The Petzl REACTIK+ is a headlamp with everything a trail runner needs in a nighttime guide; a rechargeable and programmable light source with a good range of output options and just the right amount of technology.
Although it’s been on the market for a bit, we’re finally getting around to reviewing it; we took this on some nighttime trails in preparation for the OSS/CIA all-night 50-miler in June. We’re also testing the NAO+, the more powerful (and high-end) upgrade to the REACTIK+. That review will be out in the coming weeks.
I used the REACTIK in several dusk to dark and straight-up nighttime runs, up to 2 hours in length, as well as on a weekend camping trip.
The first thing you should know about the Petzl REACTIK+ is that it’s part of Petzl’s performance line, a set of headlamps that features REACTIVE LIGHTING technology that automatically adapts light intensity to user needs. These lamps (the REACTIK, REACTIK+, and NAO+), all have a sensor in the front that analyzes ambient light and adjusts brightness on the fly. If you hit your light on an object right in front of you, it dims; throw it further out and it brightens. This obviously conserves precious battery life, the most important of all commodities during a dark night on the trail.
The second thing you should know is the difference between the REACTIK and REACTIK+, which is essentially the ability of the REACTIK+ to utilize a built-in Bluetooth connection to link to the MyPetzl Light mobile app. From that app, users are able to view the remaining battery life and set up a customized personal lighting profile to optimize battery life and suit their activity needs. It’s a pretty neat option, but users must choose if the price difference is worth it.
Let’s break this down.
The Light (and REACTIVE Technology)
I’ve used other Petzl headlamps in the past (most recently the Tikka, which is a great value for general usage like camping or city sidewalks with ambient light), but this is my first experience with Petzl’s performance line and their REACTIVE technology.
Most hobby trail runners balk at the idea of spending the cost of a race reg for a flashlight that goes on your head. It’s not until that first fall on a pile of rocks in the pitch black night with a 50 lumen lamp do they realize they should’ve spent a little more cash.
The amount of light and options on the REACTIK+ will make you wonder why you ever settled for less. Let’s start with the REACTIVE technology, since it’s what separates the PETZL performance line from the rest of the pack.
Using a sensor on the front, the beam adjusts seamlessly from those dusk to dark portions of your run, conserving battery life for when you need it most. In the dark, if you focus on an object in front of you, or something reflective, it dims, then brightens back up once it’s thrown out further. It’s pretty neat to experience.
If you’re used to using a constant-beam headlamp, the Reactive technology can take a bit to get used to. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.
Now there are some drawbacks. In a camping situation, things like campfire smoke will dim the light when you may want to actually cut through it. I didn’t get a chance to run in the rain, but I’ve read the same complaints as the light reflects off the rain coming down.
Additionally, if you are running at a really fast clip (i.e. sub-7:30), the REACTIVE lighting does take a moment to adjust. This could be off-putting when running down a steep downhill, so you may want to switch to constant mode in those situations.
The light is plenty bright for most conditions, especially shorter trail runs, as the lamp has a 2.5 hour burn time at 300 lumens in the out-of-the-box setup. This ranks at the top of the performance spectrum for mid-level Petzl lighting.
There are two modes for the lamp: REACTIVE and constant. Both have three levels of light, with varying lumens depending on the setting. Within each of those modes is three settings: max autonomy, standard, and max power. Between all of these, you can get lumen ranges between 30 and 300, ranging anywhere from 2 hours to 15 hours of use. Refer to the Petzl’s table below for full details.
For most runs, I employed a variation of the REACTIVE lighting, depending on the trail difficulty, and really thought it transitioned pretty seamlessly. I’m trying out MAF training right now, so I was running relatively slow; I had no issues with the slight delay in the REACTIVE lighting.
Overall, I most enjoyed the standard lighting on the REACTIVE mode. The 170 lumens was enough to light up the trail, and I had no problems even on super technical terrain full of rocks and roots. The standard lighting setting also casts a wider beam, as opposed to the focused beam of the max power.
Now, the max power mode is fantastic as well. The 300 lumens light up far into the distance, 110 meters to be exact. But you’ll obviously be sacrificing battery life, so use only if necessary when out on an extended or overnight run. For shorter runs, you’re golden.
After a 2-hour run switching between standard and max mode, I still had 66% battery life left.
Finally, the constant mode also features a red light, either in steady or strobe, visible for 1km for up to 60 hours. You can also program this to speak in Morse code. More on that below.
The REACTIK+ has two control buttons. Because there are 2 settings, with 3 different modes, plus Bluetooth connectivity, plus red light mode, the usage isn’t exactly intuitive out of the box. That said, if you take all of five minutes to read the manual and mess around with it, it’s easy to figure out and manipulate going forward. Side note—download the PDF version on the Petzl product page cause the in-box manual uses type that is impossibly small and ink that is impossibly light to read; no joke, I had to use my headlamp to read the text.
The top button controls the overall power and the REACTIVE lighting. Hold it down for 2 seconds to turn on, then press again to cycle through the power modes. It always starts in the max autonomy setting of the REACTIVE mode.
To switch to constant lighting, press the side button control. Cycle through power modes by pressing once. To activate the red light, hold the side button down for 2 seconds. Hold it down for 4 seconds to activate Bluetooth to connect to the My Petzl app. Holding both the top and side buttons down together locks the buttons so the headlamp won’t be accidentally turned on during transit or storage.
The Battery Life
Overall, I thought the rechargeable battery life was more than adequate for my needs, which are typically trail runs up to 10 miles. For an ultra or an all-night race, you will definitely need a backup battery (or two, depending on which setting you prefer). For $9.95 you can pick up a backup pack that uses 3 AAA batteries, for $34.95 you can get a duplicate rechargeable battery. NOTE: the AAA battery pack can only be employed in constant lighting mode and the light output corresponds to 40% of the output provided with the Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery.
The battery charges via micro-USB to USB cable that plugs in on the top of the lamp, which I like because I have a million micro-USB cables around my house. A rubber tab covers it up to keep out moisture/dirt. It takes 4 hours to get a full charge.
Now, when the battery is dying it will flash several times and notify you that it’s in low power mode. However, unlike typical battery-powered headlamps, the light will not just simply fade out over time until the batter is dead; it employs low-power lighting for maybe 45 minutes, then just shuts off without warning. I erroneously thought it would dim over time and ended up a mile from my car with (thankfully) my cell phone flashlight to guide the way. Now, if I used the app, I’d have known exactly how much battery life I had left. Read on.
I’ll admit, it’s 2019 and I generally have app fatigue. I mean, does my Under Armour shoe or water bottle really need to be smart? I was skeptical of the My Petzl app at first and was even reluctant to use it. But once I did, I really grew to love it.
For starters, when connected to the lamp, it shows remaining battery time, down to the minute, for every single lighting mode. This has been the largest thorn in my side in the past—not knowing how much battery I have left. Through the app, it’s easy to see where I’m at, and whether I need to get back to the trailhead or employ a backup battery.
You’re also able to add sport profiles (a number are pre-loaded by Petzl), or even create a customized one to fit your lighting needs. This is a pretty incredible feature because you can essentially set each mode to be exactly the amount of lumens you need. You want 6 hours on max power mode and 12 hours on max autonomy mode? Just tailor it and it’ll apply the settings to your headlamp.
Last thing—in case of an emergency situation, you can program the lamp to strobe a Morse code message in the red light setting. I suggest going with SOS, although BRING PIZZA may be an acceptable runner-up.
Comfort-wise, it’s a little bit bulky, since everything is loaded into the lamp unit in the front. Other Petzl models mitigate this by moving the battery to the back. The headband is really comfortable, so it wasn’t an issue for me, and the split harness in the back helps secure it. It does absorb sweat and is a little thick, so it could become gross in the summer months.
At $119.95, it’s not cheap. It’s $40 more than its less-smart sister in the REACTIK (which is still rechargeable but does not feature Bluetooth and app functionality). If you’re a casual trail runner I would opt for the more basic version. That said, if you are a more serious runner or a control freak, or you’re horrible at charging things (like me), and want to know if you have enough juice to survive a nighttime run in the woods, then I’d say just go for this.
Robbe is the Digital Marketing Manager for Big Run Media/BITR. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two sons and runs with the Faster Bastards. His favorite race distance is the marathon and his favorite beer is anything but Blue Moon.