LUMENS – Shedding light on the matter


It seems that the latest thing us guys can boast and brag about is how many lumens our headlamps are putting out.

Nowadays, it’s not as fashionable to brag about the cubic capacity of your engine (eco-friendly times that they are) – but get a couple of guys in a hut around a table talking about gear, and at some point the lumen wars will begin. But what is a Lumen?

LUMENS – Shedding light on the matter

It used to be all about Watts, Watts measure the amount of energy required to light products, whereas lumens measure the amount of light produced. The more lumens in a light bulb, the brighter the light. While it used to be all about how many Watts you had, Lumens are a far better measure – it’s about how much light actually gets out – not just a case of how much power is being used.

Watts measure the amount of energy required to light products, whereas lumens measure the amount of light produced. The more lumens in a light bulb, the brighter the light.

The lumen is a measure of the total “amount” of visible light emitted by a source. Lumens are related to lux in that one lux is one lumen per square meter.

The beauty with the Lumens measurement is that, because it’s a measure of the actual light coming out, it provides a way of comparing different forms of lamps – it doesn’t matter if its an incandescent, CFL or LED, which all have different power (Watt) consumptions, 200 Lumens is always going to be brighter than 100 lumens. For example, a 6.5W LED lamp will give a similar light output to a 50W Halogen bulb using the same amount of Watts.



But how many Lumens do I need?

Tricky question. The response I would have would be – ‘what are you going to use it for?’.

While it might seem logical that more are better, it isn’t always the case. Depending what you are up too, you may find too much light becomes distracting. Both to yourself, and anyone else around you.

For example – I recently picked up a Black Diamond Icon. It an incredible headlamp. Very powerful. Powerful enough to annoy the shit out of anyone around me as I blind them by just looking in their general direction. While I am going to keep it for certain purposes – for tramping/working with others, I am going to have to get something a little more subdued, and leave the high power option for my handheld.


However, I also have a Four Seven Maelstrom – it’s got 1600 lumens on tap, but would only last for 2 hours running. Ideal for spotlighting the entire neighbourhood, totally useless for up-close work. It’s going to live in a pouch on the pack for when I need to really light up the horizon.

Weighing up power vs. Life

1600 lumens comes at a price – in the case of the Maelstrom, it’s battery life. Using a large proprietary battery, the unit itself is surprisingly small, packing a lot of intense light into a small size – but as above – you will only get 2 hours life out of it. However, the other power setting it 200 lumens. Still high, but much more usable close-up and giving you 11 hours using it that way.

You really need to think hard about what you are going to be using the lamp for. Working close, needing to look around, under, over items like in a LandSAR operation? Probably want a handheld and probably with less power than you might think. Looking for possums in trees a distance off? More power and a focused beam. Working around camp? Something bright enough to let you see what you need to do, but not so bright that you lose all sense of being ‘in’ the bush. Remember also, the brighter the light, the more it is going to knock your night vision about. You might find, on a moonlight night, you need a lot less than you think.