Monday 19 May 2008

Review of the Alpkit Gamma

Having bought the Gamma head torch from Alpkit days before the Black Mountains trip, I was eager to see how it would perform against its budget price tag of £12.50. I wanted a lightweight but powerful and reliable head torch that would stand up to a bit of night walking but would also make an economical and versatile buy. I looked at the obvious offering from Petzel but I just wasn't happy with the prices of the Tikka XP or Tikka Plus. Having compared the specs (I'm a little sad like that) I couldn't believe the value vs features of the Gamma sold by Alpkit in the UK.

I'm not going to list all the specs because I would guess that if you're reading this you already know about the Gamma, but in short it has:

1x1W led
3 5mm led (white, red, green)
Small red strip light on rear of battery pack.

My first impressions of the Gamma were pretty nondescript. The unit is a simple design, its looks OK and build quality was slightly better than expected at this price range. Not much to write home about then but its the features that made this stand out for me.

All lighting modes but the rear light are controlled by the orange button at the top of the unit and its a real charm to use. Alpkit have kept the operation as simple as possible whilst allowing access to 6 different modes:
Press once: Full 1w led mode
Press twice (in succession): Half 1w mode
Press three times (in succession): Off
Press and hold: Toggles from 1w led to 5mm mode (or vice versa), allowing individual access to the three other 5mm leds
Press once: White 5mm led
Press twice: Green 5mm led
Press three times: Red 5mm led
Press 4 times: Red 5mm flashing mode.

The best part is that the button is timed so you don't have to toggle through the various other modes to turn any lighting mode off. Once you're in a lighting mode and you have a minimum of a few seconds of use n that particular mode, pressing the orange button is an instant off. I like that!
Now the important bit - POWER! The 1w led mode is sufficiently powered and focused that it gives a considerably bright beam, more than sufficient to walk at night. The first time I turned it on I gave my retinas a fright! Note to self - don't look directly at the bulb when turning on! On a serious note, on testing this on top of Bal Bach a a few weeks ago I found the 1w light to be faultless for night walking. The half 1w mode was more than enough for general pottering around the camp in complete darkness and in fact I resorted to the 5mm white led in the end because this proved a really usable level of light (and I didn't want to risk giving our position away to the folks in the valley below).

I didn't really use the green or red modes much other than to test them out but I can see that they would be useful for map reading at night and the red flashing mode is good as a beacon.
The rear light is accessed on the battery holder itself and whilst it isn't very bright, its enough for someone several metres behind to easily track. Just a nice additional feature more than ground breaking functionality.

At 118g with batteries, this unit isn't as light as the Petzel Tikka (98g) but (and wait for the gasps from the gram counters at the back of the room) I think can live with the additional 20g for the £17.50 saving!

I can confirm that the Gamma deals with heavy rain - despite the fact I didn't want to test this feature! Paul and I were enjoying cider and idle chat when a thunderstorm kicked off a few miles south of our camp. Ten minutes later - despite the constant warnings, we found ourselves running for our waterproofs. We remained outside to watch the lighting and the Gamma got a bit of a soaking - it didn't seem to mind.

The unit fitted my weird shaped head nicely after initial adjustment and I found the unit to be comfortable, and really well balanced. I removed the top strap because I found it parted my hair in a funny way, making me look like a twerp - much to Paul's amusement! I'd like to say it was to shave off a few grams or something, to impress the lightweight folk, but it was pure vanity.
My verdict is pretty much that of what you will read in other reviews. Its an excellent performer and a bargain to boot. I can't see a reason why you wouldn't just buy one - even as a backup (if you've already wasted your money on a Petzel!).

Its clear to me that the Gamma performs well as a head torch but I also liked the additional bits that perhaps don't seem a big deal on paper but really make the difference. For example the service from Alpkit was faultless and I received the item next day! The unit comes with Duracell batteries, (come on, admit it - that is a nice touch) and I just don't think you will get a powerful head torch with these features at this price.


John Hee said...

sounds a good buy

Marcus said...


I can safely say it is and would recommend it to anyone who is in the market for a feature packed head-torch.

Matt said...

Just ordered one of these today. I have to say I was looking at black diamonds or another petzl (having just lost one) but the specs (I'm also a little sad like that) of this, standing along side the more expensive counterparts were easily comparable if not better. Too good to be true thougt I - there must be a catch, but not according to yours (and several other) happy customer reviews.

Cheers! Price seems to have gone up to £15 since your post, but hay - I can live with that.