Astral Rosa convertible flip-flop sandals make water-crossings safe and secure

The author crossing a stream with Astral Rosa sandals.

The author crossing a stream with Astral Rosa sandals.

The Astral Rosa sandal makes flip-flops more versatile by adding an optional “super-strap” around the heel to provide extra security in water.

I love flip-flops. For years I’ve felt that when I don flip-flops my feet are on a mini-vacation, even if I’m just running errands. I’ve tried all kinds of camp shoes and I always return to flip-flops, even though I know that stream crossings are safer with a more secure shoe. The Astral Rosa is pure genius for flip-flop lovers.

The Rosa sandals are designed for athletic movements in the water with a sticky bottom that grips slippery rocks firmly. The non-marking soles are siped, which means that thin lines are cut in a wavy pattern in the rubber to improve traction. The sipes aren’t obvious at first but if you bend the sole you can see them clearly. More obvious are the thicker lugs which are beveled to prevent mud from caking and sticking. The uppers are made from cushioned synthetic leather with an embroidery accent. The instep and heel is tapered from the arch, which has medium support (more than most flip-flops). The optional ankle strap may be used for river crossings, boulder hopping or other situations where a secure shoe is desired and in places where you don’t want to lose your shoes. The strap goes behind the heel and over the arch. Other convertible sandals just use a heel strap and it’s possible to walk out of the shoe, but with the strap also going over the top of the foot the shoe isn’t going anywhere the wearer doesn’t want it to go.

The Astral Rosa sandals come with an optional heel strap that can be removed.

The Astral Rosa sandals come with an optional heel strap that can be removed.

I tested the Rosa sandals around town and on a backpacking trip that had more than 15 water crossings. They were quite comfortable in daily use and felt lightweight on the feet. The surface against the bottom of my foot was soft and pliable. I wore them as flip-flops, without the optional strap, around camp on the backpacking trip, with and without my toe sock and they felt good on my feet. They were supple yet supportive. The first stream crossings were easy so I walked across without the strap. When the water got deeper and the creek wider I attached the strap, which felt sturdy and strong. The shoes, now converted to a secure sandal, provided excellent traction on the gravelly creekbed, mossy rocks and dry granite. There was no danger of losing a shoe, even when the muddy bottom grabbed at them with suction. Some of the stretches between creek crossings were short and I hiked with my 25 lb backpack on the singletrack in the flip-flops. They were comfortable on level terrain, even with the extra weight, as long as the path was relatively smooth. On a section with a small amount of clambering I didn’t have enough lateral support, which was not surprising since I was clearly operating outside of the intended use of the sandal. We passed a group of day hikers and I could hear one of them say, “Did you see that girl backpacking with flip-flops?” in an incredulous tone, which made me laugh. The toe piece was comfortable and I didn’t experience any chafing or blistering there, even with prolonged use. After a two-mile stretch between one of the longer segments I did start to notice some chafing at the wet crosspiece, on the inner aspect of my arch where the strap met the thong, which, again was not surprising under the circumstances. By then we were close to the end so I replaced the sandals with hiking boots.

When the sandal is bent the sipes that provide traction are visible.

When the sandal is bent the sipes that provide traction are visible.

For long distance backpackers, who are often obsessed with weight, the shoes might be a little heavy. At 12.5 oz for the pair they are more than twice the weight of my current 6.75 oz Teva flip-flop that I use as a camp shoe. However, for early season backcountry trips where rivers are likely to be raging, I would prefer the more secure Astra Rosa sandal for safety and security.  I’d love to see this style made with lighter materials.

The founder of Astral, Philip Curry, sold his first business to Patagonia and started afresh with a desire to create a sustainable company that could support wilderness athletes in the least toxic, lowest impact way. First focusing on water sports, they eliminated toxic PVC foam from the personal flotation device industry, developed breathable lifejackets, designed innovative footwear designs, and created sticky rubber for use on wet rock.

The Astral Rosa sandal converts easily from a flip-flop to secure sandal with the addition of an optional strap. The shoes are dependable on wet or dry rock and are ideal for water use and comfortable enough for everyday use. The shoes are highly recommended for water crossings with the understanding that, for the weight conscious backpacker, there is a weight penalty compared to some alternatives.

Information

Astral Rosa sandals with optional heel strap

Comes in four colors: red, black, gray and turquoise

Available at Astral for $69.95 or Amazon for $60.

Manufacturer weight: 334 g / 11.78 oz for 2 shoes (manufacturer reported, size unknown)

Reviewer weight: 363 g / 12 .75 oz for size 9 womens-2 shoes (weighed by reviewer using digital scale)

Disclosure of material connection: I received a sample for testing purposes but the opinions expressed are solely my own.

All photos by Inga Aksamit, unless otherwise credited.

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Hiking the Santa Cruz Trail in Peru: Day 3

Lake Taullicocha, located below Punta Union, the highest point of the Santa Cruz Trail.

Lake Taullicocha, located below Punta Union, the highest point of the Santa Cruz Trail.

We were on our 3rd day of backpacking the Santa Cruz Trail in the Cordillera Blanca, a mountain range in Peru, and were ready to tackle the Punta Union, the highest point on the trail. My husband and I were hiking independently but had camped in a designated campsite near a guided group. To see how we planned for our independent trek, see Planning an independent backpacking trip on the Santa Cruz Trail, and to read about our first day, see Hiking the Santa Cruz Trail in Peru: Day 1.

We were up relatively early but the tour group was ahead of us once again. They waved as they went past us with their little day packs on. It wasn’t as sunny as I had hoped, but it wasn’t raining, either, so that was a good sign. It was chilly though. I knew I would overheat but couldn’t bear the thought of stripping off layers so I started off with my down jacket under my raincoat and my merino wool neck gaiter and gloves. We strung up my ridiculous poncho to cover my pack and were off and running. Well, almost running. No, not really, we weren’t running at all. We were immediately gasping in the thin air.

I craned my neck to see where the group was. I really wanted to be near them when we went over the pass for some reason. The day was dark and ominous and I fretted over the unknown. I tried to hurry but that effort failed immediately due to hypoxia. I settled into a pace that would allow forward momentum while still providing enough air to keep me alive. I continued to be amazed at vegetation at this altitude. The grasses were still lush and green. Many small bushes dotted the sides of the canyon, which was narrowing into a rounded headwall that we had to ascend. Somewhere up there was the pass, now shrouded in thick clouds. The grey clouds blended with pure white snow blanketing the ridges above us, which contributed to my worry that we’d be inadequately prepared. I cursed myself for not bringing my Microspikes, a device with miniature crampons that slid over a boot to provide extra traction on slippery surfaces.

Inga is braving the elements as she nears the pass.

Inga is braving the elements as she nears the pass.

At first the walking was easy, though steeper than yesterday. We still had to ascend over 1,500 feet (457 m) though, so I knew that the incline would have to get a lot steeper before we topped out. The character of the grasses changed, becoming dryer and taller as the colors changed from green to tan. They reminded me of the bunch grasses we find in California. Still we saw yellow and pink wildflowers, some scrunched up tightly against the cold, waiting for a more welcoming day to show their full colors.

After about an hour the trail began angling up steeply through a series of long switchbacks that traversed the hillside. We tried to pick out where the pass was but the top of the ridge looked the same and there was no visible notch. A stream rushed by, which we crossed several times. I was still chilly and was surprised that even with the effort of going uphill I was still wearing all my warm layers. I had even added my brimmed hat and tugged the hood from my rain jacket to increase the warmth as the wind tore what little air there was from my mouth. The sky spat moisture from the sky, alternating between sleeting rain and hail and eventually snow. My steps slowed to a snail’s pace but I was able to maintain a slow, steady stride. Some pebbles clattered behind me and I turned to see the loaded mules and muleteers from the guided group drawing near. I let them pass, shivering as soon as I stopped. When I saw the muleteer strolling up the mountainside in his thick sandals, bare lower legs and just a poncho thrown over his shoulders I knew I was a big, spoiled baby.

The switchbacks made a big loop to the left under a long outcropping of rock and we were treated to amazing views of Lake Taullicocha far below, tucked into a narrow hanging valley below the snowy ridge we had been looking at all morning. The ridge formed the curving headwall that blocked our progress. The lake was the most amazing shade of turquoise, filled with glacial silt from the ages. The looping switchbacks kept going higher, giving us better and better views of the lake. Finally, the trail angled back to the right and we thought we spotted a potential notch that could represent the pass. Steve pulled ahead but my little steps were becoming shorter and shorter. The switchbacks continued and sometimes I caught sight of Steve up ahead. Eventually I looked up and could only see a few switchbacks. Steve leaned out to wave to me and shouted, “You’re almost there!” and I knew he was at the pass. I gazed up, almost succumbing to the thought that I could hurry it up, but it wasn’t happening. There was no lower gear to get into. “It’s only a few steps but it’s at least 20 minutes,” I shouted back over the wind. Steve laughed. “I know. Take your time,” he said.

Inga at the pass, Punta Union [4750 meters (15,583 feet)]

Inga at the pass, Punta Union [4750 meters (15,583 feet)]

The wind howled, driving the tiny pellets of hail into my face and neck finding any little crevice that wasn’t zipped up or Velcroed closed. My chest tightened and I struggled to breathe but I kept moving ever forward, an inch at a time. Finally, I reached Steve, who gave me a big bear hug. “You made it!” he said. “Let’s take pictures quickly and get out of here. It’s not that nice,” I said. We were in the lee of a big boulder that gave us a small measure of protection from the cold we readied the camera took turns dashing out to stand by the Punta Union sign that read “4750 meters” (15,583 feet) in the swirling snow. That was the highest we’d ever been, topping Mt Whitney by 1078 feet, and I could feel every missing molecule of oxygen. I peered over the edge and saw nothing but a thick mass of white clouds that obscured everything beyond about 20 feet.  The views were supposed to be spectacular of the surrounding glaciers but I saw nothing in the distance no matter how hard I strained my eyes. I looked down passed my feet and traced a tortuous path that plunged over the side in a series of steps that had been carved into the rock. The route stretched the definition of tight switchbacks. It looked more like a spiral staircase, sans handrail. Snow was collecting in a slushy layer, especially in the corners as flurries swept through. The curtain lifted for a moment and I could see for 40 feet instead of 20 before it fell again but it was enough time to see that the trail normalized somewhat after a few turns. “Let’s go before this gets worse,” Steve said. I didn’t need any prompting. He led the way and we carefully picked our way down the stone steps avoiding any unnecessary slips. A fall would be quite dangerous here. Our boots got decent traction and there was so much water in the snow that it wasn’t as slippery as I feared. Soon we were past the most dangerous part and I could breathe a little easier as the loops got wider. Suddenly, huge snowflakes began to fall. I held out my hand and caught perfect snowflakes on my gloved hands. We laughed like school children, raising our hands to catch the flakes and turning our faces to the sky. The mini-blizzard evaporated leaving behind a frothy mist like the foam on a latte. We descended quickly, gravity pulling us down. The massive cloud bank began to lift and glorious vistas of indescribably huge ravines, twisting spires poking at the sky and distant hanging valleys took my breath away. It was disorienting to be such a tiny speck, like being inside of a 3-D movie when the film starts spinning round and round faster and faster. It seemed as if I would fall into a bottomless chasm of unworldly beauty. Water dripped down shear black rock and filmy waterfalls shimmered down walls and crevices.

The excitement and anticipation of reaching the summit, the mini-snowstorm and the stunning beauty of the hanging valley we were in kept things interesting but as we moved down the valley reality set in. We were tired, it was raining and we had a long way to go. Heads down, we just focused on making some miles until we could get to a campsite. The hiking was somewhat challenging as much of the path was comprised of rocks interspersed with mud and rivulets of water. If we chose our steps carefully we could hop from rock to rock and keep our boots out of the muck. It wasn’t hard as the rocks were plentiful but it took concentration. The scenery receded as we focused on connecting a very long series of dots to our destination.

 

The familiar "uniform" of the local mueleteers: sandals, and short pants, no matter what the weather was like.

The familiar “uniform” of the local mueleteers: sandals, and short pants, no matter what the weather was like.

The familiar round roof of an outhouse came into view after several hours. “That wasn’t so bad.” I said. “Except that can’t be our campsite,” said Steve. “I believe we have much farther to go.“ A little while later we came to a fork in the road. One path led to the campsite but we took the other one. Miles later we came to another outhouse, this one occupied by a group of Spanish-speaking tourists with no packs. I figured we must be close to a town where people could come day hiking. It was pouring so we crowded in with them, smiled and laughed and could find no words to communicate. My Spanish had vanished so we stood around in the mild stench for a minute. Steve said, “I’d like to catch up to the other group and I don’t see their tents. I think we should keep going.” We knew this had to be a campsite or the structure wouldn’t have been there but we needed to make more miles if we were to get out at a reasonable hour the next day.

With that we transitioned to some of the most miserable hiking I’ve ever done. We were on a narrow muddy trail bordered by the river on one side and steep hillside on the other. At times the hill flattened out a bit but the forest was too thick to afford an alternate route. At other times the river angled away leaving pleasing-looking meadows between the path and the rushing water. That turned out to be a mirage, for the meadow was really an extension of a watery world where saturated mud held grass loosely in a bog too ephemeral to support the weight of a human. One such mirage beckoned us with such force that we succumbed. Steve strode into the morass to try to find a dry spot to pitch our tent, his shoes immediately disappearing into the muck. Ankle deep in mud he gestured for me to take an alternate route further to the right. Trying to hop from tussock to tussock my foot slipped and I was up to my calves in black muck that looked suspiciously like muddy cow/llama/mule dung. The mud sucked at my boots and suddenly I didn’t care what it was, I just wanted my boot to come out with my foot. We aborted our mission and continued our miserable slog. We were freed from our rock hopping efforts, however. With our lower legs caked in mud we just walked right through the middle of the soggy path, squishing mud between our toes as our hiking pants flapped around our ankles spraying mud everywhere.

Finally we reached the edge of a long meadow by the side of the river that was semisolid. Steve scouted around and found solid ground right beside the river under clump of trees. It was still raining and we were soaked and muddy so we strategized for a few minutes and planned where the tent would go, which end we would stake first and how we’d get in with the minimum amount of mud. Lickety split, the tent was up, gear was stashed in the gear closet and we strung up a clothesline to hang our wettest stuff. Not that there was any chance it would dry. It was just to keep it off the muddy ground and give us a place to store it in the rain. We repeated our procedure from the night before and dove into the tent, got in our sleeping bags to warm up and I took a short nap. When I awoke it was still raining but not as hard. That almost qualified as clear skies so I got up and puttered around, wringing rivulets of water from my socks, gloves and hiking pants. My boots were so incredibly disgusting that I actually took them down the river and submerged them entirely in the river using a rock to scrape most of the mud off. I knew they would never dry but I figured they couldn’t be much wetter than they were. I propped them up against a tree so water would drain out and hoped for the best.

See related articles:

Hiking the Santa Cruz Trail in Peru: Day 1

Hiking the Santa Cruz Trail in Peru: Day 2

Hiking the Santa Cruz Trail in Peru: Day 3

Planning an independent backpacking trip on the Santa Cruz Trail, Peru: Part 1

Planning an independent backpacking trip on the Santa Cruz Trail, Peru: Part 2

See slideshow in Day 1!

 

Day 3 stats:
Route: Taullipampa to Paria
Starting elevation: 13,943 feet (4250 meters)
Highest point: Punta Union Pass 15,584 feet (4,750 meters)
Ending elevation: Approximately 12,467 feet (3800 meters)

Mileage: 8 miles
Hiking time: 8 hours from camp to camp (including breaks)
Overall impression:  A difficult day due to the high elevation of the pass, the extremely muddy lower descent and long hours of hiking.

Trip Stats:
Route: Cashapampa to Vaqueria
Starting elevation: Cashapampa 8,202 feet (2900 meters)
Highest point: Punta Union Pass 15,584 feet (4,750 meters)
Ending elevation: Ending elevation: Vaqueria 12,139 feet (3,700 meters)
Total mileage: 31 miles (50 km)
Itinerary: 4 days, 3 nights

Recommended guidebook: Peru’s Cordilleras Blanca & Huayhuash, by Neil and Harriet Pike

 

 

 

The muddy trail.

The muddy trail.

Categories: Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Peru, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Julbo Breeze performance sunglasses are a perfect fit for women

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Julbo Breeze sunglasses with photochromic Zebra lenses in Matt Black/Grey color.

Shopping for sunglasses has always been a challenge for me because I have a small head. Many sunglass frames overwhelm my face to give me a bug-eyed look. Not the Julbo Breeze sunglasses, however, which have a mid-size frame designed for women’s faces. They sport adjustable temples and a flexible nose pad that allows for a customized fit that doesn’t slide down my nose.

Julbo Breeze sunglasses showing how bendable the temple arms are.

Julbo Breeze sunglasses showing how bendable the temple arms are.

The adjustable temples are a wonder of technology. The temples are secured to the frames with a short rigid section but the rear 2/3 of the temple arms are completely bendable. I have a collection of sunglasses that, when I shake my head forward, the glasses slide off my head. Not these, even in their factory form, but for extra-small heads the temple could be bent to grip the head more closely. The flexible material is also slightly grippy so it won’t slide as easily as rigid plastic. The same flexible material is used for the nose piece and the wingtips can be bent to fit any type of nose. The ergonomics of the frame are designed to accommodate the unique features of Asian faces, but are not limited to Asians.

The photochromic, polarizing, anti-fog Zebra lens demonstrates an advance in technology. Using special processes developed by Julbo for their Performance category, this lens is built for long trails and mountain biking. The photochromic lens gets lighter or darker within 22-28 seconds depending on the lighting conditions, which is a useful property when hiking or skiing through alternating periods of bright sunlight and shade. The polarized lens provides good contrast and eliminates glare from the snow or light granite of the Sierra. The antifog coating prevents condensation from forming on the lens. The Breeze model is also available with non-photochromic Spectron lenses that are good for all types of activity. Performance prescription lenses are also available from Julbo.

I’ve been testing the Matt black/Grey Breeze sunglasses with Zebra lenses while skiing, hiking and backpacking. I hike in bright Northern California sun at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and I backpack in Sonoma County and the Sierra. The glasses feel lightweight in the hand and on my face. The best part is that the temples hug my head comfortably with no slipping, even if I shake my head vigorously. In bright sunlight the lenses feel cool and soothing to the eye. The photochromic lenses are so convenient. They are light enough to drive in without feeling that they are too dark, but in brilliant sunshine the lenses darken quickly and there is no squinting. Even when hiking up steep inclines I never experienced any fogging or condensation, even though they fit close to my face. The colors of nature come through clearly and I could see every detail, even the salamanders hiding in the shaded creek bottom. I tested them at the end of ski season at Squaw Valley and found the lenses equally effective on snow, offering good contrast whether in bright light or overcast conditions. The glasses look stylish in a sporty way and I don’t look bug-eyed.

The Julbo Breeze nose piece wings are as flexible as the temple arms.

The Julbo Breeze nose piece wings are as flexible as the temple arms. The wingtips have been bent at an extreme angle to demonstrate the flexibility.

The founder of Julbo, Jules Baud, began creating optical lenses in France in 1888 to help Chamonix crystal hunters protect their eyes. Much later, in 1950, Julbo created sunglasses for mountaineers, offering glacier glasses that offered protection to climbers’ eyes in high alpine environments. Julbo went on to test their glasses on the highest peaks in the world, including Everest, Makalu, K2, Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak and Nanga Parbat. Now Julbo embraces a wide variety of sports and participants, designing glasses for specific activities, ages and vision needs. They design glasses for children and adapt their cutting edge technology to prescription lenses. The Julbo Group remains an independent brand.

The Julbo Breeze glasses with Zebra lenses are highly recommended for female hikers, backpackers, athletes and outdoorswomen and other Julbo models offers many choices for all.

Information:

Julbo Breeze sunglasses with Zebra photochromic lenses

$180 from Julbo or $135 from Amazon

Weight: 34 g (manufacturer reported)

Weight: 30 g (reviewer confirmed)

Comes with a hard case and soft bag case.

Disclosure of material connection: I received a sample for testing purposes, but the opinions expressed are solely my own.

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Julbo Breeze sunglasses

 

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Tiny Petzl e+LITE headlamp is truly ultralight

Petzl e+LITE headlamp

Petzl e+LITE headlamp

If you’re a backpacker looking for the smallest, lightest headlight on the market, look no further than the Petzl e+LITE headlamp. It is bright, lightweight and compact

The e+LITE has an oval shape and is quite compact. It measures 1 x 1.5 inches on the face and is ¾ inch thick. The black face is divided into two parts. One side features the lighting system, comprised of four small lights. Three white lights are arranged in a triangle while a red LED is located in the center of the triangle. On the other side is a red lever that cycles through five different lighting options that either help the user see or be seen. The white lights have low and high intensity setting for reading or illuminating the immediate surroundings. A red light is good for preserving night vision for star gazing or late night tent exits that won’t disturb others with bright lights. For emergency use there is a flashing red or white strobe. Flip the lever all the way to either side and it turns off and on one side there is a locking mechanism that prevents the light from accidentally turning on.
To attach the headlamp a thin elastic cord is provided. It looks flimsy and uncomfortable but it’s not. The lamp is so light that the elastic band provided is all that is needed and it can hardly be felt, especially if donned over a hat.

The clamshell opens to provide easy access to the battery and has SOS signals.

The clamshell opens to provide easy access to the battery and has SOS signals.

The headlamp can be angled in different directions by opening the bending the front half of the device away from the back panel. An articulating joint allows the light to be pointed in several directions. By opening the clamshell, the battery panel is exposed. There are two clever design elements in this part of the lamp. One is that the end of the plastic tab that is used to pull the elastic cord can be fitted in a wide slot that twists open to reveal the battery—no other tools are required. The other is that two simple emergency arm signals are printed inside, SOS (two arms raised) and OK (one arm up, the other down).

The headlamp can be stored with its two lithium CR 2032 batteries for 10 years, even if stored in a pack or disaster kit and not used. The headlamp is waterproof down to 1 meter for 30 minutes and works at extreme temperatures ranging from -22 to 140 F. The low setting will shine for 70 hours versus 55 hours for the low setting. The light was 26 grams (0.9 oz), weighed at home on a digital scale

The headlamp was tested on two overnight backpacking trips. I used to use a headlamp extensively at night, mostly to read. However, once I started reading with the Kindle app on my phone or listening to audiobooks I found that I hardly use a headlamp anymore. Therefore, it was tempting to give it up entirely. It could be useful in emergency situations, however, so I was on the lookout for a smaller, lighter headlamp. The e+LITE fit my requirements perfectly.

On both trips I was guiding a group. We gathered the first night in a campground and backpacked the second night to a backcountry site. I used the headlamp several times to walk to the bathrooms several campsites away on the first night. It was so light and compact that at first I just slipped two fingers through the elastic strap and wore it like a ring. Then I wore it around my neck at dusk so it would be handy. When it got dark I positioned the lamp on my forehead and slid the elastic around my head, where it was barely noticeable. The white lights were more than adequate to walk down the path and light up the area around the campsite. I used the red light late at night when others in the group were sleeping, to be less intrusive. The next night, at the backcountry site, I used the headlamp around camp in the same way, and for visits to the outhouse (this site had amenities). I don’t normally hike at night so I don’t need a light that illuminates a wide area. This, combined with my desire to migrate to ultralight backpacking means that this light worked well for my needs. A habitual night hiker might prefer a stronger, wider cast of light, but it had plenty of light for reading and navigating around the campsite at night.

The light is bright and can be worn as a "finger flashlight" or headlamp.

The light is bright and can be worn as a “finger flashlight” or headlamp.

The founder of Petzl, Fernand Petzlln, discovered caving as a teenager in 1930. A mechanic by trade, it was only natural for him to tinker with equipment to solve unmet needs in equipment used for exploration. He worked with a friend and his sons, expanding his business over the years. He and his team created innovative caving, climbing and mountaineering equipment including nylon ropes, ascenders and harnesses. In 1973 they created the first headlamp designed for mountaineers.

The Petzl e+LITE headlamp is highly recommended for the ultralight backpacker. It has a bright white light, emergency red and white strobes and steady lights, is comfortable to wear and is compact.

Information

  • Petzl e+LITE headlamp
  • Manufacturer listed weight: 27 g
  • Reviewer confirmed weight: 26 g
  • 26 lumens
  • Uses 2 lithium CR2032 batteries
  • It is available from Petzl for $29.95 and Amazon for $24

Disclosure of material connection: I received a sample for testing purposes, but the opinions expressed are solely my own.

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