Petzl Nao – Tested and Reviewed

Petzl Nao

Although the days are getting longer and longer, I have taken every opportunity to use my Petzl Nao since I was lucky enough to get a demo unit from Petzl in the early spring. The new Nao is something unique in the high powered lamp market as it auto adjusts it’s own brightness and beam pattern as you use it.

The Nao measures the amount of light that is reflected back at it, and the more light it receives the more it turns itself down. The idea is that if you are looking at a map then a lot of light will bounce off the map and the lamp will adjust to it’s preset reading light level. If no reflected light is received then you are looking into the far distance and the full power long distance beam light is used. If a small amount of light is being reflected then you are probably looking at something in the near to middle distance so medium power and a wide beam flood is used. Apart from not blinding yourself when you look at the map on full power the real benefit of the Nao is that it achieves a really long life from a small rechargeable battery.

It really works! Both for general about camp type use and technical night trail running which are the two things I have used it for so far. The light adjusts so quickly that half the time you don’t even notice it doing so. You tend to see the power go up if you look into the far distance but don’t see it come down as you look at close objects. You can switch between the reactive power levels (up to 5 levels) and constant power levels (again a max choice of 5) with short or long turns of the single knob. The chunky knob was easy to use with gloves on, a trick passed down from the Ultra.

An environmental review of Petzl highlighted that their greatest problem was disposable batteries. Since then Petzl have been promoting rechargeable lithium batteries. First was the Core battery for the Tikka/Zipka range and similar technology is being used with the Nao. The battery is a custom Lithium Ion one.  The software on your PC allows you to customise the minimum and maximum light output for the different amount of reflected light. You can even have multiple sets of settings for different sports and change the battery between them whilst it is connected to your PC. This is very quick and as the battery is USB charged it’s often connected to your computer with the included lead. The Nao can also be converted to a remote battery with the Nao Belt Kit.

Nao battery with USB connection

The software is mainly graphical so it’s quite obvious what you are changing and you get an average battery life estimate for your settings. The battery life will always be an estimate because it depends how long you spend looking at what distances. Petzl have down extensive field testing to try to make the estimates as realistic as possible. If you want battery predictability the Nao also has a constant mode where it behaves like any other lamp. You can have between 1 and 5 reactive levels and between 1 and 5 constant levels. If you run your battery flat, you can even replace the rechargeable lithium battery with disposable batteries, however once you have done so the Nao will only run at constant low power.

Nao Software (click to enlarge in new window)

Again I found that the software really works.  On the factory preset – multi activity, the flood beam did not come on early enough for me when running so I increased the reading threshold to maximum and also increased the maximum power of the wide beam, now I get more light whilst looking the same distance in front of me as before. I saved this as my ideal run settings and can refine it again if I want.

The next new feature of the Nao is the strap. Petzl have replaced two thirds of the elastic in the headstrap with cord. The front third of each strap is still elastic to maintain comfort and head grip whilst the rest is cord. The idea is that when you stow the Nao in your pack you use the cord lock to pull everything together and then it  doesn’t come out of your bag in a tangle. This works well but means you have to adjust the tension each time, but that’s very easy. If you never change between a head, hat and helmet so always want the same tension then a little knot in the string works marks the right place. The optional head strap is minimal and not fitted as standard as Petzl don’t think that most people use them. Maybe it’s just because I do a lot of running but I still prefer a top strap, however a minimal one works just fine.  The strap works fine with a helmet and is comfy with a hat but I think lacks a little padding behind the light unit when worn on the bare head.

Headstrap cinched
Headstrap with minimalist top strap

Continuing on with the green theme the Petzl Nao comes in a almost fully recyclable box with no nasty plastic windows or the like. The only part that cannot be recycled is a small magnet that holds the box lid shut. However Petzl are encouraging me to cut this off the box and re use as a fridge magnet. A nice touch or a load of old tosh depending on your stand point.

The Nao has one more surprise up it’s sleeve – the price! The launch price is £135, which for a lithium battery rechargeable lamp kicking out 355 lumens is really good. You can get more lumens per pound but £135 for the feature set and versatility of the Nao seems like a pretty good deal to me. If you are wondering why it’s called the Nao it is Chinese for mind or brain.

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