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Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Let There Be Light


I'm always grateful for high quality equipment that works under adverse circumstances, when I most need it. If you need to practice outdoor medicine in the shadows or at night, on a mountainside, in a cave, or in another low-light situation, you will need artificial light. There are a great many lanterns, flashlights, and headlamps on the market, and numerous features to consider, such as size, weight, durability, power and character of illumination, batteries, expense, ability to withstand the elements, and additional features (e.g., flashing beacon).

When I'm in the wilderness, I favor carrying at least one, and preferably two or more battery-powered sources of light, at least one of which is a headlamp, so that I can have full use of my hands. With the advent of light emitting diode (LED) technology and high-impact plastics, the choices are plentiful and excellent for an outdoorsperson.

I recently procured two excellent headlamps from Petzl: the TACTIKKA XP ADAPT and the e+LITE. The TACTIKKA will now be my primary headlamp, and the e+LITE my backup unit, although I must admit that the e+LITE is a powerful unit for something so small and lightweight.

The TACTIKKA XP ADAPT is rated at 40 lumens for 120 hours powered by 3 AAA batteries. It features a tiltable head, spot beam that can be chosen at 3 different intensities, a flood beam when a sliding filter is (easily) deployed, a flashing setting, three colored (red, green, and blue) sliding filters that are easy to install, and a boost button to increase the intensity and range (up to 50 meters or 164 feet) of a solid beam when the button is held down (this consumes additional energy). The light unit is water resistant (not waterproof), and attaches securely and reversibly to the comfortable elastic headstrap or rigid plastic belt loop. In addition, there is an adhesive plastic mount that can be glued to a helmet in order allow reversible attachment of the light unit. There is an illuminated battery indicator that indicates full charge (green), half charge (orange), and low charge (red). The light unit with batteries weighs 3.84 ounces (109 grams), and comes with a 3-year guarantee.

There is a chart on the back of the package that indicates the decline in power over time for each setting, as the predicted battery life is consumed. For instance, at maximum power (not the "boost" setting), the battery life is 60 hours. When the batteries are new, the unit will project its beam 35 meters (115 feet), after 30 minutes it will project 30 meters (98.4 feet), after 10 hours it will project 20 meters (65.6 feet) and after 30 hours it will project 7 meters (23 feet).


The e+LITE, which comes with a 10-year guarantee against faults in materials or manufacture, is extremely small and powered by two lithium button (CR2032) batteries. It is rated to 16 lumens maximum power, and has settings for high intensity white, low intensity white, flashing white, flashing red, and continuous red light. The battery life is 35 hours of high intensity white and 45 hours of low intensity white light. The light unit has a ball and socket mount that allows 360 degrees of tilt, as well as a small elastic headband and versatile attachment mechanism. It is advertised to withstand a temperature range of minus 22 degrees F (minus 30 degrees C) to 140 degrees F (60 degrees C), so should be able to withstand storage in its accompanying waterproof case when carried in a fanny pack, dive bag, or backpack. Always remember to carry spare batteries in a waterproof container.

I have used Petzl products for many years, and found them to be extremely well designed, comfortable, and reliable. If you intend to be able to function in a medical capacity in dim light or in the dark, you should carry both a primary and a back-up light, and I highly recommend these. The TACTIKKA XP ADAPT is available at Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) for $64.95 U.S., and the e+LITE is available at REI for $29.95 U.S.

mountain photo by Mathias Schar

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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