I have used the previous model Actik Core and recharged countless times with no noticeable degradation in battery life over time, so expect the same here.

Overall I find the Actik Core to be an amazing value and fully featured headlamp that is ideal for shorter, routine night runs/pre dawn outing, or just keeping in the pack, just in case.  It is light, bright, comfortable to wear and very easy/convenient to charge with good battery life. For longer night runs where a brighter beam and longer battery life are paramount, one might consider the Nao+ (RTR review).

Petzl Swift RL
100 grams
900 lumens!
$119.99 Available now

Light Output:  900 lumens (ANSI-FL1 Standard)
Weight:  100 g
Technology:  Reactive Lighting or Standard Lighting
Beam Pattern:  Flood or Mixed
Energy:  2350 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable battery (included)
Charge time:  6 hours
Watertightness:  IPX4 (weather-resistant)

The Swift RL is an all new compact headlamp from Petzl, providing a whopping 900 lumens at only 100 g in weight.  With reactive lighting technology, easy micro USB rechargeable battery, battery gauge and secure headband, the Swift RL competes with the Nao+ for top tier status in the Petzl line.  The Swift RL has 150 more lumens, is nearly half the weight (factoring in the supplemental battery pack required for the Nao+) and is nearly half the price. Of course there are sacrifices if choosing the Swift RL, such as no bluetooth connection to app for custom lighting profiles and of course the battery life, where the Nao+ at brightest setting allows for 4 more hours of burn time  at 6:30 vs. 2:30 for the Swift RL, so the more appropriate light very much depends on your usage and preferences. I find the predicted burn times in the table below to be predictably accurate.

For the times at which I need a light, early morning, pre sunrise running on technical mountain terrain, or the occasional 2-3 hour night run, I find the Swift RL to be ideal.  Like the Actik Core, the Swift RL is tidy and easy to use and while slightly larger and weighing 25 grams more, I find it to be well worth the slight increase in weight for double the amount of light output and the reactive lighting option.  That said, the Actik Core is a very capable and bright light, so it depends on your usage, weight requirements and budget.

900 lumens is crazy bright and the reactive mode provides just as much light as you need, flooding in close proximity and spotting quite distant when looking far ahead.  Like the Nao+, the reactive mode is very smooth and nearly imperceptible vs. the sometimes distracting reactivity of the very first Nao.

The four photos below illustrate how bright the Swift RL is on the brightest setting.  When I compare with the Nao+ side by side, it is tough to discern the difference between 750 lumens and 900 lumens, but they both shine an impressive amount of light, probably more than one might need for most trail running scenarios, but I do like having that added brightness on tap when needed and is especially helpful when navigating in the dark.
It is hard to capture in photos, but while the output is very bright, it is not the warmest hue and does not bring out the contrast quite as well as warmer hued bulbs.  This is not a knock on Petzl, but is consistent with the majority of LED bulbs being used across manufacturers.

Operation is simple with a single button, where you simply press to turn on and cycle through the brightness settings, or long press to toggle between standard and reactive lighting.  You can also slide the button to the side to lock when you have the light in a pocket or backpack to prevent inadvertent battery drain.
Charging is super simple with a micro USB charging port.  Charge time is listed as 6 hours for a full recharge, which seems about right and is in line with my findings.  As you are charging, the light glows red, then green when done.

The Swift RL also has a handy battery level indicator.

The battery is also removable, and for $34.99 you can buy a supplemental battery as backup for longer night runs or multi day/night adventures.

Simply rotate the head unit 180 degrees to expose the battery (being sure to line up with the slight notches in the frame).

Then the battery pops out once you release the tab on either side.  This is the most difficult part, sometimes I can get it with my fingernail, but for ease I use a pen or a paperclip.

The battery pack in all its glory.

Once the battery is removed, the ingenious heatsink (radiator) is revealed.  The heatsink works as a radiator to dissipate heat, making it cooler on the head and extending battery life.

Looking down into the heatsink vent.
The strap is very easy to adjust and quite secure.  Combined with the relative light weight of the headlamp, the strap keeps the lamp stable on the head without having to over tighten.

The Swift RL may be the best headlamp I have ever used and only rivaled by the Nao+.  With the Swift RL, you sacrifice battery life and the ability to customize light settings with the Petzl app., as you can with the Nao+, but I find that I personally don’t feel the need to customize the light settings and most of my night runs are shorter than the max power burn time of the Swift RL.  If I wanted to go through the night with Swift RL, I could easily dial back the brightness and invest in an extra rechargeable battery. In choosing the Swift RL for the majority of my runs, I prefer the 85 gram weight savings over the Nao+ and the ease/simplicity of not using the supplemental battery pack on the back of the head.  Charging the Swift RL is easier day to day for me, using a micro USB cable that I always have handy and just plugging in, vs. the more specific cable required for the Nao+ and having to perform a few clicks and snaps to access the battery charge port. At 900 lumens, 100 grams, comfy strap, good battery life and easy charging, all for $119, the Swift RL is my top choice and I highly recommend it! 
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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Anonymous said...

thanks for the review, jeff.

do you use these as a supplement to the RA, or
on their own?
if you still use the RA, are there specific situations
where you choose one over the other?

ive been using the ra exclusively, and love its
warm light so i can differentiate terrain. that said,
it is kind of a whole megillah to use the thing.

Anonymous said...

I know they're not in the same league, weight wise, but any comparisons between the Reactic Plus and the new Swift RL? Great review, thanks for taking the time to type it up!

Jeff Valliere said...

I use the Kogalla RA along with a good headlamp, which default is now the Swift RL. I kind of see it as simultaneous low beam/high beam, with Kogalla providing a nice, warm illumination of relatively proximate trail ahead and the headlamp for further ahead, side to side, looking at my watch or messing with gear. Not to mention backup, if one happens to burn out.

Anonymous said...

My first review below.

I totally agree with author's opinion on Swift RL. In addition to it I would add:

I have used Swift for 2 weeks and find it extremely good. Lowest rl mode 100lm is almost as bright as BD Spot 250lm in full power mode.

Mid mode 300lm is plenty enough. Beam and flood light are combined well. Beem light doesn't have spot (as I prefer). Using this headlamp doesn't feel tunnel effect at all.

900lm mode is excellent, but for late night walks with dog in forest it isn't necessary.

Reflective head band fits good and headlamp is very comfortable on head and even during run doesn't bounce. Light tilting is smooth as it should be.

Charging is pure pleasure - it can be done easy and pretty fast compared to time waisting while taking out + charging + replacing rechargeable batteries from any other headlamp.

Swift doesn't have red light and any flashing mode. As I haven't used both with my previous headlamps so I'm not sure it's a minus. Might be it's "must have" for safety reasons while hiking or other activities.

What could be different:
- head band could not be removed (at least I have not found how to do it) to wash it;
- could be used USB C type charging port instead of micro USB B.

Other observations - while breathing it dims a little bit, but it's not annoying.

Verdict - I highly recommend it!

Spurtbom said...

So it doesn't have red light mode like the new actik core?
I also wonder if the strap is suitable to put on a helmet. For example a bike helmet or ski helmet.

Jeff Valliere said...

No red light mode, but a minor gripe, at least for me (well, it helps that I also have an Actik Core). Red light is handy at times, but I can easily live without it.

Jeff Valliere said...

Re: Helmet, it will fit a climbing helmet, so assume bike and ski helmets as well. I think much of it depends on design of the helmet, some are so smooth and have no good way to reliably secure.

Kevin Nelson said...

If you favor light backpacking trips, then a Rechargable LED Lantern might be best for you. If you enjoy heading out on the water, you might look for a waterproof lantern to ensure the safety of your equipment in any circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Question for author. I have had many headlights and the biggest problem across the board is angle retention. Most have cheesy plastic detents just strong enough to hold position, but if you bump them, they lose their setting. I am on a quest for a headlight that firmly holds angle. How firmly does the Swift RL hold its angle?

Jeff Valliere said...

I have not had any trouble with angle retention on these lamps or any other Petzls I have owned.

Stuart F said...

Waco us better swift to or nao+ ? I’m stuck between the two of them and can’t decide ! Does the nap+ have longer burn time ?

Jeff Valliere said...

The Nao+ has a longer burn time and customizable lighting profiles, but I honestly do not maximize either and much more often than not reach for the Swift RL (since my time in the dark is usually just an hour or two tops). I appreciate that the Swift RL is a bit brighter, smaller, lighter and just more simple to use and stow away when not in use. You can also purchase an extra Core rechargeable battery to use with the Swift RL if you want to extend life, or use AAA.

Anonymous said...

Hi is there any way to remove the headband for washing? I can work it out for the SWIFT.

Anonymous said...

Whoops - Cant work it out for the SWift.

Unknown said...

Does the Swift RL have the ability to charge while you are using it?

Jeff Valliere said...

Unknown, unfortunately you can't charge on the go. Would be great though if you could!

Will said...

You say the stated Burn Times are fairly accurate. I'm wondering if that's the case for the low end of the estimates or the higher end? For example, the 100 lumen setting has a huge variance in Reactive Mode from 10 to 50 hours. Is it closer to 10 hours?

Jeff Valliere said...

Hi Will, I would assume so, though have primarily recorded burn times on the brightest settings (I just never really have 50-200 hours to monitor these lights on that low setting.... :) ).

Anonymous said...

You write: "You can also purchase an extra Core rechargeable battery to use with the Swift RL if you want to extend life, or use AAA.".
Petzl Core batter or AAA batteries can be also used with the Swift RL headlamp? Is that correct?


Jeff Valliere said...

Anonymous, Oh no! Sorry, please let me know where in the article I misconfigured that sentence and I will correct.

The Actik Core, you can buy another rechargeable battery, or use AAA.

The Swift RL does not have the same versatility and you would need to buy an extra proprietary battery.

Thanks for the heads up and sorry for the confusion.