Dim Bulb Tests Lithium Batteries at 2 a.m.

You are burning those new LED flashlights for long night 100-mile quests. You need lithium batteries popularly made by a wild bunny named Energizer. They have two choices. I tested them for you in the middle of the night. But, what about that tree . . . .

So it’s 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning — or Saturday night depending if you’ve yet to get to bed — and I hit the highway in the Ultra Superior-mobile to arrive at a Twin Cities favorite hilly and long trail system across town. Look at all the traffic . . . knowing the DWI enforcement is up in Minnesota I’m sure everyone driving is unimpaired; yeah, right.

Law enforcement has random roadblocks up checking drivers. I wonder what they would think of me in my hot weather gear with my upper straps carrying stuff already attached, headlamp placed, bags of gear and drinks in my seat . . . . “Where you goin’, son?” Well, Officer, sir, I’m going to run some mountainous trails tonight. All night. “You some kind of a kook? What’s that you’re drinkin’?” It’s a pre-run drink, it’s just chocolate and things mixed with water. It’s liquid food.

“You seem a little crazy to me.” That was exactly what my wife said.

I have two 4-packs of Energizer Lithium batteries of the less expensive “Advanced” brand and their “Ultimate” brand I purchased at retail from Target. Advanced is 4X longer in digital cameras vs. their Energizer Max brand (the fine print). Ultimate is 8X longer. What does that mean to a trail runner? That’s the objective; quantify at least relatively the difference on the trail. The Advanced quartet is about $6.50 with Ultimates at $10.00, so these are not inexpensive. Can I make do with the cheaper or what?

I have identical Fenix flashlights requiring two AA batteries. They are on opposing sides on my Nathan waist belt, held beam-forward by advanced materials: thick rubber bands. These work great as one can adjust the beam when climbing or descending long hills.

In the rear — literally — I have radically ‘adjusted’ the Nathan standard bottle holder so I can carry a larger 32 oz. container of my water mix versus its original design for 16 oz. I sawed it, bisecting the holder, used duct tape to seal the edges, and added rubber bands to keep the two ‘clamps’ of material together. If an officer had seen that in my car, suspicions would have grown of something nefarious going on because it does look suspicious — a Cytomax bomb. But it works extremely well.

I hit the trail about 2:00 — gosh, it’s wonderful out here — and have the Advanced batteries in my left light, the Ultimates on the right. I switch on the Advanced version of my two flashlights and compliment the light with my Black Diamond Icon headlight. I prefer this Black Diamond (my older version is powered by two standard double AA cells, now they have three) because the batteries rest on my back of the head, and there is an additional band that goes over the top of the head — it doesn’t slide down my forehead. Plus, the brand is incredibly dependable and tough. 

I use the headlight tonight in the test while descending or ascending hills. Normally I would burn both lights for the night run, subscribing to the theme more light, less chance to fall.

The Advanced gave me a strong beam for 56 minutes. They powered the hungry Fenix lights — they eat batteries like a horse in a barrel of sugar cubes — with a usable beam for 90 minutes. They were not ‘out’ by any stretch of imagination, but when running dark trails on shoes or snowshoes, I have learned when the lights are dim, my enthusiasm for the trek grows dim.

So I would replace them at that point or switch on the other light, which is exactly what I did. Amazingly, the Ultimates lasted with the strong beam almost exactly double the Advanced version — 113 minutes. And the dimmer beam was sufficient for the same increase, too, about double, one hour.

In both lights, I used the max beam. When trail running at night, I don’t want to skimp on lumens. If you can get along with less light, you will get far more time from your batteries.

Fog dominated some of the upper areas of the forest, and the Ultimate powered Fenix light beam shot through it like an Obi-Wan Kenobi sword — straight and a slicing true. I had my own Star Wars instrument! “Be the Force, Phil,” I thought I heard in the quiet skies.

So what did I learn? For trail uses, the Ultimates are the bargain of the two if one can think a $2.50 AA battery is a bargain. Using them to maximize vision, they are the best thing going. You’ve never seen real dark until you have been on the Superior Trails at night. Those midnight paths are a new definition of black. These batteries and lights will overcome that.

I will use the Ultimates because their added power will reduce the number of battery changes I have to make while out in the woods, meaning less fuss and muss and extras I carry.

For shorter night sessions, use the Advanced batteries. Afterward, you dispose of them so you won’t be questioning yourself the next time you use you light, “Did I use these last time or not?”

While using the Ultimates, climbing a steep hill I’ve been on innumerable times, and after years in the forests at night (and day), an amazing occurrence shocked me. I heard a crack as I was climbing, off to my left. My first thought was a deer breaking a limb while in a hurry to leave, but a second later I hear a big crack and the beginning rush of a tree falling through the forest foliage.

I immediately pick up what little steam I have to go higher quickly, going against the (hopeful) gravity pull of the tree downhill. Of course, a tree can fall in any direction but under the astonishment of the moment, I felt the odds were better “up” the climb.

Now this was all in the flash of a moment and by the time I had taken a step-and-a-half, the tree had smacked the ground and its weighty plumage was now laid to quiet. Happy not to have been squished — I saw the headline possibilities, “Runner felled by tree, but flashlights burned brightly” — I continued repeats on the hill’s path.

Finally, about 6:30 I arrive in the parking lot and recognize some of the cars and trucks that have arrived in my absence. I had all three lights lit, two on either side plus my headlamp, though they weren’t necessarily needed. The Advanced battery-light had cooled down — the LED lights get heated — and still put out a decent beam. As Zach Pierce, UMTR Board member, pulled up next to my car I hear him say, “You look like a Martian.” I’ve heard worse.

He was nursing a foot injury that caused him to call his run quits after a couple of miles. He is pacing Molly Cochran in the Sawtooth 100 September 10 – 11. She was there on the trail some place with Jason Husveth, his friend, and Jim Wilson who are also attempting that monster.

I have discovered that strong lights — and more lights — help cover ground in the night. Wynn Davis when he was active in the 100-mile trail endurance runs was known to have Mack Truck kind of lighting. His example was a good one. www.Backcountry.com is one place to look. They have the Black Diamond Icon plus many others at the best prices I found.

Check http://www.4sevens.com/. They have Fenix lights plus have created a new brand of their own, Quark, which may be of interest. National discount chains like Target and Wal-Mart generally have the better pricing on the lithium batteries.

Write to Phillip: phillipgary@snowshoemag.com

About the author


Phillip Gary Smith

Phillip Gary Smith, Senior Editor, published "The 300-Mile Man" about Roberto Marron's historic doubling of the Tuscobia 150 mile endurance snow run. He publishes "iHarmonizing Competition" on various forms of competition, including drag racing, his favorite motorsport. Earlier, he wrote "HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life" as a manual for life with chapters such as Winning by Losing, Can God Pay Your Visa Bill?, and a young classic story, The Year I Met a Christmas Angel. His book, "Ultra Superior," is the first written on the Superior Trail ultra-distance events. He mixes writing with his profession--the venture capital world--a dying art. He is a creator of CUBE Speakers, a group espousing themes in "HARMONIZING: Keys" in a unique way. Currently, he has two books in the works.
Write to him at Phillip@ultrasuperior.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook @iHarmonizing.