October 24, 2014

Review: The Princeton Tec Red-Light.

An indispensable piece of astronomical gear!

We always find astronomy in unexpected places. Recently, a new review product came to our attention while reading No Easy Day, an account of the Navy SEAL/DEVGRU raid that took out Osama bin Laden. The May 2nd, 2011 raid was timed to coincide with the darkness afforded by a New Moon (another astronomical tie-in), but it was a piece of SEAL gear and its cross-over potential for astronomy that caught our attention.

As noted in the book, The Princeton Tec MPLS series of headlamps are the favored personal illuminator of Navy SEALs in the field. Though usually advertized for military/tactical applications, astronomers are looking for the same thing as Special Forces operators; a source of illumination that won’t destroy precious dark adapted vision.

Our review sample was Princeton Tec’s Fred Tactical MPLS headlamp. Fans of this site will recall that we’re no stranger to red-light illumination, including the red-light glove. Heck, we’ve made our own red-lights with red cellophane!

We’re proud to say that the Fred is a top performer. The 1” wide band is meant to fit around a Kevlar helmet, but this also makes for a comfortable (and non-scalp cutting) fit around the head after even hours of wear. The 45 Lumen light is powered by 3 AAA batteries giving it up to 180 hours of use. We prefer the AAA setup, as we can use either recharables or alkaline batteries for years to come. No hunting for obscure (& also expensive and non-rechargeable) flat watch batteries like with other headlamps. The Fred weighs 78 grams “loaded,” and has 1 red LED and 3 white LEDs affording high and low settings for each.

We took the Fred out on an astronomical expedition under some of the darkest skies that Georgia and North Carolina had to offer. The Fred is a first-rate piece of astronomical gear! First off, it provides a night light that is truly red; many competitors on the market actually have a pinkish cast or orange hue. We find that we can easily turn it off and on while wearing convertible gloves, a real plus in cold weather. The Fred is vertical adjustment only, but of course, the owner can easily do the adjustments “to the horizontal” simply by turning their head.

We only found one possible objection to astronomical use; the bulk of the Fred on our forehead meant we had to slide it to the side to look through the telescope eyepiece. This is an easy enough maneuver, and the price you pay for the 3 x AA battery setup. Still, its handiness overcomes this one drawback, making the Fred our new headlamp of choice. We could also easily see its application for nighttime jogging, bike riding, hunting and late night hostel-book reading. The Fred retails on Amazon for about 25$ US, and fits our time honored criterion of “great tech that just works.” Consider the Fred tactical MPLS headlamp the next time you and your crew pop in on a terrorist baddie or visit that secret dark sky observing site!

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