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It’s Cold and Getting Dark, But We’ve Got SureFire’s Minimus Headlamp

Ice climbing in the northeast presents a prime opportunity to evaluate a headlamp. Winter days are short, so getting up and out before sunrise is pretty common for a day of climbing. And, because nothing ever goes as planned, it’s twice as important to carry a headlamp should you get stuck on the mountain when last light fades at 4:30 in the afternoon.

SureFire Minimus HS2-MV

We spent a couple days climbing the ice around North Conway, New Hampshire, a few months back and brought along a SureFire Minimus headlamp. The light would serve in all the ways you’d expect; as an admin light for packing up vehicles, for pre-dawn navigation on the approaches to the ice climbs, to light our way back to the truck if we pushed our climbing too far into the evening, and as an emergency S.O.S. beacon if things went wrong and we needed to attract attention.

LINEAGE

SureFire Headlamps

Without context, “Minimus” might seem like an odd name for SureFire’s headlamp. It’s not exactly “mini”compared to other headlamps on the market. Going all the way back to 2009, SureFire made its first headlamp and called it the Saint. Yep, the name is an obvious angelic reference. The Saint was a 100 lumen headlamp with a few features setting it apart from its contemporaries.

First, it was had a remote, rear-mounted battery pack. It featured a novel, dual-fuel power arrangement that allowed the Saint the versatility to run on one, two, or three CR123 batteries or to get by on a couple of AA batteries, if that’s all you had. The remote, rear-mounted battery pack accepted lithium CR123s inserted upright in the battery compartment, or AA batteries inserted inserted laterally.

Second, it offered continuous brightness adjustment using a dead-simple control scheme. The light had only one control; a rheostat that adjusted the light output from a miserly 1 lumen all the way up to a blistering (for the time) 100 lumens.

SureFire Saint HS1

SureFire Saint HS1

Third, the Saint was a modular headlamp. To run the Saint in a more compact, lighter configuration, unscrew the power cable from the side of the light housing, (shown below) unthread the battery pack housing from the headlamp strap, unclip the light’s top strap from the light housing, and insert a CR123 in the side of the light housing, using the included battery cover in place of the remote cable assembly. With that, you’re now in what SureFire called the Saint’s “Minimus” configuration.

SureFire Saint HS1 Minimus Configuration

SureFire Saint HS1 Minimus Configuration

SureFire recognized that not everyone wanted the weight, bulk, and expense of the modular Saint system and offered the one-cell Saint Minimus headlamp as a separate product alongside the Saint. Ultimately, SureFire discontinued the Saint but continued to sell the Minimus. So, that’s how the SureFire Minimus got its name.SureFire Minimus

THE ORIGINAL SAINT MINIMUS

The Saint and the first generation Saint Minimus used a spherical lens to provide a very wide, nearly 180-degree, circular beam. SureFire trademarked the use of a lens to shape the beam this way as its Total Internal Reflection technology, or T.I.R. for short. As wide and wonderful as the original Minimus’s T.I.R. beam was, it wasn’t as smooth as the beams coming from SureFire’s handhelds, and it produced a concentrated light band at it’s edge that resulted in a distracting streak of light running across the wearer’s nose and cheeks.

The light also lacked battery cap retention, a necessity for anyone changing a battery in a no-fail situation, say with numb hands in a couple feet of fresh snow in the dark. Drop the little battery cap in deep snow and you may never see it again.

MINIMUS TACTICAL

SureFire’s Minimus Tactical HS2-A-TN was, more-or-less, the second generation Minimus. It was released sometime in 2011 with an all-aluminum, tubular body, a larger, knurled control knob and battery cover that improved grip in adverse conditions, and addressed the need for battery cap retention with a polymer cap keeper. On the output side, though, the Tactical still used the T.I.R. lens and was pushing a maximum of 100 lumens.

SureFire Minumus Tactical HS2-A-TN

SureFire Minumus Tactical HS2-A-TN

INTERLUDE – THE MAXIMUS

While the Minimus held the headlight standard for SureFire for several years, the company was fielding calls for a higher-output headlamp. So, in 2012 the company answered those calls with the release of the 500 lumen Maximus HS3. This light used an entirely new body that housed a fixed, rechargeable battery. The light used the familiar rheostatic, continuous output control found on the Minimus, included a battery level indicator, and both an AC and a DC charger. At twice its size, It wasn’t a replacement for the Minumus, though. The second generation, 1000 lumen Maximus HS3-A shipped in 2016.

SureFire Maximus HS3-A

CURRENT GENERATION

The third, current generation Minumus came out in 2016 and it’s colloquially called the Minimus 300 because the headlining feature is the light’s 300 lumen output. In the catalog, SureFire refers to the current Minimus as the HS2-MV.

SureFire Minimus HS3-MV

“MV” in the model name refers to SureFire’s Max-Vision beam tech, indicating that the original T.I.R. lens (top, below) was replaced with a 10mm faceted reflector (bottom, below) that casts a much, much smoother, wider, and artifact-free beam than the original.

Surefire Minimus
The company modified the controls in the 3G, doing away with the continuous brightness level adjustment  of the first and second generations. Instead, the third generation Minimus uses the same rheostatic control, but it has 13 distinct steps, running from 5 lumens up to 300. It also has a newly added button on the end of the light that turns the beam off instantly and brings it back on at the last used brightness level. This also addresses those that wanted a power lockout to prevent the light from turning on by accident while in storage or transport.


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SureFire Minimus HS3-MV

SureFire Minimus

The housing is the same as the 2G Minimus’s nearly bombproof aluminum housing. It rotates through 360 vertical degrees and there’s enough resistance in the rotation for the light to stay where you put it after a one-handed adjustment. Fun fact, look under the removable Neoprene forehead pad and you'll see the third gen Minimus housing still retains the vestigial, quick disconnect slot for the original Saint’s overhead strap.

Sorry for the history lesson, but some of you, particularly the flashlight geeks, might appreciate having the context of the light’s development.

PERFORMANCE

In the field, the Minimus takes its role as a mission critical component seriously. No place is this more apparent than the simplicity of its operation. One button to power the thing up, and spin the knob to the desired output. No screwing around with multiple presses for super duper turbo power brite mode or cycling through three color modes and secondary LEDs. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to fight through some crazy switchology when your hands are frozen. The Minimus’s button and knob are easily operated without taking off your gloves.

The only bonus feature on the Minimus is its SOS mode, and that's activated without cycling through modes or requiring an esoteric combination of button presses. Just hold the power button for a four seconds and the light begins blinking an endless SOS message in morse code. Brightness in SOS mode is adjustable, so you can dial it down to suit the direness of your predicament, if you need the light to last a while.

SureFire Minimus in action

The light’s 300 lumen beam is bright enough to do anything a headlamp should do. Walking, it lights up a path 15-20 meters ahead with a genuinely smooth and artifact-free beam. The light adapts for close up work, like cooking, tying knots, and reading with a twist of the knob to adjust the brightness – and a twist of the light body itself to position the beam where you want it. Since it’s such a wide spread, adjustment is easy and forgiving.

Whatever marketing mojo SureFire puts behind it's Max Vision moniker, I dig it. I've got a drawer full of competing headlamps and none have the clear, even beam of the Minimus. When it comes to doing anything under a headlamp for an hour, beam artifacts get distracting and even tiring. You won't notice them until you're moving, but once you do, they're hard to unsee.

The 13 brightness levels might seem overkill if you had to push a button 12 times to go from low to high, but the rotary controller makes this a non-issue. And, with 13 brightness levels, the Minimus is a battery miser, eeking out weeks of admin use in the field from a CR123 battery. The light's brightness automatically ramps down as the battery ages, eventually flashing a warning before the light gives up. And, since batteries rarely die when it's convenient to change them, the Minimus's tethered battery cap means you won't lose it while swapping out the dead battery in a precarious situation. SureFire Minimus captured battery cap

POWER

Runtime for the light ranges from 1.5 hours on max to 75 hours at its lowest setting. For work around camp, the 2 or 3 setting is plenty of light for most tasks. The middle settings will light a trail for night hiking at a moderate pace. The top end will accommodate faster trail movement, like trail running, and anything that involves combating frustration, like setting up a tent after dark when you just want as much light as possible.

We also love how the light's CR123 battery isn't affected by cold and will hold its charge in storage for years. This is an important factor when the light's used seasonally, and especially in cold weather activities.

BODY

The Mimimus's aluminum body is waterproof and practically drop-off-a-cliff-while-bouncing-off-every-rock-on-the-way-down proof. I can't ignore the size and weight of the Minumus compared to smaller, lighter headlamps it competes with. It's kind of a pig in that regard. But, a lovable one. When it's on my forehead in fair weather, the neoprene pad keeps the light steady during all but the most dynamic movements.

The light puts out a fair amount of heat on it's brightest settings, and some of that heat makes its way through the neoprene pad. In the winter, the light is either worn over a hat or on a helmet where heat transfer is a non-issue and the strap holds the light securely place. Pardon the pun, but the Minimus really shines in cold weather since the controls are easily located and manipulated with gloved fingers.

For night adapted vision work, the Minimus includes a snap-on, red filter. Over the years, SureFire produced green and blue filters, too.

VERDICT

Following SureFire's Minimus voyage for more than 10 years, it's apparent the company never took a me-too approach with it's headlamp. The lights are all made in its Southern California factory with the same care and attention SureFire puts into its no-fail products made for a life of abuse at the hands of our nation's military.

It's competitors might be lighter, smaller and have a more bells & whistles, but the Minumus is a simple, durable Humvee in a parking lot of Sciroccos.

DETAILS

SureFire Minimus HS3-MV

OUTPUT: 5-300 lumens
RUNTIME: 75 – 1.5 hours
PEAK BEAM INTENSITY: 1,100 candela
POWER: One 123A lithium (incl.)
CONTROL: Rotary output knob
BRIGHTNESS SETTINGS: 13 levels
S.O.S. MODE: Hold power button 4 seconds
MATERIAL: Polymer & Aluminum
FINISH: Mil-Spec, Hard Anodized
WEIGHT: 4.0 ounces, including battery
DIMENSIONS: 4.46 x 1.65 x 1.45 inches
BEZEL DIAMETER: 0.58 inch
MSRP: $199

 


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