As long as I can remember, I’ve been a gear hound, especially when it comes to flashlights, and Streamlight has helped slake my thirst with their assorted variety of lighting products. One of their more recent models is the Buckmaster’s PackMate.
Believe it or not, I can actually remember my third birthday when I received my first light. It was boxy, cheap plastic, and it had Spiderman on the side, but to me, it was a true treasure. I then remember getting my first “spy” penlight. I can’t remember the brand, but it was a very thin tube of metal (maybe tin) with a red clicker on top and the bulb stuck out of the bottom of the tube through an opening. That light went with me everywhere and started my love of everything “flashlight.”
But, throughout my childhood and young adult years, flashlights pretty much hit a plateau. There was only so much output you could get from them, and on a kid’s budget, it was tough to keep them powered because of the cost of batteries. From my best recollection, LED flashlights really started hitting their stride about ten years ago. Now, I’m not talking about the little button lights. I’m talking large, full-powered replacements for the standard models. And, during the past decade, there have been several pioneers in the field leading the way with higher performing, more efficient, and more durable lighting products not only for us outdoors folks, but everyone including military, police, and the spy in each of us. One of those pioneering companies that has helped set the pace for the rest of the industry is Streamlight. My first experience with Streamlight was when I picked up one of their tactical incandescent models several years back. But, when you look at their products today, it’s easy to see the hard work and progress that has been made by their designers and engineers.
It’s Deer season in a lot of places around the country and a lot of us are getting our gear together so we’ll be prepared for the big hunt, and the PackMate might be a piece that you want to throw into your kit. Recently, Streamlight teamed up with Buckmasters to produce a couple of specialty lights specifically tailored for the outdoorsman. Those are the Buckmasters PackMate and the Buckmasters Stylus Pro. Each of these lights have their own particular niche, and we received a demo unit of each one to give them a try out in the field. This review is on their PackMate model. I’ve got a real adoration for compact, powerful lights, and the PackMate fits that bill perfectly. The one that we received came in the RealTree Hardwoods Blaze finish and there is little doubt that the bright orange finish will make it much easier to spot if you happen to lay it down while you’re out in the woods.
As far as specs go, the PackMate has a C4 Premium LED assembly that gives the users a lot of options while out on the trail. First, you can use the PackMate at full power which is 125 lumens. If you don’t need that much light or want to conserve power, you can flip over to the 20 lumens setting. This setting utilizes the same bulb, but the circuitry lowers the output. Surrounding the main bulb are three Nichia Ultra-Bright Green LEDs; on the high setting for 7.5 lumens, all three of these LEDs are lit. The low setting employs only one of the green LED’s, providing 4 lumens of output instead. In total, this gives the user four lighting options depending on his or her need at the time. What I like about the PackMate’s design is how those settings are chosen. I’ve run across a few lights where you have to twist this, tap that, and dance around a couple of times to get to a particular setting. The PackMate makes the setting choice very simple.
The PackMate’s reflector is a pretty deep dish, so you end up with the stronger white spot in the middle with a substantial amount of softer spill. This isn’t adjustable, but it’s not really a problem either. Some folks are particular about their lights and would rather have a strongly focused beam without the soft halo of light. I suppose it depends on what you’re doing, but for out on the trail, I like having the periphery somewhat lit just so you can catch movement out of the corner of your eye. On the Low White setting, you’ll hardly notice the spill light since the power is cut by more than 50%.
On the side of the body, near the headlamp, there is a small rotary dial that you simply turn to get the desired setting. Each setting is marked, but it takes no time to remember where each one resides. High white is up (makes sense), Low White is to the right, Low Green is down (again makes sense) and High Green is to the left. The dial itself has ridges on it and a pronounced tab that makes it easy to turn for output selection. Once you get to each setting, there is a positive (though quiet) click as it settles into place. While you can turn the dial with the flat of your thumb, it will take a bit of practice. You have to get just the right balance of pressure and “pull” to get the knob to start turning. I found myself, more often than not, just using the thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand to change the settings. I don’t think that’s too much of an inconvenience, but there might be times you’d like to change the settings with one hand control, so you’ll have to get used to it after a little practice.
I especially like the power switch. You can activate the light temporarily if enough pressure is applied to the rubber switch, but you can also turn the light completely on by pushing in further until you feel and hear the click. There are other quality light manufacturers out there that I like, but some models will only let you turn the light on permanently by turning the bezel. This usually requires two hands and isn’t very user-friendly in my opinion. Of course, it’s a trade-off because push-button switches are easy to accidentally turn on if packed or carried improperly and something gets pushed onto the switch. But, I’ll take my chances because I like the push-button mechanism and I always carry spare batteries with me. Speaking of which, the PackMate comes with two Duracell 123 batteries in the pack to get you started. Streamlight’s claimed runtimes are 2.75 hours on High White and 15 hours on Low White.
Construction of the PackMate is top-flight. In fact, it’s as good as I’ve seen in a compact flashlight body. There are O-rings on both ends where the tail cap and head assembly are affixed providing for extreme weather resistance. The body itself feels very robust and has some heft to it. I mention that because I’ve come across metal bodies on the market that are quite thin. In fact, on some of them, the thin walls appear to me to be a cost-saving measure. That’s not the case with the PackMate, and the warranty probably says all that needs to be said. It’s a lifetime warranty. Period. Yeah, yeah, that’s all well and good, but let me expound on this point a bit. The LED lighting market is exploding right now and everyone is trying to get in on the game. Being a flashight afficionado, I’ve been going through quite a few of them just to get a feel for the large leaps that are being made with the technology. I’ve got a single AA model LED light right now that puts out more lumens than a popular tactical light does with two CR123 batteries. That’s a huge leap forward! There are lights coming out as I write this with crazy outputs of 500 lumens, 750 lumens and so on. Don’t get me wrong–I love it! But, if you look at the fine print, a lot of these products have a short warranty life. Some are 1 year and others are 5 and 10 year warranties–this is especially true for re-branded lights that are made by one company for another company to bill as their own.
While I love the vast output of light and the options on a lot of these lights, some of them are relegated to the “play” basket. When it comes to situations to having a light that’s strong, durable, and can be relied upon at all times, you want to make sure you choose your lights carefully. These times can range from hard use on the trail for the big hunt or during a self-defense situation where light is absolutely critical. Those aren’t the moments you want a cheap spring or poorly assembled board to trick out on you. For those critical times, there’s only a couple of lighting companies’ products that I’m willing to bet everything on and Streamlight is one of them. Am I likely to ever to utilize a warranty thirty years down the road because a product has a lifetime warranty on it? I doubt it. I’ll probably misplace it long before then. But, if you’ve never used a couple of lights that you’re deciding between, which do you think is going to be better built? The 1 year warranty model or the light that has a lifetime warranty? I won’t claim that it’s always going to be 100% true, but my money is going on the light with the lifetime warranty as the better built model and also after thorough testing. And, Streamlight’s got you covered on that particular point.
It’s tough to do a lot of lengthy runtime testing on lights just because of the time involved, but I did have the chance to run through a couple of sets of batteries with the PackMate. I did find that the runtime was right at Streamlight’s claims. For instance, at the high settting, I got a little past the 2.75 hour mark before the light was absolutely done, but there was light dimming along the way, especially after the first hour and fifteen minutes or so. It wasn’t a huge loss until I got near the end of the test, but admittedly, you can’t really expect the same peak level of performance from the first minute of operation to the last minute. I was more than satisfied with the efficiency of the PackMate’s runtime and performance.
So, as you’re getting your gear ready for the big hunt this fall and you find that you need a good light for those early morning arrivals or late evening depatures, you might want to take a look at the Buckmaster’s Packmate. It has the styling appropriate for hunting use, it’s built well with a nice attention to detail, and the performance is right where you would expect it to be. Given Streamlight’s product history so far, what else would you expect?