By Devin Kouts
Two weeks of caving in Belize and I'm very pleased with my new Photon Fusion
headlamp. The light it puts out is a step up from what I used to get by with in
the days of carbide and the even illumination it delivers beats anything I ever
got from an incandescent lamp.
Caving in Belize is very different from what one normally experiences in the
Virginias. Passage is MUCH larger. ceiling heights to 200 feet are very common
and passages are just as wide, too. I entered Barton Creek cave with a supreme
feeling of inadequacy when I saw some of the high out put Tag lite's and other
home grown contraptions that had been flown in by other members of the
expedition. But after the customary adjustment to cave conditions I was very
pleased with the illumination my Fusion gave me.
Photon Fusion stood up to constant wet conditions in Belize, although it never
really went through a full dunk test.
The Fusion has a dual switch built into the top of it. Pressing the left side
of the switch turns the headlamp on to it's highest brightness. I found this to
be the setting I prefered for most of the trunk passage that we walked or
surveyed in Belize. I also noticed that it was bright enough to annoy the hell
out of my fellow cavers (who had their own bright headlamps). With the headlamp
on it's highest setting I was able to see walls up to 150 feet distant with no
difficulty (measured with a laser range finder). While I could illuminate
things in great detail there was enough light return at those distances to make
out significant features. For instance, while observing a ceiling 140 overhead,
I was able to discern a ledge with a possible lead above it. Turning to my
handheld Pelican light, I was then able to spot the lead and verify what I had
The right side of the dual switch gives access to all the other light levels
and functions of the Fusion. Holding the right side down will cycle through
High, Medium, and Low light settings. Continuing to hold the right side button
down will turn on a fast strobe, then a slow strobe, then a flashing SOS
beacon, and finally a mode that indicates how much battery life is left. One
neat feature, after cycling to a particular setting, you can access that
setting with just a press of the right side button. This makes it easy to go from
high bright (pushing the left side button) to low bright (by pushing the right
side button). This capability was particularly useful during survey. Looking at
the sketch book with high bright turned on would burn out my night vision.
Hitting the right button and going to low bright during sketch was very
The Photon Fusion (left) is more compact than the Petzl Duo (right) and
seems to offer a superior illumination (my empirical observation and personal
When the batteries run low, the lamp will switch off automatically for a few
seconds. This gives the batteries a change to build charge, after which the
lamp will cycle back on. It's a decent design concept, but in practice it could
put the caver in danger, especially if light is lost during a critical move.
Instead of switching the lamp off with no warning, I would
prefer some kind of indication that the batteries were running low. Maybe a
pulsing light, or automatically switching to a lower brightness setting.
The headlamp seems to make very efficient use of batteries. I used some very
cheap batteries, Safeway brand, and regularly saw 4 hours of illumination out
of three cells before the lamp would begin to cycle off for a recharge. And
using the headlamp at full brightness, all the time. When the batteries began
to run low I could work very comfortably on the medium brightness setting. I
never used it long enough to see how much time I could get out of the medium
The headlamp is compact and light on the front of the
The rubber shield around the lens helps keep light from bleeding out to
the side (possibly bugging other cavers).
The water resistant assembly stood up
very well to cave mud and handling with muddy gloves.
The battery compartment is held closed with a small plastic tab. This was
frequently a pain to open and required strong fingernails to pry it up.
Conversely, when closing the battery compartment, it occasionally took a couple
tries to get the batteries seated properly and the lid secured in place. These
not significant issues, but worth mentioning, because they could be a big
hassle for people with limited finger dexterity.
Summary: Other than two minor draw backs (battery compartment and the automatic
switch off) I found the Photon Fusion to be a durable, and luminous headlamp.
It stood up to two solid weeks of wet, muddy caving conditions without so much
as a wimper. Never once did it let me down or not function as designed. The 6
LEDs offer more than abundant light and easily illuminate large cave passage.
It will handle anything I normally cave in the Appalachians and the dual switch
is exceptionally useful for when I sketch and survey.
I'll retire my previous LED headlamp (a four LED Illuminator) to backup
status in my cave pack. I'll make sure I keep a bright Pelican handlight
at those really high ceilings. And I'll keep the Photon Fusion on my helmet as
my new primary lamp.