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February 19, 2009 Comments (0) Gear & Equipment

Leatherman Serac 3 Review

Leatherman Serac 3

I will go ahead and admit it.  I am already a curmudgeon about certain things.  I don’t like it when people or companies branch out too much just so they can say, "Me, too!!"  I don’t care for when singers try to do movies.  Just because they are famous doesn’t mean they can act.  The same goes for the marketplace where gun makers or flashlight companies decide they want to put out some knives.  A similar thing happened with Microsoft.   They are a software company that saw Google doing well in search and online ads, so now they’re scrambling for some of that action as well.  It is now being rumored that Dell is going into the cell phone business.  Hmpph!  I believe in what Orvill Redenbacher once said, "Do one thing and do it better than anyone else."–which is ironic since I am a jack of all trades and master of none.  These are some of the thoughts that were flashing through my head when I came across Leatherman’s Serac 3 LED flashlight.  Boy, did they prove me wrong!

Leatherman got its start twenty-five years ago, and as most outdoors people know, their claim to fame is their outstanding line of multi-tools that they have continued to fine-tune and develop over the last two and a half decades.  I am a big fan of Leatherman multi-tools.  Currently, I have three Waves (for various packs) and a Juice S2.  Just about every outdoors person knows how handy having a set of pliers laying around can be, and that was what originally drew me to the Leatherman multi-tools.  I really liked the first Leatherman that I purchased because it had the pliers that you could use for different tasks every day.  But, the one thing that I did have a gripe about was that when you used the pliers and exerted some force, the edges along the handles would really dig into your skin.  It could get a little painful after a period of time.  But, Leatherman remedied that issue by releasing an update that had rounded corners and edges so that wouldn’t happen.  Talk about really falling in love!!  I got three of their Waves to pack in my different kits!

Leatherman Serac 3 with Becker BK11 (Necker)

Leatherman still continues their process of innovation and that won the company an award for "Most Innovative American Design" at the 2008 Blade Show for their recent Skeletool design.  They are continuing with the evolution of that line this year with the upcoming release of their new Freestyle which we will be reviewing later in the spring.  But, what really stuck out for me as I perused their products, was their Serac line of LED lights–particularly the S3 model.  I started shaking my head like the little kid that said, "Say it ain’t so, Joe!"  The first thing that popped into my head, was here’s yet another company that just has to have a LED flashlight in their product line.  Luckily for me, I wasn’t so stuck in my thinking that I didn’t pick it up and give it a good look and read over its specs.  Hmmmm, this one looked promising.  I spoke to the Leatherman media rep at the show about several of their products, and we made arrangments for Woods Monkey to get a Serac 3 demo unit for this review.

Main Components of Serac 3

What got me past my immediate bias against a company not specializing in LED lights making an LED light was the aesthetics of the Serac 3.  The same design elegance and refinements found in Leatherman’s multi-tools can also be found in the Serac 3 as well.  It’s a compact, sleek, and attractive body that exudes simple sophistication.  The entire light is 3.2 inches long.  It utililizes a black, hard-anodized aluminum housing and a stainless steel bezel with ridge lines for a sure grip.  It’s only control is the recessed, push-button switch at the base of the light.  It has a lanyard hole for those wishing to use the included wrist-strap and it has a 420 series, stainless steel spring clip already affixed via a groove channel around the circumference of the body. 

Recessed On/Off Switch at base of Serac 3

What makes this light so compact is the fact that it only uses 1 CR123A battery.  Yes, you might say that’s not so novel, but with that one battery, it puts out 100 lumens of light for about an hour–essentially the same performance of a variety of lights on the market that use two CR123A batteries.  Compared to those designs, you’re not only saving size, you’re also saving money in battery costs and getting the same performance!  Even though it only has the one switch, you can still access various modes of operation via an ingenius design of the circuity within the flashlight.  Once you click the switch to its "On" mode, you can transition the light through high, medium, and low output by barely tapping the switch with your thumb.   This is a very useful feature because you may not always need 100 lumens of light to complete a particular task.  You might just want to read a map on the trail, or maybe you need just enough illumination to light up that trail.  Those two situations would have you using the low (7 lumens) or medium (43 lumens) modes, but if want to look for something at the end of the trail, just throw it into its high mode, and you’ll get the full 100 lumens.  By using the light level required for the task, you can increase the life of your battery substantially.  Leatherman specifies the runtime in the low mode as 36 hours and 4 hours for the medium mode.  That’s not bad at all for a light that’s the same size as a Bic lighter.

Cree LED Lamp From Front

For the technophiles out there, the Serac 3 uses a 3 watt Cree 7090XR-E LED to get its bright output.  Just for giggles, I decided to test the runtime of the Serac 3 in it high output mode.  Sometimes, you’ll find that manufacturer claims are a little optimistic, and it’s always good to know how your equipment is going to perform based on first-hand knowledge.  The battery I chose to use for this test is the Engergizer Lithium CR123A battery.  There are other manufacturers out there with batteries of good quality, but this is just the one I prefer to use.  After running out the battery that came with the light by trying it out and running it through its paces, I popped a new Energizer into it, hit the switch, and started the stopwatch.  While the light was running, I wrote on another article until I hit the 45 minute mark.  At that point, I started keeping an eye on the beam so I could see how long it took for a noticeable drop-off in output.  As I waited for that point, I picked up the light to see how warm the body had gotten during the test.  It was slightly warm to the touch, but not nowhere close to the temperature of some other lights I have tried recently.  This was a reassuring aspect for me, because in my mind, high heat can’t be good for such a product.

Cutaway Side View of Leatherman Serac 3

At exactly one hour, I could not discern any visible reduction in the light’s output.  I am sure that there is some sort of light metering device I could use to ascertain whether or not there has been a reduction of a few lumens over the period of an hour.  But, this was a real-world test and when you’re out in the field, the only thing that really matters is what’s recognizable by the human eye.  At the one hour mark, the Serac 3 met the manufacturer’s claims and as far as I’m concerned, anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.  But, I continued to let it run just to see how much I could light I could squeeze out of the little light on its high output mode.

Right at an hour and ten minutes, I could detect some dimming of the light.  This duration is approximately 16% better than the stated specs.  Of course, the observations were made only by my own visual observations.  But, from that point on, I could see a steady decline in the output of the light even though I left it on its high-output mode.  At one hour and twenty minutes, I could feel a significant increase in the temperature of the light’s housing, though it wasn’t uncomfortable to hold.  Not being an engineer, I couldn’t say whether that increased temperature was just an accumulation of heat over the entire 80 minutes or a result of working the battery harder as it neared the end of its life.  At 90 minutes, I flipped through the three output modes and could not tell the difference between the high output mode or the medium mode.  For all intents and purposes, the output was the same.  After the high output test, I am sure that the light would not continue to throw the medium level beam another 2.5 hours, because the first full hour and ten minutes was at the full output level.  Even so, there was still plenty of usable light left over even after running it full-blast for an hour and a half–even though the output began to drop at 70 minutes. 

At that point, I was satisfied with the Serac 3’s performance.  In fact, I was actually quite pleased with it.  It exceeded Leatherman’s runtime claim and it did so without a tremendous build-up of heat.  You really can’t ask for any more than that.  No, I didn’t run the four hour test for the medium output mode or the 36 hour test for the low level.  I didn’t have the time or patience, and based on my first test, I trust Leatherman’s specifications.  Out on the trail, this light will serve you quite well.  It is digitally regulated for consistent output at the level you have selected.  It is waterproof to 3.28 feet for continual submersion, so, let the rain come!  Because of this feature, you won’t have to worry about the advanced circuity contained in the light getting wet.  However, the one thing that you do want to be careful of when you’re in the great outdoors is not losing the Serac 3.  As handy as it is, it’s pretty small and might be easily misplaced.  So, you’ll need to figure out something to ensure that you keep it on your person.  There are different kinds of long lanyards and Gear Keepers available to assist you with this task.

Aside from all the other features I mentioned earlier, the Serac 3 comes with a 10 year warranty. For a light with this type of performance in such a compact form-factor that’s available for under $50.00 (U.S.) that’s a pretty strong warranty.  Now, it’s not the longest warranty on the market.  There are a couple of other high-end light makers that offer a lifetime warranty, but their price points are as much as 300% higher for similar performance.  There are other well-known LED light companies that offer only a 1 year warranty on similiar products in the same price range as the Leatherman Serac 3.  This, in itself, speaks volumes for the quality of the Serac 3 and Leatherman’s commitment to value and service.  Sure, Leatherman could offer you a lifetime warranty, but they aren’t charging $150.00 for the light.  For this type of knock-around, every day carry light, I’d rather save the $100.00 and buy myself another light with more modern technology ten years from now.  But, that’s just me talking…

So, yes, Leatherman has turned my head once again.  But, this time, it wasn’t one of their multi-tools that did the trick.  It was an LED light with innovative design features and great performance that got me over my hang-up about companies not staying with what they do well.  It’s obvious that the innovative thinking of the folks at Leatherman can be implemented just as easily in products other than their multi-tools.  So, I’ll acknowledge the error of my ways and give a hearty nod of approval to Leatherman’s Serac 3 LED light.  If you’re in the market for a light with great looks, performance, and value, then this one might just be the one for you!

Visit:  www.leatherman.com 

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