Headlamps were first developed primarily for mining. Most other occupations could depend on natural light for at least part of each day, but deep pit mining was always carried out far from the friendly light of the sun. For millennia, miners had carried a source of artificial light like a torch, candle or lamp into the mines. They would fasten their light-source somehow to the wall of the shaft and set to work. About 1850 or so, someone in Scotland got the brilliant idea of attaching a small oil wick lamp above the brim of a cap, and the headlamp was born.
The early oil wick headlamps were smoky, sooty and did not give much light. In the early 1900s they were largely replaced by the carbide lamp, which used a cleaner and brighter acetylene flame. The problem was that both oil wick lamps and carbide lamps used an open flame, which could ignite explosive gases like methane which collected in the mines. Several major mine explosions in the early 1900s led to the development of the electric incandescent cap lamp, which came into wide use by the mid 20th century. The electric incandescent headlamp faced competition from florescent technology beginning in the 1970s, and then LED technology beginning in the 1990s.
During this time, there were also significant developments in battery technology. Lighter batteries were able to be installed directly in the headlamp rather than carried on the miner’s belt and attached by a cord to the lamp. In subsequent years, this improving technology has trickled down to the consumer level as well.
Headlamps for Missionaries?
Our church buys birthday presents each year for all of the missionaries whom we support. For many years, I have been the designated buyer. I consider myself to be a somewhat quirky buyer. I feel especially sorry for the missionary wives (they have, for example, received pink Swiss army knives in the past). But I do my best, and always try to keep an eye out for things that the missionaries might find to be useful.
Recently, I was in a hardware store and noticed a display of Coast FL19 headlamps on an end-cap near the checkout. The FL19 looked interesting. Most of our missionaries find themselves working outdoors at night from time to time. I knew from my own experience how useful a headlamp can be in such settings.
I recently reviewed a couple of headlamps for SurvivalBlog. On April 8, 2020, I reviewed the Coast HX4, and on December 5, 2020 I reviewed the Pelican 2620 HeadsUp Lite. Both are excellent headlamps, but they each have a significant shortcoming. The shortcoming of the HX4 is insufficient battery life. The shortcoming of the 2620 is that it has no red light option to protect night vision. The FL19 looked like it might overcome both of those shortcomings. I decided to give it a closer look.
I contacted Coast and asked if I could borrow a FL19 unit for testing and evaluation. Four days later I received word that Coast had granted my request. Then another five days later, a package arrived with the sample unit enclosed.
The headlamp was sealed in an extremely durable clamshell package. It arrived with the three included Duracell AAA batteries pre-installed. A cut-out in the front of the packaging by the power switch allows potential buyers to test the light without opening the package. This is a nice feature for interested shoppers. It may not be such a nice feature for merchants if they experience careless shoppers who forget to turn the headlamp off after testing.
The color scheme on the test unit is all black with the exception of a big red power switch on the top of the lamp, and diamond-shaped reflectors on the headband.
The large power switch is easy to manipulate with gloves on. Successively pressing and releasing the power switch cycles the light from bright to low to red to off. The bright light is rated at 330 lumens for 3.25 hours. The low light is rated at 45 lumens for 17 hours. The red light is not rated.
In terms of water resistance, the FL19 is rated at IPX4. This means that it can be expected to tolerate splashing, but not immersion in water. So the user should be fine wearing the FL19 while being baptized by a Presbyterian, but not by a Baptist.
The head of the unit is hinged to allow the angle of the beam to be adjusted up and down. It comes with hard-hat clips and a lifetime warranty. Unfortunately, like so many consumer products, it is made in China.
The Dog Walk Test
My first test for every headlamp is the “Dog Walk Test”. I use the unit for a week or so as I daily walk the dog, stoke the outside wood boiler, shovel snow, and complete other outdoor tasks. This exposes the lamp to about a half hour to an hour each day of intermittent use in all kinds of weather conditions.
A Norwegian proverb describes my attitude about good dog walking weather: “There is no bad weather. Just bad clothing.” Our walks are governed by the clock and not the meteorologist. I just dress appropriately for the weather, and out we go.
A simpler proverb governs the attitude of my dog, “Tucker” about good walking weather: “There is no bad weather!” It doesn’t matter if it is a driving rainstorm, or a howling blizzard. If I ask Tucker if he wants to go for a walk, he is ready, willing and eager to go. Sometimes, if the weather is bad enough, his head, ears, and tail begin to droop a little about halfway through the walk. But five minutes after the walk, if I ask Tucker if he wants to go again, he is eager for another round.
During this first stage of testing, I was primarily interested in becoming familiar with the low light and red light settings. I was interested in the low light setting because of its long battery life. I was interested in the red light setting because it can be used without ruining night vision.
Both the bright and the low white light settings produce a nice wide flood. The red setting is more of a spot surrounded by a dimmer halo flood. I think I would have preferred a simple flood for the red setting as well, although I can understand the rationale behind focusing the dimmer red light so that it can be useful at a greater distance.
Some significant rain during the testing period confirmed that the unit is indeed nicely weather resistant. The light functioned well under cold weather conditions as well.
Adjusting the angle of the beam was easy with the hinged head of the light. The light is not heavy, and sits close to the head for a comfortable fit. It is so comfortable that I actually forgot I was wearing it a couple of times after I turned it off and began another job.
The Endurance Test
After two and a half weeks of satisfactory performance in the dog walk test without any noticeable dimming, I decided it was time to transition to the endurance test. I removed the alkaline batteries and replaced them with three freshly charged AAA Eneloop 800 mAh batteries. Then at 6:30 pm, I turned the headlamp to the low setting, and left it burning.
By 2:30 am, the light began to show some signs of dimming. At 6:00 am the light still produced a glow, but it had become dim enough to be of questionable practical value, so I terminated the test. Using rechargeable batteries on the low setting, the headlamp was able to produce at least eight hours of useful light. That is the minimum criterion I was looking for.
The Red Light Test
After recharging the Eneloop batteries, I initiated a red light endurance test. The test began at 9:28 pm. The light shone brightly throughout the night, and was still working effectively at 8:35 am the following day. By 11:00 am, the light was out. Using rechargeable batteries on the red setting, the headlamp was able to produce at least 11 hours of useful light.
Unexpected Missionary Input
I was testing the headlamp as a potential gift for our missionary men in particular. I had sent an email to those men, asking if they had any good gift ideas for their wives. (I was not enthusiastic about my own ideas). One of the missionary men spontaneously mentioned in his response that his wife would like a headlamp. This left me uncertain about whether to give them both headlamps, or whether to give her a headlamp and get him something else.
I was fully satisfied with the performance of the Coast FL19 headlamp. I plan to purchase at least one headlamp for each of our missionary families who are in a position to receive such gifts without undue complications from customs officials.
Coast tells me that if you would like to place an order with them, you can use the discount code FX25 to get 25% off. (The code is current, as of this writing.)
Coast was kind enough to provide me with a unit for testing. I tried not to allow their kindness to influence my evaluation of the FL19. I believe that I have provided an objective and accurate review of the product.