Paws On The Petzl Nao...

We get an up close and personal view of Petzl's radical new head torch in the Lakes.

Posted: 23 February 2012
by Jon
Unusual cord-based mounting system - modelled by Clive - seems, in cafe tests at least, to be extremely secure and comfortable.
Top round thing is light sensor, lower right is flood and left is the spot beam.
Switch on and cover the sensor with your thumb and this happens.
Rechargeable Lithium Ion battery can be replaced with 2 AAAs in emergencies. Battery charges via USB and is programmable.
Distinctive looks - more images below.

We're just back from the Lakes where after a hard day of looking at new stuff from Haglöfs and The North Face - more about both of those shortly - we also met up with Petzl's UK PR man, Clive Allan, for a closer look at Petzl's radical new Nao head torch, which is not only impressively bright, but clever enough to adjust its output depending on the light levels around the torch.

It's kind of late, so this is a bit of a brain dump and we previewed the torch a few weeks back, but it's always nice to have a close look at something in the flesh, even it it's just over coffee and vegetarian chilli in Wilfs caff, Staveley. In fact the whole thing was mostly and excuse to have something to eat...

Polar Cool...

... anyway. It looks pretty cool in the polar bear white colour scheme and quite unusual. A fair bit of that is down to the interesting 'half elasticated head band, half cord' head harness. It looks slightly odd with a triangulated rear using non-stretch cord tensioned by a simple cord-grip, but a quick try on and some disco moves suggests that it's incredibly stable and the torch actually felt lighter on the head than it did in the hand.

Clive's been running wiht the Nao and reckons it works really well - note that production versions, when they appear in July, will have additional padding in the forehead area for comfort.

Reactive Lighting...

The real guts of the Nao is the reactive lighting system. The top of the three round things that look like LEDs is actually a light sensor that measures how much light is reflected back at it and adjusts the LEDs to suit. One of the lower two is a diffuse wide-angle beam, while the other is a spot.

Turn the light on with simple twist of the blocky switch - it remembers the last mode you used as well - and stick your thumb over the sensor to fool it into thinking it's very, very dark, and both LEDs go into full-on 355 lumen output mode. Uncover the sensor and instantly, the spot goes out and the diffuse LED dims massively as the light decides less light is needed.

Rapid Response

Response, in the caff anyway, seems instantaneous. And out in the real world, the idea is that if you, say, look down at a map, the reflected light tells the sensor to reduce light output, but look up into the distance, and it should go into big light mode to help pick out distant objects. Neat or what?

There's also a 'static', non-reactive mode, which just runs both LEDs like a normal head torch. You'll be able to use Petzl's software to pre-set two light levels for each mode, just like the Tikka CORE arrangement, which balances output and burn time for optimum performance.

The lithium ion battery, by the way, charges via USB, lives in a water-proofed compartment and, if needs be, can be replaced with a pair of AAA cells in an emergency. 

Update: We've just been talking to Petzl UK importers Lyon Equipment and they tell us that the original information we received is slightly wrong. While we said that burn time on reactive mode was around 4.5 hours, that's actually more like the expected battery life using constant maximum output - 315 lumens they say - in 'static' mode. 

Once reactive mode is engaged, the ability of the torch to adjust light output to suit need means that it should in normal use have a battery life of considerably more than 4.5 hours. Potentially, says Roger Chaldecott at Lyon, 'battery life increases exponentially to give you days or weeks of use'.

And by using the Petzl OS programming software - as with the CORE battery - you can adjust light levels in both modes to optimise output versus burn time for your particular use.

All of which makes some sense. Days or weeks sounds a tad optimistic to us, but clearly with mixed use, burn time in reactive mode should be significantly better, which is what it's all about. We're trying to get to the bottom of this and we'll update when we have a definite answer. 

Spot On...

It's actually a pretty impressive bit of kit. It should be spot on for serious off-road night running, but should also come in handy for mountaineers who need serious illumination for route finding after an alpine start and, potentially as a helmet light for cyclists too - 355 lumens should do pretty well for all of those.

The big question though, was what the heck does 'Nao' actually mean? Well, it's a Japanese girl's name, also, apparently a Chinese word meaning 'monkey', but apparently the definition Petzl had in mind was that it's also Chinese for 'brain'.

Anyway... we have one coming in for review soon, so we should be able to tell you how it works in the real world before long. Oh, and the price will be around £135. And it appears to be manufactured in Bulgaria. We're not sure we've ever encountered something made there before.

More Petzl info at

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Discuss this story

I am impressed by the spec, but sorry i will stick with my £12-50 Alpkit gamma. I just couldnt justify that money on a head torch.

Posted: 24/02/2012 at 14:55

Well, the Gamma is a pretty cheap and cheerful bit of it. There's plenty of folk who want something a bit more powerful, or a bit more waterproof, or with a bit more battery life.

Thing is, you can get those things for half the price of a Nao... take a look at the Princeton Tec Apex for a moderately expensive example. Are there people out there really prepared to pay double in order to get the fanciest things?

I dare say it is a strategy that has worked well for Arcteryx and Apple, so it might not be without merit

Posted: 24/02/2012 at 15:55

It's not just the brightness though. It's about the reactive lighting thing, which ought to improve burn time by optimising light output and the programmability via Petzl's OS computer software. For some users that stuff's not a factor, for other's it's highly desirable and it's one of the reasons that the torch is expensive.

It depends on your usage and priorities. I like the Gamma a lot and it does a great job at the price, but if I was, say, tackling a Bob Graham round, I might think it worth investing in a top notch torch.

Posted: 24/02/2012 at 16:36

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