Review: Ledlenser MH10 head torch and MT18 flashlight

The darkness is very important to me. It’s a place where I find I am most tested in my profession.

Very few visitors to the Arctic, those who don’t call it home, bother with the darkness. That is, the long nights of the end of summer and the early spring, and the months of black winter in between. It’s, unsurprisingly, harder to see the grandeur of the icescape around you. Navigation, hard at the best of times, doubles in complexity and weather conditions often deteriorate from the more stable summer months. The only respite can be the lessening of autumnal storms.

I fell for the polar winter some years ago and have focussed much of my time on it since; the combination of added challenge, ethereal half-light and surreal sensory deprivation.

Hardly unexpected, therefore, is my keen interest in lighting technology. For much of the time, the seeming murk of the dark months may not offer obvious natural light to see by. The truth is very different – between the glow of the moon, starlight and even the aurora, often you can let your eyes adjust their sensitivity and travel without torches. However, that time although common is still luxury. With a set moon, overcast skies or when you need to accomplish detailed tasks or assess dangerous ice, clear lighting is key to survival.

You can buy a headtorch for a fiver. Perhaps a non-brand one off eBay or a high street camping store. Lanterns and flashlights the same. However, within minutes of use I can guarantee you will rue your decision.

The majority of outdoor lighting on the market, alarmingly even from known brands, is ‘plasticy’, poorly quality-controlled and lazily designed. Most is designed for weekend forays when a fault or breakage can be replaced the next day with little fallout. I have found this to my cost over the years as I tested dozens of models and trawled the web for new innovations. Here I’m reviewing two new variants from the German-based brand Ledlenser. Those of you familiar with my writing and so on will know I have come to trust their offerings. Critically though, I’m not blinded (sorry..) by them. My growing confidence is justified because I test their competitors and I still come back.

I will embark on a number of winter projects this next 2017/18 season, one focussed on testing and broadcast, one guiding, and the other on exploratory goals. In preparation for this, Ledlenser let me in on their latest releases, all of which are now on public sale. No torch is perfect, and I have always been frank in my feedback both directly and privately. What has consistently impressed me, as you’ll see, is the speed at which improvements find their way from paper to product.

Generally, I need three sorts of torch. The first is a super-powerful flashlight for route scanning and checking the coast is clear of large predators who would like me for lunch. The second is a main headtorch for use when skiing, hauling or driving dogs and when ambient light isn’t enough. Finally, I need a super-efficient and light ‘tent headtorch’ which can allow me to see a wide area just ahead of me whilst my primary is being charged.

The two for today are from the so-called new Outdoor Range - a slight confusion in my opinion since a good proportion of their torches are robustly build and weather resistant, whether from the other ‘tactical’ or ‘professional’ ranges. As an aside, I dislike the designation ‘Pro’ on products. Professional in relation to what? Is the non-Professional version useless for pros and built poorly? Of course not. I think more sensible groupings and model names would help us all.

Nevertheless, here we have the MH10, the top-of-the-line headtorch from the new range, and the MT18, the ‘big bertha’ flashlight of the same.

For me, these will be seeking to dethrone the H14R.2, Ledlenser's (nearly) flagship headtorch and the M17R, a large, powerful light. Big boots to fill. The R designations mean a rechargeable lithium battery is included (non-Rs were AAA, AA or even D powered), which is also the case for the two newcomers even though their names lack the ‘R’ bit.

So, here we go:

MH10 Headtorch (UK £70-90)

Firstly, this is a much smaller torch than the H14R.2. It’s half the weight, has little over half the power (600 lumens) and half the focused range.

To remind you, lumens are the total amount of light energy being emitted. This can be focused, spread and modified in a number of ways. Range is the distance the beam can effectively be thrown. If you double one, you don’t necessarily (in fact rarely ever) double the other.

It has the same split lens-battery compartment design as most larger headtorches which balances weight and keeps the power compartment behind your head. Most parts are quality plastic, with the lens module itself made from metal alloy – presumably aluminium. It’s been a few years since rubber has been seen in the structure of an Ledlenser, so I assume this has been consigned to history.

As a headtorch balancing the demands of power, ease of use, robustness, weight and not eating batteries for breakfast, the MH10 does a sterling job. I’d love to see a full aluminium build (except cables) since plastic can suffer in extreme cold, but you’d pay a weight penalty. Oooo, composites…?

The battery is smaller than that of the larger models and performs excellently – as expected and in proportion to the lumens produced. One drawback is the ‘lithium-only’ system which means if you can’t recharge via USB, you can’t throw in a couple of AAs as you can in the hybrid battery packs.

A VERY welcome addition, and a solution to my perennial bugbear, is the ‘lock out’ function. This forces the torch into the ‘off’ position and stops it switching on by accident inside bags and sledges. At the same time, the overcomplicated modes and settings of past torches have been simplified so you don’t need to endlessly read the manual to find out how you’ve only got strobe settings available.

Now, to the beam. A lovely white light. Wide and sharp at the ‘flood’ setting and when hand focused to a spot beam, it loses some sharp edges (not unusual so nit-picking) but throws out good light to 100+m, if not quite the 150m quoted.

An excellent, comfortable headtorch at a competitive price. I’m seriously considering using it as a replacement for the more expensive H14 series, especially when I also have a flashlight to hand in moments calling for a serious long distance beam.

MT18 Flashlight (UK £200-250)

This flashlight is an impressive beast. Ledlenser have other much larger and longer (to accommodate barrel-like battery packs) in their range. All come with substantial price tags, but you pay for quality, so I prefer to describe these as good value for the investment.

It’s not small enough to be pocketable and feels reassuringly hefty in the hand. They have gone for a wide, squat design with three monster LEDs to throw out a bonkers 3000 lumens. This is first available in a wide setting which is frankly like a floodlight. Do not point this in someone’s face if you wish to remain their friend. Then, with a quick and easy pull motion, you can focus into a tight beam that can illuminate Battersea Power Station from my apartment building. AAs would be a clumsy main power source for the MT18, so a nifty replaceable triangular lithium powerplant supplies the juice. Still, I do miss the backup potential for emergency AA power.

This ultra-premium torch, also with the lock out function, has a full metal body with weather sealing and I can very easily see it becoming my ‘bear torch’ for scanning the horizon in search of unwanted predators. I didn’t quite manage the claimed half-kilometre range for 5 hours on a single charge, but not far off. A remarkable bit of kit and only just more expensive than the M17R it, in my view, knocks out the park. The maximum ranges are similar, but the MT18 just pumps out SO much light, with more intuitive and reliable controls.

Ledlenser – well done. You listen to your customers, you innovate, you regularly update your range, and you stick to the basics well too. There are other excellent torch brands out there, but I see no reason to jump ship. Quite the opposite in fact. My upcoming winter will be lit by Ledlenser.

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Below are some beam shape examples at short range. Left is the MH10. Middle is the MT18 on 'wide' and the Right on 'spot'. It should be noted that on 'spot', even with the low heat output of LED lights in comparison to old-style 'bulbs', the tiles rapidly became hot, even at distance. The MT18 is outputting THAT much energy.

I have omitted 'in the field' power test images because they can be hard to compare and contrast due to the way cameras meter light.

Disclosure. Ledlenser UK supplied the products for this review, but did not pay a fee directly or indirectly.

Alex HibbertComment