When we test products at The Allrounder we like to do it properly. Anyone can take a pair of running shoes out for a light jog and tell you that they felt great, but what happens when you wear those same shoes for a marathon where you’ve put three months of effort into getting a PB? You know, when they’re tearing your feet to shreds or you have to keep stopping to adjust them.
And that’s just about comfort. What about when the product is a vital piece of safety equipment, something that you need to rely on at times where you have no other option? Then you’re going to want to know that the reviews have actually used it in a real situation, not just in the back garden for half an hour.
So when we were asked to test out the new LED Lenser head torch we decided to give it a real run for its money. Yeah sure, we could have gone for a cycle ride around the streets of London at night, not really a tough test though. No, we decided to saddle up (get in a car) and head over to Wales to see how well it did in a situation where our lives, or at least our fully functioning limbs, were pretty much on the line.
But before we go on about that we’d probably explain a bit more about the torch. We’ve been using the LED Lenser SEO for a while now. It’s an amazingly bright head torch that’s paid its way on more than one occasion. Small, light, powerful and ridiculously reliable, it’s been a necessity on various trips. The XEO19R is like the SEO’s big brother, a big brother who spends a hell of a lot of time at the gym. It has two independently controllable CREE LEDs, operating modes that vary between 10 (emergency) and 2000 lumens, a maximum beam distance of 300m, a max burn time of 400h and a bag full of clips and connectors. It’s a pretty heavy duty piece of kit. full specifications can be found here.
Cycling and running aficionados will no doubt already be aware of Coed-y-Brenin, a forest area in The Snowdonia National Park famous for its miles and miles of cycling and trail running routes. Pretty steep routes that have no artificial light after the sun has gone down. The kind of routes that, if you can’t see where you’re going, will probably end up in a fair few injuries. Especially when, like us, you’re not very good at downhill mountain biking to begin with.
But before we even attempted the potentially terrifying single track, we needed to set up the XEO19R torch. The bike edition comes with a frankly ridiculous selection of connectors and clips to attach the lamp with. We opted for the handlebar option, mainly because it was the easiest. The battery pack is a separate component to the torch which means you have a variety of options for carrying it. We used the clips to connect it under the main frame, however, depending on your bike set up you could just as easily carry it in a backpack. Especially if you decide to use the helmet connector.
We set out to reach the top of the trails whilst it was still light. An hour-long slog up some pretty steep climbs left us feeling sufficiently tired by the time we reached the highest point. By now the sun had gone down and we switched our head torches on. There was some slight fiddling with the various buttons before we finally worked out how to control the multitude of settings. There are quite a few options ranging from the various power levels, to flashing combinations. The fact that there are two bulbs also means that you can manage the light settings independently.
We set off down the first trail in a large groups, but as we twisted and turned down the route we spread out, meaning we had to rely on our own head torches. It was at this point we understood how bright it was. Trust us, when you’re heading down wet shale tracks in pitch darkness, you end up staring at the ground in front of you quite a bit. Even the slightest branch or rock in the way is cause for concern.
After a few miles of descent, some of which was pretty hairy, we emerged at the bottom of the forest. Still luckily intact. We checked the torch and battery back, both were still clamped into place with no visible movement from the various bumps and jarring on the trip down. A more than successful test to start things off. We were completely injury free.
For our second test we decided to head over to a place called as Betws-y-Coed. Known as the gateway to the Snowdonia National Park, a region of wild rocky mountains, hidden valleys, rivers, lakes and forests. And, for this specific test, a place with its fair share of underground caves and mines.
Our destination, Cwmorthin Slate Quarry, an old abandoned mine with miles of tunnels and shafts dating back well over 100 years. A place with absolutely no natural light, let alone anything artificial.
This time we had no option but to use the helmet connector. We headed over to meet our guide from Go Below – a company providing underground adventure trips – who’d be taking us through the various levels within the mine.
After a trek up a hill to the mine shaft, we put on our helmets and climbed through into the tunnels. Once inside we were faced with somewhat bleak surroundings. The shaft led us down into the lower levels of the mine where we ended up faced with a large underground lake. Stepping into a dinghy we paddled our way across to reach the internal tunnels of the mine.
The first thing we did was turn of the head torch just to see how dark the tunnels really were. Unlike being stood above ground at night, where natural light allows your eyes to adjust, deep below in a mine there isn’t. Your eyes have nothing to adjust to. It’s pretty dark. Completely dark in fact.
We played around with the various settings to see the effect of the different power options. Even the lowest standard setting allowed a fair amount of light in comparison to the non-LED ones being used by other members of the group. The full setting when used alone was substantially lighter, with the focussed beam function allowing us to see well into the distance across the other side of the lake. About 100 metres or so.
So far so good, but how would it hold up when we’d have to perform some form of intense, considerably scary, activity? We made our way further into the caverns until finally we were told to connect ourselves to a Via Ferrata leading up through an opening higher into he rock. We clipped in and clambered up the wet shale rock. Pretty easy, we thought, until we emerged from the hole and realised we were suddenly 20 feet high on a traverse. We looked down to see the floor below, something which may have been less worrying with a weaker headtorch. Still, we had no option, we climbed our way across the wall whilst trying to find suitable holds to get past a slightly tricky overhang. Oh yeah, we were wearing wellies as well.
A few more climbs, a bit of walking and an abseil meant we’d made it to the higher levels of the mine. We crept out of the darkness via the aid of a steep ventilation shaft, and stepped out into the afternoon air on top of the hill. A succesful test not only for the LED Lenser but also for wavering nerves.
We checked our helmets. Both the torch and battery pack had held strong. Although bulky looking, the weight was almost unnoticeable as we journeyed through the caverns.
So there you have it. If you want to test a product you may as well do it properly. In this case during a couple of real life, somewhat scary and very dark scenarios. We’ve tried out a number of head torches and the LED Lenser XEO19R is by far the most powerful we’ve seen whilst not being a hinderance for the kind of outdoor pursuits you’ll need it for. The extensive, almost labyrinthine, selection of accessories will mean that you’ll have no trouble attaching it to whatever floats your boat and, as far as torches go, it’s a damn nice looking piece of kit.
For more information about the LED Lenser XEO19R (bike edition) head on over to the website here.
You can also see a significantly more detailed review of the product over at Gear Selected.
Picture Credits: Charles Rodmell, Simon Freeman, Martin Cox