Gear Closet: Olympia EX550 Headlamp

EX550 Large

One of the most difficult categories to break into in the outdoor gear space has to be the headlamp segment. There are literally hundreds of different lamps to choose from, they all do very similar things, and they can range in price from just a few bucks, all the way up to hundreds of dollars. For any company looking to break through in that environment, they need to deliver a product that dependable, durable, and affordable. That’s exactly what Olympia has done with their EX550 model, a headlamp that delivers fantastic performance in a tough, lightweight package.

The list of features for the EX550 is pretty much exactly what you’d want out of any good headlamp. It feature five settings on the light (low, medium, high, max and strobe), and on its brightest setting it is capable of putting out a stunning 550 lumens of light. At its lowest setting, that number drops to a still-ample 25 lumens, with a long burn time of over 60 hours. The headlamp is certified IPX-7 waterproof, which means it is can survive being submerged in up to 1 meter of water, and still continue working just fine. It has a rugged aluminum case that not only gives it a substantial feel in your hands, but also allows it to be used in the most demanding of environments without fear of it falling apart. The EX550’s pivoting head rotates 180º up or down, allowing you to shine the light where you need it most, and when its switched off, a lock-out switch ensures that you don’t accidentally burn out your batteries while the headlamp is in your backpack. All of this comes in a lightweight 5.4 ounce (153 grams) package that isn’t bulk in any way.

I found the EX550 to be extremely comfortable to wear, even for extended periods of time. Olympia has generously included a soft, wide, and very comfortable head strap that not only holds the light firmly in place, but does so in a way that makes it easy to forget you’re even wearing it. Some headlamps skimp on the headband, and as a result, you really don’t enjoy wearing them for very long. That is not the case here though, as the entire package is designed to be worn for as long as you need it. The headband also expands enough to stretch over a helmet as well, which will be good news for climbers, mountain bikers, and adventure racers.

One of the things that I like most about the EX550 is its aluminum body. It feels incredibly solid and durable, which is something I value greatly in all of my gear. Other manufacturers offer headlamps that are lighter in weight, but they often achieve this by using a plastic body, which can be quite fragile. I’m probably not the only one who has dropped a headlamp at some point, only to see it break in numerous pieces. I don’t feel like that would happen with the EX550, and I’m willing to sacrifice an extra ounce or two, to have a product that will survive in demanding conditions. But as I mentioned above, this is not a heavy lamp by any stretch of the imagination. At 5.4 ounces, I feel it is the perfect balance between weight and durability.

Any headlamp that you take with you on your adventures needs to be able to provide plenty of light, while also being able to balance a good burn time. The EX550 certainly offers incredible brightness, but it could perform better with its battery life across a number of its settings. As mentioned earlier, the “max” brightness level is a powerful 550 lumens, and the lamp is capable of providing that level of brightness for 3.5 hours. That is actually an impressive amount of burn time considering how much light is being put off. Dropping down to the “high” brightness setting, reduces the light to 250 lumens, which is still very, very bright. But that is less than half of the “max” setting, so you would think that you’d see greatly improved battery life. On the EX550 you’d be wrong however, as it gains just one extra hour over the higher setting. On “medium,” the light output is 100 lumens, and the burn time extends to 12 hours, while the “low” setting gives off 25 lumens at runs for 60 hours.

To be fair, you’re likely to have your lamp on the “low” setting the majority of the time, as 25 lumens is plenty bright when you’re in a dark area. But I would have liked to have seen an intermediate mode, perhaps in the 50-75 lumen range, that offered 30-40 hours of burn time, as a good trade off for brightness and battery life.

Speaking of batteries, the EX550 uses 2 CR123A Lithium batteries to power the lamp. They help to give it such a high level of output, but they also add extra weight to the package when compared to AA batteries, which are more common in other lights. The weight of those batteries are includes in the 5.4 ounces that I’ve mentioned before, but had Olympia chosen to use AA batteries instead, they could have probably shaved off some extra weight, albeit at the expense of brightness and burn time. The only real problem I have with their choice of battery is that they are a bit harder to find, so you’ll want to make sure you have a spare set with you before setting off on any expeditions.

Olympia has delivered in the area of pricing. The EX550 carries an MSRP of $69.99, which I feel is a solid price point for a light that is this comfortable and durable, and is capable of putting out so much light. This is a headlamp that should last you for years, and is capable of surviving a number of demanding environments. Yes, there are less expensive headlamps on the market, but few offer all of the features of this one, and wrap it up in such a sturdy and lightweight case, at such an affordable price. If you’re in the market for a new light, this should be on your list of contenders.

Kraig Becker

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