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Gear Review: Petzl CORE Headlamp Battery System
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Feb 2, 2012
Rock Climbing Photo: CORE

A good headlamp is a luxury while whiling away the hours around camp during a road trip and conversely a necessary evil for alpine starts (and possibly finishes) to big climbing days. But the overwhelming popularity modern AAA-powered LED lamps like the Petzl Tikka series indicates that choosing a headlamp, at least, is simple. This year, with the release of Petzl’s CORE battery system, those great Tikka headlamps became even better.

Of course the obvious question is “why pay $40 for the CORE when I could just continue to use alkaline's or just buy some rechargeable AAA's for a fraction of the cost?" When the CORE was first announced, I dismissed it for that very reason. However, as I dug deeper I discovered that the CORE is indeed more than an expensive rechargeable battery. One factor in particular – the ability to recharge it via a USB connection – ultimately compelled me to start using it. But first, a basic overview of the product.

The CORE is a 900 mAh lithium ion battery that works with any second-generation Tikka headlamp by taking the place, both physically and functionally, of the AAA batteries. When Petzl designed their current line of Tikka headlamps, they ingeniously gave them all the same form-factor, so even though they have different brightness levels and features, they all can accommodate the CORE.

Installation is easy: Pop open the Tikka, completely separate the two halves, snap the CORE into place and close the halves together as usual. To recharge the CORE, one needn't remove it; simply opening the two halves of the headlamp reveals a USB port. An included cable then allows the CORE to be recharged via any USB power source (think laptop or iPhone wall adaptor). Recharge time is about 3 hours and a multi-colored LED indicates progress.

When connected to a computer, the CORE’s operation can be customized via Petzl OS, a free application available on Petzl’s website. The OS software is very easy to use and has a simple, intuitive graphical interface. Basically, one first chooses whether the CORE’s output is regulated (ie consistent brightness until the battery runs out of power) or unregulated (ie the headlamp is brightest when fully charged then gradually dims as the battery is depleted). The only advantage to the latter, as far as I can deduce, is a slightly brighter initial output when the CORE is fully charged. Next, each brightness setting is configured – most Tikka’s have two, the high setting activated by a single button push and the low setting activated by two rapid pushes. These are configured by moving sliders along each axis of a graphical representation of light brightness vs. duration. At any time during the process previewing the output is possible with a click of a button which causes the headlamp to actually turn on at the current setting.

Rock Climbing Photo: Petzl OS
Petzl OS

I programmed my Tikka XP2 so that it would be as bright as possible, but still last for 6 hours, in the high setting. In the low setting it is just bright enough for camp chores and reading, but it will last a long time. However, even without programming, the default CORE settings are such that it is highly usable right out of the box.

The CORE lengthens the profile of the Tikka headlamps by about two millimeters, but does not come at a weight penalty. In fact, on my scale it checked in at a few grams lighter than AAA batteries. This difference is not noticeable while using the headlamp, but the added bulk, unfortunately, is. I found that with aggressive hiking or while running, my Tikka XP2 bounced a little more on my head. This might not be an issue with the other, more compact Tikka models, and even with the XP2 it is not an issue while climbing or around camp, but if your intended use is for trail running, this could be a concern.

What other advantages does the CORE provide? Here are a few:

  • The CORE's claimed lifespan of 300 charge cycles replaces 900 AAA batteries.
  • The CORE's lithium ion battery is less affected by cold temperatures and functions better in such conditions than alkalines.
  • The CORE can be recharged via a USB cord (the CORE end of the cord is Micro USB). This, for me, was a big selling point. My headlamp was the last item in my kit (which includes an iPod, a camera, and water treatment) that still required traditional batteries. Now I can recharge all my field electronics via USB – allowing me to pack a USB battery pack or solar panel as situations dictate. For most climbers carrying extra AAA's is not a big deal, but with the CORE you’ll never lose batteries or wonder if the "backups" you packed are actually any good.
  • A green/yellow/red LED indicates battery strength and charging progress. No more guesswork: once the red LED is illuminated, plug it in.
  • The included USB cord is short (which eliminates unnecessary weight and tangles).

Limitations? Yes, there are a few:
  • Cost. Although doing the math and comparing the price of 900 AAA batteries (the projected life of the CORE) might prove otherwise.
  • Petzl OS software compatibility. Unfortunately I'm one of the few who still uses a Mac with an old Power PC processor. In order to run Petzl OS, Apple users need to download a free Adobe product called "Adobe Air". Sadly, Adobe doesn't support older Power PC processors, so I was out of luck. The good news is that most current Apple computers have Intel processors for which Adobe Air is readily available. Nevertheless Petzl would be wise to create software that wasn't dependent upon a third-party utility. How did I end up programming my headlamp? I borrowed my housemate's Windows machine. Yes, Petzl OS is fully compatible with Windows.
  • Charging time. I found that the stated time to full charge of 3 hours actually only brought the CORE to about 80-90%. Bringing it to full capacity took three to five hours on a wall outlet, and longer using typical solar panels.

Retail price: $41.95

More information, and a good video of the CORE, is available at Petzl's website at:
Josh Janes
Joined Jun 8, 2001
7,848 points
Feb 2, 2012
How long does it take to recharge the battery via USB? Is it possible to use against solar charger? divnamite
From New York, NY
Joined Aug 1, 2007
90 points
Feb 2, 2012
Is the lamp-side of the charger cable micro USB? Craig T
From Chicago, IL
Joined Apr 19, 2010
0 points
General Admin
Feb 2, 2012
Yes, Micro USB. 2-5+ hours recharge time depending on power source. Solar panels should work fine. Josh Janes
Joined Jun 8, 2001
7,848 points
Mar 29, 2012
So far I really like is nice to know that I am starting off with a fresh charge and steady brightness.

However, I know it doesn't last as long or burn as bright.

I couldn't see using the Core on a long backpacking trip either since it won't last as long.

Considering how three AAAs weigh 1.3 ounces and the lightest Goal Zero panel is 14 ounces this really doesn't make sense...

But it still pretty neat to have :p
From Indiana
Joined Oct 4, 2010
0 points

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