Featuring unique internal cable routing that runs through the headband, a powerful 400 lumen lamp, and a long runtime with the choice of using rechargeable battery packs or AAA batteries, the Trail Runner Free by Silva is a robust and versatile option for hiking and running.
The Trail Runner Free features Silva’s “Free” technology. Free tech basically forgoes dangling cables and instead routes the wiring through the headband. This means no bouncing wires, no hang-ups, and it allows the headlamp to use a more powerful lamp and a larger battery compartment while distributing the weight between the front and back of the unit. The hybrid battery case supports both a rechargeable battery pack (included in the “H” model) or 3 AAA lithium batteries for longer outings. The lamp pushes between 50 and 400 lumens depending on the mode, has a vivid red LED safety light on the back of the battery case, and includes a locking extension cable that allows the battery pack to be moved off the headband and into a pocket or hip-belt, where it can stay warm or offload its weight. It retails for $120 with the battery pack and weighs 141 grams with the included battery (about 5 ounces).
What I liked
As with most Silva headlamps, the Free series is fairly comfortable. The strap is a wide, stretchy fabric with a gentle yet tacky traction strip printed down the center. The width of the strap allows it to sit gently but snugly against the head, with an easy to use tension/length adjustment allowing it be dialed in for that perfect fit. The lamp and the battery pack themselves both feature a natural feeling curve that rests gently against the skull, allowing it to rest pleasantly in place without creating any distinct pressure points. The light weight design keeps it from bobbing around when jogging, and it stays firmly in place when crawling around too.
The internal cable routing is actually rather nice. Despite it being a seemingly small improvement, having the cable inside the headband makes it basically disappear. The way it is concealed, it cannot be felt nor can it be seen, making the product feel and look especially sleek. What impressed me the most is that the band itself is still able to stretch, meaning there is no loss in comfort or fit.
Having the ability to swap between a rechargeable battery or AAA batteries (lithium recommended) is extremely useful. For long runs or backpacking trips, a set of lithium batteries can be stored just in case the rechargeable battery dies. Lithium batteries also work better in the cold, making it great for cold winter months where a rechargeable may not function for long, or at all. Options are always good, especially when one of the options allows for the reusing of batteries.
The battery compartment can be detached from the headband and moved into a pocket while in use thanks to the included extension cable, where it stays warmer, and thus lasts much longer when temperatures outside drop. This is great for backpacking in the winter and even in the shoulder season when unexpected temperature drops can occur. Just slip the battery into a chest pocket and the battery could easily last 4 times longer if the outside temps are below freezing. This is also true for running in extreme cold as it can deplete a fully charged battery pack’s power in minutes or less, or even damage the battery permanently. The battery pack can also be attached to a belt if the goal is to simply get more weight off the headband, which does improve comfort.
Using the lamp is extremely simple. A single click turns it on, clicking again cycles through the multiple brightness options and to the strobe mode, and holding the button turns the lamp off and shows a quick battery status indicator (green for fully charged, etc). The lamp rotates up and down by simply twisting the head itself. An internal switch within the battery compartment enables the safety light on the rear, which also offers a strobe mode.
Build quality as a whole is very good. It is basically entirely plastic and fabric, but the materials that they chose feel exceptional in their tactility and sturdiness. The molding is nearly flawless, with only a couple minor points of complaint that I could find when looking specifically for them. It does an O.K. job of resisting scratches, although I have put a couple on the exterior of my battery pack. The battery connections and wire jacks feel solid, the battery compartment hinge is stout, and the band has resisted deforming/stretching out. I have no concerns about the long term survivability and expect it to last many seasons.
The device, including the battery, is incredibly light-weight. Visually inspecting it I would assume the weight would be substantial given all the features, but in fact only weighs a scant 5 ounces. This is especially impressive considering the overall built quality.
What I didn’t Like
The charging port is Micro USB, and not USB-C, which means I have to drag out my old legacy charger. Minor inconvenience sure and admittedly most devices of this type still use it, but with so many devices moving over to the fairly universal C standard, I would like to see it become the norm here as well.
I would prefer to have a little extra padding on the lamp side itself. One half side of the lamp has a nice soft pad, but the other has some exposed plastic that does contact the skull directly. It isn’t a negative sensation per say, but I could only imagine a pad, plate or even an extra strip of headband that covered this entire area can only be a plus. The plastic can be felt, and I wouldn’t say it is necessarily uncomfortable, but there is some room for improvement here.
Not sure if this is a pro or a con honestly, but the toggle for the rear safety LED is, for some reason, under the battery cover. It is easy enough to get to, but does require popping open the battery compartment and flipping the physical toggle back and forth, which I’m not a fan of doing if it is raining or if my hands are cold. Not sure the reasoning behind the decision but perhaps it is locked away to avoid accidentally turning it off while hitting the other controls. As the safety light is on the back of the unit and one wouldn’t notice if it was accidentally turned off while running and fumbling with external controls, so this could make a lot of sense. It could also be to simply protect the switch from water contact. Interesting design decision indeed. This is also where the charging port for the battery is located and where AAA batteries can be inserted, minus the battery pack.
The Trail Runner Free is an excellent headlamp. It combines a lamp bright enough for running or backpacking in foul weather, great battery life, and the option to swap out the rechargeable battery for AAAs. In the event of an emergency or longer than expected stint in the wilderness, this is hugely appreciated. I love the simplistic controls, the light-weight yet durable build quality, and the ability to off-load the battery to a pocket or belt (I cannot understate how much of a literal life-saver this can be in some situations). It is a near perfect device, aside from the lack of USB C compatibility and somewhat skimpy padding solution on the lamp itself. Still, the package as a whole makes this one very easy to recommend to basically anyone except the most stringent of gram counters.
The Highest of Recommendations
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