Original article from Extreme Lights…

The adventure racer is a special breed of outdoor enthusiast, with exceptionally demanding requirements on their gear.  The ideal headlamp should be light weight, very bright, durable and reliable, with run-times that last multiple nights. Sadly these requirements  are mutually exclusive. The good news is that as technologies improve, it is possible to get a light that is better suited for the demanding adventure racer.

When an aspiring adventure racer considers a light they would prioritize their requirements as follows: first is waterproofing, ruggedness and reliability, second is runtime and then only then is the light output.  This article will discuss and summarise the current state of technology.

Light Emitters

The first headlamps used incandescent (krypton, halogen-type) bulbs, which was soon replaced with the HID (High Intensity Discharge) types.  They were able to produce about 2%-3.5%(1) of radiated energy, which equates to 13 – 24 lumen per watt.

In recent years the LED has come to dominate the mobile lighting market for two good reasons:

  1. Today’s LED can convert 22%(1) of the energy to light which is equal to over 150 lumen per watt.
  2. Unlike incandescent filament lamps, LEDs are practically impervious to vibration.

Battery TechnologyIn the past headlamps used to be powered with Alkaline,  Lead-Acid, NiCd and NiMH. They all have various benefits, but due to the high demand for the mobile market, a new contender has emerged: the Lithium base battery. The first were not much better than Alkaline long-life, but today Lithium cells have a incredible amount power.


Battery Type Wh/kg Wh/liter
Lead-acid 41 100
Alkaline 110 320
Lithium(2)(3) 297 560
NiMH 95 300
NiCad 39 140
Lithium-ion (Low grade) 128 230
Lithium-ion Panisonic 18650B (4) 260 739

When it comes to energy per weight (Watt Hour / kg) there are two contenders: the Primary Lithium and the new Secondary Li-ion(Lithium-ion) batteries packs. Primary batteries cannot recharge, where secondary batteries can.

The Lithium batteries should not be confused  with li-ion batteries.  Lithium are not rechargeable but do come in the standard AA and AAA sizes. On the other hand, li-ion batteries are rechargeable, but do not come in the standard battery sizes. The reason for this is that li-ion’s have a cell voltage of 3.6V and if installed into devices that are designed for 1.5V will result in permanent damage.


Temperature sensitivity

Temperature sensitivity is one area that adventure racers set themselves apart, as all their gear needs to be insensitive to temperature.

LED’s ability to produce light improves as the temperatures drops below zero degrees, and therefore is an ideal choice.

Both Lithium and Lithium-ion batteries exhibit good temperature sensitivity response, although there is a common misconception that Li-ion’s have a very small temperature sensitivity range. This misconception results from Li-polymer, found in your cellphone, which cannot tolerate temperatures below 0 Deg C.  Li-ion range actually extends from -20 Deg C and up to 60 deg C.

The primary Lithium’s are quite exceptional in this area, having a temperature range of -40C to +60C and only a 10% reduction in capacity at 0 deg C., compared to the Li-ion which has a range of -20 Deg C to 60 Deg and reduction in 33% in capacity at 0 Deg C. This is still significantly better than other chemistries, and it is clear why Arctic explorers would prefer the Primary Lithium over others chemistries.


Price considerationIf price was not a factor then the Primary Lithium would win, however at a price tag of over R20 per cell the running cost would amount to a very large number over a span of a year. With normal training times, a high power headlamp will easily deplete a set in 8h – 12h. Compare that to Li-ion, which can be recharged between 500-1000 times, and the few advantages that AA lithium batteries have quickly become negated.


Light design and configurationAn adventure racer needs light to read maps, find beacons and see where they are going. They also need to be able to travel fast over rough terrain by running, cycling, canoeing, abseiling etc.

Each adventure racer should find what works best for them, but the race itself and its specific demands should be taken into consideration when selecting your gear.

In our experience, a multi light approach is best. In the event that one light fails, you have a backup, as well as the two lights can complement each other. For example: a high power zoom headlamp with a forced high powered flash-light is a very good combination.


HeadlampsUndoubtedly one of the most important lights to have. It frees your hands and it is instinctive to turn your head where you are looking, therefore providing light where you need it most. With today’s technology there is no reason why this cannot be your primary light.


Weight on headThe only major draw back to a headlamp is the weight on your head. Most headlamps have the battery pack built into the light or as a battery pack on the back of the light. You need to find what you feel comfortable with. In our experience, over 300g becomes uncomfortable.


Zoom lights vs Reflector lightsIn recent years the popularity of zoom headlamps has sky-rocketed. If you choose to use your headlamp as your primary light then we would advise against such lights. Here is a in-depth explanation on how it works. In short, the benefits of a zoom type light is the uniform beam it has in flood mode, which makes it ideal for trail running and map reading. The draw back is that it tends to waste a lot of light, especially when in focus/zoomed mode. The misconception is that one can concentrate the light in a powerful beam when focused. When hunting for beacons or cycling, the lack of reach becomes a major drawback in flood mode and the focused mode will not be able to compensate.

For these reasons a secondary flash-light that has a very focused beam will compliment a zoom headlamp well.


Flash-lightsThere are a huge variety of flash-lights on the market to choose from.  What we find to be important is to select a small flash-light that has a very concentrated beam, as well as a wrist strap. When searching for beacons or pointing to far off formations at night, a laser type beam is ideal. Our preferred flash-light has a very, very deep reflector which concentrates all the light into a sharp and directional beam. It also makes use of the Cree XM-L2 and the fatter higher capacity 26650 li-ion cell (Assault XM-L2). At the end you need a light that is small and robust with a focused beam that can run for long amounts of time.


Cycle lightsToday’s cycle lights are very well suited for adventure racing.  The benefits of using a cycle light are: separate battery pack, larger batteries, higher outputs and more robust.

Most cycle lights are supplied with a head strap or one can easily be bought separately. This allows you to put the heavier battery pack in your backpack and reduce the weight on your head. Because they have larger battery packs it is possible to have brighter light, and longer running times.  For example the Extreme 1400kcan run for 7h on high and over 42h on low mode. We find that the low mode is more than sufficient for adventure racing, it produces over 1000 lumen and weights about 150g for the light and 250g for the battery. It is so light weight, you will most likely forget you have a light on you head. The beam pattern of a cycle light tends to be mixed with a wide flood element and a hotspot, which is focused. A good quality cycle light tends to have better waterproofing than equivalent head lamps.


Water proofing and robustnessOne of the most important aspects of a light is its ability to withstand whatever nature can throw at you. There is a standard called the IP Code, Ingress Protection Rating. You can read the complete code here.  But in short, the higher the number the better. For example an IP68 is a lot better against water ingress than IP23. This is one area where commercial  head lights seem to fall short. An IP67 rating or higher is ideal. IP67 can be submerged  to 1 meter for 30min without  water ingress effecting its function. IP68 can be submerged to a depth beyond 1m, which is specified by manufacturer.

We have found that cycling lights seem to be better suited for bad weather conditions. When purchasing a headlight make sure that the IP rating is better than IP67.


Suggested lights:Based on the above information, we would recommend the following lights, in this order:

Extreme 1400K

Extreme 1000

Assault XM-L2

Niteye HA30 (IP68)



Hannes Zietsman

On the Trail
24 Hours of Utah Team Profile
photo courtesy of Glen Delman


At the 24 Hours of Utah race this month there will be a 10 member 100k team representing the Western Energy Project. We spoke with team captain Laurel Angell to find out what their mission is. Laurel is the director of the Western Energy Project, a small iniative working to ensure responsible energy development on federal public lands with representatives in Washington DC, Colorado, and Montana. The trails we run on for the 24 Hours of Utah and Arches National Park learned a very important “look before you lease” lesson when they controversially had to pull drilling leases from the oil and gas industry to prevent destruction of the areas, this resulted in Moab becoming ground zero for public policies. 

The Western Energy Project is not anti-development or drilling but they do believe it needs to be well done. They are working to keep public lands available not only to enjoy, but for local and regional economies to thrive. The project currently develops and implements strategic campaigns; provides policy expertise; provides targeted capacity support of western conservation organizations and advocates; and builds strategic alliances among a diverse array of allies such as sportsmen, farmers, ranchers, small businesses, public officials and issue experts; and cultivates, and gives a forum to, voices that reflect the diversity of the West and broad support for conservation.

More than one race team member has worked as a park ranger and they use events like this to keep their connection to the trails that they’re working so hard to protect. Their mission to facilitate progress and implement policies to protect our trails is truly a noble one, give them a cheer when you see them come into base camp at the race!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 07:14

Training – Winter Thrills and Chills

Winter Thrills and Chills – Adventures In The Cold
Photo By Michael Bielecki

Depending on where you live, and how you approach the season, winter can mean many things to endurance athletes. For some, trails remain open and accessible, for others, deep snow and deeper freezes change everything. This article will explore a few of the techniques and special pieces of equipment that can help make winter adventures safer and more fun.

I can’t stand the treadmill. Sorry, I just can’t do it. And the thought of being sequestered to road running for six or more months of a Laramie, Wyoming winter is equally maddening. I need to get out there, into the woods, even when it’s brutal. The problem is that the snow can get deep, the temperatures can plummet, winds howl, and empty spaces of Wyoming are even emptier. Last weekend a buddy and I completed a three-hour run through areas that had knee-deep snow. It was an incredible workout and a great adventure, but something we both kept in mind was the possibility of injury. Out here, hours from the car, injury could rapidly lead to an emergency situation. Hypothermia and frostbite are real dangers, unless you take care of yourself and have the proper equipment. So what did I carry on this three-hour outing? Let’s take a look at what I and some others do in the winter.
The basic idea is to run cold and keep sweat to a minimum. For me, that is easier said than done. Whatever layering system I end up using for the day, I always bring a wind jacket and pants, warm hat, gloves, wind mitts, and a fleece neck gaiter. While training for the Arrowhead 135 Winter Ultra I learned that in very cold conditions, any sweat will flash freeze when you stop, so some form of insulated jacket has become an important part of my winter pack. Mont-Bell and other companies make ultra-lightweight synthetic filled coats that compress into a very small package. A duffel bag in the car contains a complete set of dry clothing that I can change into when done with my adventure.
For most of my winter outings, regular running shoes work for me, with the addition of neoprene socks and trail gaiters. The neoprene socks are a key component to keeping my feet dry and relatively warm. The gaiters keep snow out of my shoes and add a bit of insulation. In the winter I prefer gaiters that have the cord that slips under the foot. If running or trudging in deep powder, the velcro-tab style running gaiters don’t create a good enough seal to keep snow out. In really cold conditions I have added an outer neoprene cover to the shoe, like the Crescent Moon Booties. If the trail is slick packed snow and ice, I’ll add traction devices, like Kahtoola MicroSpikes, which easily stretch over the rest of my system.
OK, so I admit that I carry a substantial amount of gear compared to many other runners, but I feel that any less would be unsafe. I emptied my pack after that three-hour snow run and it contained: extra calories that I keep in reserve, a mylar bivy sack, a small survival kit with chemical hand-warmers, a whistle, a small fire-making kit, duct tape, basic first-aid and blister supplies, a bit of toilet paper, a folding knife (a real one, not a toy), a headlamp (because the sun sets so quickly in the winter), and lip balm. On longer outings I’ll carry more. Sometimes much more, like a stove and a sleeping bag pulled in a pulk sled behind me, but that is for really long stuff! Speaking of really long stuff, Ray Zahab explained that “During our 33+ day trek to the South Pole and our 13 day run across Lake Baikal in Siberia, Kevin Vallely and I were completely unsupported, meaning we had to bring everything with us. We bring many items to help us – including obvious items such as warm clothing/sleeping gear, high calorie foods and a reliable tent. I would have to say the most important gear we bring is a “second” stove. You don’t want to be left in the cold without a stove for days on end!” I also asked Pierre Ostor, a veteran ultra-endurance runner and cyclist in Alaska and former race director of the Arrowhead 135 Winter Ultra, what specialty items he carries in winter. He replied “A distress flair, a 10 inch knife and a photo of my wife just in case things don’t work out on the trail.” Now that’s planning!
When the temperatures plummet, keeping your water from freezing becomes difficult and can lead to a life or death situation. When your water supply freezes, you stop drinking, become dehydrated and then hypothermia starts it’s slow and potentially deadly crawl into your body. I know this from experience. So what can you do to help prevent your water from freezing? It greatly depends on how cold it is and how long you’ll be out. If you are using a waist belt with bottles, fill them with warm water, make sure they don’t leak, and then keep them nozzle down. Wear the pack under your coat. In a reservoir-based system, water is especially susceptible to freezing in the mouthpiece and tube. When I winterize my pack, I start by adding the CamelBak Thermal Kit, which includes a thin neoprene tube-cover and a heavy insulator for the mouthpiece. Then I add a homemade cordura/thinsulate tube insulator over the top. Once the temperatures get into the single digits I’ll tuck the mouthpiece into my coat, against my warm chest. If it gets colder, I’ll wear the entire contraption under my coat. As long as I drink often, to keep the water moving, this setup has worked well in temperatures to minus 30 (f). Pierre reports that he has tried insulated CamelBak and bottle options but has opted to go with a heavier Thermos. “I never even had slush in them, liquids stay hot for 8 hours, warm for another 5 hours.” Ray mentioned that “on my long training runs I use Gatorade with a customized higher sodium content. Mixed with hot water to start, it lasts longer. Last year when Kevin and I were on expedition in Siberia it was so cold that even a Thermos would freeze solid after several hours. So drink plenty before heading out!” Being hydrated BEFORE you start a winter training run is a great idea.
You don’t have to be running the Arrowhead, adventuring in Alaska, or on an expedition through Siberia to experience the thrill and chill of winter. You can find yourself in trouble right here in your own backyard. The list of what you carry should grow from this simple question: If I was injured anywhere along my planned running route and had to walk slowly back to the car, or had to sit and wait for help to arrive, would I be able to keep from succumbing to hypothermia or frostbite?

Alec Muthig

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 07:13

Gemini News – Zion Curtain Trail and Loop

Gemini News

The Zion Curtain Trail and Zion Curtain Loop – Fruita, CO


The Zion Curtain trail straddles the Colorado/Utah border and is known as a can’t-miss, fun, varied ride topped off with great views. However, it travels the remote backcountry and can be a tough trail to find, especially the loop, if you want to preride it it’s a good idea to check out maps and ask around at the local bike shops to make sure you don’t take a wrong turn. The ultimate option would be to tackle this trail supported and with trail markers! Local bikers describe the trail as a really entertaining ride that includes some nice singletrack as well as some healthy climbing up to a ridge with stunning viewpoints overlooking Rabbit Valley and beyond. The total climb for the entire Zion Curtain trail is around 1500′. There are some rocky and steep sections on this ride, backcountry trails rarely see any maintenance, but nothing someone with a fair amount of technical skills can’t handle. There are also several great rim overlooks half way through the loop, inlcuding a gorgeous view of the La Sal mountains near Moab. After this there’s a gonzo descent that mellows towards the middle and then ends with smooth, fast singletrack. This trail is truly epic and not to be missed! Check out the “Course” tab on the Gemini website to see the maps!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 07:12

Epic Trail Spotlight – Maah Daah Hey Trail

On the Trail
Maah Daah Hey Trail

Epic Trail Spotlight – Maah Daah Hey Trail, North Dakota


The Maah Daah Hey Trail isn’t as well known as the trails in Colorado and Utah but anyone who has had the good luck to visit it will know that it can only be described as awesome. It’s now rated as one of the best mountain biking trails in the country. The trail covers close to 100 miles of stunning singletrack running through extremely diverse terrain in North Dakota’s remote western Badlands. Named for a Mandan Indian phrase meaning “an area that has been around or will be around for a long time”, the trail system uses the turtle marker to symbolize firm determination and patience.



The trail begins a few miles south of Medora at Sully Creek State Park and ends at CCC campground near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The trail connects both the North Unit and South Unit, although biking is not allowed in the parks themselves. Alternate bike trails have been constructed to bypass the parks. The entire trail is open, however, to hikers and horseback riders. The trail is remote and riders or runners will need to be well prepared physically and armed with maps and supplies for bike repair, weather, and fueling. Campgrounds are located near the trail every 20 miles or so.


Epic- Riding the entire trail in a day is possible and is an epic adventure that should only be attempted by expert level riders with trail experience. The wicked trails and stunning scenery will be more than worth the fight and you’ll be able to say you’re one of the very few who made it in a day!


Endurance-  With support this trail can be completed over as many days as it takes to enjoy the the ride.


Day ride – The trails leading from the Summit Campground are some of the most fun and can be done in a day.



The north end of the trail begins at the US Forest Service CCC Campground in McKenzie County, located 20 miles south of Watford City, off Highway 85.


Logistics: Shuttle services in the area are available to transport riders to different points in the trail.


Length:  96 miles


Elevation: Between 2000′ and 2700′


Terrain: Extremely varied clay singletrack.


Riding season: Extreme temperatures in winter and summer, definitely try to go in the fall or summer.



Dakota Cyclery in Medora, North Dakota – full service shop that includes mountain bike rentals or even trail guides. They also offer a unique service where they will drop your supplies at designated spots in locked trailers and you carry the key.

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