Surefire Minimus Review

I haven’t had the chance to play with the Minimus too much, and it’s my first headlamp in quite a while. So I’ll take my time with this review and update my thoughts on it as I run it through its paces. Here’s my thoughts after a few months.

Introduction

Surefire is well-known for their handheld, tactical flashlights, and the company’s innovations and achievements in the industry are undeniable. But they only have two headlamps: The Minimus and the Maximus. The Minimus retails for $199 and can be purchased here.

The Minimus has been in production since the 2010s, but the current generation has only received minor updates since its release in 2017. LED technology moves fast, and this is a long time to be standing still! However, Surefire has shown, such as with the Titan Plus, that they can hold the fort for quite a while. So how does the younger brother of the two headlamps fare?

Specifications

Direct from the manufacturer:

Weight w/Batteries4.0 oz (113 g)
Batteries1 123A (included)
Output High White300 lumens
Runtime High White1.5 Hours*
Output Low White5.0 Lumens
Runtime Low White75.0 Hours*

MSRP is $199 at the time of this publication.

Presentation and Build Quality

Newer models come in a more eco-friendly packaging, while older iterations (of the same generation) use the glossy, all-red packaging. There’s zero difference between the two except the low runtime which has been extended on the latest iteration. Included is the headlamp, some paperwork, and a red snap-on filter.

Build quality is undeniably good, and there are no quality-control errors to speak of. If there’s one thing that Surefire consistently nails, this is it. As for design details: Knurling is where it should be and is very much effective. There’s a nice little plastic cradle that holds the cap to the battery compartment. The red filter is a snap-on fit; it works, but unless you’re constantly carrying the filter around it’s a bit useless.

The headlamp is adjusted using solely friction against its frame. There’s enough tension that there’s no risk of inadvertently adjusting the angle while turning the rotary dial. That said, I can see the tension lessening over extended use – only time will tell in this regard. And I will no doubt update this review in the future if anything changes.

User-Interface

Now here’s where things get interesting. Surefire has used rotary-dials on their flashlights in the past, but nothing like what the Minimus is packing. Located on the right-side of the headlamp (if it were on your head), the dial ramps the output up and down – but not linearly. Instead, it ramps relative to the speed at which you adjust the dial. Spin it clockwise quickly and abruptly to instantly access max output. Turn it slowly to progressively ramp up the output. Vice versa applies.

The dial spins infinitely in either direction, and there’s mode memory so that the flashlight turns on to your last used mode. And if you need it, holding down the button for four seconds activates SOS (it blinks in the lowest output setting).

Output, Runtime, and Beam Quality

Surefire claims 75 hours on the lowest setting and 1.5 hours on the highest setting. This is in-line with their single-cell flashlights, so we can assume that these numbers are reasonable. These numbers, particularly the high, are far from exceptional, but they’re more than ample if you’re not using the headlamp constantly. An issue that plagued older models of the flashlight was parasitic drain; it would kill the battery in under a year. I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case.

Measured draw from OFF: 12uA
Time to drain a CR123a (1500mAh): 14.269 years
It does fall a bit short of the claimed runtime, but this is also an older battery and I can’t remember if I used it previously in another flashlight.

The beam is much more of a standout. Using Surefire’s proprietary MaxVision reflector, the beam is almost pure flood. There’s very little hotspot and everything is illuminated evenly around you. The beam has very little punch past 25 meters, and it excels at close-up tasks (which one would ideally be using a headlamp for anyways).

One of the highlights of their previous generation headlamps was the Minimus Vision which used a high-CRI LED with a warmer color temperature. While Surefire claims to have used an LED that’s easier on the eyes, the LED in the current Minimus is clearly a different LED than the Vision’s. It’s somewhere around 5000K and doesn’t have that notorious “green” tint that some Surefire flashlights are known for. ]

The Subjective Take

This is a niche headlamp. If you’re looking for a headlamp to use constantly on the job or for extended applications, look elsewhere because the Minimus will eat cells if you’re running high mode on a regular basis. You’re much better off taking a look at the Surefire Maximus which has a rechargeable battery, and even then I don’t think that the Maximus has much relevance in today’s market.

That being said, the Minimus very nearly nails the rotary-dial user-interface. My expertise in headlamps is limited, but this is the ideal interface in my opinion. Some conventional headlamps offer output “ramping,” but most of them require you to hold down a button which is cumbersome. Not so with the Minimus; the UI is intuitive and exceedingly simple: It requires very little tactile feedback to turn a knob compared to pushing-and-holding a button on most conventional headlamps. The fact that it doesn’t ramp linearly, though, might be a turnoff to some. It’s a bit harder to predict the output that you want from the headlamp especially if you move the dial too quickly.

My testing ground for this headlamp was a two-night camping trip at Big Sur, California. One thing I noticed quickly is that the low is still very bright for 5 lumens. This is…not uncommon with Surefire, and I really doubt it’s 5 lumens. It’s great for general close-up tasks, but I found it too much sometimes, like when I woke up in the middle of the night while sleeping outside. I’m younger, so my eyes are a bit more sensitive; however, it certainly would have been nice to see an even lower output.

Is this headlamp worth it at nearly $200? I’m inclined to say no. There’s many other headlamps with much better performance for less. But, and this is a big but, there are very few other headlamps (to my knowledge) that implement the rotary-dial interface more commonly found on flashlights. And this interface just works so well with a headlamp; perhaps even more so than on a flashlight. So if you don’t use your headlamp too often (maybe you’re storing it in a bugout bag), or you’re OK with carrying spare batteries, this might be a headlamp to consider. Anywhere from $100-150 dollars is a reasonable price point in my humble opinion.

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