Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Petzl Nao RL Headlamp Review - Lighter, Less Expensive and Double the Lumens, Yes Please!!

Article by Jeff Valliere

Petzl Nao RL Headlamp ($170)

145 grams/5.1 oz.

(Battery pack 74g/2.6 oz., Head unit with straps/cable 71g/2.5oz)

1,500 Max Lumens

Available now


The Nao has been a staple for my more serious night runs for many years, valued for its good battery life, brightness and incredible reactive lighting capabilities.  

Enter the new Nao RL, which looks like the older sibling to the IKO Core, with its 9 LED bulbs positioned on a very thin and lightweight front head unit connected to a battery pack in the rear.  

Amazingly, the Nao RL has dropped 45 grams in weight from 190 grams down to 145 grams, DOUBLED light output from 750 max lumens now to an unreal 1,500 max lumens, added USB-C charging (which can double as a supplemental battery to charge your phone for example), easy on/off rear safety light (vs. adjusting with an app.), all for $30 less!!


The overall design is familiar, yet completely redesigned to be more streamlined and ergonomic.  First, the lighting head unit now contains 9 bulbs spread across a broad face, plus a light sensor for the reactive lighting.  

The head unit is exceptionally thin, light and streamlined, in contrast to the bulk, thickness and weight of the previous design.  This is especially advantageous on the run, where there is no bounce and thus I do not need to excessively cinch the cord (which in the past could sometimes result in a headache for me).

The head unit is also vented and positioned away from the head to dissipate the heat that the 9 bulbs generate.

The battery pack is redesigned to be a bit more compact and detaches from the unit more easily than before detaching from the unit with a simple press of a small lever.  

Once detached, the 3200 mAh battery can be easily charged via USB-C and conversely can be used to charge a device like a phone or inReach with the proper cable.

While I personally might not use the Nao RL battery for anything other than powering the light, I might occasionally use it for my phone when traveling (as I just so happen to have that one and only compatible USB-C to lightning cord), but of course you can find just about any other compatible cord you need online.

On the bottom of the battery pack, you have the on/off button and with a series of shorter presses, you can control the rear red light, toggling on/off then choose between steady light or to strobe mode.  

The rear light, especially on strobe, is great to have if you are anywhere near traffic in the dark, on dark bike paths, or even on mountain trails (hoping mountain lions are deterred by red strobe lights?).  Additionally you also have a battery level indicator.

Comfort and ergonomics are excellent, as the straps are very comfortable, weight is well distributed and adjustments are very quick, easy and secure.  

I hardly notice the weight of the battery and while I was sort of choosy as to when I might use previous generation Nao lights because of the added weight/bulk, I find myself grabbing the Nao RL for just about all of my pre dawn running.

Light Output:

As with most LED headlamps, the light hue is very white, but the 9 LED bulbs here put out a very broad AND distant swath of light that can best be described as stunning.  

The 3 light output levels can either be steady or reactive, where the reactive mode conserves battery by adjusting the output of the light to suit your proximity to the terrain your are looking at.  

If looking down at the ground, the output of the light reduces and broadens.  

Simply look up and off in the distance and the lighting intensifies into a massive spotlight, impressively illuminating far ahead.  Very early versions of reactive lighting could be a bit jumpy, but the Nao RL is the smoothest yet, eliminating sudden and disorienting variances in output and is instead hardly noticeable as it adjusts.

The photos below give a good representation of how well the Nao RL lights up the night.

Battery Life: 

Battery life is excellent and I have found it to be very much in line with the lighting performance specs listed below.  If running night ultras, I would recommend a spare battery if you want to use the brighter light settings, but for most night runs outside of that scenario, I find battery life to be quite ample.


The Nao RL is the best headlamp I have ever used and has taken over the mantle from my previous favorite, the Swift RL.  While not the lightest or most compact, it is still relatively very light and reasonably compact and I will now in most cases as I most often run technical trails and in the dark I will go with the little bit of extra weight in exchange for having a whopping 1,500 available max lumens and really good battery life.  

With the 9 LEDs providing a very wide swath of light, reactive lighting, light head unit that does not bounce, great comfort, weight distribution, USB-C charging, red rear light and relative value with drop in price, the Nao RL is a must have!


Petzl Nao+ (RTR Review

The RL is lighter, more comfortable with a  light, slim, no bounce head unit, has a more versatile and easy to operate USB-C battery, now with output charge functionality, easier to operate rear light, smoother reactive mode, is much brighter and is now $30 less.  I would say even if you have a Nao+, it is worth considering an upgrade.

Petzl Swift RL (RTR Review)   

The Swift RL is amazing, at just 100 grams, it is very light, bright, compact, easy to use and charge and is quite comfortable.  A case could easily be made however to spend the extra money for the Nao RL for the added brightness, better battery life, rear flashing light, versatile battery with output charge and streamlined head unit, at only 45 grams more weight overall.  I now reach for the Nao RL almost always over the Swift RL, but do like that the Swift RL can more easily tuck into a smaller shorts pocket or take up less room in a run vest.  While not as bright as the Nao RL, it is PLENTY bright for all running scenarios and is of course less expensive..

Ledlenser NEO9R (RTR Review

I like that the NEO9R has a nice warm hue, is very bright, is easily recharged, but it is notably heavier with significant battery heft/density, is not quite as bright as the Nao RL, does not have reactive lighting, is not as comfortable, nor as compact and does not have the versatility of the RL.

The Nao RL is available from Petzl now HERE with other retailers soon

Tester Profile

Jeff Valliere loves to run and explore the mountains of Colorado, the steeper and more technical the better.  He has summited all of the 14ers in the state and can be found on mountain trails daily, no matter the weather, season, conditions or whether there is daylight or not.  On the side he loves to bike and hike, often with his family, as he introduces his 11 year old daughters to the outdoors.  Jeff was born and raised in New Hampshire, but has called Colorado home for over 25 years.  He is a little over 5’9” and ~145 lbs.

Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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Jeff Valliere said...


Anonymous said...

Another great review!

I saw a early video preview where the rep said that you could plug the cord into any usb c battery bank and it would work. Do you know if this is still the case? I don't really see anything in the documentation about that function.

Jeff Valliere said...

Anon, given how the male end of the USB-C cord integrates into the rear unit that the battery clips into, I could not imagine that what you are saying would work. Possibly if you could get some sort of USB-C cable that is male on one end and female on the other you could do so, then stash the battery in a pocket and deal with a cable running down your neck (which I personally hate). You might be referencing our own video that Sam shot some time ago where it was discussed that you could use the battery to charge other devices in a pinch?

Anonymous said...

Oh thanks! So it's nowhere near long enough and would need an extension cable which does exists but would maybe screw with the waterproofing. Maybe I'll see about picking one up and fiddling around with that potential. I'll report back if I do!

Nic said...

Slightly concerned by the IPX4 rating. More than one headlamp has died on me in the rain with an IPX4 rating... would have been great to have IPX5, especially at 170 USD. Looks like a great upgrade otherwise!

J said...

I wrote Petzl support and they said you could use a different battery/powerbank for powering the Nao RL.

Could be an alternative to carry a small powerbank to charge battery+running the lamp for a full night if you dont want to spend money on a fairly expensive additional petzl battery.

Jeff: i am a bit puzzled on the expected burn time. it says 10 hours at 250 lm in RL mode and only 5 hours at 250 lm in standard. Any user experience between the two that can explain the difference? it does not seem right 'on paper'.

Anonymous said...

One of the major selling points of the old nao torches was that the large control knob made it very easy to use with winter gloves on. It's not clear from the review how the main controls work but looks like it may be a step backwards.

Neil H said...

Petzl's 'technical notice' document says the following about using an external battery pack "Use a Petzl R1 rechargeable battery. Using another external power source is possible on rare occasions, mainly in an emergency situation. In this case, full functionality of the lamp is not guaranteed (reduced performance, no REACTIVE LIGHTING®...). Use only equipment that meets USB standards."

I've got the headtorch coming tomorrow so I'm going to try it out with a usb battery pack.

Another thing to be aware of is that the spare official batteries for it aren't for sale until January 2023. I've just been trying to get hold of one and this is what Petzl are advising all stores in Europe.

Heiko said...

my 2 cents:
- An option for very long races might be to carry a powerbank to charge the battery during the day (after first night) so it is full for the second night. Not ideal but cheaper than a second and not-available-yet petzl battery

- The official runtimes with Reactive - are these minimum numbers? So 10 hours at 250lm but it could also be much more (e.g. if runner is mostly looking on the ground)?

Fabio said...

Just got this headlamp this past weekend.
So far so good. I noticed the charging time is so fast using a 20W USB-C wall adapter.
It charged from 2 bars to 5 in 1:30 hour.
I see you mentioned that RL is smoother in this model but I think my Swift RL is smoother than this.
I felt it was a little bit jumpy running yesterday on the road with cars passing by and against me.

Jeff Valliere said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Valliere said...

J, adding reactive to the mix causes some hard to measure variables (looking down more than looking up, etc....). I'll be honest that assessing battery life on these lights, despite my best efforts, is an approximation and unscientific. I don't have the time, desire or wherewithall to run through an entire night, so will charge to full and turn on in my office while I work paying attention as I can. The light will "step down" after a certain time, but is tough to catch it when it does and often is hard to decipher accurately that it has. The best I can do is run for a few hours at max burn and see if it matches Petzl specs and it is always very close, so do believe Petzls number accross the board (again, variable in the mix, including temperature I think).

Anon, sorry I didn't cover this well. It is one simple button on the bottom of the head unit and easy to operate with thin to medium gloves.

Heiko, see my comment above to J. Perhaps a better question for Petzl.

Fabio, interesting, I'll have to test side by side. I run exclusively on dark trails with no (or very little) foot traffic at the early hour, so completely different conditions than you. I'll report back.

Fabio said...

Had the chance to try yesterday night in the trail and all I can say is WOW!
This headlamp is amazing. It lit up the entire forest!

Jeff Valliere said...

Fabio, glad you like, it is legit awesome!!

Heiko said...

I am wondering why Petzl didn't optimize the runtimes/modes for full-night-runners. My assumption would be that's the target group. There is little value in having a symbolic 1500 lumen output (for 30 seconds?) in my opinion. On the other hand, there is only *one* mode (max burn time with RL) suitable for a night (10h) and it's not even clear what this means (up to 10? At least 10? i already mentioned that in another post above).

Anonymous said...

I have been testing this headtorch and I don’t see how this is a 1500 lumen headtorch, my unit is definitely not double the brightness of my Nao+ in Reactive Mode. At most it’s 900 lumen, even on very dark country lanes. Maybe mine is faulty?

Jeff Valliere said...

Anon, perhaps? I have no way of knowing for sure, other than my own perceptions, but my Nao RL is crazy bright and I believe 1,500 lumens, but keep in mind that is distributed throughout 10 bulbs vs. 1 or 2 bulbs. Maybe that makes a difference?

Anonymous said...

I ended up purchasing one and tested it with some battery banks I have lying around. It works when attached to my cheap hand warmer/battery bank but doesn't work reliably in my nicer fast charge capable battery banks. No reactive mode only standard.

Ben said...

I've just used my RL on a 50 miler this weekend in the UK it was great till it rained then the thing just flickered randomly meaning I had to go to standard mode and reduce my light output. I really don't think enough thought goes into poor conditions as it's often very misty or drizzly here early morning in the UK and the headtorch just struggles badly in reactive mode. I'm actually currently trying it with the sensor slightly tinted (covered with a dark coloured sticker) so it gives out more light but still reacts to light changes to help with battery life. I wish petzl would give their kit a proper IP rating as well, piece of mind if I dropped it in some water accidentally....