Last summer, I went to a garage sale. There, I found a brand new clip light for sale for two dollars. That was too good a deal to pass up, so I bought the light and put it on a shelf in my workshop. It sat there for several months. Then, one autumn evening, I needed to move some firewood after darkness fell. I looked at the various headlamps on my shelf, and decided to give the new one a try. I was very impressed. The little light cast a bright white flood of light wherever I turned my head. I could see so clearly that it was almost like working during the day. The new light, a Coast HX4, quickly became my go-to light for the vast majority of my outdoor tasks during the hours of darkness.
Hair, Head Wear, Visors and Brims
Hair is a wonderful thing. It protects the scalp from sun burn, and even helps to shed some rain (or at least makes the rain a little less cold by the time it reaches my scalp). When my wife complains about her hair turning grey or about it being difficult to style, I reply, “Just be happy that you have hair.” Not everyone is blessed with scalp hair. I miss mine.
Back when I had hair on the top of my head, if I wore a cap or hat it was usually a fashion statement. As the years passed and my hair began to thin, head wear became a matter of practical necessity rather than style. I needed something on top of my head to provide the protection that my hair was no longer supplying.
Wearing glasses made it expedient for my head wear to have some kind of visor or brim. This helped to reduce glare from the sun, and to protect my glasses from becoming speckled with rain or snow.
As a result, warm weather usually finds me wearing a baseball cap, rainy weather a broad brimmed hat, and cold weather a jeep cap or cabbie hat.
The visors and brims on my headgear provide a great place to attach a clip light. This frees up my hands, and the light points wherever I turn my head.
My Other Headlamps
My first headlamp was a jury-rigged gadget, born of necessity. I was adding some insulation to my unlighted attic, and I needed a way to see what I was doing without tying up my hands. I took a small led flashlight powered by three AAA batteries and attached it to a large plastic paper clip with bands cut from a bicycle inner tube. I then fastened the paper clip to the visor of a ball cap. It looks pretty silly, but it works surprisingly well. It works so well, in fact, that I still have it today and would consider it my second most effective head lamp.
My second headlamp was a clip light I found on sale for $4.99 at a hardware store. It works fairly well, but has two major drawbacks. The first is that it is powered by button batteries, which I don’t like to stock and which are not rechargeable. The second is that the bulk of the light projects in front of the clip and tends to get in the way.
My third headlamp attaches with a strap that holds it in the middle of my forehead. This is somewhat inconvenient, since I like to wear a cap or hat when I am outside and I cannot do that when I am wearing this headlamp.
Old Inner Tubes
As aforementioned, I used bands cut from a bicycle inner tube in the construction of my first headlamp. When I was visiting a missionary friend in Kenya a few years ago, he showed me how to connect two different sized hoses together with strips cut from old inner tubes. He mentioned that these inner tube strips are the Kenyan equivalent of duct tape: They are the go-to solution for connecting just about anything that need connecting.
My friend was preaching to the choir, because I already used old inner tubes for a host of different tasks. I used to buy bicycle inner tubes in second hand stores. Then I found out that my local bike shop will give old inner tubes to me for free. I have used bands cut from bicycle inner tubes to hold the parts of my roof rake together in storage, to keep a damaged battery compartment closed on a camera, to help keep my cell phone case from falling off my belt, and for a host of other tasks.
Advantages of the HX4
I use the HX4 most often for walking the dog and for stoking the outside wood-fired boiler. It is also handy for things like vacuuming the floor in the back of the car, painting bookshelves, or any other task where an awkward shadow needs to be driven away. My wife has used it attached to a hair clip, since she doesn’t usually wear caps with visors. The Coast HX4 is powered by two AAA batteries, which I regularly stock for use in other devices, and which I have available in rechargeable format. The bulk of the weight and shape of the light sits back on the clip, so that it does not project excessively beyond the visor of the cap to which it is attached. The light rotates, so that it can be attached to a shirt pocket, backpack strap, or other convenient object as well as a visor or brim.
The Red Light Mode
During the first 19 seconds after you turn on the HX4, if you press the power switch again, the light will change from white to red. The red light is great for seeing what is at your feet while allowing your eyes to adjust to the dark. This, in turn, allows you to use whatever ambient light is available for seeing things farther away.
The battery life of the HX4 is rated for three and a half hours of continuous use. It comes equipped with a pair of Duracell batteries. I tend to use the HX4 twice a day for about 15 minutes at a time, for a total of 30 minutes a day. With that intermittent use, the original batteries lasted me about a month.
When the original batteries ran down, I replaced them with standard Eneloop rechargeable batteries. The Eneloop batteries tended to last for about a week or so of intermittent use.
I then tried the HX4 with Eneloop Pro rechargeable batteries. They provide about a week and a half of intermittent use
As the HX4 cycles through batteries, it tends to provide three different levels of light: bright, comfortable, and dim. With the original batteries, the light was bright for about the first third of the batteries’ life, comfortable for about the second third, and dim for the last third. With the standard Eneloop batteries, the light is bright for about the first quarter of the cycle, comfortable for about half of the cycle, and dim for about a quarter of the cycle. With the Eneloop Pro batteries, the light is bright for about half of the cycle, comfortable for about one third of the cycle, and then dim for about one sixth of the cycle.
In my opinion, the most significant improvement to the HX4 would be longer battery life. I would suggest two changes to make this possible. I would suggest reducing the brightness of the light from 80 to 50 lumens, and enlarging the battery compartment to use AA rather than AAA batteries. This would significantly increase battery life with just a minimal increase in weight.
How Many Lights are Enough?
I have heard that someone once asked John D. Rockefeller how much money was enough. He is said to have replied, “Just a little bit more.” I don’t agree with that perspective, but I hear echos of it in my conversations about flashlights. My wife has often asked me, “Don’t you have enough flashlights?” I have jokingly replied, “I need just one more.” What my wife doesn’t understand is that a flashlight in a drawer at home doesn’t do me any good if I am in a car broken down by the side of the road. And a flashlight that I must hold in my hand doesn’t do much good if I need to use both hands to do something else. So I need a variety of different flashlights in a variety of different places to provide the light I need for a variety of different tasks.
All of that being said, I use some of my flashlights much more often than I use others. And I use the HX4 more than all of my other lights put together.
I did not receive any financial or other inducement from any manufacturer, vendor or supplier in return for mentioning the Coast HX4 or any other product mentioned in this article. This is a simple factual account of my own experiences: good, bad or indifferent.
JWR Adds: I also recommend the Coast HX4. One thing that was not mentioned is that in addition to the clip, they also have a magnet, or attachment. This makes them surprisingly useful automotive repair work.