I’ve touched on this in previous posts, but I feel strongly enough that it deserves its own discussion.
Headlamps are useful tools. Us humans suck at seeing in the dark, and to operate safely we sometimes need additional light. For Death Race a headlamp is critical, given that you are almost always operating away from civilization under tree cover with minimal moonlight at best. For GORUCK events they are less critical. Cities often provide adequate ambient light that, with a little adjustment, you can see well enough. If you hike, or even if you just drive at night, having a headlamp is a useful emergency tool – if you get lost and dawn is setting in, or your car breaks down away from a streetlight and you need to look under the hood.
Go to any REI or EMS and the array of options for headlamps are bewildering. I have tried many, and I always revert to the same model – the Black Diamond Storm. Why? Its bright, inexpensive, reliable, can take a beating, is waterproof, lightweight, takes easy to locate AAA batteries, and most importantly supports red light and flashing modes.
Okay, so you have your headlamp, you’re at a GORUCK Challenge and you fire it up so you can see where you are going and what you’re doing. Perfect!
Yesterday (at time of writing), the 12-mile ruck march was underway for the JAX GORUCK HCLS. Three quarters of the way in, one of the girls leading the formation was smiling, feeling strong. It was dark, but the group was rucking along the beach and for some reason most of the class turned on their headlamps. Another teammate accidentally flashed his headlamp back and forth across this girls vision which immediately triggered a minor seizure, causing her to drop to the ground instantly. This took her out of the Heavy and into the ER – thankfully she is fine and just fighting the emotions of not completing the Heavy.
This could have been easily avoided.
In my opinion, predictable land movements over open level terrain rarely require the use of headlamps. After just a few minutes, no matter how dark it is, the eyes adjust. Rucking along a beach is particularly easy to navigate as its usually easy to see lights on land, reflections off the surf and the audio clues can also help. If is really IS that dark, only the very front (and sometimes the very back) of the formation should have on lamps. People in the middle of the formation are purely lighting up the rucks of people in front of them.
Night vision takes some time to develop once lights are out, but milliseconds to destroy. I cannot count the occasions I have great night vision only to have someone ask me a question where the act of looking at me blinds me with their headlamp. For that reason, I will only don a headlamp myself if it is absolutely necessary.
Necessary occasions include for safety – usually when navigating city roads. In this instance the ambient light should be enough that the use of headlamps won’t kill night vision and won’t impact others.
Let’s look at a list of DOs and DON’Ts for headlamp use
DO use red light in preference to white
DO minimize use of headlamp unless necessary
DO try to allow 10 minutes to adjust to night vision before resorting to a headlamp
DO turn OFF headlamps or switch to red light when on a break
DO cover your lamp or direct it upwards before looking at someone to ask a question
DO put your headlamp around your neck when not in use so you don’t lose it
DO ensure you have easy access to your headlamp if its in your ruck
DON’T forget to always carry spare batteries and/or a spare headlamp. Two is one and one is none.
DON’T EVER EVER direct your headlamp directly into someone’s eyes or worse yet look around your team mates while wearing your headlamp
DO share these tips with your class in case they are less educated
Hopefully more people can become aware of proper etiquette when using their headlamps and avoid triggering a seizure in future team mates.
One of my pet peaves for sure. Great article and I’ll point it out to others that don’t understand the principles of night vision.
Beaux got on our shit for headlamps – told us it was plenty bright, that we were ruining our night vision and “giving our position away”. I have a Storm too – great light. Great article.
nice post Mark – one of your tips (keep headlamp around neck) is also a perfect place to wear it while lit – tilt the light down and you get illumination around your feet and you don’t beam anyone when you look around. I commonly use this on rescues/carryouts and teach it in classes. I only move my lamp to my head if I need more precise lighting on something I’m also looking at. I’ll even carry my lamp in a hand if I have a free one just to illuminate my feet/in front of me.
My favorite headlamp these days is the Princeton Tec Fred, for similar reasons. It’s low cost, runs on AAAs, and best of all starts in red led mode and requires intentional effort to be set to white led mode. It is my go to for backpacking and hunting.
Just went through this at Ascent this last weekend. I noticed all of the cadre were operating without headlamps while most of the team were on full bright white. Don’t get me wrong, it was dark and I was running my headlamp on low with a red lens. I fell back and doused my light and walked with the tail cadre for a few minutes and sure enough, night vision gave me plenty of light to operate on a rocky trail. Of course, at each break, those running bright white blinded us and we had to start the adaptation again, but I enjoyed it. Stars are more beautiful when you can see them!!
Hope all is well Mark.
Mark: Great article. Thank you. Hope you are recovering well. Angler