TBT Gear: The Photon II light


Photon II light…from Amazon


At the start of the “modern” lightweight backpacking movement, anything that was the lightest must be the best. Or so the thinking went at the time.

Fleece? Obsolete! Replace it with a light puffy.

A three-ounce canister stove? Heck, alcohol stoves are better.

And that 2.5-ounce headlamp? A little key-chain light is just fine thank-you-very-much (EBay affiliate link).

Using a Photon II on the Benton MacKaye Trail

But a funny thing happened in the past fifteen years or so…something experienced outdoors people have known for a long time and younger and/or more naive outdoors people (such as myself!) had to get more experience to realize.

Namely, that rarely does a piece of gear work for all situations and environments. “Lighter is not always “righter”…

The humble fleece? Still works better in cold and wet conditions than the newer and more expensive puffies.

Alcohol stoves? They still have their place. But in the increased wildfires we’ve been having out west, perhaps is not always the best choice for a stove.

And those keychain lights? They are absolutely light. But with other options now that frankly work better and are still very light, they have gone by the wayside in terms of popular use for backpackers.

A casual backpacker, rightfully so, does not see a reasonable in cost two-ounce headlamp to be all that much of a weight or financial hit.  Especially when the item uses standard AAA batteries found anywhere.

For some outdoors people, a one ounce light running on a single AAA battery, that is both more reliable and brighter than a keychain light, seems like an excellent item.

So keychain lights, the most well-known being the Photon II, have gone out of favor for lightweight backpackers in general.

But, I still use one.


Why I still use this gear? Along with my p-51 can opener and a Swiss Army knife classic, the little keychain light gives me a nice every day “quick and dirty” toolkit.  For slightly less than an ounce, it does a lot. On winter trips, for quick field repairs esp when guiding, I use this kit a fair amount.  On one winter trip I helped to guide, a client’s headlamp went kaput. My light salvaged the weekend for him.  On a recent trip, I took, MY six-year old headlamp had a busted wire. No soldering iron in my kit…but I did have little keychain light.  On a winter trip, having a light is key!

Having a back-up is perhaps antithetical for the lightweight backpacking ethos, but for something so light and versatile (and that I use in my daily life as well), it has proven to be a handy item for almost no weight penalty and is inexpensive as well.

Would I suggest buying it? Absolutely. Less than $10, very light and just handy in general. Sometimes fetching the light out of the pocket is quicker than fishing out the headlamp.  There are cheaper knock-offs available, but the results have been mixed. The Photon II is inexpensive enough where, in my opinion, not really worth buying a knock-off.

Where to get? Online, many hardware stores and even general outfitters whose name is not composed of three-letter acronyms. 🙂


Notify of

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Paul, I too am a fan of the Photon. I find it very handy clipped onto a zipper on my pack or in the watch pocket of my sleeping bag. It’s perfect for when you just need a quick burst of light to find your headlamp!☺