The world of high-end flashlights is a lot like that of high-end watches. Many will argue that a $15 WalMart Casio may keep time just the same as a $15k Rolex and that the difference in price justifies only exponentially smaller benefits as those prices get further and further apart. The same argument can also be made for $100+ flashlights that would seemingly be used only by those who would prefer the Rolex, while those Casio wearing peasants can get by with the flashlight apps on their phones.
Take the Nebo O2Beam, an absurd flashlight that took 420 lumens of light and focused them into a laser sharp beam, all wrapped up in an aggressive aluminum casing that looked like it belonged mounted on the business end of an AR15. It is an amazing product and a great light, but one that was worth the $100+ pricetag at the time of testing? I think I’ll stick with my cell phone light.
With this environment in mind, any newcomers to the $100+ flashlight club have a lot to do to stand out from the crowd and show why it’s worth buying the Rolex. The brand new Barebones Trailblazer tries to make this case, a gadget that falls five cents shy of the $100 mark, but quickly shows that premium prices don’t always mean a small increase in functionality. Let’s get right to it:
- Light: Let’s start with the basics on this one- just how bright is the Trailblazer? Barebones claims a 500 lumen output through an adjustable beam. For comparison, that’s 19% brighter than the Nebo 02 and while the Trailblazer’s most narrow beam focus is a bit underwhelming, make no mistake- it is exceptionally bright. Even with the beam placed in full spread, those 500 lumens are sufficient for pretty much any situation. It doesn’t sport quite the range and the tight beam as a Nebo 02, but that’s not really the point in this case.
- Build: It’s heavy, but not annoyingly so. The weight shouldn’t be considered a downside, rather indicating a product that is well built. The metal casing is solid, there’s no loose parts, and the swivel head stays firmly in place when set to a different angle.
- Battery Life: The battery in the Trailblazer is a rechargeable unit powered by GoalZero. With a moderate 5 hour charge time, this unit provides up to 4 hours of light when the flashlight is on it’s high output setting, which is exceptional considering just how bright the light is. On low, that’s enough for 80+ hours.
- Device Charging: The ace up the Trailblazer’s sleeve its ability to recharge any electronic device that plugs into a standard USB port. This USB port, which is also used to charge the unit, turns the Trailblazer into a backup battery supply for your phone, iPad, or even other rechargeable flashlights (kinda cannibalistic, huh?). The battery is a massive 4500 mAh, which is way more than enough to charge your phone and have plenty of juice left over.
- Swivel Head, Large Base: The flashlight’s head swivels 90 degrees, which at first comes across as a nice, yet unnecessary, feature; when holding the Trailblazer like you would with any other flashlight, it’s not all that handy. But Barebones designed a flat base into the unit, allowing it to stand on its own and taking full advantage of the head’s maneuverability. Now, the light can be fully utilized without needing to be held by the user.
- IPX4 Rated: Barebones also went through the trouble of getting the Trailblazer rated IPX4. Essentially, this means the unit will be totally fine in situations that involve light to moderate moisture, like being left out in the rain or a quick spill of water on the casing. Oddly, Barebones doesn’t tout this rating in their online description of the Trailblazer, despite being a feature that would likely sway potential buyers to pull the trigger on purchasing it over a competing product.
- Price: $99.95 (you can get the best deal from CampSaver.com)
We haven’t had the chance to thoroughly vet the Barebones Trailblazer in a typical ORG camping, backpacking, or hiking situation. But it proved to be super useful when Utah’s first major snowstorm hit a week ago and I needed to put my car’s snow tires on. There I was, out in the street, 9 o’clock at night with snow falling all around, and the Trailblazer stood on its wide base with the head tilted down, doing exactly what it needed to do. 30 minutes, one beer, and a few swear words later, the snow tires were on my car, washed in light shooting out of a 500 lumen LED bulb with snow falling all around.
In the world of high end flashlights, you need to know what you want out of the device you opt to purchase. The Nebo O2 Beam, for example, is the party trick device. This insane flashlight will wow your friends, illuminate the stop sign four blocks away, and that’s about it. It’s the 007 laser watch of the flashlight world. Expensive, stylish, entertaining but not very practical.
The Barebones Trailblazer, on the other hand, is a Rolex Submariner. Practical, well designed, and extraordinarily functional. And when I’m changing my tires in the snow, you won’t find me using my James Bond laser watch- I’ll be using my Rolex.