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Accessories • September 16, 2020

Petzl SWIFT RL Performance Review

running headlamp

What You Need To Know

  • Great burn for a performance lamp at just 100 g
  • REACTIVE lighting (RL) auto-adjusts to daylight levels
  • Comfy, no bounce, super adjustable
  • MAX BURN sounds painful

TAYLOR: In general, the consumers’ market is chock full of average-but-make-you-think-it’s-great products. Good products, and especially great products, are hard to find. Petzl is one of the few brands that has been churning out quality outdoor goods every single season. As the newest running/outdoor recreation boom has happened, Petzl has gone with the flow and invested in their line of active headlamps.

I have been a huge fan and user of Petzl’s Actik Core series of lamps. They are light, consistent, and provide plenty of lighting options. I even wrote, “I can’t think of what more I would want from a headlamp [for running],” in my review for this light.

Out comes the Petzl Swift RL (which replaces the REACTIK lamp) and it has me feeling a little naive. This torch has a whole lot more to offer in a similarly sized package. It’s a compact, durable, powerful lamp. The Swift RL isn’t the only lamp in the industry that boasts these qualities, but it is the only lamp that has these AND reactive lighting (RL), making the Swift RL a revolutionary headlamp for running adventures and more.



TAYLOR: This is Petzl’s most powerful headlamp in their “performance” line. Most others in this line can run off a few AAA batteries and/or the Core rechargeable battery. The Swift RL cannot use either. 900 lumens (lm) of light needs a bigger battery. So, this lamp uses what is called the Accu Swift RL battery (2350 mAh Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery). What does this mean? Well, it’s a little heavier than other models and packs a huge punch of light for a long time. 

The one downside to this setup is that if you find yourself in some sort of crunch and your lamp dies, it’s not as easy as bumming a few AAA batteries from your buddy (been there!) and being on your merry way. You’ll need another charged Accu Swift RL battery, and thankfully that’s an option! An extra battery will run you $34.95 from Petzl’s website. It’s a relatively small cost for a whole lot of comfort.


Battery Life/Burn Time

TAYLOR: What’s really beautiful about the whole battery situation is that, if you have a fully charged headlamp, even on a full night’s outing, there *should* be no need to fret. The Swift RL has six different lighting options, using both flood and mixed lighting, to accommodate for your adventure’s needs. And if you need a slight bailout, a 10-15lm reserve light system can get you two hours of bonus light to get you back to your car. 

There are two main settings: STANDARD lighting and REACTIVE lighting. Each of these settings has three levels of lighting: MAX BURN, STANDARD, and MAX POWER. 

I’ll spell out more information about the REACTIVE lighting system later,  so skip ahead if that’s what you really care about. 

Swift RL’s standard lighting setting still provides more than most other headlamps on the market. Even though the real star of this show is the REACTIVE setting, I really appreciate having the option of a standard constant beam of light. 

One major benefit is having a gauge on battery life on the lamp itself. There are five green lights that represent 20% of battery life each. When all are illuminated, between 80 and 100% of the battery is left. You can figure out the rest. 

For most of my runs during this testing period, the battery life wasn’t an issue, but come summer when I may run through the night in a race, having a solid estimate on battery life is crucial. 

Because of its “standard” nature, here is a quick rundown of each level on the STANDARD setting. Not much elaboration needs to be done besides knowing that the white light quality of the Swift RL is very clean and bright. I also found that the beam had a good spread of light as it did depth no matter what setting it was on. 

 The MAX BURN setting can give 10lm of power for up to 100 hours. This setting provided enough light for night hikes, running familiar roads or paths, or around the campsite.  

Next up is the standard power that will provide 200lm of light for up to 5 hours. This setting gives ample lighting for running moderately technical trails, ski touring, and other moderately-paced activities. Last summer, I ran a very mountainous and rugged backcountry 100-mile race and almost exclusively used 100lm of light from my Actik Core headlamp. So, double that power and that will be enough for most anything you might want to do outside in the dark.

Last is the MAX POWER setting which gives you a whopping 550lm of light for two full hours. Even fast trail running in the dark was comfortable on this setting and it would even be good for faster technical activities like mountain biking and backcountry skiing.


TAYLOR: This is the part you’ve all been waiting for. REACTIVE lighting is exactly what it sounds like. With a sensor similar to what a smartphone uses to adjust the screen’s brightness, the Swift RL will sense the lighting around it (especially light in front of it) and adjust accordingly depending on the level of light you’re using. Amazing!

This isn’t new technology from Petzl, but it’s been improved in the Swift. RL’s purposes are two-fold: 1) provide necessary lighting without having to adjust the light yourself and 2) save battery. 

During the numerous pre-dawn dates with the Swift RL, I was about as impressed as a baby seeing a magic trick for the first time. My main testing focus was with the MAX POWER setting to see what up to 900lm of REACTIVE lighting was like on the trails. 

The light was so sensitive with its’ lighting adjustments, I almost didn’t believe that they were happening until the first time I ran past a reflective road sign. Then, bam! The first abrupt lighting change made me pay closer attention to the adjustments that were actually going on. It’s really impressive stuff going on here. 

Let’s talk about 900lm quickly. I felt spoiled on the trails – especially if I was running with friends (Sorry John and Michael). It is just a lot of light and I mean that in a very good way. In the future, I am going to have to force myself to stick to the STANDARD setting because 900lm is wonderful, but it’s not sustainable for those multi-hour late-night adventures. 

I would echo all of the above statements of what you can do comfortably on each power setting. But actually with a whole lot more comfort. 

The MAX BURN setting gives up to 100lm of power and anywhere between 10 and 50 hours of burn time. STANDARD allows for 300lm of light for five to 40 hours. MAX POWER makes you feel like a wandering lighthouse with up to 900lm of power for two to 30 hours.

Given the wide range of burn time, it’s worth noting again that there is a two hour 10-15lm reserve light that kicks in when the lamp gets down to 10% of its original power. Also, remember the built-in battery life gauge. Even though both of these features are comforting, if you are planning on operating in pitch black or backcountry conditions, heir on the lower end of the burn time. On the MAX POWER REACTIVE setting, I would consistently get between 2.5 and three hours worth of light before needing to charge up.


Light Controls

TAYLOR: Every control on the Swift RL is a simple click, hold, or slide. Best way to describe it: it’s simple and it works.

Click the button once and the light turns on. Hold the main button and it will change the lighting setting from STANDARD to REACTIVE and back again. Once in the desired setting, Three simple clicks will toggle you through the available brightness levels and then turn off after the brightest.

A locking feature is a very appreciated addition to Petzl’s most recent headlamps. To do so, slide the main toggle button to the right. No worries about this thing turning on while packed up.

It’s worth noting there is no red-lighting option for this headlamp.


TAYLOR: At 100g this is still a light headlamp. In hand, I can tell a slight difference in weight between the Actik Core (75g) and the Swift RL but not after slapping it on the ol’ noggin.

Instead of a singular band, the Swift RL utilizes a band that splays at the back of the head. It cradles the angular point of the head and is super comfy. Best yet, even on a 100g headlamp, there is no bounce. I also felt that I could keep the band looser than I would with other headlamp bands and still keep the lamp from bouncing. Can this thing get any better!?

Yes. Yes it can. One of my favorite features of this headlamp is its adjustability. Instead of having just a few clicks to adjust the angle of the headlamp, the Swift RL has 10. It covers any angle at which you might want your lamp to be positioned – it can even be angled upwards if you wear it around your neck.

Petzl SWIFT RL Conclusion

TAYLOR: If you’re looking for a headlamp for hitting roads throughout the winter, this wouldn’t be the best bang-for-your-buck deal. Go with the Petzl Actik Core. 

But if you hit the trails, run races, and have a few more outdoor activities you enjoy doing in the dark, the $119.95 you spend will be well worth every penny.

You can grab the SWIFT RL headlamp for $119.95 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90 day returns) by using the shop link below.

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