Our favorite headlamp: the liteXpress Liberty 111

Our favorite headlamp: the liteXpress Liberty 111

No matter if you are going out camping, backpacking or climbing a mountain, there is one accessory which is absolutely essential: a small, light, bright and reliable headlamp.

From a flashlight to a headlamp

Not that long ago the de facto light source for travelers, hunters or police officers was a batton-like flashlight (one that you carry in your hand) and owning a Maglite was a source of pride for anyone. But the times have changed: around 2010 krypton and xenon incandescent bulbs gave way to tiny and highly energy-efficient LEDs. These required much smaller batteries, so in turn the lamps became much smaller and lighter and eventually moved to the most logical place of your body — to your forehead.

This has two significant advantages:

  • With a headlamp you can climb, build a tent or operate any tool using both hands.
  • The light automatically follows your head and eyes, and shines exactly where you want it to.

The liteXpress Liberty 111

There’s no shortage of headlamps on the market today, and surely many of them are very good. So we don’t claim that our choice is the best, but with its great mixture of performance, weight and price it’s surely in the top 5%.

liteXpress is a German company and the Liberty 111 (sometimes called Liberty 111-2, but it’s the same thing) is one of their mid-tier headlamps.

To give you an idea about the price, when we purchased our original Liberty lamps 3 year ago, we paid about 21 EUR each and a week ago just 12 EUR each.

Brightness and intended use

The Liberty 111 uses a single white LED and these are its official brightness values:

Mode Brightness Lighting distance Lighting duration with fresh batteries
High 90 ANSI lumen 100 meters 8 hours
Low 26 ANSI lumen 40 meters 94 hours

My subjective opinion is this: don’t expect it to match a 100W bulb, but for a battery-powered device the 90 lumens feel very bright. Even the “low” setting is sufficient in many situations, however sometimes I wish the lamp had an additional “medium” setting of about 50 lumens.

The Liberty 111 also has a blinking mode, which you enter by holding the on/off button pressed for 3 seconds. I guess, this only makes sense in an emergency when you want to attract attention to yourself. With a new set of batteries the lamp will blink for 50 hours, which hopefully is long enough for you to be found and rescued.

The lighting angle of the Liberty 111 is fixed — it lights up an adequate area so you are well aware of your surroundings, but it also focuses most of the light in the middle where you need it most.

You might find the lack of variable lighting angle limiting, but I’d like to argue that no headlamp needs this. If you want to scan a far-away location for details or to pinpoint your light beam onto a fixed area with a headlamp buy a flashlight instead and enjoy your headlamp for lighting up your close surroundings, moving quickly and comfortably and being able to use both hands at the same time.

Adventurers discovering a natural cave

Batteries

The Liberty 111 runs on 3 AAA batteries, which are even included in the original packaging. However Katja and I have been running all our electronics on inexpensive and long-lasting rechargeable batteries, which I bought together with a good charger about 4 years ago. We’ve use rechargeable batteries very often and they are still going strong, so we’ll never go back, especially since we know how damaging old batteries can be to the environment.

Comfort features

Including batteries and both the circular and vertical straps, my Liberty 111 weighs just 98 grams. I find this very light and not at all objectionable even after hours of wearing it on my head.

But the thing that makes this headlamp most comfortable and almost unique among its competitors is the additional vertical strap. Without it the headlamp slips down from your forehead unless you tighten the circular strap quite a bit, which causes a headache for me after just a few minutes. With the extra strap I can leave the circular band very loose, and the Liberty still stays where I want it to stay and causes no headaches at all.

Disadvantages

According to liteExpress, the Liberty 111 is rated IPX4, which means that for at least 5 minutes it should be able to withstand 10 liters of water per minute splashing against the lamp from any direction with no harmful effect.

Sounds pretty good, right? However while in Ecuador, on a day-hike across the Cajas National Park, we started an 8-hour hike in a bit of an iffy weather and after about 1/3 of the distance we got caught up in a continuous moderate rain. We put on our rain jackets and slipped rain covers over our backpacks, but after 5 hours of walking through the rain we were wet here and there and also sweating a bit underneath our rain clothes. One of our Liberty 111’s was in Katja’s backpack, all the way on the bottom. When we got back to our hotel room and unpacked our things, Katja noticed that despite the rain cover, her backpack and its contents were moist. Not dripping with water, not wet, simply moist. But the Liberty 111 was playing crazy: I could turn it on but not off. After taking out the batteries and waiting for it to dry out completely, it would turn on, but only to low and not to high. A few days later I tried it again with freshly charged batteries and no light came out at all.

So I looked on the internet for users with similar experiences, and I found that we were not alone. Various users described similar experiences, but not only with the Liberty, not only with liteXpress, but also with almost every model from the competition.

So it seems difficult to find any moderately priced headlamp which is safe against moderate rain. Unless it’s specifically designed for underwater use (like the Liberty Aqua 1), but such headlamps are usually about twice the size and weight of the Liberty 111.

PLEASE: If you have personally used a small and light headlamp in medium rain for at least an hour and it survived, please share the model name in the comments below.

liteXpress Liberty 111 LED closeup

Our personal experiences

Despite the disappointing rain experience, Katja and I love our liteXpress Liberty 111 headlamps. We’ve used them on every camping and backpacking trip since 2012, in many tough situations, on dusty and shaky rides as well as hikes in icy cold and pretty hot weather. We used both lamps during our world trip in 2014, mountain climbs like the dusty 3-hour Rinjani summit and the 5 hours Huayna Potosi summit in heavy snow. The headlamps have taken quite a beating and look quite used up, but we love them even more because of that.

After Katja’s lamp got broken in the wet backpack I performed a comprehensive market research in May of 2015, and after briefly considering the Petzl Tikka, Mammut T-Trail or Black Diamond Cosmo, I decided that the liteXpress Liberty 111, especially because of its additional vertical strap, is still the best headlamp for our intended use and budget. So I bought two new ones, one for Katja and one as a backup.

We are very much looking forward to using the lamps on all contents of this world!

The start of the Rinjani climb

The start of the Rinjani climb. The orange lights at the top are our tents and all white ones are the headlamps of the individual climbers. The guy in the red t-shirt is Bojidar wearing a Liberty 111 on his forehead.

 

Katja and I on the Rinjani summit. Katja is still carrying her headlamp.

Bojidar and Katja on the Rinjani summit. Katja is still wearing her headlamp.

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