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Outdoor Retailer Summer 2008 #3

My report on Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008 continues (click here for the previous installment):

Spotlight on the Spotlight

Spolight Rechargeable LED FlashlightThe “Spotlight,” distributed in the U.S. by Essential Gear, is a rechargeable LED flashlight with a unique charging mode. It is designed to recharge by slipping into the 12-volt power outlet/cigarette lighter receptacle in your vehicle. The trick is that internal regulation ensures that the nickel-metal hydride battery doesn’t overcharge from being left in the power source. That’s death for Ni-MH batteries and a potential Achilles heel for any such concept. Building the regulation circuitry into the flashlight was the key innovation.

Having a fully-charged flashlight always available and conveniently at hand in the vehicle addresses the flashlight-as-storage-for-dead-batteries syndrome that’s common for the typical flashlight in the glove box.

Inserted into the outlet, only the head is visible. It glows dimly red while charging. You can simply leave it there until needed. The anodized 6061 aluminum body, available in 10 colors, is 2 inches long by 0.875 inch diameter at the head, 0.81 inch body diameter. Weight is 1.6 oz.

The switch is a rotary head switch with a very noticeable detent for Off and On. The 0.5-watt 5mm LED produces a tightly focus beam claimed to shine 90 feet and is protected by a toughened glass lens and the light is submersible to IPX7 standards, 1 meter for 30 minutes. Run time is given as 120 minutes with charging time from a totally drained batter of 7 hours. MSRP is $19.95

Various accessories will be available including a neck lanyard, “Super Socket” adapter to allow continued access to the power outlet while charging the Spotlight, a “Fender Friend” with a flexible neck and magnetic base for roadside repairs and a 120V wall-outlet adapter

Leatherman’s Getting Serious About Lights

Leatherman had previously dipped it’s proverbial toe into the LED flashlight waters with combo packs of some of their tools and a pretty generic key-chain light and then a branded 3 x AAA-cell LED light exclusively for Costco (the Monarch 500), but at OR they debuted their new Serac line of pocket-sized LED flashlights, a far more serious and much better effort.

Leatherman Serac FlashlightsWhile these are again made overseas, they represent Leatherman originated design and engineering concepts and a higher build quality of the sort that we expect from a Leatherman product. Their stated aim was to provide a higher value for the consumer in each size and illumination power.

Common to all three lights are Type III hard anodized 6061 T6 aluminum bodies, tail-switches, gold-plated contacts, single battery regulated power and a 10-year limited warranty. The switches require a noticeable amount of pressure to get them to “click” and there is no momentary ON, reducing the potential for inadvertent activation and battery depletion. Flats are machined around the bodies for a better grip. All the lights are rated as waterproof to 3.28 ft (1 m), though the literature did not give a time period.

The Serac S1 and S2 are both single AAA-cell lights with a common body and non-recessed tail switch. The S1 has a Nichia 5mm GS-K1 LED recessed into a conical aluminum bezel “reflector” opening and providing 6 lumens output. Battery life is listed at 11 hours with the provided alkaline battery.

Leatherman Serac FlashlightsThe S2 features a 3-watt Cree XR-E LED with two illumination levels, 4 and 35 lumens. It is seated into a stippled reflector inside a stainless bezel. A toughened and double anti-reflective coated lens protects the LED. Once switched ON, the S2 alternates between the low and high settings by tapping the tailcap switch lightly. When initially turned on, it will provide the alternative illumination level to what was last used. So, if you were using low, it turns on next at the high level, which I found disconcerting. I’d prefer to see it always turn on at the low level since it’s so quick and easy to switch to high. You often don’t need the high level of illumination and there are many times when it can be counterproductive, even if on just briefly. It’s not a terribly serious issue, but I did find it annoying.

Battery life is rated at 10.5 hours on low and 45 minutes on high. The latter isn’t too surprising given the minimal capacity of the alkaline AAA-cell. They don’t provide any specs for a lithium AAA-cell. That would provide more power density and better cold-weather performance, as well as saving 3.9 grams (0.14 oz).

The S1 and S2 are 3.23 inches (8.2 cm) and 3.48 inches (8.84 cm) long, respectively, and 0.56 (1.42 cm) in diameter. They weigh in at 1 and 1.1 oz. (28.3 and 31.2 g), respectively. A stainless, reversible split arrow clip and a removable split ring (for keychain carry) provide lots of carry options. MSRP is $25 and $50, respectively.

Leatherman Serac S3 ClipThe S3 is powered by a 123A 3-volt lithium cell. The 3-watt Cree XR-E LED provides three illumination levels, 7, 43 and 100 lumens, which are accessed the same as in the S2, by tapping the tailcap switch in sequence. Like the S2, the S3 turns ON at the next level of brightness in the sequence. If you were at low, you get medium, at medium you get high and at high you get low. The recessed tailcap switch, which I prefer, adds to the protection against inadvertent activation. Not quite as good as a lock-out tail cap, but a big improvement.

I liked the reversible wire clip which is held securely in a groove machined into the body, one at each end. As with the S2, the S3 has a stainless steel bezel, stippled reflector and toughened and double anti-reflective coated lens.

Length of the S3 is 3.2 inches (8.13 cm) with a diameter of 0.9 inch (2.29 cm). Weight is 2.6 oz. (73.7 g). Battery life is rated at 36 hours (low), 4 hours (medium) and 1 hour (high). MSRP is $70.

All in all, an impressive first effort by Leatherman as they make a serious push into the LED flashlight market.

Cord Lock Light

Cord Lock LightA new company, Black Crater, introduced their unique Cord Lock Light. That’s pretty much as accurate a description as you could come up with. They have integrated a white 3mm LED into a cord lock. Their tag line, “where you need it, when you need it,” succinctly makes their point. Cord locks are pretty much ubiquitous on all sorts of outdoor gear and outerwear. Power is provided by a pair of CR1220 lithium coin cells.

A rubberized switch is recessed into the side of the plastic body. Two levels of illumination are provided, plus a flashing mode. It is claimed to be “water-resistant.” All in all, a nice enough package. Though they necessarily have to add in some bulk compared to a simple cord lock, it’s still small enough and light enough that this doesn’t appear like it will be a problem in most cases.

With a $10 MSRP, the Cord Lock Light will likely be a big hit, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it installed in a number of OEM applications on packs and sleeping bags and the like. However, the more I thought about it, I have to admit, the less generally useful I found the concept, even if it was a great concept.

Cord Lock LightNot that having a light always handy on your equipment is ever a bad thing; that’s why many of us have compact keychain-sized lights clipped all over our gear, on zipper pulls and the like. However, generally you need to be able to take the flashlight and move it to where you need light. That’s going to be hard to do when it’s tied to the cords of wherever you have installed it. You can’t so easily unclip it, as you can with typical a small flashlight.

It may be all well and good to have it installed on a sleeping bag hood, as an example they illustrate, and it may allow you to light up the shelter a bit to find and grab something or other inside, but it can’t easily and quickly go out with you to water the forest like a dedicated flashlight or headlamp can. One of their illustrations shows it being used to read a map, but tellingly, it’s not connected to any cords.

So, my conclusion is that it’s still a great idea and appears to be a good implementation for a start, but I don’t think in its current iteration that it’ll replace anyone’s flashlights.

See more gear in the next installment