Adaptive headlights — headlights that anticipate the direction you want to look and orient their spotlight that way — were first introduced on consumer automobiles in 1948†. But it wasn’t until 2014 that the same functionality to found its way into a portable headlamp of the sort you’d use for camping. That’s when Snow Peak started selling the Mola — the most significant advance in headlamps since the introduction of the LED bulb.
Inside the Mola, the bulb is attached to an “Optic Mobility system” patented by Snow Peak. The system is essentially a swivel plus a counterweight. Tilt the Mola and it points its beam at an angle greater than the tilt.
What’s the benefit of this system in practice? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Especially for tasks that involve looking down.
To get a sense for why that is, take a moment right now and look down, at your lap or at the table you are sitting at. Go ahead. We’ll wait. The amount you tilted your head was probably rather minimal. Most of the “looking down” was done by your pupils. And therein lays a design flaw in typical headlamps. They don’t compensate for the difference between the movement of your head and that of your eyes. The Mola headlamp does.
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For a real-world illustration, Spot Cool Stuff took two night time walks to collect firewood, once wearing a review unit of the Mola provided to us by Snow Peak and once wearing a top selling headlamp from a popular brand. Both headlamps featured LED bulbs with the exact same light output: 110 lumens. But you wouldn’t know it from our test. The Mola’s beam pointed directly down at the firewood we were looking at. The regular headlamp not only pointed the beam much higher up, it cast a shadow in our line of sight!‡
The Mola was superior in tasks that involved looking up too, although the benefit was not quite as pronounced. While our regular headlamp didn’t shine its beam nearly high enough, the Mola pointed its beam a bit too high. There’s a little dial on the side of the Mola that let’s you calibrate the angle, but in our experience adjusting the up angle made our down angle suboptimal.
Unfortunately, buying a Mola requires much moola — US$59.95, to be exact, via exclusively retailer REI. That’s probably not worth it for a once-a-year camper. But it can become worth it surprisingly quickly given the superior experience the Mola provides.
The Snow Peak Mola weighs in at 1.6 ounces (45g). It’s water-resistant, shock-resistant and features high, low and strobe beam settings. Two AAA batteries (included) power it for 45 continuous hours on the brightest setting.
Snow Peak, not incidentally, is a Japanese company that was founded by an accomplished mountaineer and has a reputation for well designed outdoor products. Among those: our single favorite pair of travel chopsticks.
† The 1948 Tucker sedan featured a third middle headlight connected directly to the steering wheel. Citroen was the first to have dual adaptive headlights, including the feature on some models sold in Europe starting in 1967, though it would take another three decades before adaptive headlights became legal in the United States. One study found that adaptive headlights can reduce night time accidents by as much as 10 percent . . . and that’s WAY more about adaptive headlights in automobiles than you probably wanted to know.
‡ Our regular headlamp cast so little light on the firewood that it was impossible for us to get a non-blurry photo with our handheld camera. The actual difference between the two headlights was actually greater than it looks in these photos.