Is the Joby Gorillatorch Switchback an alien hunter/killer robot from another world?
No, it’s not. It just looks like an extra-terrestrial weapon of mass human extermination.
I’ve had this little gadget for over a year and have taken (most of) it on every backpacking trip. I say ‘most of it’ because it actually is three separate pieces:
Firstly, the piece that I use the most is the headlamp. The elastic headband is adjustable and fits even an oversized melon like mine. Also, the lamp tilts downward so you don’t get neck cramps from looking down while you read or write in your journal before bedtime. The headlamp has 5 LEDs, one powerful ultra-bright light in the center (130 lumens), and two on each side – two soft white flood lights (14 lumens) and two red lights (3 lumens) to help with your night vision. (The red lights could cause you to be mistaken for a Jawa, I should point out. )The center light has a high beam which will dim just a bit with the push of a button. The two flood lights provide just enough light for me to fix dinner in the dark and eat without draining the batteries and, in my opinion, is the best choice if I’m just sitting around talking. The ultra bright spotlight is a great tool for night hiking but will blind everybody you look at. It uses two AA batteries by the way. The highest setting will eat batteries like candy, so be sure to bring extra.
On high, the batteries will last you only about 3.5 hours. On low (20 lumens), you’ll get about 16 hours.
Red floodlights only (3 lumens) – 72 hrs; White floodlights only (14 lumens) – 35 hours.
The downside to this headlamp is the weight. It’s 4.7 ounces. Not exactly the kind of thing a guy who is trying to cut weight where he can would normally be carrying, but I really love the light this thing produces and I don’t want to lose it just to save two or three ounces. Don’t judge me. (But if I can find a Zebralight dirt cheap, the ol’ Switchback may find itself not getting much use. Just sayin’.)
Secondly, is the lantern. It’s actually a hard plastic case that the headlamp snaps into (with some effort) that lets you fill up a larger space with soft light. ( Kinda like those pictures you see of somebody putting a small flashlight inside an empty plastic milk jug. ) The headlamp snaps into the bottom, then the top of the lantern telescopes out. The bottom of the lantern will fit onto the included tripod and there is also a fold-in hook on top so you can hang this up in your tent, on a nail in a shelter, on a branch, blah blah, you get the picture. However, it’s also a bit heavy. 4.6 ounces. I rarely need to illuminate a large area for several people, so this hardly ever makes it into my backpack.
Lastly, there is the GorillaPod (tripod). I like this almost as much as the headlamp, since it goes with me on every trip. The legs of the tripod are super flexible, which lets me wrap them around branches and even the grip of my trekking pole, in case I need to get creative with my photography. I’ve only used small cameras, such as my Fujifilm XP60, so I’m not sure how it’d do with larger DSLR types. ( My guess is that it wouldn’t work that well. ) The tripod is small enough that I can stick it in my pants pocket and carry it without feeling like I’m carrying a brick. Best of all, it’s only 1.7 ounces.
The batteries are housed in a separate compartment that is seated on the back of your head. Both the lamp and the battery compartment are watertight, so if you hike in the rain or if it accidentally drops it into your cup of ramen noodles, you ought to be okay. There is a button for turning on the spotlight and dimming it, and another for turning on the floodlights. There’s also a small battery life indicator light to let you know when you need to install fresh batteries.
The Switchback comes with a 1 year manufacturers warranty. I had a problem with my headlamp, as the snap that keeps the battery compartment shut fell off during a backpacking trip. I sent Joby an email with a picture, explaining the problem and asking if they could send me a new piece to fix it. What they sent me was an entirely new unit. That’s like asking Honda to send me a replacement A/C button and having a new Civic delivered to my house. I have to say, I was pretty pleased with their level of customer service. According to the Joby website, the Switchback has been discontinued, but there’s still plenty of places to buy them at the time of writing this review.
Overall, I think this thing is probably not something most ultra lighters would be interested in, but if you’re not too concerned about an extra 11 ounces (!) and really need something to light up your six person tent so everyone can see all their UNO cards, I’ll recommend this to take care of any and all of your ‘illumination-related needs’.