I am a big fan of Princeton Tec’s (PT) “tactical” line of lighting products and I have had the opportunity to review a few of them in the past. Their tactical lights aren’t what you typically think of when you think of a “tactical light” – in fact, they might just as well be called practical lights. PT doesn’t make hand held lumen cannons. Instead, their tactical line is focused on hands free task lights, many of which can be integrated easily into your existing tactical gear. These are versatile lights that are ideal for those times when you just need to a read a map without blinding yourself and showing everyone where you are for miles around. It is from this line that we get the new Charge MPLS.
The Charge MPLS is a single AA battery powered task light that offers a variety of mounting options and output types. MPLS stands for Modular Personal Lighting System and the words “modular” and “system” certainly fit the Charge. Out of the box, it can be attached MOLLE webbing or 2 different types of helmet mounts (a bracket for use with the MICH/ACH or attached directly to Ops Core side rails). There is also an accessory strap available that turns the Charge into a headlamp.
All versions of the Charge MPLS have 4 LEDs clustered in their heads (3 3mm LEDs around the edge and a large center LED) at the end of a flexible neck. The large center LED on all versions pumps out 55 lumens of bright white light. The 3 3mm LEDs are available in a number of different color options – all red, all blue, all green, all infrared (IR), combination red/blue/IR, and combination red/green/IR. All of these LEDs combine to offer multiple light modes low color, high color, and bright white.
I mentioned earlier that I am a fan of the PT tactical line of lights and this is largely because of their user interface. Most tactical lights turn on in the brightest setting. That makes sense for a light that may be used along side a handgun or mounted to a rifle. However, tasks lights should turn on in the lowest possible setting to avoid ruining dark adjusted vision (and risking broadcasting the position of those who must be concerned with such things). PT is one of the few companies who recognize this and it makes their tactical lights exceedingly useful even to the least tactical among us.
The switch is recessed on the Charge to prevent accidental activation. The user presses it once for low color (low red on my sample) and then presses it again quickly for high color output. If the user waits more than a couple of seconds after a press, the light will turn off on the next press. If the light is off, on low color, or high color, the user can press and hold the switch for about 1 second to activate the bright white mode. The next press will turn the light off or pressing and holding again will switch back to low color.
It sounds far more complicated than it is. PT uses this user interface on a few of their tactical lights and I find it to be ideal because it comes on in low mode and, maybe more importantly, it makes it so you have to be very intentional about turning on the bright white mode. This user interface is easy to use and promotes light discipline.
Fly in the Ointment
The Charge is extremely versatile thanks to its many mounts and varied light output. It runs on easy to find AA batteries. It is fairly rugged and water resistant. It has a great user interface which makes using it very easy. However, there is one fairly large fly in the ointment.
When the Charge was first prototyped, it utilized a small locking tab to keep in locked into its various mounts. The user just needed to lift the tab in order to move it from mount to mount. However, after thorough field testing by end users, PT found that the locking tab might not be sufficient to retain the light so they replaced it with a set screw. Unfortunately, it is a set screw that requires a fairly small phillips head screwdriver to turn.
On one hand, I am grateful that PT takes the time to thoroughly test their gear rather than relying on the customer to be the beta tester as so many companies seem content to do. However, this choice of screw is frustrating. A flat (slot) head screw is far easier to improvise a driver for in the field (coins, crushed 5.56 brass, a bent paper clip, a knife blade, etc). The screw used is really too small to turn even with the driver found in many multi-tools.
It would have been even better yet if PT used a thumb screw that is similar to what they use on the battery cases of their Quad, EOS, and other headlamps. It is knurled so you can use your fingers to turn it and it has a slot that can be turned with any improvise driver that can be used on a flat head screw. It can even be turned with the slider on the head lamp strap!
So, if you are just going to buy this light and mount it in one place, then this may be a non-issue for you. If you are going to buy it in order to utilize the multiple mounting options, be advised – it requires a tool in order to move it from mount to mount. This puts a serious damper on a what could have been very versatile mounting solution.
The Charge is very light weight, especially with a lithium AA battery installed. It looks like something that would weigh more than just a scant 47 grams but it is lighter than it looks.
The mounts appear to be very well made. I had to really work on the MOLLE mount to get it onto some webbing that had Velcro sewn onto it, making it very rigid. The mount handled a lot of flex without breaking or fatiguing.
The light works well on MOLLE but seems to be most at home on your head. The helmet mounts work great and are easy to install. The Charge can be installed directly to the Ops Core accessory rails without any modification or accessory mount. The head lamp strap is a must have. I found that it added a ton of versatility to an already versatile light. I thought it might be strange to have the light on the side of your head unlike a traditional headlamp which is on the front but it was a complete non-issue. It worked great.
The output modes are very well set and spaced. The low red output is quite low like it should be and the high red output is quite bright. The two modes are very visually distinct. The bright white mode will really surprise you. It is very impressive in its brightness and and color. It isn’t blue or green at all but rather a very nice warm tone that renders colors very realistically. All of the output modes have a very broad beam that is well suited to a task light.
The flexible neck is a great feature. It lets you mount the light in a fixed position and aim it just about anywhere. The neck will bend and stay bent to nearly 90 degrees from the light body in any direction.
The switch is very clever. It is so well protected that it can actually be difficult to find if you don’t know what you are looking for. It is small rubber pad with 3 raised ridges to you can easily locate with your finger. It would be very difficult to turn this light on unintentionally.
Swapping batteries is very easy on the Charge. The back of the light has a hinged cap with a latch than can be operated with gloves on. The cap is o-ring sealed and seems to do a good job of keeping out the stuff that shouldn’t get into a light. The cap is actually attached to the light so it can’t be lost.
I found this light very useful mounted either somewhere on the head (helmet or strap) or high on a plate carrier. It is optimal in these positions. I also found that the bracket from the head strap or MOLLE mount could be used to mount the light on a back strap which was also very handy. The strap bracket worked best for this because it held the light in a vertical position on a backpack strap.
This light is also extremely useful inside of a pack that has internal MOLLE webbing or you can add some adhesive Velcro to the back of the head strap bracket for use in packs with Velcro interiors. The flexible neck on the light lets you mount it near the top of the bag and use it to illuminate the contents of the bag very discreetly.
Overall, I like this light but I wish that it didn’t require a tool (especially a tool that you aren’t likely to have with you) to swap mounts. One of the major selling points of this light is the modular mounting system and that tiny Phillips head screw really limits that feature. Hopefully PT can get it sorted out on subsequent versions of the Charge MPLS because even with the screw issue, it is my favorite of the MPLS lights that I have tried. The form factor, user interface, and use of an AA battery make this light worth your consideration.
Check out the Princeton Tec Charge MPLS at PrincetonTec.com.
Disclosure: The Charge MPLS was provided to me by Princeton Tec, free of charge, for review.
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