For a few years now, I’ve gotten quite a bit of use out of my favorite LED Headlamp. After doing quite a bit of research online, I decided on the Princeton Tec Apex. I would estimate that I’ve used it on 50-60 outings and it’s never let me down. The main problem with it, however, is its size. Because of the lamp and the power source (4 AA’s), the whole package is a little bulky. Though it’s a great headlamp to throw in a large pack, it’s not the best for lightweight hiking/backpacking and for packing in a smaller kit. If you’ve been reading our articles this year, we’ve been playing around with different kits–mainly survival kits for those times when you get stranded in the outdoors. While the little keychain micro lights are okay, there’s something to be said about the power and utility of a dedicated LED headlamp. That’s where the Princeton Tec Byte comes into the picture.
The Byte is a very light headlamp, weighing in at only 2.25 ounces. It has a single band that weaves into the loops built into the Byte’s body, and all in all, it’s very comfortable to wear. The Byte has two separate LED lamps, one red and one Maxbright LED for the main light source. The red LED is great for those times where you need to use a light for your immediate area but either want to preserve your night vision or you want to minimize the risk of being seen (if you’re doing some E&E work). There are two output levels for the Maxbright LED–high or low. The high setting offers 35 lumens of light which is plenty for personal area lighting and beating around on the trail. You’re not going to spotlight anything out ahead of you, but it’s enough light for your area. All three light functions (high, low, and red) are controlled with one push button switch. The red LED is always the first on after depressing the switch. Depress it again for the low level white light, and depress once more for the high setting. That’s as complicated as it gets!
Contributing to its light weight is the utilization of 2 AAA batteries to operate the headlamp. As you can see in the picture, battery insertion is a simple affair. Just flip open the cap on the side pop in the batteries and snap the cap shut. One thing that I’ll point out here is the lack of any water/weather proofing materials in the Byte’s construction. There is no O-ring or other seal on the battery door, and I couldn’t find any other evidence of any weatherproofing. The great thing about my Apex was its rugged and waterproof build. You’re not getting that with the Byte, but the Byte is nowhere as expensive as the Apex either. I didn’t see any weather or water rating on Princeton Tec’s website for the Byte, so I believe I’m correct in my observations.
Even so, I’ve used the Byte a number of times in light rain and snow and haven’t noticed any problems as a result. Because of its small profile, I found that I could actually wear the Byte under my low profile ball cap. The allows the brim to act as a bit of weather shield just in case. You’d think the hat brim would get in the way of the lamp, but it didn’t. Part of that was because the Byte actually tilts up and down, and most of the time, I kept the Byte tilted down at about a 45 degree angle so I could see the trail in front of me. Same goes for when I was working around camp in the dark or just sitting around and reading a book. In fact, I can’t think of many occasions where I wore the Byte with the lamp pointed straight ahead.
Burntime for the High setting is listed as 80 hours. 96 hours is the rating for the low output, and 146 hours for the red LED. I’ll be honest right now and say that I didn’t test all the setting for all these periods of time. I just checked the output of the Byte at different intervals while it was on the high setting. The first interval I check was at the 18 hour point. From there, I check it again after 48 hours, and then at 72 hours. For this particular test, I used a brand new set of Energizer AAA alkaline batteries. While I typically use lithium batteries for my electronic devices because of the storage life and longer output, I recognize most people don’t use lithiums because of the cost. I felt the alkaline cells would offer the best real world performance for most folks out there.
Sure enough, the Byte did burn a full 72 hours and then some, but there’s a disclaimer that needs to be thrown into the mix. At the 18 hour mark, the Byte threw off about the same amount of light you might find in one of the keychain type LED lights such as the Pico light or the Photon Microlight. At the 24 hour mark and beyond, there was even less light than that. At the 48 hour mark, even though there was light, it was very faint and not really usable unless you were right on top of whatever you were illuminating. So, this is where I get a little confused and perhaps annoyed at times. What’s the point of different companies listing these long burn times? I talked about this a week or two ago in another LED light review. Sure the lamp actually lights up for 80 hours, but that doesn’t tell me anything. It certainly doesn’t tell me that at hour 48 the light is very faint and hardly usable. Why is it so difficult to list more accurate and specific illumination times and levels?
For instance, why can’t a company say something like:
- First two hours 35 lumens
- Hour 3 through Hour 24— 28 lumens
- Hour 24–20 lumens
- Hour 48–5 lumens
See what I mean? It doesn’t seem to be asking too much. By the way, those aren’t actual measurements of the Byte’s performance. They’re just examples of how I think burntimes should be listed. It would give the user a better sense of what to expect out of a light’s performance, especially since most consumers don’t do long tests on the stuff they buy but would like to know how they perform if the occasion should arise. As I mentioned this in the other review, this issue isn’t with just one flashlight or headlamp company. It seems to be the industry norm and I just don’t understand it.
That little niggle aside, I actually liked the Byte quite a bit. I used it to take Jethro out for some walks in the snow at night and I used it quite a bit while doing some nighttime photography when I needed to see the camera and some of my other gear. Also, when Jethro got a bad place on his neck, I used the to Byte while doing some first aid on him and I needed both hands to be free. The other thing I like about the Byte is its compact size. After throwing some lithium AA cells into it for long term storage, I was able to pack the Byte into a small survival kit that I’ve been working on lately. Aside from the utility of the headlamp, having light is a psychological boost in survival situation and the Byte’s small size lends itself to being easily packed away and taking up little space.
If you’re looking for a compact and lightweight lighting solution for your personal area lighting needs, I’d give the Princeton Tec Byte a good look. If you do a little searching around online, you can find it for between $15.00 and $20.00. It doesn’t boast the build quality or the waterproof integrity of some of their professional and more expensive lights, but it’ll do the trick for about 90% of us regular folks!