Like any good headlamp, the SnowMiner is lightweight (just 2.3 ounces/65g without batteries), comfortable to wear, and provides plenty of light. It features two different pre-set levels of illumination, high (80 lumens) and low (8 lumens), and comes with a flashing strobe mode that can be used to signal for help in emergencies. Perhaps best of all however, is the "Variable" mode, which lets you easily dial-up the exact brightness you need. This is accomplished by pressing, and holding, the power button, which gradually adjusts the light from its brightest to lowest setting.
One of the things that impressed me the most about this lamp was how comfortable it is to wear, even over extended periods of time. The headband adjusts very easily, and can be worn directly on your head or over a hat or helmet as well. Once it is in place, you barely notice the oversized lamp unit, which features a soft, silicone covering around the bulb itself. At first, that soft covering seems like just another unique design choice, but it turns out is has a purpose all of its own too.
While the SnowMiner is a nice headlamp in its own right, it turns out it has a few tricks up its sleeve that truly set it apart from the pack. For starters, when you're done using it on the trail or moving around camp, the lamp quickly, easily, and efficiently turns into a hanging lantern. A plastic hook built into the headband make it easy to hang from the ceiling of your tent, providing plenty of illumination for those late night card games or curling up in your sleeping back with a good book.
As for that soft silicon covering I mentioned, well its true use becomes apparent when you switch to lantern mode. When you're wearing the SnowMiner as a headlamp, the silicone covering collapses around the bulb to allow it to focus its beam in a more concentrated direction. This helps us to be able to see further ahead when we're walking on a dark trail, but doesn't really help much when trying to illuminate a larger area. But when you're ready to use the light as a lantern, you simply give tie silicon a slight pinch and a twist, and two tiny magnets inside the light release it, allowing the covering to expand into a dome. That dome disperses the light nicely, making it act more like a lamp and less like a flashlight. It really is an ingenious design that will be much appreciated when bedding down for the night.
Battery life is fantastic on the SnowMiner as well, lasting 50 hours on high and 140 hours on low. The light uses three AAA batteries, which are cheap and easy to find, and when they start to get low, the headlamp gives you plenty of warning by turning on a small red indicator light.
Snow Peak designed the lamp to be easy to use, even while wearing gloves, and the large power button is fantastic when you're fumbling around in the dark as well. I also appreciated the easy to access battery compartment, which made it a snap to replace dead power cells. I've used other headlamps where that simple task turned into an exercise in futility.
In case you couldn't tell, I'm very impressed with the SnowMiner. It's a great little head lamp that extends its functionality well beyond what you would expect out of a light like this one. If your'e looking for a last minute stocking stuffer, the backpacker or hiker on your list will definitely appreciate this lamp. (MSRP: $49) (Checkout other Snow Peak gear at TravelCountry.com.)