Knog is an Australian based company, well known for manufacturing bike lights, but also flashlights and headlamps. This review is of the Bandicoot 250, a compact ultralight headlamp, with a interesting feature called the Knog ModeMaker app.
The Knog Bandicoot 250 was purchased with my own funds. Links in this review are non-affiliate. This technical review is written from the perspective of a night runner, and light painting / night photographer.
Knog's Quokka, Bandicoot, and Bilby headlamps (all named after furry Australian marsupials) are of a unique design. They are all composed of a silicone headband, into which the removeable headlamp module (which includes multiple LEDs, switches, internal battery, and USB-A port) snugly fits inside.
The silicone headband has a clip at the back for making adjustments, which was easy to use. The band fits a wide range of head sizes including children. The headband was very comfortable to wear, though it can leave a temporary imprint in your forehead after use. It has a non-slippery matte finish, which is practical, but attracts dust (as you can see in the photos). It is easily washable. Each of these headlamps have a Run version with additional red illumination lights for safety (which can be turned on or off). This review is of the non-Run version. The light has an IP67 rating, so should be able to withstand rain, splashes, and a short drop into water.
The Bandicoot is the mid-range light in the line up, weighing just 58g. It offers up to 250 lumens (lm), with 7 LEDs - 200lm spot, 50lm ambient, 4lm red, 6lm reading (4 LEDs in a row). The light has 2 switches on the top - more on user interface, output, and runtimes later in this review.
The Bandicoot has an internal battery. To charge, the light is removed from the silicone headband, and plugged directly into a USB-A port. Indicator lights (the reading lights) will indicate charging and percentage charged. If (like me) you accidentally plug the USB connection the wrong way around, you won't get any lights. From empty, it took almost 4 hours to fully charge the battery, which is relatively slow. Removing and inserting the headlamp from the band was easy enough, but I'll be interested to see how well the silicone headband lasts with heavy use - replacements are available. Knog do not mention the battery capacity on their website or instructions. As the battery is non user-replaceable, I doubt this light will last more than approximately 3 years of heavy use (and will go to headlamp heaven like my previous running light - the Nitecore NU25). At least there are no battery compartment doors to snap off, which appears to be a "feature" of some compact running headlamps with replaceable Li-ion and AAA battery packs.
The Knog Bandicoot 250 has two switches on top of the light. Button 1 is on the right (as you are wearing it) and Button 2 on the left. The user interface is as follows:
Short press from off (button 1 or 2) - battery charge status.
Long press (1sec) from off (button 1) - turns on to last memorised mode.
Long press (3sec) from off (button 1 and 2) - lock/unlock.
Short press from on (button 1) - changes mode (default spot>ambient>red>reading).
Short press from on (button 2) - changes brightness (max>high>medium>low).
Double click (button 1) - boost mode / combo (both spot and ambient light) - single click (button 1) exits to last memorised mode.
Double click (button 2 - Run version) - turns red halo mode on/off.
Long press from on - turns light off.
The user interface is OK, however I personally prefer short press for on/off and long press/hold for changing modes (as per Sofirn D25LR and Olight Array 2S headlamps, and Anduril based flashlights/torches).
What sets Knog's lights apart from the competition is the Knog ModeMaker app. This is a desktop app (Mac or Windows) that allows the user to plug in the light (via USB) and then select from a large selection of different modes, including various flashing modes, adjust brightness, and then drag and drop the order of the selected modes, before uploading. There is also a FL1 mode setting, which Knog don't appear to mention in their manual - read the output section to see what this setting does!
The flexibility of the ModeMaker app and last mode memory is a winning combination. Being a light painting photographer, I can see a lot of potential from this concept - with the right torch/flashlight design (<28mm diameter, tail switch with short press on/off, last mode memory, throwy optics, 1000lm, no visible PWM), and right set of modes (various strobe frequencies from 2Hz to 50Hz, and various strobe on-time durations such as 50%, 25%, 5ms), this could be a killer combination for light painting. However, as this isn't Knog's primary market, I'm not holding my breath!
Brightness, output, and runtime
The Knog Bandicoot has 5 different default modes, using the 7 LEDs. Knog do not mention what the actual LEDs are. The claimed brightness and runtimes are:
Combo/Boost (Spot and Ambient LEDs) - max 250 lumens/40m throw, 8-28hr runtime depending on brightness.
Spot - max 200 lumens, 12-36hr runtime depending on brightness.
Ambient - max 50 lumens, 22-70hr runtime depending on brightness.
Red - max 4 lumens, 25-72hr runtime depending on brightness.
Reading (4 LEDs) - max 6 lumens, 32 to 105hr runtime depending on brightness.
Each mode by default has 4 different brightness settings, of which each step appears to reduce the brightness by 50%. Interestingly, the Spot and Ambient LEDs appear to be at the cooler end of neutral white at around 5500k, though considerable tint shift in the beam makes it difficult to measure. The Reading lights are at around 4000k. This is much warmer than the usual 6500k cool white!
Almost all headlamps and flashlights/torches step-down in brightness from the maximum brightness within a few minutes, and the Bandicoot is no different. This is something that manufacturers tend to keep quiet about, and many headlamp reviewers fail to test! Output tests on Combo mode with FL1 mode ticked, showed that the light started at 250 lumens, before a drop to 180 lumens at exactly 60 seconds. The brightness then gradually declined until it reached 80 lumens at 10 minutes. The output then stabilised at 80 lumens for 9 hours, finally dropping to "moonlight" output for another 45 minutes. 4 re-activations of Boost mode back to maximum brightness, shaved less than 1 hour off the runtime - impressive! As a comparison, the ultralight Nitecore NU25 gradually decreases in output after the initial step-down from 190 lumens to 20 lumens over a 120 minute period, and runs at 20 lumens for the rest of the 5 hour runtime. The NU25 dips below the Bandicoot 250's sustained 80 lumens at the 65 minute mark. I prefer the more predictable output from the Bandicoot 250.
With the FL1 mode un-ticked in the ModeMaker app, the Bandicoot 250 light started at 250 lumens for 60 seconds, then maintained 180 lumens for 2 hours 15 minutes, finally dropping to "moonlight" output for 55 minutes. This FL1 mode provides options for the default lower sustained brightness and longer runtimes when ticked (as per claimed specifications), or higher sustained brightness and shorter runtimes when un-ticked. If you need more lumens, then you will need to move beyond the ultra lightweight category to larger headlamps.
Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) is a method of dimming lights by turning the light on and off very quickly. This was common more half a decade ago, but in 2022 I expect lights to either be constant current or have PWM fast enough to not be visually perceivable. Unfortunately, PWM was noticeable on all modes, and the worst that I've tested on a headlamp. Knog need to address this in future versions.
Despite the LED emitters being neutral white, none of the LEDs appear to be high-CRI, with all white light LEDs estimated at approximately 70CRI. This is also disappointing as being able to see colours more vividly when running can make the difference between stepping on a leaf or a cane toad, or twig and a snake. High CRI lights are also useful for being able to tell if meat is cooked correctly on a BBQ when camping. However, high CRI emitters are less efficient. Most other headlamp manufacturers are also behind the times with high-CRI emitters, favouring maximum lumens, as lumens sell lights!
I would also prefer the red LED to be brighter, and floodier. 4 red lumens is pretty mediocre, with the 12 red lumen Nitecore NU25 and 16 red lumen Nitecore UT27 setting the standard in the ultralight and compact headlamp market. The defined hotspot and dim spill beam result in a not particularly useful red light beam profile, which should be much more diffused and floodier.
I was expecting the fixed angle of the LED emitters and optics to be a limitation. However, I was happily surprised to find that Knog have done a good job with the fixed angle optics for the white LEDs, and thus it did not present an issue during real world use. The beam angles are approximately 100 degrees, with spot and red having a hotspot.
Whilst I purchased the Bandicoot 250 as an ultralight headlamp for night running, the flexibility from the ModeMaker app can apply itself to lots of use cases:
For longer night hikes, or multiple urban night runs, I can use the Combo mode with FL1 mode ticked (default setting), which after step-down from 250 lumens runs at 80 lumens for over 8 hours (slightly less if Boost mode is reactivated).
For shorter urbex, light painting photography, or trail running outings, I can use the light on Combo mode with FL1 mode un-ticked, which after step-down from 250 lumens runs at 180 lumens for just over 2 hours.
For a weekend away camping, I can remove the Combo mode, and use Spot or Ambient mode for 12 to 22 hours of runtime.
As a kids night light when on holiday, I can set it on Reading mode's lowest brightness setting for over 100 hours of "moonlight" brightness.
Things I liked:
Compact, very lightweight, and comfortable.
Very stable when running.
Last mode memory.
ModeMaker app - amazing mode/brightness flexibility for a ultralight headlamp.
Internal USB charging.
LEDs are more neutral white.
"Moonlight" mode at the end of the runtime won't leave you in the dark.
Things I didn't like:
Very noticeable Pulse Width Modulation (PWM).
Red light should be brighter and floodier.
No high-CRI emitters.
I would prefer short press for on/off, long press/hold for changing modes/brightness.
Charging could be faster.
Manual/product information lacking info on battery capacity, LED emitters used, and the very useful FL1 mode.
I purchased the Knog Bandicoot 250 as it looked like a good option for urban night running, and I like to support Australian companies. This was a good choice, as the headlamp is very lightweight and comfortable to wear. Update Oct 2023 - the Knog Bandicoot is still my "go to" headlamp for urban night running.
The Knog ModeMaker app sets this light apart from the competition. It allows for fantastic flexibility to suit various use cases, from higher sustained brightness with shorter runtimes for shorter outings (FL1 mode un-ticked), lower brightness levels with longer runtimes for multi-day activities (FL1 mode ticked), or even for use as a night light for more than a week.
If Knog can address the Bandicoot 250's shortcomings, especially the visible PWM, and sub-optimal red beam profile and brightness, then this would turn a very good ultralight headlamp into an excellent ultralight headlamp.
The Knog Bandicoot 250 is available from Knog's website and many retailers.
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