The headlamp. A ubiquitous piece of gear that is included in the packing list of most outdoor endeavors. The headlamp has major advantages over a hand-held flashlight because it is hands-free. Since the light is fixed to your head while you are trekking you can see whatever it is that you turn to look at whereas with a flashlight you need to shine the light in the direction of where you are looking. If you are undertaking a difficult section of trail with climbing, rock scrambling or a lot of underbrush and debris on the ground to trip you up it is an invaluable piece of gear. But not all headlamps are created equal.
The SureFire Minimus is easy to use variable-output LED headlamp that packs a whole lot of power into a very small, extremely tough frame. The first thing to note about the SureFire Minimus is the ease of use. There is only one control on the lamp, a knob on the side that is twisted. Twist it all the way to full power and then you can dial the power down as needed until you are at zero. It is truly completely variable with the twist of the knob. You get full access to the headlamps range of power with the twist of your wrist, as bright or as dim as you want. There is no pushing a button for one setting then clicking it again for another, then holding it down for another, then…you get the idea. Twist on, twist off Daniel Son, simple.
The second thing you will notice is the durability of the thing. SureFire as a company deals in military or tactical products to a large degree and this is evident in the design of the headlamp, its built like a tank. Made of tough, mil-spec, anodized aluminum and a hard polymer, in the good ol’USA, this headlamp just feels solid in your hands. You don’t have to worry about bumping this thing or dropping it, even on rock and from a distance, because it can take it. Despite the bombproof design of the Minimus, it is actually pretty lightweight compared to similarly powerful headlamps. Weighing in at only 3.5 oz. (98 g) it is not nearly as heavy as other lamps with the same output. Can you get lighter headlamps? Sure you can, but those lamps power pales in comparison to the SureFire Minimus.
Speaking of power, the Minimus has a max output of 100 lumens when cranked to its highest setting. Now, lumens are a dubious and in many ways irrelevant measure of light that doesn’t often translate to how the given light will perform in the real world but don’t get hung up on that fact. This is a high-output headlamp. When on its highest setting the SureFire Minimus will give you around 100 feet of quality illumination. The big advantage of this light over other headlamps that might have a farther throw distance is the even distribution of the flood light. The beam on the Minimus provides a very even white light which provides exceptional visibility in all areas of the beam’s path. You have a good 180-degree field of view in front of you and this helps you to avoid getting tunnel vision when trekking at night. It can also be very useful in hands-on, close-up work. Take night climbing, for example, you want to be able to see the holds all around you not just the one you are currently staring at.
The headlamp has a very comfortable and highly adjustable strap made of finely woven material. It is very easy to adjust the size of the strap and it should fit most head sizes and over helmets with ease. If you are wearing it directly on your bare head it has moisture wicking pads on the back of the lamp which is comfortable even with extended use. If you are going to use it with a helmet, if you are climbing, mountaineering, snowboarding, etc, you can remove this pad and use the Velcro on the reverse side in tandem with a sticky velcro pad that comes with it to attach the headlamp to your helmet for an even more secure connection on top of the strap.
The main downside to this headlamp is the runtime. When cranked to its highest output it will run for about 1.5 hours. Depending on the “freshness” of the batteries you use this will vary to a degree but generally, you are not getting much more than that on high power. This is unfortunately very low in comparison to many other units on the market with similar power output. You can find some units that will triple that amount of run time with the same, sometimes more, power output. This low runtime is mediated to a degree by the variability that you have available to you in controlling the power output but it is still a very low point for me. Also, it is compounded by the fact that it takes a CR123 battery. What kind of battery? You ask. Yeah, before I had this headlamp I hadn’t heard of them either. CR123’s hold a lot of power for their small size but they run about $8 a battery. If you buy 16 of them in a pack it will cost you about $35. NOT cheap. When you consider the low run time and the cost of the batteries, a trip that will require a lot of headlamp use can quickly turn real expensive just in battery costs. Not to mention the weight you are adding by having to carry around a load of replacement CR123 batteries. Also, the headlamp itself is not an inexpensive investment. It MSRP’s at $159, but you can find it regularly for closer to $120, also not cheap.
So this headlamp isn’t worth it then right? Wrong. While I no longer bring the SureFire Minimus with me on weekend car camping trips or even shorter backpacking treks because of the cost of batteries, it is absolutely worth it. Why? Because those casual trips are not what this headlamp was made for. You know the old saying, the right tool for the job? Well, this headlamp was designed for serious endeavors. Weekend by the lake at the family cabin? Probably not the right tool. Breaching and clearing a house in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Hell yes. Of course, there are options that are cheaper than the Minimus, and yes, many of them are more economical with their long run times, but could you run them over with a truck and expect them to still work? Of course not. Could you with the SureFire Minimus? Probably could. That is what you are paying for with this headlamp, bombproof durability and a lot of easy to use power. That is what this headlamp was designed for and it does it very well. The headlamp was made for the hard use activities that we find ourselves attempting. When we put ourselves on the line in the name of doing something awesome and inspiring, like night climbing, mountaineering, caving and yes, tactical operations. When the going gets real, real tough, this headlamp fits the bill.