GP Xplor PHR15 Head Torch Review
Rechargeable and distance-sensing head torch that doesn’t break the bank?
Head torch technology has come on a long way since I started working in the outdoors. My first ‘proper’ head torch was a Petzl Zoom. It had a massive alkaline battery and came with a spare bulb – it was also like a candle in a jam jar.
LED head torches started to creep in soon after, with the early ones being fairly disappointing affairs – and quite expensive. Now it seems we can’t move for fear of tripping over inexpensive and fairly powerful LED headlights – is the new Xplor range from pocket-power supplier GP Batteries worth a look, and does their 300 lumen Xplor PHR15 rise above the competition?
You don’t get much in the box – the torch, some AAA rechargeable batteries, a micro USB cable and the strap. I’m always happy for new tech to NOT include a mains/USB converter now – the last thing my home needs is another plug-USB-thing to clutter a drawer or be left plugged into a socket somewhere.
The strap is a simple affair with a reflective strip running around the length and a discreet ‘GP’ logo on each side. A familiar length adjuster sits at the back, and I found there was more than enough adjustment for my mildly-gargantuan 62cm head.
The new XPlor range is part of a raft of new rechargeable products from GP Batteries, part of their drive to encourage users to switch to rechargeable batteries where possible to help the environment. This mirrors my own migration towards USB-rechargeable tech for my work in the outdoors over the last 2 years or so – although my motivations are probably a little less environmental and more about reducing weight, faff and the amount of kit I need to carry. So the first attraction for me in this torch is that it is rechargeable and has a usable 42 hrs of battery life – on the lowest, 5 lumen setting. The batteries included are three AAA ReCyko+ 1000 cells (rated at 950mah) that can be easily swapped out for other batteries if they need replacing when out in the field, and the charging is performed via a micro-USB port on the side. A small green indicator LED positioned just above this port flashes when charging.
It’s a relativey small head torch for the promised power rating, about the size of a GoPro or a DSLR battery (I promise that I am not just comparing it to stuff currently on my desk… honestly…). It still manages to weigh a reasonable 110g, which would make it worth a second thought if you were trying to go for a super-lightweight loadout. The torch unit can angle downwards as far as 60°, with 4 distinct fixed positions available. The IPX6 water resistance is maintained by a rubber cover over the micro-USB charging port and the deep overlap of the two sides of the clamshell case that hold the batteries. This rating makes the head torch suitable for use in the rain but not complete immersion in water.
Everything is controlled via the single green button on the top.
Features and Use
As the nights have been steadily drawing in I have found myself well into the ‘head torch’ period of my working year, so it has given me ample opportunity to put the Xplor PHR15 through a mild amount of outdoor use and abuse.
There are three main lighting modes – Full (300 lumen), Medium (200 lumen) and Dim (5 lumen), and then a fourth ‘SOS’ flashing mode. The single green button controls these modes and cycles through them in the following order:
When the torch is on Full mode a long press on the button (until the main light flashes briefly) will turn on the distance-sensing mode – also signified by that button glowing red. Another single press will revert back to the original cycle.
Finally – when the torch is off a long continuous press will activate a mode where the torch cannot be turned on accidentally – useful for ensuring it doesn’t turn on accidentally when in your rucksack.
As above – the strap is comfortable and adjustable and, well, a strap. The reflective strip is useful for either finding the torch when it’s been foolishly placed somewhere on the ground and you need to find it with your backup light, or for helping to be spotted by others (when walking/running along a roadside maybe, or SAR use). At first I did think it would be able to be flipped over to be non-reflective (for tactical/fieldcraft use) but that still leaves a short section of reflective strip where the adjustment loop sits.
The whole unit is fairly tough (I dropped it a few times, and I don’t spend much effort on keeping my kit pristine – everything I own has to work to earn its keep) and functioned consistently. The battery life for Full power is just about adequate (3 hrs on the supplied NiMh cells) and could be improved to 5 hrs if they were swapped out for alkaline batteries. I would keep this for short use periods (mooching about at camp or as an emergency torch in my mountain kit) but would probably look elsewehere if I wanted a dedicated all-night torch. Of course that USB charging capability extends that use period if you can carry a powerpack to recharge in between uses.
The beam pattern is biased towards a centre spot and some flat illumination either side of that. It reaches out to 157m on Full mode, although I found the useable distance to be a little shorter than that. For SAR/Search Operations use it would be OK for a personal head lamp on short operations but not as a dedicated searching light.
Some minor criticisms
So… this distance-sensing mode thing. It does work – but with some weird quirks. The change between the two modes (Full and Medium) happens smoothly but quickly, with a gradual transition from one mode to the other. It works best when changing between looking down at the path ahead of you and looking up to spot obstacles further ahead – essentially when you are moving through an area with two ‘types’ of distance: near and distant. If you try to use it when moving through dense vegetation or trees (or even when scrambling over/through rocks) and you are constantly looking at different objects of varying distance then the continual switching between modes can be quite annoying, especially as there is a short delay. I found that I just reverted to the single power modes when that happened.
I would also quite like to be able to turn it off instantly rather than having to cycle through the power modes every time – three presses to go from Full to off was irritating a couple of times.
A red light for use for map-reading or preserving natural night vision would also be nice – if this was an absolute requirement I would go for the Xplor PH14 instead which does come with a red-light function.
It’s a great prosumer head torch for the price and fulfills my basic requirements for rechargeable outdoor tech. The distance-sensing function does work and is a nice feature at this price level, but does need to be used in the right place. As outlined above there are a couple of things I would like to see on future models, but I am altogether happy with the compromise of weight, simplicity and function for that pricetag.
In the coming months it’ll probably be my backup mountain/mountain leader head torch, living somewhere in my rucksack lid. I’ll also use it for evening training runs and dog walks, and the few times when one of our training courses run into the darkness hours. For one of our upcoming Night Navigation courses in North Wales or when I need an all-night lighting option I might look elsewhere, but possibly keep the GP Xplor PHR15 as a reliable backup light.