Monday, November 10, 2014

Protech TR-4 (Tactical Response) Automatic Knife Review

Look up bad ass knife in the dictionary and you might see this....
The light of a south Texas sunset makes the color look different than the other photos.
NOTE: Click on any of the photos to see a larger version

Disclaimer: Automatic knives are illegal in many states. Know your laws before purchasing one or carrying one. For many years in Texas (where I live) autos were a big no no. Last year however, they were legalized.......I love my state :)

If you're a fan of automatic knives, the name Pro-Tech needs no introduction. Dave Wattenberg, the owner of Pro-Tech has made a name for his company not only amongst auto knife enthusiasts but also law enforcement and military operators everywhere.  I own a fairly decent collection of auto knives and Pro-Techs are amongst my favorites. When I saw the Pro-Tech TR-4, I knew I "needed" to own it. Throw in a sterling silver skull in the handle and I'm sure I'd be breaking some knife nut code for NOT owning one.

Several months ago, when I received this knife in the mail, I had two friends standing around when I opened it. As I took the knife from the box and from its pouch everyone said the same thing; "Whoa!" When I depressed the auto release button and the blade came popping out, it was a unanimous, "Holy crap!" Several things were immediately apparent:

1.) This is a Big knife
2.) This is not your normal every day carry (EDC) knife.
3.) This knife opened around sheeple will surely illicit bladder control issues.
4.) If you own and open this knife in public, your "personal space" just got allot bigger.
5.) If you ride a Harley Davidson or Sport a Rocker Patch, this will definitely fit the Motif.
6.) If you are in Law Enforcement or the Military and have need for a last ditch SHTF, window breaking, self defense knife, they don't get much serious than this.

A thing of vicious looking beauty...
Pro-Tech has several iterations of the TR-4 knife all with different aesthetics for different tastes. The one thing they all have in common however is that they are all serious blades for people wanting a big auto. The TR in this knife stands for Tactical Response. While the one I own (portrayed here in photos) is a limited edition Shaw Skull version, most all other specs remain the same in the TR-4 line.


Like I said earlier, this a BIG auto. At 9.25 inches overall, this is not a discrete knife by any stretch of the imagination. The blade itself is 4 inches with a 3.5 inch cutting edge. .5 inches of the blade is a nice finger choil. The blade thickness is around .125 inches; not too thick, not too thin. The aluminum scales or handles are 5.25 inches. This all adds up to one serious looking knife.

The Pro-Tech TR-4 compared to a Spyderco Citadel

The 4" blade is made from 154CM, a common steel in mid to upper priced knives. It wasn't too long ago when 154CM was considered by many to be the "super steel". It's properties are very similar to 440 C in that it holds an edge very well, is fairly corrosion resistant and holds up to fairly heavy cutting (albeit not as good as higher carbon steels). 154CM has seen use in many higher end production and custom knives. Most all of my older Benchmades and many of the newer ones use 154CM. 154CM varies in quality from manufacturer to manufacturer depending on the heat treatment. Benchmade seems to have perfected the process as the knives I have used from them with this steel have performed very well. The same can be said for Pro-Tech as I currently own 5 different Protech knives and my one "user" has been used and abused and  Pro-Tech's 154CM has held up very well . 154CM is pretty corrosion resistant and none of my Pro-Tech's have had any issue with rust or corrosion. The blade shape on the TR-4 lends itself to just about any EDC chore you can throw at it. Of course people might get a little concerned if you break out the TR-4 during a family get-together to cut up a Thanksgiving Turkey.
The beautiful blade shape of the TR-4
Limited Edition TR-4 Shaw Skull #3 - #185 of 300.
The clip is long enough and flexible enough to clip into and out of the pocket perfectly. It is held in place nicely with three torx head screws. I assume Pro-Tech uses some type of holding glue (loctite blue maybe?) to hold the screws in place because I haven't had any issues with the screws loosening on any of my Protechs. The clip is not too tight, not too loose, very well done. The pocket clip on the Pro-Tech TR-4 is a one choice, tip-up carry. Opinions on autos vary when it comes to carry. The main concern or issue with auto's is accidental opening in the pocket. Fortunately the TR-4 line of knives comes with a safety switch to prevent this if you so choose to employ it. The proponents of tip down carry would argue that tip-up carry in the case of an accidental opening, could potentially damage a hand shoved into a pocket. Proponents of a tip-up carry would argue that very little adjustment is needed in your grip for knife deployment when removed from your pocket is needed. Since most law enforcement officers carry auto knives as a last ditch resort in a life or death situation, I would argue for the tip-up carry. There are other arguments but these are the main ones I've heard. With this model, you only get one choice; tip-up; good by me.
The pocket clip is nicely done on the TR-4
In my 20+ years of law enforcement I've had very few incidents where I've needed to break the glass on an auto; they do occasionally arise however. In these cases, the majority of the time, it needs to be done immediately. If you've never tried breaking the glass in a modern automobile, you'd be surprised how tough it can be. I've watch many first responders use everything from rocks to the tips of their ASP Batons (works if your REALLY hammer the window) Most first responders that I know carry a dedicated glass breaker . In two instances for me, it was a child locked inside a hot vehicle and we needed to get in quick. The key to breaking auto glass is to focus the breaking energy to as small an area as possible. The usually involves a somewhat sharp tip which is not usually pocket carry friendly. Protech has rounded off the window breaker protruding from the rear of the handle but the energy needed to break a window is still fairly focused. I have not used it yet but rest assured, if I do, I'll report back.

NOTE: I know the mall ninja's will prefer to call this a "Skull Crusher" but a glass breaker is much more utilitarian.
The TR-4 Glass breaker protrudes from the rear of the scales seen here.

Right out of the box, all of my Pro-Tech 's including the TR-4 exude quality. All torx screws have always been tight, blade springs fire like nobody's business and I find zero blade play. These are the reasons, I keep going back to Pro-Tech for my automatic knives; quality. After using and carrying this knife for several months, I can honestly say that in a production automatic knife, Protech matches or in most cases exceeds the quality found in my Spyderco and Benchmade autos. You will not believe how hard this knife fires for such a big blade.


The lock found on most push button automatic knives is the button itself and the Pro-Tech is no exception. The button locks into a notch in the rear of the knife blade in the open and closed position. This provides for a nice secure lock up but depending on the tolerances, it can cause slight blade play in some "cheaper" brands. I'm happy to report that with my Pro-Tech knives, including this TR-4, tolerances are very well controlled and there is zero blade play in any direction. I have put my Pro-Tech TR-3 which uses the same lock under some serious pressure in use and have never had any issues of lock failure what so ever. The button lock on the TR-4 locks up night and solid. Of course you use to same button to activate/open the knife as you do to unlock it from the open position.


The one thing different on the TR-4 as opposed to my other Pro-Techs is the implementation of a safety switch. I have a safety switch on my Benchmade's and Spyderco's and I find that I prefer them. On this particular knife, an accidental opening of such a large blade in the pocket could prove VERY painful if not down right dangerous. I was glad to see Pro-Tech incorporated this into the TR-4. The switch operates just like the ones on the Benchmade's and Spyderco's. It locks the blade switch in place both open and closed.
The TR-4 Safety switch and button

As I've stated previously, while I'm usually not a fan of all metallic handled knives, I have found the ergo's of this aluminum handled TR-4 to be nicely done. It has jimping on the back of the scales near the front, on the opposite side near the rear and even on the back spacer/glass breakers. The finger grooves and nice choil top off the good ergos on this knife.
I have many autos from many different makers and can honestly say, Pro-Tech has some of the strongest springs and "snappiest" opening knives I've ever seen; and the TR-4 is no exception; especially for such a large blade. When I show a Pro-Tech knife to anyone, I first qualify it with a, "Now, If you're going to open it, hang on tight". Without that statement, I've unfortunately seen my Pro-Tech knives inevitably pop out of loose grips and fall to the floor. These things, pop open with authority! When anyone does open it, every one gets the inevitable grin on their face and  I just wait for the, "WOW, this thing is strong!" which happens every time. Add the size of the blade to this equation and the look you get from knife nuts is similar to gun nuts firing a full auto weapon for their first time.  

One word of caution, accidental opening in the pockets are usually a minor issue and rarely happens. If however you carry an auto without an external safety, I highly recommend you give it it's own pocket without other items such as keys than can inadvertently press the button and can cause accidental blade deployment. I also highly recommend that you get in the habit of NOT plunging your hand into your carry pocket haphazardly. Checking first has become second nature to me as I've carried them for years. In probably over 13 years of carrying an auto, I've only had one accident where I was bitten and that involved a Benchmade that had an external safety but I chose not to engage it. When I carry an auto knife at work, I usually carry it in a dedicated pocket with no other items in it and even if there is a safety available, I usually do not use it. The reason being is that I carry an auto for one reason; a LAST ditch effort to save my life. In a life or death situation, simplicity is paramount and I don't want to have to fiddle with a little safety switch to save my butt. I also carry another knife in a different pocket for EDC purposes but I usually do not use my autos for anything else so they remain sharp. Being a firearms instructor for many years, "duty carry" means being ready for all SHTF scenarios. A law enforcement officer does not go on duty without a round in the chamber and I apply the same theory to my auto knives. Off duty where I carry the TR-4, the safety on my TR-4 is on. I don't carry the TR-4 on duty due to the skulls....more on that later.

Automatic knives are just like any other one handed opening knife, they can be used for anything that their blade shape and size allows. I've used my TR-3 for many things and have EDC'ed it many many times. The TR-4 reviewed here has a blade shape that lends itself to many tasks from food prep to general cutting tasks. While being an "auto" might make the general public / sheeple believe it only has one evil purpose, make no mistake, it has as many potential uses as any other knife of similar dimensions. The auto aspect was unfortunately demonized by movies in the 50's through the 70's and of course politicians took the bait and knife aficionado's suffered. In Texas, Joe Blow used to be able tote around a fully loaded .45 cal. pistol, a deer rifle or even a fully loaded shotgun but not a knife with a spring?!?!? Texas has, to the pleasure of many knife nuts come around and now autos can be carried just like what ever else you choose to carry. An auto knife is no different than any other knife and their uses are endless. In any situation where one hand is tied up with another task and you only have one hand to deploy your knife, an auto sure is handy.

All this being said, one should exercise some common sense when opening a large auto like this in public. Most people are not knife nuts and the TR-4 (especially this one with the skulls) popped opened in the baby section of WalMart may likely get you a visit with the local PoPo (police). Everyone has their opinion on issues like this but my personal opinion mirrors that of open carry of a firearm. I don't mind open carry of a firearm one bit; in fact, I'm glad Texas is moving in that direction with our new governor. There is a small minority of people however who take the right too far and then act like shocked halfwits when the police come to chat with them. If walk into a Jack-in-the-Box sporting a loaded AR-15 you should expect unwanted attention (or more than likely they do want attention for their cute little YouTube channel)  and you don't pop open a four inch auto knife sporting skulls in Sunday School to clean your fingernails. YouTube attention whores are the bane of 2nd amendment advocates and the same goes for folks breaking out mini katana swords in public to open an envelope. Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should. It's called common sense, if more people would employ it, the world would be much better off. **Steps off soapbox**
I like skulls for collection purposes, that's it. Skulls to the general public screams, biker, bad guy, mall ninja, wanna-be tough guy, Pirates of the Caribbean, et. al. Skulls to a defense attorney or prosecuting attorney screams, "gotcha!". Lord forbid if you had to use this knife in a self defense situation, trust me when I say, a lawyer would LOVE to hold this up in court and say, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, take a look at this knife adorned with a DEATH SKULL on the handle and even a skull on the lanyard. Does this look like the tool of someone concerned about their defense? or does it look like to you, as it does me, a knife owned by someone that would love to use it on another human being to show how tough he/she is?" As cool as the skulls are, I don't want to ever be put in that position. Again, common sense, we need to use it..That being said, they do look cool :)
Sterling silver skull in the TR-4 LE handle

Skull adorned lanyard

The Pro-Tech TR-4 does come with a nifty pouch. I don't usually wear a belt off duty so I don't usually use it. That being said, if you do wear a belt, it comes with a very nice lockable pouch.

After I bought my first Pro-Tech many years ago, and I let a few co-workers handle it, they immediately wanted to buy some for themselves. In the span of three years, I think we purchased well over 100 knives in various models from TR-1's, TR-2, TR-3's, to Godfathers and Godsons, etc. Dave has a very well earned reputation of always taking care of everyone. Only once that I know of did one of our marine (boat crew) units have an issue with a spring breaking. He called Dave Wattenberg at Protech and within a week or so, had a good-as-new, re-sharpened knife. Well done Pro-Tech!
I'll be direct and to the point. If you want a large, well built, hard firing automatic knife and can legally own and carry one, you won't find one better made than the TR-4 in my opinion. This knife will get you Oohh's and Ahhh's from your knife loving friends but it will also get you the same reactions of a black and white Japanese man in a Godzilla Movie from societies sheeple. It's an awesome knife, a very tactical knife, a great SHTF knife but not very good for an EDC knife in a sheeple environment.
Pro-Tech makes great autos and this one is no exception. Fit and finish is great, screws were tight, everything was smooth. I can't say enough good things about this knife in that department. Due to it's large size however (and in this case skulls), it's uses can be somewhat limited. If your an auto knife collector grab one ASAP before their gone. If you ride a Harley Davidson sporting XXX rocker patch, your club may elect you president with this knife :)
Ergonomics: 8/10 (very good for such a large knife)
Looks: 9/10
Materials: 8/10
Fit and Finish: 9/10 (for a production auto, very good)
Camp Use: 8/10 (while I don't usually use autos for this, My TR-3 has proven handy in outdoor situations)
Hard/Military/Police Use: 8/10 (Tailor made for last ditch police/military self defense use, but not prying hard use)
EDC Use: 5/10 (know your local laws and don't open around sheeple)
Food Prep: 8/10 (would work very good for food prep)
Skinning/Game Prep: 7/10 (while it would work good for this, this one's a collector piece for me)
Warranty: 10/10 (Dave Wattenberg takes care of his customers!)
Zombie Usefulness: 9/10 (Zombies fear big, skull adorned knives :) )

Monday, August 4, 2014

Kizer Ki4412 Titanium Frame-Lock Review

Kizer Ki4412 Ti Frame lock posing at sunset
Click any of the photos for a larger view

If you're a knife nut, you've probably seen the plethora of counterfeit knives that have been pouring out of China. Makers such as Chris Reeve to Hinderer to Strider have all been victims of counterfeiting down to their very names on the counterfeits. Initially, the reports were that the knives were (for lack of a better term) crap. Fast forward to the last couple of years however and reports about the counterfeits claimed that the quality was actually pretty good. Most knife nuts won't admit wanting to handle one "just to see" but there were always lots of questions and even a few admitted to buying one to see. Out of respect for the original makers, I refused to ever purchase one. One question I always pondered was that if there were machinists in Guangdong with the ability to make a high quality product, why not start a company and make their own designs? Well apparently, there were some good machinists in Guangdong who thought coming up with their own designs was a good idea. Recently I saw a post on the net about a company called Kizer knives. I read some exchanges on the forums about the quality of their knives. The discussions got so far into the weeds that Kizer actually produced proof that they were in fact purchasing S35VN steel from THE U.S. source. There were also some exchanges with a U.S. knife maker who claimed that one of their designs was actually a copy of his, known as the Tango. While I'm not judge or jury, further reading on the subject satisfied me this was probably not the case. I had to satisfy my conscience that I was buying from an honest company. I purchased their Ki4412 off of Amazon because thus far, I my opinion is that Kizer is playing by the rules and that they may unfortunately be presumed guilty by association / location. I could be wrong, but that's my impression thus far. I thought they deserved an honest review of one of their products; the Ki4412 .


Out of the box, I was impressed with how light weight the knife was but that's to be expected with Titanium. It came boxed in a blue cardboard box and some standard instructions and warranty info (2 years btw). When I tried to flick the knife open, I was not impressed. The detent was very tight and the action was about as smooth as a $5.00 convenience store knife. It took lots of effort to flip it open. Once open however, there was ZERO blade play in any direction. Lock up on the frame lock was at about 40% and it was SOLID. Disengaging the lockbar was very smooth with no apparent sticking. The blade was slightly off center but nothing to worry about (no rubbing or anything). The knife carry position with the clip was tip down with no option otherwise. The clip was just the right amount of tension and slipped in and out of the pocket smoothly and carried very low in the pocket. I immediately noticed that the scales, while beautiful, where VERY slick. Fit and finish with the exception of the blade action and detent was very good. Everything was tight, tolerances were very well done and the stand-offs looked very good. One of the reasons that I chose the Ki4412 over the other Kizer offerings was the Stainless steel insert on the Ti lock face. This, in theory prevents wear to the Ti and should be smoother unlocking than Ti on Ti.

The Kizer Ki4412 included a tip-down carry only Ti pocket clip
Lock up is at around 40% with the stainless insert against the blade. Nice and tight!


This in one area of concern that I initially had purchasing this knife. Was it real Ti and was it real S35VN? Well I can tell you this, the scales feel like Titanium, are ultra light like Titanium, non-magnetic like Titanium and finally, scratches easily JUST LIKE Titanium. I think it's titanium :)
So is the steel S35VN? Well what I know about S35VN is that is considered one of Crucible's "super steels" and allot (like all steels) depends on heat treats. Chris Reeve knives uses S35VN in many of their knives now and as any self respecting knife nut knows, Chris Reeve uses only top quality materials.  My main experience with S35VN is mainly with my Chris Reeve Sebenza and the ZT 0550. Interestingly, while both of those knives have S35VN blades, my experiences with them was quite different. With the ZT0550, an extremely fine edge seemed to roll a bit initially until I sharpened it. It re-sharpened very easily and once I put more of "working edge" instead of a shaving edge on it, it worked great. With my Sebenza, it was razor sharp and stayed razor sharp for a long time. Once I did finally sharpen it, it was a little tougher to sharpen. I assume these differences were due to different heat treats. I liked both blades but for different reasons. So what about the Kizer claim of S35VN? Well, it behaved somewhat like the blade steel on the ZT0550 . Out of the box, the Kizer came sharp enough to shave with, quite impressive really. Then I took it out for some whittling on some Mesquite wood; a very tough woods. In no time, the Kizer blade rolled in a couple of spots. So I broke out the Lanskey and made a less refined (but very sharp) edge. After that, the same whittling had little effect. In addition, you can see no evidence that it's ever been sharpened. The Kizer blade behaved almost just like the ZT0550 and the visible texture appeared very similar. I'm convinced it is S35VN and the blade performed well.

The tip on this Kizer was a little finer than I would normally like but I knew that before I ordered it so no ding on this point. The groove along the length of the blade looks like a blood groove and while I don't see the utility of it, it continues into the Ti handle scales making a very nice looking knife.
The Kizer Ki4412 is a very nice looking knife.

Ergos on the Kizer Ki4412 are well done for such a big knife. It feels good in the hand with comfortable jimping on the thumb ramp and the base of the back of the blade. This being said, the Ti scales are VERY slick with sweaty hands or in the case of a life or death situation, blood and sweat would make it very tough to hold onto. This brings me to another point. This knife to me seems kinda confused. It has the size and build of a heavy duty folder and "looks somewhat tactical". If however, your definition of tactical is a knife that a police officer would EDC on patrol for every day tasks including last ditch self defense tool or a military troop would carry for quick deployment for about the same reasons, then this is not a tactical knife. It's too slick and too tough to flip open; maybe I received a bad copy?
So if it's not tactical, then it must be a gentleman's folder right? I don't think so. A gentleman's folder should not make the sheeple quiver in fear when flicked open in public. The size and looks of this knife disqualify this knife from that description. To sheeple, a knife of this size with a "blood groove", flicked open with one hand might look "mean". So what role does it fit? In truth, I don't know. I think it's leans more in the direction of gentleman's or just a general purpose folder.
The Kizer Ki4412  is a light 4.4 ounces. The weight is very good for a knife of this size mainly due to the Ti scales. The open length is 8.03 inches and thus, like any larger sized knives, must be opened around sheeple with some sense of  it's size. For those of us with a little common sense however and not scared of our shadows, this knife is a very nice size, substantial enough for many EDC tasks. The closed length of this knife is comfortable 4.5 inches and fits nicely in the pocket. This knife had very little pocket hog issues and carried very well in the pocket. Here are a couple of comparisons with a couple of my other knives.
The Kizer Ki4412 compared to the Spyderco Endura

The Kizer Ki4412 compared to the ZT0560

Well, as I stated above, the smoothness of opening this knife or it's flickability out of the box was not good at all. Due to the proprietary pivot screw, I have not been able to take it apart to sand the washers. So my best option was to add some break free, work it, dry it, work it, add some more break free and work it some more. I then added a little nano oil. While the flickabiliy has improved, it's still a little tough  to flick open. I can do it with either hand but it takes more effort than it should in my opinion. The detent is so strong that even under handed wrist flicking is a chore. It can be done but I've got to flick the heck out of it. NOTE: I don't recommend this for any knife and is just done for reference. For a truly tactical knife, one must be able to open a knife one handed from muscle memory and due to the slick scales, strong detent and tightness, opening this knife under stress would be a non-starter.


Well, as I said before, while this knife is large, built strong and "tough looking", it doesn't qualify in my book for tactical purposes. It does however make a nice general purpose folder. It's looks and size prevent it from being a gentleman's folder. Don't get me wrong, this is a NICE knife. I just think it's confused about what it wants to be. I think if Kizer added G-10 to one side and remedied the tightness and detent issue I think it would lean more towards a tactical folder.


According to Kizer's website and the included instructions in the box, the warranty is against workmanship for 2 years. In layman's terms I assume this to mean excessive blade play, breaking screws, parts falling off under normal use. Not bad in my opinion BUT the problem is, their warranty department is on the other side of the planet. I don't think many retailers are going to take in a knife 9 months after a purchase for warranty issues, which leaves dealing with a company on the other side of the world. I hope Kizer opens a state side warranty department, that would fix this concern.


If you've read the entire article, then you might get the impression that I don't think much of this knife. Well, while I like 90% of this knife, the little things that I pointed out make it a no-go for me. . The truth is that this is a nice knife, built with tight tolerances using very good materials. Lock-up is nice and very little wiggle in the blade in any direction. Mainly, it just doesn't fit my own personal needs and doesn't fit well into either the tactical knife category nor the gentleman's folder category.  The only real complains with the build were the tight detent and how tight the blade was initially. It has loosened to the point that I can flick it open with either hand now, but I could have remedied the tightness sooner if I could gotten to the washers and sanded them down a bit. WHY do companies feel the need to have proprietary pivot screws? A torx, slot or even a phillips would be much better in my opinion. All this being said, if you were to buy a production knife with these materials built in the U.S. you'd could be looking in the $200-$400 range and I picked this one up for less than $150. Of course a knife made in the U.S. with these materials would probably come from a company that stands behind it's workmanship and offer a good warranty. This is where Kizer may really fall short in my opinion. In many cases over the years when I have purchased products that failed, often the dealer either would not stand behind the sale or just flatly referred me to the manufacturer for warranty service. In the case of Kiser, you be dealing with a company on the other side of the planet. This may or may not be a problem for you.  Kizer has many other offerings that I think would better fit by needs better than this one. I would just hope the next one flips better. I think Kizer is going to be a company to be reckoned with by building such nice knives at such low prices. I really like the direction that they are going and I'm kinda interested in trying out some of their other offerings such as the Ki403B2 or their Kizer Cutlery Titanium . We'll see....

Fenix HL50 Headlamp Review

The Fenix HL50 365 Lumen headlamp
Click on any of the photos for a larger version

Over the last few years, I've had the opportunity to buy and/or try out many different headlamps. If you don't own a headlamp and are into ANY outdoor activity (caving goes without saying), I would highly recommend you to give them a try. I used to scoff at them and pretty much considered them birth control but man, was I wrong...Once I tried one, you'd never catch me without one at night again.

When Fenix announced the new HL50 headlamp, it was something different that I usually wouldn't buy or own. The main reason is that in my outdoor pursuits such as night time photography, hiking, fishing and herping (snake hunting); I need the power that a multi-battery headlamp provides. Enter the HL50 with a claimed lumen power of 365! I thought no way, but I figured I'd give it a try to see.


 As with all Fenix flashlights that I have used and tested, this headlamp feels very well made. A new feature that I haven't seen before and I REALLY like is the option of being able to use two different commonly found batteries; either AA or CR123's; excellent idea!. It came packaged just like all the other Fenix headlamps I own except once open, this one required less assembly :)
The one thing you'll notice in back is the included adapter allowing you to use AA batteries. VERY nice idea Fenix.
The headlamp itself is made of very tough alloy aluminum with a bezel of stainless steel around the switch and the hardened glass to protect it from scratches. The HL50 weighs in at just under 2 ounces without a battery and around 3 with a battery (CR123 or AA). This is a very compact option for a headlamp. The strap is a typical adjustable elastic, comfortable strap. I'd say it's more comfortable than the headlamps with the battery packs on the back just due to the weight and zero issues if you wish to lay your head back. I've been using the HL50 exclusively for 2 weeks and am happy to report that it is extremely comfortable.

The headlamp is held in place by a sturdy metal clip and what is probably best described as a safety ring in case it comes unclipped. Fenix says that the "safety clip" thingy can be removed so you can use the HL50 as a keychain light. I gotta disagree with them here. I think it's a bit large and awkward for that purpose. That being said, there are many advantages to the clip including limitless amounts of pointing angles as opposed to predetermined angles like on most other headlights. Obviously, the ability to pop the light out of the clip while still wearing the head band is also a big plus. The safety ring is simply wiggled off the light once the end cap is removed.

Another use that I found was something that many law enforcement officers used to use many years ago. For years, officers would mount one of the old military style 90 degree lights to their lapel or tether it to a shoulder clip. They would do this to free up their hands for defensive purposes, to hold a clip board to write with or just for general patrol. The problem with the old lights for me was that they were too big and bulky; this one isn't. I've also seen many hikers who like this option as well tethered to their back packs. I found that with minimal adjustments to the metal clip, this option is available for the HL50 seen below on a camelbak. Maybe Fenix will make a MOLLE attachment for this light (hint hint). Fenix rates the HL50 as water resistant to 6 meters so it would should work fine in inclement weather.
Using the included metal clip as a MOLLE attachment with limitless turning angles available.
If Fenix comes up with a MOLLE attachment made for this setup, I think it would prove very popular with hikers, military and law enforcement officers. I'm putting the original clip back on the head strap :)


As stated previously, Fenix had the foresight to make this headlamp with the ability to use two of the most popular batteries available; CR123A's and AA's (with the included adaptor).
A single CR123A is the preferred and most compact power source for the HL50
When utilizing a CR123A, the light has a longer storage life, run time, more compact and a bit brighter.
Fenix includes an adaptor that threads into the body of the light that allows one to opt for use of a single widely available AA battery. The original end cap threads onto the adaptor. If I were storing this light for long periods, I'd keep using the CR123's for their longer storage life. Since I always have AA's laying around and I'm always using this light,  I'll probably stick with AA's for the time being. I'll definitely get a supply of CR123A's if I plan on an all night hike or herping trip.

The HL50 shown here with the AA adaptor with the end cap threaded on.

The HL50 show here using an AA battery. It stands on end very well and would serve nicely  as an emergency light.

The power switch is a very light clicky style electronic switch. A quick tap activates the light. Subsequent clicks scroll through the various power settings of which there are three; low medium and high. If you press and hold the power switch while in the off mode for approximately half a second, it activates one additional mode Fenix calls "Burst Mode" advertised at 365 lumens using a CR123 and 285 lumens using a AA battery. In this mode, one must keep pressure on the switch to maintain burst mode brightness. I'm assuming Fenix did this because pumping that much juice to the LED would cause it to heat up pretty quick, not to mention, drastically shorten the run time. Speaking of heat, you'll notice cooling fins behind the head to dissipate heat. I just used it on high mode tonight digging fence post holes on my property till it ran down and didn't notice any issues with heat on my forehead :)

To power off the light when in any of the three modes, just hold down the switch for approximately half a second. The HL50 "remembers" the last mode you used the light in when it is powered back on. All-in-all, I really like the switch and the user interface. It probably should be mentioned that since the switch is an electronic and not a mechanical switch, it is in constant current flow mode. The current however is so low that you will NEVER notice it. Many vehicles these days use the same type switches because electronic switches (in theory) are less prone to failure than mechanical ones (so I'm told).
A solid rubber boot surrounded by a stainless bezel covers the HL50's electronic switch.


Well, you may have noticed the surefire brand battery in the CR123 photo above. The reason is that in the two weeks that I have had this light, I've run through the supplied CR123A, four additional ones (that happen to be surefire) and am now on my 5th AA. The reason, this light is so compact and has so many uses I find myself using it all the time. The LED is a Cree XM-L2 T6 neutral white LED and is very bright! I just happened to be working nights at my job when I received this light and have found all kinds of uses for it.

The run times with the CR123's on high have averaged between 2.5 and 3 hours! Drop off in brightness didn't even begin until around the 2 hour 45 minute mark give or take a few minutes with different batteries. I'm VERY impressed! Using Alkaline AA batteries (I didn't have any Ni-MH), my run times have been around, 1 - 1.5 hours. Drop off in brightness started around the 40 - 45 minute mark. Quite the variance I know but they were alkaline; go figure. Pretty good for alkaline if you ask me.

The beam of the HL50 lies somewhere between a spot and a flood style light which is probably best for most applications. Like I stated earlier, I've been using it at work and it has worked great. It is currently August and as you know if you have been in south Texas in August, the heat would make the devil sweat. So for the past few days, I've been building fence and digging post holes in the late evening and at night to avoid the heat of the day. It's still around 100 in the evenings by the way..

Fence building in the south Texas heat is better done once the sun goes down with the aid of a headlamp :)
The HL50 proven to be extremely comfortable. I have several head lamps and this one is the most comfortable. I've also been out doing night-time photography with this light and it has worked well. Another advantage over the other style headlamps in this area is again, the ability to snap the light out of it's carrier, set it on the ground and aim it at your photographic subject; very tough to do with the regular style headlamps. I took the below photo at dusk to see if the neutral light affected the look of the photo. As you can see, it worked great!
Lighting by flash and HL50..great photography light.
Lastly, this light is great for hunting down night-time critters such as herping/snake hunting (one of my other hobbies). In the old days, I'd carry around a fluorescent wand connected to a 6 pound battery which would last half a night. With the HL50, I can throw three AA's or 3 CR123A's in my pocket and I'm good for the entire night. How does it compare to my current favorite herping light, the Fenix HP25 ? for herping and hiking I would definitely prefer the HP25 due to the option of flood, spot or even running both at the same time but for photography at night, I think I'd prefer the HL50. This being said, I would gladly go out herping with this light and not feel like I was missing anything. For camping, reading in bed (on low), working outside at night like I was for the last few nights or something that requires a compact headlamp, the HL50 would be the ticket.

OK, on to the beam shots.....

As you can see, the difference in brightness with an Alkaline AA and a CR123A isn't too much. The run-time is quite-a-bit different.
An older 2 AA powered Fenix L2D hand held light vs. the single AA powered HL50...
Two single AA powered lights compared; the HL50 and a Nitecore Infinity Ultra
Below is a comparison of my favorite herping light, the HP25 and the HL50. Keep in mind the HP25 has two LED's, one for flood lighting and the other for spot lighting. This comparison uses the spot option of the HP25 on it's brightest setting to show how amazingly powerful the single AA powered HL50 can be.

As you can see, while the HL50 isn't a spot style light, it has a very bright center. Now lets say you  were out herping and needed that little extra reach to see up in a crevasse or just to see a little further for a second or two. Slap on the burst mode and BAM!
Impressive brightness from a single AA No!??!
 Specs from Fenix:

·Utilizes Cree XM-L2 T6 neutral white LED with a lifespan of 50,000 hours
·Uses one 3V CR123ALithium battery or AA (Ni-MH, Alkaline) battery
·63.8mm×32mm×30mm(2.51inch x1.26inch x1.18inch)
·57-gram(1.83oz) weight (excluding battery)
·Digitally regulated output - maintains constant brightness
·Reverse polarity protection to protect from improper battery installation
·All-function switch in the head for easy and fast operation
·High output burst mode
·Made of quality aluminum alloy and stainless steel
·Premium Type III hard-anodized anti-abrasive finish
·Toughened ultra-clear glass lens with anti-reflective coating

Caving / Spelunking with the HL50, very comfortable

Fenix has again, produced a heck of a headlamp. While I would prefer my HP25 for night-time hiking and herping/snake hunting, the HL50 would work great in it's absence and it'll probably always be in my photography bag as a backup when I'm out. There in lies it's main strength, it's compactness and it's ability to snap out of it's harness. For such a compact single celled light, IT'S BRIGHT! For night time photography, a MOLLE light (vest, backpack or camelbac mounted light), night time reading light, camping light, or just a more comfortable light, the HL50 is your light. If Fenix produces a MOLLE attachment for this light, I'll be getting a couple. The ability to snap it off the headstrap, onto a vest or onto a pack, set it on the counter in a power outage, etc. would be extremely valuable. If you haven't guessed, I really like this light.
SIZE COMPARISION: The Fenix HL50 and a Spyderco Dragonfly 2 knife