Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Petzl IKO Core Headlamp Review - A Light & Bright, Comfortable & Innovative Design. Petzl Comparisons

Article by Jeff Valliere

Petzl IKO Core ($89.95)

The Petzl IKO CORE is unlike any light I have seen before, with its unique AIRFIT headband, exceptionally thin and light 7 LED light panel and thin battery pack that accommodates either the CORE rechargeable battery pack or AAA batteries.  

With 500 lumens and efficient battery consumption, the IKO CORE is a great choice for those night activities with a lot of motion such as trail running and fast downhills that might otherwise cause bouncing.. which is just about impossible here.


Light Output: 500 lumens

Weight: 79 g / 275g

Beam Pattern: flood or mixed

Energy: 1250 mAh CORE rechargeable battery included

Charging time: 3 hours

Battery compatibility: alkaline, lithium or Ni-MH rechargeable

Water Resistance: IPX4 (weather resistant)

The AIRFIT headband is thin, light, comfortable and easy to adjust with a simple pull tab at the rear.  Most headlamps have a stretch nylon webbing band that absorbs sweat, but the AIRFIT headband is hydrophobic, being made of plastic and rubber, so you do not get that soaked clammy feel you sometimes find with a more traditional band.  

Security is excellent without having to over tighten and risk a headache, as I have experienced with other headlamps in the past trying to get a super snug fit to reduce bounce.

You can wear it around your neck when not needed (which I find that a bit awkward for running), although it is a nice option around camp.

The light panel with 7 LEDs provides a very effective projection of light, with great forward range on the brightest setting.  

Operation is easy with a single button to click through the 3 light brightness settings, and with a long press to lock to avoid inadvertent activation in your pack.

The battery used for the IKO CORE is the 1250 mAh CORE rechargeable battery used in the Actik CORE, but can also be substituted with AAA batteries.  The battery is light and the battery unit integrates well with the AIRFIT headband for no bounce or even notice that the battery is there.  Charging is via a micro USB port and takes roughly 3 hours to reach a full charge after being fully depleted.  Battery life is excellent, as I have observed nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes (in warm temps) at full power, after which it dims in progressive tiers for a total of 8 hours.

I do find that battery access is somewhat difficult, as popping open the battery compartment for charging takes some work.  I think it would be especially difficult replacing the batteries in the field, particularly when cold and/or wet and would prefer to see at least easier access to the micro USB port (shown below inside the back cover) for more convenient charging.

The IKO CORE includes a handy storage pouch, which is translucent and is designed to double as a camp lantern.

I find the IKO CORE to be a great light with an innovative and unique design that is effective at preventing bounce or discomfort given the AIRFIT headband and its exceptionally light weight 7 LED light panel.  The beam is broad, distant and bright, lighting a nice swath of trail or road ahead.  The range of lighting is not quite as varied as models that offer reactive technology, but is more than adequate for most circumstances.  As is the case with all Petzl lights and many other competitors, the light hue is very white.

Aside from the difficulty of accessing the battery, my only other minor reservation is the packability.  If you are starting/finishing a run in the dark, or don’t mind wearing your headlamp when it is light out, then disregard, but the majority of my runs where I need a light begin early morning, where I will start the run needing a light, then often stow in a pocket, or, I’ll run late in the day and start with my headlamp stowed in a vest or shorts pocket.  The IKO CORE is a bit large to fit in most shorts pockets and requires a bit of wrangling and strategy to fit in just the right vest pocket.  In the photo below, IKO CORE top, Actik CORE lower left and Swift RL lower right.


                         Left to right:  Swift RL, Nao+, IKO CORE, Actik CORE, Bindi

Which Petzl to choose? 

Well, it depends.

IKO CORE - For those looking for the lightest feel, barely there no bounce, with bright and broad light projection.

Nao+ (RTR Review)

For true adventuring when price is not a concern, with very long battery life and Reactive technology. At 750 lumens, the Nao+ is amazing,  has configurable light settings via a bluetooth app depending on sport/activity, as well as a bright red flashing LED on the back.  A bit on the heavy side, it  would be nice to have the extension cord to stow the battery in pack or jacket pocket, to make it lighter on the head.

Actik CORE (RTR Review)

At $10 less than the IKO CORE, the Actik has the same battery, but is easier to access and charge.  It is also 4 grams lighter and even though there is more weight at the lighting unit than for  the IKO, I have never had trouble with bounce.  The Actik has 450 lumens vs. 500, but I honestly find them to be about equal, with the Actik having a bit better spot beam.  Additionally, the Actik is light and small enough that it tucks neatly into just about any pocket.

Swift RL (RTR Review)  

A touch pricey at $120, this is the best all around light in my opinion.  At a very reasonable 100 grams and compact size, the Swift RL has reactive technology, pumps out a very impressive 900 lumens, has an great headband where I never have trouble with bounce and the 2350 mAh rechargeable battery is perfect for max brightness illumination on my shorter ~2 hour (or less) night endeavors and stows easily in run shorts pockets or vest pockets.

Bindi (RTR Review)

Tiny, relatively bright for size at 200 lumens, rechargeable and a great option to keep with you for a “just in case” light, or for urban runs when you just need a little something.  The tidy cord headband (appropriate for such small lights), allows for near unnoticeable stowing options, so there is never an excuse to be caught out without a light.

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. 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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Jeff Valliere said...


Lightning said...

500 lumens for 2.5 hours with that battery is not possible with the efficiency of of current LEDs and drivers. The most efficient LED headlamps/flashlights are at about 100 to 140 lumens/watt now. 2.5 hours at 500 lumens is 1,250 lumen-hours. Divide that by the 4.625 watt-hour battery capacity and you get 270 lumens/watt, which is fantasy for now.

At best you are seeing about 250 lumens average over 2.5 hours with a 1250 mAh 3.7 watt battery pack (4.625 Watt-hours). Petzl specs this light as running for 2:30 for MAX POWER, but that is tested using the ANSI/PLATO FL1 protocol, which times the run until it gets to 10% of the initial brightness value, so 25 lumens. A runtime graph of lumens over time would probably show this light averaging 180 to 250 lumens over 2.5 hours.

That's not to say this light is bad. 200 lumens can be enough for many running situations with a good beam pattern. It's just important to realize that you can only get so much bright light for so much time with a small battery, and to take any ANSI FL1 runtimes with a realistic view.

azer89 said...

Agree with Lightning,

Most headlamp marketing is BS, they advertise X lumens for Y hours but in reality it's X lumens for a few minutes at full battery. As the battery drains, the headlamp will get dimmer and dimmer, so if you plot the brightness into a graph, you get a decreasing function.

Not saying Petzl headlamps are a bad, actually they're very good but overpriced, and I wish they can be more honest, at least they can provide a runtime graph in their manual.

Jeff Valliere said...

Great feedback, thanks.

The 2.5 hour duration on highest setting was from my own personal test, not based on a Petzl estimate (which I usually find to be quite close in a reasonable range of temperatures). For the IKO CORE, on a full charge, I turned it on the brightest setting at 7:50am while I was working from home and to the best of my knowledge, was shining equally bright until about 10:15am, where it flashed a few times and then dimmed to the medium setting. Some time after noon (maybe ~1pm?), it flashed again and dropped to the lowest brightness. Sometime between 3:30pm and 4pm the light finally went out. Temperature was 70-75 degrees F.

I'll give it a second test to confirm.

Anonymous said...

hi jeff:

how does this compare to the kogalla ra?
i guess i mean, if you had to choose one?


Jeff Valliere said...

Anonymous, if you had to choose, Kogalla. But, Kogalla is not a headlamp and is best worn somewhere between the waist and chest. It puts out an amazingly bright, wide and full projection of warm light, but I find that the best setup is to combine with a headlamp. Even a 450-500 lumen headlamp is nice, but wow, when combined with something like the Nao+ or Swift RL (my current favorite), I can run technical trails at night just about as well as I can during the day. With this combo, I have come to embrace night running and is no longer viewed as a not so fun necessity.

Florian said...

I agree with Lightning and azer89. While you might think the headlamp doesn't dim at max brightness setting it absolutely does. Pretty much every headlamp on the market does that, some to a much more egregious degree than others to claim large lumen values. Petzl does explain that on their website (see link) but you have to know to look for it. You can also look read this article on Outdoorgearlab that goes into far more detail on that.



Paulius said...

@Jeff Valliere, so which one is your personal "go to" when you are out for a 2-3h trail run? IKO core or Swift RL?

Jeff Valliere said...

Paulius, while the IKO Core is a great and innovative little light and would easily suffice for my trail use, my night running balance and competency have always been a bit weak, so I choose more lumens and use the Swift RL most often (coupled with the Kogalla RA) as to just have the maximum amount of light and I also love the effectiveness of the Reactive technology of the Swift RL (and Nao+). The more light I have, the more confident I feel (not just footing, but maybe a bit mentally as well) and the faster I can move with less chance of tripping/stumbling or getting off balance over the technical terrain and even off trail use.