An unusually strong LED headlamp that transforms into a camping lantern—and can be supported by Joby’s patented, versatile Gorillapod tripod

Joby Gorillatorch Switchback headlamp and lantern comboBEST FOR: Car camping; light/moderate overnight hikes

NOT FOR: Long hikes where weight/bulk is a concern

COST: $59.95 at REI.com

Normally I’m all about the smallest, lightest gear possible, but some gadgets are worth their extra weight and bulk—especially for car camping. Also, I still have a soft spot for the Transformers toys of my childhood.

The new Joby Gorillatorch Switchback is both of those—a great gadget worth its extra weight, and a Transformer toy for the camping set.

For those of you who have not yet ditched flashlights for hands-free headlamps, do it. It makes life in the dark loads easier—no more holding a flashlight in your mouth while you tinker with your hands! I actually use one for reading in bed at night at home.

It is basically a headlamp—a particularly powerful one, with both white and red LED light modes—that also happens to fit into a lantern casing.

As a headlamp

Joby Gorillatorch Switchback headlamp and lantern comboThe lowest setting engages two white LEDs to provide basic illumination of 5 lumens that will last up to 72 hours on two AA batteries (included).

The third, more powerful LED in the center provides bright flood illumination with a dimmer function that allows you to ramp it up as high as 130 lumens, which will reach out to a rated 23 meters (76 feet)—though it will only last 90 minutes at that level of power.

Why does red light work better at night? In brief: white light bleaches out rhodopsin in the rods of your eyes, causing the temporary night blindness we all know and hate. Red light does so much, much more slowly. In other words, you do not really have to “wait for you eyes to adjust” when turning off a dim red light; within a few seconds, your night vision starts to come back. This is actually a simplified explanation of what happens—and there is some debate on the issue—but the practical upshot is that it works well enough to make a noticeable difference.

The two red LEDs are great for preserving night vision.

The headlamp’s “panic” mode (to signal for help, or start an impromptu disco) flashes between red and white lights a la police cruiser.

So it’s a headlamp. That’s great. I’ve got half a dozen of them, of various makes and models, rattling around in my gear bins (or would have, if my Boy Scouts would stop “borrowing” them, never to be seen again). Headlamps are great for finding your way in the dark while leaving your hands free to hold hiking poles, fiddle with things, or simply hold the book you’re reading.

Ah, but the Joby Gorillatorch Switchback is not just a headlamp. It has a social side as well. It helps you share your light with the whole group.

As a lantern

Joby Gorillatorch Switchback headlamp and lantern comboThe Joby Gorillatorch Switchback comes with a hollow white plastic block, roughly 4″ x 3.3″ x 2.1″.

Stuff the headlamp into the base of this block, pull the yellow tab on top, and a translucent rectangular lantern “globe” pops out, increasing the total height to 6.5″.

The battery pack and its light controls now form the base of a lantern with enough glow to light up a large cabin—or any tent, or just the picnic table at dinner.

It diffuses the light nicely—most LED lanterns just scatter the light off mirrors, resulting in uneven lighting and a harsh glare from the bare bulb in the lantern itself. This Joby incorporates what it calls a “92% ultra-efficient holographic lens”—which is apparently marketingspeak for an inverted mirrored cone at the top to scatter the light, and some kind of silvery translucent coating on the interior of the plastic “globe” to soften and spread the glow.

Joby Gorillatorch Switchback headlamp and lantern comboThe lantern works fine just to stand it there, or you can hang it by built-in plastic hook on top (perfect for inside the tent), or use the included Gorillapod tripod to stand it on a table or secure it to a branch or pole.

Yep. The kit comes with a classic Gorillapod tripod. If you’ve never seen this, it is a small tripod, about 6.5″ long, buts it’s legs are flexible, made up of grippy knobs that you can wrap around poles, branches, etc. (or you can stand it up, traditional-style).

Bonus: The tripod comes with the removable screwplate that fits into a standard camera thread. You remove the screwplate to slide the lamp bottom into place, so it’s probably best to just leave the screwplate attached to your camera so you don’t lose it.

PROS

Unique to this product

  • Can use as headlamp for tasks, or as lantern for area/tent illumination.
  • Included Gorillapod tripod can do double duty as a small camera tripod.
  • Can place on table, perch on included Gorillapod tripod, or hang by hook.

Other nice features

  • LED lights (brighter and lasts longer than incandescent).
  • Among the brightest in the business. Most headlamps max out at 80–100 lumens. Joby Gorillatorch Switchback max illumination is 130 lumens (same as top-end pro models from Princeton Tec, which come at twice the price)—but it can also reduce as low as 5 lumens (great for maintaining night vision—and preserving battery life).
  • Headlamp by defaults turns on at lower setting; also offers dimmer function. Hold button down to steadily strengthen light—or push twice to ramp up to full power fast.
  • Headlamp band soft and elastic; it cushions the product nearly all the way around; the only contact points between hard plastic and head are at adjustment buckle by left temple (not an issue) and end buckle on forehead by lamp (would be nice if this were moved to the back). (If you’ve ever worn a headlamp for hours on end, you’ll know this a concern.) Headlamp hinged at base so you can flip it down through five points in a 90-degrees arc (flips all the way horizontal, so you don’t have to look straight down to get light at your feet). Lantern collapses into its own housing sleeve, making it more compact for carrying.
  • Choice of bright white light or night-vision-saving red light.
  • Lantern provides nice, diffuse, even glow; many competitors suffer from streaky light and/or glare.
  • Battery strength indicator lets you know when it is getting low.
  • Compact—by LED lantern standards. Closed, the Joby is 3.3″ x 4.5″ x 2.1″. The Coleman Exponent Pack-Away LED Lantern (similar construction/design—though uneven output) and Brunton Glorb LED XB Lantern (doesn’t fold away) are each only a shade smaller—though neither has a red light option, has variable strength settings, is as powerful (95 lumens for the Coleman, 60 lumens for the Brunton), or lasts as long (12 hr for the Coleman, 50 hr for the Brunton)—nor, of course do the others transform into headlamps as does the Joby.
  • Light—again, by LED lantern standards. The whole Joby kit weighs 9 oz. To compare: the headlamp-less Coleman Exponent is 8 oz; the Brunton Glorb is 4.2 oz.(The Joby‘s headlamp portion alone is 5 oz.—about average for most banded headlamps with this power and range, though less powerful headlamps can weigh in at less than 3 oz.).


CONS

  • Can’t adjust level of red light (always best to use lowest level possibly to preserve night vision).
  • Battery life pretty brief. 72 hr at the low setting will get you through a weekend fine, but you’ll burn though the 90 min. you get at full power over just one dinner. Bringing extra batteries solves this (and is a must), but isn’t very efficient or eco-friendly. Other headlamps (admittedly more expensive, pro models) manage 72 hours at 200 lumens on 4 AA batteries, or 80 hours at 100 lumens on 3 AA batteries. Hope Joby can increase efficiency in future models.

Minor quibbles

  • Battery pack at back of head; hard to lie down while wearing (note: many headlamps suffer this design flaw; only models with batteries installed directly behind lamp do not).
  • Wires on the headband are external; potential to snag on things. (Again: common to all headlamps with battery packs on the back of the band).
  • Plastic hook on top does fold partly into lid, but still sticks up (minor form factor annoyance).
  • The included Gorillapod tripod is the smaller model (they make several), so it can’t support anything heavier than a pocket camera without drooping. However, since being able to use the lantern stand also as a versatile tripod for a camera in the first place is but a wonderful added bonus to the kit, I hesitate even to bring this up. (You can always buy separately the bigger, beefier Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom made for larger, heavier cameras—if you do, let me know how it works; I haven’t yet gotten around to getting and testing one.)
  • Construction seems a little flimsy (well, it is all plastic). The top hook feels as if it could break off if over-used as a means of pulling out the nested lantern “globe” sleeve—which itself seems like it could easily pop out if a tab or two of plastic inside snapped. However, I did say it only “seems” flimsy. My three-year-old—who commandeered the Gorillatorch Switchback almost as soon as I had it out of the box—has been banging it around the house for a month and it hasn’t broken yet.


» Get it at REI.com

* The item reviewed was provided by the manufacturer. Please read our disclosure policy.