Gear Review: Coast FL70/75 Headlamp

At the end of last year, I did a review on the HL27 headlamp from  Coast, a company that I ran across at the Outdoor Retailer Summer show.  This product, while not marketed toward the running community specifically, caught my eye because of its economical cost compared to similar products from other vendors in the market.  As it turns out, I was super impressed with that product.  Since then, Coast has released a couple new products that I had the opportunity to review, the FL70 and FL75.  These two are similar, but there are a couple differences.  I will review both together and call out the differences.

DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with Coast in any manner however, these headlamps were provided by Coast for the purposes of this review.

In The Box and Specs

In the box, you have the headlamp with 3 AAA batteries included.  The major design change with the FL70/75 is the combination of the lamp and batteries into a single unit (previous Coast models had a battery pack as a separate compartment on the back of the head — more about the advantages and disadvantages later in the review).  It also uses AAA batteries versus AA in other models.  The headlamp uses a single adjustable strap to hold it in place..  The lamp is a single LED center-mounted light, which tilts to adjust the aim of the light.  It includes a pretty simple interface, with an on/off button that allows you to quickly toggle the light output mode and a bezel on the lamp unit that allows you to transition between beam and flood mode.  Additionally, the FL75 as a second button that toggles on/off the low power red light mode.

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The $9 difference in price is likely to do with the added functionality of the red light in the HL75, because as you can see, they are nearly identical in specs otherwise.

Fit

The fit of this headlamp is actually quite nice.  Given the light weight of the lamp/battery box, the single strap is more than sufficient for holding it in place.  The box on the front has a relatively small footprint when compared with other products on the market.  Moving the batteries to the front allows Coast to bring a product to market for those that don’t like obstructions that rear battery packs can cause when carrying things on your back.

In Action

First, the back yard test.  I usually take this picture as a means of getting a general idea of the light output, range, and spread pattern.  The first three pictures below show the High, Medium, and Low lumen output settings.  I didn’t see a huge difference between High and Medium on spot beam mode to be honest, with only a bit of a drop off from Medium to Low (not very apparent in the pictures).  The next two pictures show the flood mode in Low mode, the first being 50% between spot and flood and the second being 100% flood.  You will see a large difference as you transition from spot to flood mode, with the light coverage favoring width over distance.  A lot of different views here to consider, but I found the sweet spot for me while running trails was about 40% spot / 60% flood on Medium mode.

 

Second, is the run test.  Winter is a great time to test headlamps…lots of darkness!  I mentioned my ideal sweet spot setting with this lamp, but found it to be a simple click of a button or twist of the bezel on the lamp to make on-the-fly changes.  It was really easy to do with gloves on too, which is not always the case with the smaller buttons on other products.  This allows you to extend battery life by quickly making qucik adjustments with changing outdoor lighting conditions.

A big trade off with this design versus past Coast models that I have reviewed is the dropoff in battery life.  For similar output and performance, the FL series offers less than half of the battery life as the previously reviewed HL series.  It also lacks a battery life indicator, so it is hard to tell when you are about to run out of light (although there is some dimming).

Overall Thoughts

Pros

  • Super light and compact with a small footprint.  It doesn’t feel bulky compared to “battery pack on the back” models do.
  • The light output button and flood-to-spot bezel offers full flexibility and control to the runner in regards to adjusting light output in real-time.
  • The strap is reflective!  This is a small detail, but still handy, particularly for light sources behind you that might not necessarily see your forward-facing beam.
  • Overall value.  For $50-60 depending on the model, this is solid headlamp.

Cons

  • Still would like to see Coast incorporate a battery life indicator on their lamps.
  • The dropoff in lumen output is significant from Low to Medium (53 to 230).  53 is a bit weak for the Low setting.  It would be more useful if it was somewhere around 80, which would allow me to operate almost exclusively in that mode.
  • Battery life at Medium and High is not really feasible for long periods of overnight running due to the drain on battery life.

Overall, the new FL series from Coast is solid as far as running headlamps go.  $50-60 for a max 405 lumen headlamp is a great deal.  They are price competitive to other comparable products and, in my opinion, the lamps on the Coast products may be the best on the market for light quality and output.  The battery life will be a challenge for some people on these, so the lamp is ideal for those races/runs where you only need it for a couple hours at the start or finish of your run or for use as a lightweight emergency backup.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Arc’teryx Atom SL Jacket Review

 

This is my first foray into an apparel review.  To be honest, I tend to be cheap when it comes to trail running clothes, with most of my drawers consisting of race shirts and great finds from the aisles of TJ Maxx.  However, I do sometimes think about that old adage “you get what you pay for” and wonder if there is any truth to it.  So here I go, my chance to review a high end jacket from one of the top outdoor gear companies out there: the Atom SL jacket from Arc-teryx.

Product Overview

Out of the box, the jacket looks great.  solid looking construction and stitching.  I love the solid color pattern.  At only 250 grams (about 8.8 oz), it is super light, whether wearing it or rolling up nice and small and stashing it in your running pack.  One nice attention to detail is the “no-slip zip” feature.  It is a zipper with built-in “speed bumps” that prevent it from self opening while running.

On the inside of the jacket, you see the contrast of materials.  The front and back panels use a light insulation, which is great and blocking wind and keeping heat in.  Along the sides, you have fleece, which is designed to help circulation of air.

Inside the arm sleeves, you have the same fleece that runs along the underarms.  The rest of the sleeves swaps out the inner insulation material with a breathable mesh.  This does a great job at blocking out the wind, but regulating temperature and letting air circulate.

In Action

One word, unbelievable!  This is definitely not a jacket from TJ Maxx.  Let me lay out the scene for you.  An early winter day, with 20 degree Fahrenheit temps.  Coming up out of shelter onto a ridge line with full exposure only to be suddenly hit with an unrelenting 40 mph wind that made it feel at least 15 degrees colder.  Within minutes, my double-gloved hands and face started to hurt from the biting cold.  What was it in this hour or so in these conditions that didn’t get cold?  The answer, anything covered by the Atom SL.  I decided to wear only a compression base layer beneath the Atom SL and despite nature’s attempts that day, it lost!  What was even more impressive is that while the cold never got in, it was ventilated enough that I always felt comfortable and never too sweaty.  I attribute this to the correct use and placement of the different materials used.  While this is part of their Spring line, its insulation and super light weight makes it a great winter running jacket.  If I am to be perfectly honest…this may be the best performing taril running jacket I have ever worn.

Shortcomings/Wish List

I have absolutely no issues with the performance of the Atom SL.  Most of my shortcoming have to do with design preference.

  • The hood cinch is located on the back of the jacket around the neck area.  With gloves on, I found it pretty difficult to cinch the hood up and ultimately had to take my glove off to do it.
  • Nitpicky, but I like a snap near the top of the zipper.  Sometimes I like to leave my jacket on, but unzip it a bit.  A snap keeps it from flapping open while running.  I think this is a definite nice to have on, particularly on a jacket marketed for Spring/Summer use.
  • Another thing I like are thumb holes.  This is more of a preference thing though.  The cuff design is effective at keeping the jacket in place and preventing cold air from getting in, but I still kind of like them.

Why Arc’teryx?

One of the questions I ask myself of any product with a premium price tag is, “is the product worth the extra amount of money that I am going to have to pay?”  The cost-benefit here is often a very individualistic decision.  With clothing, there are often a number of factors, short and long term, that one considers when making this decision.

  1. Quality, both in materials and construction
  2. Design/Utility
  3. Style

Being my first direct experience with Arc’teryx products, I can only comment on my short-term experience, but I will also throw in some third-party feedback I have heard from within my network.

Personally (and especially for active wear), I put emphasis on quality and design/utility; I don’t really care how stylish it is if it gets the job done.  From a quality perspective, if it holds up to the demands that I put on it and in the process lasts 3x as long as a competing product before requiring replacement, it is often pays for itself.  Beyond the tangible cost comparison though is the design/utility factor.  In other words, how much attention to detail went into the design and how well does it perform the job I am asking of it.

What I can say about quality is that it seems to be very well constructed in all aspects.  The stitching looks sound and the materials are definitely high end.  I cannot say for sure how time will treat it, but I have high hopes that I will use this jacket for a long time.

As far as design/utility, it was perfect for a cold trail run.  Going back to the saying, you definitely get what you pay for.  This jacket performs, hand down, better than any that I have gotten for cheaper.  Assuming that what appears to be great construction results in this jacket lasting a long time too, I would say that it is definitely worth the investment.

Conclusion

 

I have said already that Arc-teryx is marketing the Atom SLt as a spring/summer jacket.  I think that is appropriate for hiking on a chilly day or for some late season skiing even.  However, as a trail runner or anyone else getting their heart rate up and generating a lot of body heat, this is a great jacket for the winter use to.

The Runner’s Holiday Wish List

With the holiday shopping season upon us, I am going to join in on the plethora of “holiday shopping ideas for runners” blog posts and offer my own thoughts on what might cause the eyes of that special runner in your life to sparkle a little brighter this season.  Runners can be hard to buy for because we usually impatiently buy things without waiting.  If this is the case, you should look for things that they either must continuously have to re-buy throughout the year or for those things that have a cool factor, but may have been difficult for them to justify buying themselves.  Here are a few ideas including some of my personal recommendations from some of my sponsors.

Socks

I absolutely LOVE a fresh new pair of socks, so I tend to go through more than the usual runner, but the bottom line is that replacement is inevitable.  Socks lose their cushion, develop holes, or take on a rather permanent smell.  This makes running socks are a no-lose gift idea for runners.  While many runners are also picky about the brand they use, I personally recommend Injinji.  Aside from being super comfy, the individual toe design provides maximum protection and reinforces proper toe splay.  They have models for all types of runners, but during the winter months, the Outdoor wool line is great for running through snow or kicking the feet up by the fire.  Use code JOEULTRA at injinji.com for 10% off.

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Stocking Stuffers

Continuing with the theme of “things runners continuously buy”, you have those items that are constantly being restocked, such as Food and other nutritional supplements, body glide, headbands, hats, etc.  A random grab bag of essential accessories would be a welcomed gift for any runner.  My favorite accessories that I love to collect are the hats from Headsweats, the best performance hats in the business.  Use code ULTRARUNNERJOE at headsweats.com for 25% off.

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Relief and Recovery

I know so many runners that severely neglect themselves when it comes to stretching, recovery, and working out trouble areas in the body.  What better way to nudge your runner toward a more healthy and productive season of running than buying them the tools needed to take care of their aches and pains throughout the year.  I recently came across and started using the kit from RAD.  They have a wide array of tools for self-enabled trigger point and myofascial release therapy.  They literally have something for every need and their kit is built tough!

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Eliminate the Boredom

We all know that running can be a solitary (lonely) endeavor.  Sometimes it can be a welcomed escape, but other times it can be a drag.  When I want to listen to music, podcasts, or anything for that matter, I hate having wires running all over the place.  Wires constantly get caught on things while running or cross training.  Why not help your runner go wireless with a pair of bluetooth headphones.  The best I have found out there so far are those from Red Fox Wireless.  With about 8 hours of battery life and a great fit, these can help pass the time.

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Instagram Models

They are out there; the runners that like to take lots of pictures of themselves, nature……themselves in nature.  The best add-on I have found to make my photos Instagram-worthy are the iPhone lens attachments from Olloclip.  I especially like the macro photography options!

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Of course, this list is by no means complete.  Runners love gear and would probably be happy with anything that you get them.  I will say though, these are my personal favorites.  For other ideas, check out some of the stuff from my sponsors on my “What I Use/Discounts” page.