LED lighting technology has been developing fast and so I’ve been looking forward to testing out a new, lightweight headtorch from Olight.  Here’s my review of the mid-range battery-powered headtorch, the H1 Nova, which packs a powerful punch into a small product.

First impressions

Olight are a new name to me, a Chinese company who specialise in lighting technology for outdoors use.  When I was approached by Olight and asked if I’d like to review one of their products I chose a mid-range battery-powered headtorch, the H1 Nova in cool white.  They also make a rechargeable version (H1R Nova) as well as the more powerful H2R Nova, alongside torches (minus the headband) including the X9 Marauder which produces an incredible 25,000 lumens at full power.

First impressions are good.  The headtorch comes in a neat, zippable case that includes the torch, headband, CR123A battery, pocket clip and manual.  If you’re likely to want the option of using the torch either on your head or clipped to your rucsac strap, tent or clothing then taking the original box with you probably makes sense.  This would also prevent the torch from being accidentally switched on if stuffed in a packed ruscac although, as I explain below, it also has a useful locking mode.

 

 

The H1 Nova has a well-made aluminium body and is about the size of your thumb.  It measures 58 x 21mm and weighs a tiny 39g with the battery included, and 67g with the headband. It’s certainly light enough to keep in your rucsac and not notice the weight at all.  Manufacturing quality is very good and it certainly looks as if it will survive many years’ use.

The base cap unscrews to reveal the CR123A battery compartment.  When you open this you notice that the base cap is magnetic, and a very strong magnet at that.  This could be a really useful feature if you want to attach the torch to a metal object, freeing up your hands to do other work.  On the other hand, storing the headtorch next to your compass isn’t perhaps the cleverest idea and so it’s worth bearing this in mind.

The H1 Nova is highly waterproof.  I hadn’t come across the IPX scale before but the H1 Nova is rated IPX8, which is the second highest on the scale, being described as “suitable for continuous immersion in water“.  While I haven’t personally tested this, I’ve seen a YouTube review of the H1R Nova which was dunked in a bucket for 30 minutes and still worked perfectly in spite of tiny drop of water entering the LED compartment; the battery compartment stayed bone dry.  (For information, products rated IPX9 can withstand “high pressure, high temperature spray downs” and we tend not to be subject to boiling rain when out hiking in the UK!).

The supplied pocket clip pushes on to the body of the torch and allows it to be attached firmly to clothing or perhaps a ruscac or tent strap.  Remove it and then you’re all set to fit it to the headband by sliding it into the silicone mount.  This is soft and stretchy and potentially a weak point of the overall design if, through lots of use, the silicone loosens or even breaks.  In my initial testing there’s no sign of this happening but I’ll keep an eye on this.  The adjustable, elasticated headband is soft to wear and about 2cm wide.

 

What’s it like to use?

The H1 Nova has five modes in all, ranging from 2 lumens right up to shorter-term bursts of 500 lumens.  Press the silicone button on the top of the torch once to turn it on or off.  It also remembers the last mode you used before switching off which I find a useful feature.  Press and hold the on/off button to cycle through the sequence of modes – moonlight (2 lumens) – low (15 lumens) – medium (60 lumens) – high (180 lumens).  Double-clicking activates turbo boost mode (500 lumens), and when the torch is off, pressing and holding the button for one second accesses moonlight mode.  To lock the torch, simply press and hold the button for two seconds until it blinks once and then release; this prevents it from being accidentally switched on.  There’s also an SOS mode; simply press the on/off button three times in quick succession and the torch automatically flashes SOS slowly in morse code.

Battery life is clearly affected by the mode used:

  • Moonlight (2 lumens) – 15 days
  • Low (15 lumens) – 42 hours
  • Medium (60 lumens) – 8.5 hours
  • High (180 lumens) – 3 hours
  • Turbo (500 lumens) – 3 minutes

It’s a powerful torch in such a small body.  An in-built safety feature means that the torch automatically reduces the turbo boost power from 500 to 180 lumens after three minutes.  This is definitely needed since the aluminium body heats up very noticeably on full power, so much so that after only three minutes the torch is very hot to hold in your hand.  Potentially this is quite dangerous.  In fact, in a recent review the much more powerful H2R Nova (2300 lumens on turbo boost) burnt a hole through a tent groundsheet after having been placed face down.  I’ve tested the ‘firelighting’ capabilities of the less powerful H1 Nova on turbo boost by placing it on paper and thin plastic for three minutes and can fortunately report that no damage took place.  Clearly, this torch isn’t at the same risk of overheating as the H2R Nova but it’s still worth being well aware of any potential risk.

I found the headband comfortable to wear and easy to adjust.  To be honest, I much prefer to wear headtorches on top of a hat which I find much more comfortable for extended use but for short periods, the headband was fine.  I also liked a couple of useful design features.  First, you can rotate the torch within its silicone mount to change the beam angle, and the silicone keeps the torch angle in position when walking or running.  Secondly, the silicone control button is fairly chunky which means that it’s easy to locate and use even with gloves on.

While CR123A batteries may be a little more expensive than AA batteries (I bought two replacements on Amazon for £5.30), they’re readily available worldwide.  I purposefully chose the battery-operated version of the torch rather than the rechargeable H1R version since my daughter is taking it out to Borneo on expedition this summer.  She’ll not have access to electricity for weeks at a time and will have 12 hours darkness each night, and so batteries really are the only option.  However, should you want a rechargeable version, the H1 Nova also takes RCR123A rechargeable lithium batteries.  I’ll aim to update this review with her feedback later this year.

How good is it at night?

So much for the look and feel of the headtorch: how effective is it?  So far, I’ve tested it out on a 2-night wild camp in the Cairngorms as well as more controlled testing in my back garden.

I found moonlight mode to be good in the tent when going to bed or in the middle of the night; it gives just enough light to see while not dazzling your eyes.  Low power mode is perfectly adequate for walking around a campsite, cooking and so on.  For use when walking I found medium and high power modes to be very good, giving a good forward beam.  I guess mode selection depends on many things including the extent of natural moonlight, the terrain, the number in your party and so on but I was satisfied with the amount of light produced by each mode.

Switching to turbo boost steps things up to another level again, providing a very effective floodlight.  I’ve been in mountain situations in the dark where you need to assess the route ahead and/or look for suitable campsite locations.  Here, turbo boost comes into its own and at 500 lumens is much more powerful than any of my existing headtorches.  The packaging claims the beam will reach 66 metres.  While I haven’t validated this myself (and I don’t fully understand what this means), it certainly gave a very bright light for 10 – 15 metres across my back garden.

The version I tested was ‘cool white’, giving a fairly stark light, although I’ve read that other reviewers preferred the ‘natural white’ version.  I can’t give an opinion since I haven’t compared the two but you may be able to do this in a shop.

The photos below (taken from my iPhone) compare the three more powerful modes:

Overview

I liked the H1 Nova and would recommend it.  I can see myself using it as an essential piece of kit for summer backpacking and winter walking trips.  It’s lightweight, well made, powerful and functional.  One ‘downside’ is the need to carry a spare battery (the manual doesn’t suggest the torch automatically signals any warning of failing battery power), although I’d far rather have the battery-powered version along with a spare than have the rechargeable version fail on me in use.  The second and more significant downside is the heat generated by the torch on turbo boost.  While this does have a 3-minute safety ‘cut off’ feature – and the torch didn’t show any signs of melting plastic or setting fire to paper when I tested it – I would urge caution in use.

What I liked:

  • Small and lightweight (67g including the headband)
  • Powerful torch with 5 different brightness modes, plus an SOS feature
  • Useful ‘lock’ feature to prevent the torch turning on accidentally in your pack
  • Well made and robust torch
  • Highly waterproof
  • The battery powered version – in my view, taking a spare battery is a preferable option to the rechargeable H1R version
  • Control button easy to locate, even with gloves on
  • Zippable carry case
  • Magnetic base to allow hands-free operation for the standalone torch

 

What I wasn’t so keen on:

  • The torch becomes very hot in turbo boost mode – this could potentially cause issues if not used with care
  • CR123A batteries are slightly more expensive than AA batteries
  • Silicone mount could potentially loosen over time?

 

The H1 Nova currently sells for £45.95 on the Olight UK online store.

Note:  The H1 Nova headtorch was provided to me to review for free by Olight.  I have no connection with the company.  I have provided an honest and impartial review based on my personal experience in using it.

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