Category: Outdoor Gear

Cycle Torch Shark 500 Bike Light Review

Cycle Torch Shark 500

Last week I reviewed the Cycle Torch Night Owl, an affordable, bright light designed for bike commuting. This week I’m taking a look at its big brother: the Shark 500.

I’ve been really impressed with this light and both myself and my husband have been using it on our bikes. In fact, my husband loves it so much that he’s come up with a way of attaching it to the headband he normally uses for his heavier, battery-pack torch so he can use it for night orienteering.

Cycle Torch Shark 500: Vital Stats

Weight:
Lumens: 500
Modes: 4 (3 levels of brightness + flash)
Run-time: 1.5-30 hours
Where to buy: In the UK, it’s available from Amazon.

First Impressions

Shark box 1The Shark comes in a simple but stylish box. Open it up and you get a thank you note from the company, underneath which is the torch, neatly packaged in foam casing. In fact, you actually get two torches – Cycling Torch throw in a rear light to give you a bit more for your money. Also in the box are three attachment straps of different lengths and two USB charging cables. There’s no instruction manual, but you can download one online.

Shark box 2For a low-cost bike light, the Shark is pretty stylish, if a little on the large size. The front end is unusual for a bike light in that the plastic casing extends over the light itself. More on this later.

The Shark 500 has an IP65 water resistance rating. This is defined as “dust tight” and protected against water projected from a nozzle. The weak point in terms of water resistance – the USB charging point – has a thin rubber cap to seal it from the elements. Which I somehow managed to pull straight out of the torch body. (Tip: don’t do this, it’s a complete pain to fiddle back in.) It works but is a bit awkward – the thicker plug on the rear light is much easier to secure.

Shark frontBoth the main torch and the rear light are charged via USB. They charge quickly, the main light back to full power in around four hours. The power button on the Shark glows red when charging and switches to blue when fully charged. The rear light glows green when fully juiced.

If you read the manual (or this post) you’ll discover that by pressing and holding the power button, you can find out how much charge the torch has left. 10 flashes indicate 100 percent charge, 9 flashes indicate 90 percent charge, and so on.

Setup and Bike Attachment Points

Both the front and rear lights attach using the rubber straps provided. The rear light is super easy to get on and off, the front light slightly less so. Both feel secure once on, even when riding on bumpy paths. I haven’t had them long enough to test the longevity of the bands but they seem pretty rugged.

Testing in the Dark

Right, now we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s get on to how it does in action. I took the Shark 500 out on a ride on local, averagely-lit roads (I don’t live in the city) and down the local canal to test it in an unlit environment.

Shark rear lightThe Shark 500 has four modes: high (500 lumens), medium (250 lumens), low (50 lumens) and flash. Both the high and medium settings are bright enough to light your way on roads in partially lit areas. The 500 lumens setting was also great for off-road riding. It’s not bright enough for fast downhill or really rough mountain biking but it’s definitely a step up on the Night Owl.

With most bike lights you get a circular light but the Shark is different. The plastic casing cuts off the beam at the top and bottom creating a rectangular beam of light. The cut off at the top helps focus the beam and prevents you dazzling oncoming cyclists or drivers. Having been dazzled myself plenty of times in the past, I appreciate this! However, the plastic casing on the bottom is not so helpful. It limits the field of light so you can either focus on the ground around your front wheel or further ahead. Logically, you have to go for looking ahead, which on the road is fine, but for off-road biking, I’d have liked to have a wider field of vision.

According to the manual, you get 1.5 hours of light on the top power setting. I actually got a lot longer this – about 2 hours and 40 minutes. The torch flashes and the power button turns red to warn you you’re low on charge twenty minutes before it gives out. On the medium setting, you get three hours of light, and for most bike commuters the 200 lumens will be bright enough.

The rear light isn’t bad, but you’ll probably want a dedicated rear light if you spend a lot of time biking in the dark. The battery life on this was disappointing. It’s supposed to last two hours on the brightest setting, but after an hour and forty minutes the beam faded and pulsed. It stayed on for another hour but not really at a usable level.

Summary

For the price point, the Shark 500 gives you a lot for your money. It’s much brighter than the Night Owl and definitely a better option if you cycle on unlit roads or off-road tracks. For technical mountain biking at night you may need a brighter (and more expensive) light but as far as value for money goes, the Shark 500 gets top marks.

Full disclosure: Cycle Torch provided me with the Night Owl light to test. This review is my honest, unbiased experience of using the bike light.

Cycle Torch Night Owl Bike Light Review

Cycle Torch Night Owl

If you’re looking for a bright, affordable commuting light then the Cycle Torch Night Owl is one of the best value models currently available. It’s a USB rechargeable bike light (plus one for the environment!) and comes with a “bonus” MicroBot rear light. The Night Owl is a lightweight model that’s bright enough to both see and be seen on most roads and gravel tracks.

Cycle Torch Night Owl: Vital Stats

Weight: 80g
Lumens: 200
Modes: 4
Run-time: 2-20 hours
Where to buy: In the UK, it’s available from Amazon.

First Impressions

Night Owl box 1The Night Owl is neatly packaged. When you first open the box, a big “Thank You” message is the first thing you see. I was expecting this to be an instruction sheet, but this appears to be the one thing you don’t get with the light. Still, at least it saves some trees. (If you’re the sort of person who enjoys reading manuals, you can find it online here, along with some simple instruction videos.)

Night Owl Box 2The light itself is neatly wrapped and tucked into a custom-cut foam casing. This is actually a set of lights: along with the main front light, you also get a “free” tail light, which is nice. Also in the box are two USB charging cables, a plastic mount for the rear light and two rubber straps to attach the lights to your bike.

The torch is lightweight and looks and feels… like a torch. This isn’t a beauty parade, but it’s not a bad looking thing. The power button is front and centre on the top and on the underside, there’s a curved mount and the USB charging point which is protected with a rubber cover.

The torch has an IP65 water resistance rating. This is defined as “dust tight” and protected against water projected from a nozzle. What this means in reality, is that it should cope with heavy rain showers, but don’t drop it in the canal.

Charging is quick and easy – just plug the USB cable into your computer or a USB charger and away you go. It took just over 1 hr 15 mins to fully charge the main light from empty via my laptop (much quicker than the suggested 4 hours). The small rear light took 1 hr 35 mins. Both lights glow red when charging and blue when fully charged.

Incidentally, if you’re worried about charge levels, there’s a neat setting you can use to test how much charge you have left. If you press and hold the power button for a few seconds the light will start to flash. 10 flashes indicate 100 percent charge, 9 flashes indicate 90 percent charge, 8 flashes indicate 80 percent charge, etc. etc.

How did I find out about this? By reading the manual. Sometimes it pays to be a geek.

Setup and Bike Attachment Points

Night Owl back lightUnlike some lights, the Night Owl doesn’t have a separate mount that needs to be screwed onto your handlebars, which means there’s virtually no setup. You just whack the light on and snap the rubber band around the handlebar to secure it. It’s a bit too fiddly to put on with gloves, but the band has a tab which makes it super easy to take the light off, even if you’re wearing winter gloves.

The tail light is slightly different. You attach the mount to your seat post using the smaller rubber band and then slot the light down onto the mount. This means you can leave the mount on the bike and easily remove the light. I guess this is what it’s designed for, as unlike the front light, the rubber band attached to the mount doesn’t have a pull tab and is a bit of a pain to get off. A tab addition would make this significantly easier and save me having to spend five minutes hunting around in the dark, trying to find where the rubber band pinged to.

The rubber bands seem to hold the lights on securely. As for longevity, time will tell how long the bands last.

Testing in the Dark

So, onto the fun stuff! How does it perform? I took it for a ride on local, averagely-lit roads (I don’t live in the city) and down the local canal to test it in an unlit environment.

The Night Owl has four modes: high, medium, low and flash. High mode is a bright 200 lumens, medium is 100 lumens and low is 20 lumens. I’m not sure when you’d ever use it on low unless you were desperate to save battery, but both high and medium modes are bright enough to be seen by and to cycle in lit areas. The high mode is blinding enough to make sure that any oncoming cars will know you’re there.

I was also impressed with the brightness of the torch on unlit tracks. I took my mountain bike out to the canal and the light was perfectly adequate for cycling on the flat, wide path. It wasn’t so great on a rough downhill section, but to be fair, it’s not designed to be a mountain bike light. Equally, if you’re a speedy road cyclist, you may find it’s not quite bright enough to give adequate warning of approaching hazards.

Cycle Torch claim you’ll get 2 hours of light on high power. When I tested it, I only got 50-75 minutes which was a little disappointing, but should be enough for most commutes. This is where the provision of two USB charging leads comes in handy. You can keep one at home and one at work to top up your light as and when needed.

The mid power mode supposedly gives you four hours of light and the flash mode 20+ hours. If you cycle on lit streets where you’re more worried about being seen than lighting up the road, then the flash mode is a good option to save you having to remember to charge the light every day or two.

Summary

The Cycle Torch Night Owl is a great little torch that’s perfect for commuting and easy off-road cycling (e.g. gravel tracks) at a slow-moderate pace. The only downside for me is that, on the model I tested, the light time didn’t quite live up to expectation. The addition of the tail light makes this a great buy and in terms of value for money, this bike light can’t be beaten.

If you’re looking for a brighter light for dark lanes or off-road use, I’ll be reviewing the Shark 500 next week!

Full disclosure: Cycle Torch provided me with the Night Owl light to test. This review is my honest, unbiased experience of using the bike light.

Review: The SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) Emergency Bivvy

SOL-emergency-bivvi
Emergency kit is a tricky thing. It’s like an insurance policy – you’re spending money on something you hope never to have to use. But I’ve spent enough time in the hills to know that accidents can happen however prepared you may be. And come the day that you do need it, you’ll be really glad you spent an extra few pounds on a product that could, quite literally, save your life.

For years, the traditional foil survival blanket filled the role of emergency protection against the weather or at least tried to. Foil blankets are all very well when it’s a reasonably warm, calm day. But on a rain-lashed mountainside, they’re about as much use as a toothpick on an ice field. And the good old law of sod says, that if you’re ever going to need an emergency bivvy, it’s not going to be on a beautiful summer’s day.

That’s where the SOL Emergency Bivvy comes in. It’s not much bigger or heavier than a foil survival blanket, but it has a much higher chance of keeping you warm and dry. A foil blanket is unlikely to save your life – this piece of kit could.

The SOL Emergency Bivvy

I bought the SOL Emergency Bivvy some years back when I was after a super-lightweight emergency bag for running mountain marathons. Even I, trying to get my pack weight down as much as possible, couldn’t begrudge the tiny 3.8oz weight. It has been my constant companion since; happily snuggled at the bottom of my rucksack ready for the day it will be needed.

The SOL Emergency Bivvy pretty much does what it says on the tin. Unlike other SOL bivvy bags which are designed to be used instead of a sleeping bag, this is very much a keep-you-alive, last resort option. So don’t expect to get a good night’s sleep if you’re using it on its own. (Respect to Tom and Craig from Hikeordie, who slept in a field for four days as part of their test.)

SOL Emergency Bivvy specifications

The SOL Bivvy works by reflecting your body heat – up to 90 percent according to the manufacturer, though it’s a bit unclear as to how this is measured. The outside of the bag is a bright, ‘help me’ shade of orange, which will come in handy if you’re awaiting rescue, though not if you’re stealth bivvying in a farmer’s field.

The bag is made from polyethylene, which has some stretch, so unlike your foil blanket, it shouldn’t rip when you’re getting in and out. With seam-sealed edges, it’s completely waterproof and windproof, but bear in mind it’s not breathable. If you’re wrapped up in it for a while, you’re likely to get some condensation inside.

Unwrapped, it’s 84 inches in length, long enough to be pulled over the head of even a tall person (for evidence of this, check out this video). It’s also pretty wide, so if you’re skinny you could probably fit two of you in it to help keep warm. (No, I’m not kidding – sharing body heat is a tried and tested strategy for warding off hypothermia. Choose your hiking companions wisely!)

Often emergency survival kit is designed to be single use. If you’ve ever tried to fold a foil survival blanket back up, you’ll know that it’s an exercise in frustration. Fortunately, the designers of the SOL Bivvy took this into consideration. The bivvy comes with a nice stuff sack that’s twice as large as the rolled-up bivvy. While it does take about ten minutes to get it rolled up tight, it will fit back in the stuff sack after use.

What to use it for

Although it’s termed a ‘bivvy’, the SOL Emergency Bivvy is not intended to be used as a regular bivy sack. If you’re after something to use for lightweight bivvies on a planned basis, check out the SOL Thermal or Escape Bivvy. But as an emergency piece of kit, it beats the old foil blanket hands down, and at £17, it’s an insurance policy you can’t afford not to take.

Have you used the SOL Emergency Bivvy? Let me know how you rated it!

Why You Should Invest in the Outdoor Gear You Love

Old-outdoor-gear-love

Just some of my much-loved outdoor gear that’s over a decade old

I was rooting through my hiking and camping gear today and came to a shocking realisation. I could find barely any gear that you can still – right now – buy in the shops. This isn’t because I don’t have much gear (trust me, we have a loft, garage and climbing room full of the stuff), but rather that most of the gear I own, I bought a long time ago.

So am I hobbling around in tattered clothing, with an ancient, creaking rucksack that’s about to spill it’s cargo of holey tents and rusted metal stoves? Not at all. I’m not adverse to buying new kit, but I only tend to buy things when I need them. Though admittedly that hasn’t always been the case.

The three gear-buying personas

In my eyes, there are three approaches to buying outdoor kit:

  1. The fashionista / outdoor shop worker: Changes colour with the seasons. Always on trend and hankering for the latest piece of shiny kit. People who work in outdoor shops also fall into this category. As you’re surrounded by beautiful kit all day and have a nice staff discount to play with, this tends to translate into frequent gear purchases. (I know, I used to work in one.)
  2. “It’ll do for now”: Buys what they need, when they need it. Ever budget-conscious, these people always have an eye on the sale rack, never mind if the down jacket is two sizes too big and canary yellow.
  3. Buy what you love: Justifying expensive purchases by calling them an ‘investment’, these people have an eye for quality and a passion for research and comparison tables.

I have been each of these people over the years, but much of my kit that’s still going strong today was bought when I was in a ‘buy what you love’ frame of mine. This happily coincided with my student days, where I was dedicated enough to survive on kidney beans and chopped tomatoes for weeks at a time, in order to invest my student loan in beautiful new outdoor gear. And I had the excuse of climbing trips to the Alps and expeditions to Iceland and Greenland, all of which required KIT.

Yes, they may be a bit worn and tattered (though my down jacket’s in such good nick no-one ever believes it’s over twelve years’ old), but these pieces of gear are like old friends. Take my Macpac Pursuit rucksack. It’ll carry any load without complaint and somehow manage to balance it perfectly on your hips. It’s been dragged up rock faces, dumped in snow and once had a rather wobbly, overloaded trip on a mountain bike. I’ve used it travelling in New Zealand and on multi-day hikes in the UK. On every one of my mountaineering adventures, it has been my constant companion.

It wasn’t the cheapest rucksack at the time, but it has repaid the investment ten times over. So why did I choose this rucksack, when I was a skint student and there were many cheaper models? Because I loved it. And because it was about the roughest, toughest alpine rucksack around at the time.

Why you should buy things you love

Having experimented with various philosophies of buying, I’m now convinced that buying what you love is the best option for you, the environment and your bank balance (all things I care deeply about). This can be hard when money is tight and option two (“it’ll do for now”) seems to be the only viable route. But I know, from bitter experience, that if you buy something that’s merely ‘ok’, said item will rarely be used and is likely to end up lurking under your bed gathering spiders.

If you buy something you love on the other hand, you will cherish it, wear it often and, most importantly LOOK AFTER IT. This is why my down jacket still looks shiny and new. And yes, I admit I can be a bit pedantic about not chucking my stuff in the dirt. But even my very dear friend (who shall remain nameless) who attracts mud like a headtorch attracts mosquitos, has taken such great care of her beloved new coat that it still looks almost new TWO years after buying it. Which, for her, is something of a record.

It’s a no brainer: looking after your gear will help it last longer. So rather than buying a sleeping bag every three years, you may buy one every ten or fifteen years. Which means you’re actually making a saving by buying more expensive gear. And it’s better for the environment. Less waste, less energy and non-renewable resource use in manufacture, and fewer carbon emissions from transporting goods.

5 outdoor gear companies I love

What gear you love and what gear I love may be quite different. But, if you’re interested, these are my favourite outdoor gear companies at the moment.

  1. Patagonia: Fondly referred to by one of my friends as Patagucci, Patagonia kit is definitely at the more expensive end of the outdoor gear spectrum. But it does last – my R1 fleece still looks good today, eight years or so after I bought it. Compare that to other fleeces which go bobbly within the year, and well, do I have to sy anything more? Plus, they do a lot of environmental work and campaigning and let their staff go surfing.
  2. Macpac: A New Zealand brand, Macpac make, hands down, the most durable rucksacks on the planet (in my honest opinion). I’d beg them to bring back the Pursuit Classic into their range, but quite honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever need to replace the one I’ve got.
  3. Alpkit: Alpkit is proof that quality kit doesn’t have to have a super-high price tag. I can still remember the murmurs on the outdoor scene when this British company broke into the market, and they continue making waves (so to speak) today.
  4. La Sportiva: The La Sportiva Nepal Extreme were the alpine boot of choice back when I was actually doing alpine climbing. They’re a bit on the heavy side now, but I still love my old, battered pair to bits. They are also my favourite company for climbing shoes, though if anyone from La Sportiva is reading this, you need to sort out the rubber delamination issue and PLEASE stop cutting the Miuras so high round the ankle bone.
  5. 3rd Rock Clothing: This small, British clothing eco-company is single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of ’80s style fluro-patterned leggings at the climbing wall. They’re made from recycled material though, so I’ll forgive them. Plus I absolutely love their comfy, durable clothing and environmental ethos.

What’s your favourite beloved old bit of kit that’s still going strong? Get in touch on Twitter to tell me all about it! If anyone would like to send me gear to review, please get it touch. Especially if you’re one of the companies listed above. 🙂