Erin: A few years ago, a friend of mine was telling me about this new headlamp he bought and how amazing it was. He told me how many lumens it was and how I should get one. I said ‘yeah, whatever, I’m not paying 200 bones for a headlamp.’ But every time I saw him he raved about this thing. I used his once during a night run, and no joke: shit was bright. I felt like my visual field was illuminated by stadium lighting. He was right, it was great.
That was the first version of the Petzl NAO headlamp; the version I am reviewing is the updated version: the NAO+. It’s even brighter than the original.
Robbe: Petzl sent us two headlamps to review in the REACTIVE line: the REACTIK+ and the NAO+. They are both bright and they both feature Petzl’s REACTIVE lighting, while the “+” signifies Bluetooth capability with synchronicity to the MyPetzl app. All very cool and forward-thinking technologies. And while the REACTIK+ is cheaper, the NAO+ provides some top-of-the-line qualities you won’t find anywhere else.
The NAO+ is part of PETZL’s proprietary REACTIVE lighting line—headlamps with forward-facing sensors that react in real time to dim or brighten the beam, based on need. This ultimately conserves battery life, which is any night runner’s foremost concern.
Refer to the below table (on mobile devices refer to Petzl’s site) for brightness and burn times:
|Lighting technology||Lighting modes||Brightness||Lighting distance||Burn time||Reserve mode|
|REACTIVE LIGHTING||MAX AUTONOMY||320 lm||85 m||15 h||15 lm for 2 h|
|MAX POWER||750 lm||140 m||6h30|
|CONSTANT LIGHTING||MAX AUTONOMY||120 lm||65 m||8 h|
|MAX POWER||530 lm||135 m||1h30|
Additionally, customized brightness levels and burn times can be achieved through the MyPetzl app.
Erin: As seen above, the NAO+ has four brightness levels, from 120 lumens at the low end and maxing out at 750 lumens. Lumen settings between these can be set through both Reactive and Constant lighting. If you have this on the highest setting, the illumination is amazing, especially if you’ve been on your feet for a really long time and are starting to get tired and disoriented.
The beam is wide and depending on the setting, shines in flood, focus, or mixed. Any of these patterns illuminates the entire trail width and then some. I’ve had some deterioration in my night vision since having LASIK a few years ago, and I really love how bright this headlamp is compared to my Petzl Tikka and my Black Diamond Spot.
The NAO+ is really smart in that it has a forward-facing sensor, allowing it to self-adjust the beam strength in response to other lighting sources. However, the sensor is pretty sensitive and the REACTIVE lighting—which results in flickering of the beam and a reduction in beam strength—can be annoying and hard to get used to.
Robbe: I actually only had use of this on a few occasions—most of my night trail running came in the form of the REACTIK+, the cheaper (and less bright) sibling to the NAO+. However, I did switch over to this once my REACTIK+ backup battery began to fade in the waning hours of the OSS/CIA 50 Mile Night Run last weekend.
As far as the REACTIVE lighting, it didn’t really bother me. As I mentioned in my REACTIK+ review, it could be annoying if you’re running really fast because there is a slight delay in its adjustment. Other wearers have had issues in rain with the light glare bouncing off the drops and reducing the beam strength.
In terms of brightness, I mean, yeah, this headlamp certainly perks things up. As in, the whole forest. It’s a tractor beam among flickering candle lights compared to an average headlamp. I will say, having this at 3 a.m. in a night run was a lifesaver, it was almost an automatic pick-me-up. That said, if you’re wearing this around a campsite or coming into a shelter late after a day of hiking, you’re going to annoy the shit out of everyone around you if it’s cranked up to 750.
There’s also a red light in the back that flashes intermittently by default. You will drive yourself crazy figuring out how to turn this off, which can only be done in the app. While it can be useful, it can also be annoying during a trail race. It’s a pretty good target for someone trying to catch you.
Robbe: The controls on the NAO+ are easy to navigate, in that it essentially only uses one knob located on the front side of the lamp for all the controls. To figure this out, you will need to read the manual. But for a quick rundown, stay with me.
Turn the spring-loaded knob clockwise and hold to power on the steady beam (a quick turn creates a pulsing beam). The knob returns to its original position. Turn clockwise again and again to cycle through the beam settings. To switch to constant mode, turn the knob clockwise and hold for 2 seconds. It’s easy to tell which setting you’re on; the REACTIVE lighting reacts if you shine it against a close object.
To activate/deactivate Bluetooth, turn knob clockwise and hold for 4 seconds. This will allow you to connect to the MyPetzl app.
To lock the controls, turn the knob counter-clockwise into a lock position (you can feel it click).
For customized operations, including turning off the rear red flashing light, as well as beam strength on the fly, use the MyPetzl app.
Overall, I liked the single control on this more than the REACTIK+ with multiple buttons. There’s also something satisfying about turning the knob, it feels like you’re shooting a laser beam. Which, you kind of are, at 750 lumens.
The Petzl NAO+ employs a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery that charges directly through an integrated USB connection. The male USB port never leaves the lamp, but tucks into a plastic case when wearing. Detachment is easy for charging purposes; Petzl also includes a charging cable.
You’ve seen the chart above detailing the burn time for each setting. Does it hold up?
Robbe: Now, I only used this at the tail-end of my night race, just because Erin had it in for review and I was using the REACTIK+. I didn’t find any problems with the battery life. Another friend of ours and his wife both used the NAO+ for the entirety of the night portion of the Old Dominion 100 Miler a couple weeks ago, and they both absolutely loved it.
He tailored the setting from the MyPetzl app, somewhere in between the low setting and a middle setting tailored for his needs. It lasted the whole night, save for about a half hour before dawn when it started to fade and he switched to a backup battery. In situations where he needed a boost of light, he simply turned it up a notch, then dialed it back on smoother terrain.
Erin: I maxed this thing out, so I found the battery life to be pretty terrible. Granted, I was taking advantage of every single one of the full 750 lumens. It lasted a little over an hour (Petzl says 90 minutes but that wasn’t my experience). Otherwise, you need to either charge it on the go, have a replacement battery, and/or use it on a lower setting. In which case, you could just use another headlamp. However, lower lumen limit headlamps won’t have that option for a floodlight on your head. Like all things, it just comes down to your needs and preferences.
A full recharge takes about 5 hours, so if this is your only light source, make sure you got at least one backup battery fired up and ready to go.
Taken from our REACTIK+ review, our thoughts are the same:
Robbe: 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 MyPetzl app at first and was even reluctant to use it. But once I did, I really grew to love it.
For starters, it syncs quickly to the headlamp, and when connected, 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. I suggest going with SOS, although BRING PIZZA may be an acceptable runner-up.
Erin: I find the Petzl NAO+ to be very comfortable to wear. Unlike most headlamps that just have one elastic strap that goes around your head, the NAO+ has an optional adjustable strap that goes over the crown. I find that this eliminates the bouncing and sliding that tends to drive me crazy with other headlamps.
There is one caveat—if you’re a woman and you wear your hair in a ponytail while running, this headlamp makes that difficult due to the position of the straps. It isn’t that big of a deal, but a minor annoyance, for me, anyway. It’s also bulkier than other headlamps, so if you have to stash it in your pack and carry it with you, it takes up significantly more space than most standard headlamps.
Robbe: I found it to be comfortable overall. Yes, it’s a little heavy, but the weight is distributed nicely with the lamp in the front and the rechargeable battery in the back. The cinched elastic cords around the sides are pretty seamless and stay secure; once you adjust to find your proper fit, you shouldn’t need to readjust. The top strap is thin nylon and secure as well.
The multiple cords and drawstrings can get a little “tangly,” especially thrown into a hydration pack with some other stuff. It’s not very easy to tidy up (Marie Kondo would not approve), so maybe throw it in a small bag when transporting.
Robbe: This ain’t your “off the shelf at Home Depot” headlamp. As such, it’ll cost you, to the tune of $199.95. Is it worth it? Maybe. If you’re going to spring for it, you may as well go big and buy a backup battery too. If you’re a serious night runner, you’ll likely need it at some point.
You can purchase the headlamp using the shop link below. A backup battery can be purchased for $69.95 from Petzl’s website as well.Shop Petzl NAO+
Erin: While the Petzl NAO+ is undoubtedly an amazingly bright headlamp with great trail-illuminating capacity, the battery life is poor, unless kept on lower settings. The Petzl app helps mitigate that by allowing programming of pre-set profiles. If you want the brightest headlamp out there, go get yourself a NAO+.
Robbe: Personally, it’s hard for me to justify $199.95 for a headlamp. That said, there is certainly value here. If you want a tractor beam in your back pocket just in case, or if you just want a damn nice light for shorter trail runs, then go for it.
I also like the balanced weight. For me, the REACTIK+ was a bit too bulky up front. And its headband smelled awful after a sweat sesh. Won’t really have that with the thin elastic cords of the NAO+. Other than that, it’s just a cool headlamp and definitely the top of its class.
If all that sounds good to you, go pick it up using the shop link below.Shop Petzl NAO+