Nitecore NU32 Rechargeable Headlamp Review

Nitecore NU32 Headlamp Review

The Nitecore NU32 is a high powered (max 550 lumens) rechargeable headlamp with white and red lightning modes. It has two control buttons and fairly straightforward control logic, that cycles through its different options so you can actually remember how to use it in the field. But the feature I like the best about this headlamp is that it has a large 1800 mAh lithium-ion battery, the equivalent of 9 AAA batteries, so you have to recharge it far less often. That size battery is rare on headlamps that store their power in the headlamp assembly and not in a remote power pack.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 3.2 oz (including headband)
  • Battery: 1800 mAh, Li-on
  • Max lumens: 550 (CREE XP-G3 S3 primary white)
  • Two additional white LEDS with high color rendering capability (19 lumens)
  • Two additional red light LEDS (9 lumens)
  • Beam: Flood beam profile with 60 degree angle adjustment
  • Modes: White and red
  • Digital lock: Yes
  • Power Indicator: Yes
  • Micro-USB charging cable included

The Nitecore NU32 is a high-powered rechargeable headlamp fitted with five LEDS including white and red lighting modes. It has a maximum light output of 550 lumens (for up to 1 hour), although the high setting of 190 lumens is also quite bright and much longer lasting (17 hours). A digital lock prevents accidental discharge when the light is not in use while a battery meter notifies you when recharging is necessary or has been completed. The headlamp has an easy to adjust elastic strap with a 60 degree angle of illumination so you can easily aim the light to where it’s needed most.

Control Logic

The NU32  has two buttons on top of the light housing, a power button to control its white light functions and the other to control the red light. They both make a clicking sound when pressed and are large enough to use while wearing gloves, which is one of the things I like best about this light.

Center Spot Beam Profile
Main Center LED Beam Profile

The white light has four modes: turbo (550 lumens), high (190 lumens), mid (33 lumens) and ultra-low (1 lumens) with burn times ranging from 1 hour on turbo,17 hours on high, 50 hours on mid, to 330 hours on ultra-low. The turbo mode turns is self-regulating, so it will begin to lower in intensity to avoid overheating the light after 30 seconds of burn time. I checked with the manufacturer and they could not explain how much the lumen output of the turbo diminishes over time or what the dimming algorithm is. I think the turbo mode is basically hype although it could prove useful in a limited fashion. I just ignore it and use the high setting when needed, which generates plenty of bright light, and has a long 17 hour burn time.

Pressing the white power switch repeatedly cycles through the modes and is dead simple to use  (although you can always take a photograph of the directions with your smartphone and refer if needed.) If the headlamp is on and you hold the power button down for 1 second, the turbo mode turns on. Pressing the power button when no action is taken for 3 seconds powers the light off.

To turn on the two auxiliary white LEDS with high color rendering capability, simply hold down the power button for 1 second, which displays them on a diffused flood light pattern. These are good for reading colored maps at night in your tent. Pressing the power button again turns them off.

The red light switch is marked with an R on the button. With the light off, pressing the R button will turn the red light (9 lumens) on. A second press with 3 seconds will make the red light flash. If the button is pressed after the 3 seconds, the light will turn off. Very simple.

The NU32 also has the requisite special modes, an SOS and beacon. These are entered and cycles by pressing the power button for three seconds when the light is off to repeatedly cycle through the modes and off.

More diffuse red LED beam profile
More diffuse red LED beam profile

Beam Profile

The NU32 has five LEDs, the main white one in the middle and two pairs of white and red auxiliary lights on its sides. The main center light creates a focused beam, while the lower powered white and red auxiliary LEDs display a more diffused flood light pattern for close-in activities like reading or cooking.

Power Meter and Recharging

The NU32 includes a micro-USB cord. To recharge the light, you pull back the small piece of plastic covering the micro-USB port and plug it to a power supply. There is a power indicator under the white light button that turns green when the light is fully charged. When the light is charging, it is red.

You can also test the power level of the battery when it is not charging. With the light off, press the power button once. If the power meter blinks 3 times, it means the battery is greater than 50% charged, 2 blinks represent a battery level below 50% and 1 blink means there’s less than 10% power left.

You can use the NU32 while it is charging, which is a nice capability to have in the tent at night or in camp if you run low and want to recharge while you cook dinner. It’s a fairly rare feature, so it’s a real score on such an inexpensive headlamp.

NU32 technical data
NU32 technical data

Lock Mode

The Nu32 has a digital lock to prevent accidental activation. To lock the device you push both top buttons at once until the built-in power meter flashes. To unlock, push both buttons until the power meter flashes again. I consider digital or analog headlamps locks to be a must-have feature. The last thing you want is a dead headlamp because it turned on accidentally in your backpack.

Comparable Rechargeable Headlamps

Make / ModelLumensLockRed ModeWeightPrice
Biolite 330330YesYes2.4 oz$50
Knog Bilby400YesYes3.2 oz$60
Fenix HM50R500NoNo2.8 oz$60
Petzl Bindi200YesYes1.2 oz$60
Nitecore NU 32550YesYes3.5 oz$40
Nitecore NU 25360YesYes1.85 oz$37
Nitecore NU 20360YesNo1.82 oz$30
LEDLenser SEO7R200YesYes3.3 oz$40
Claymore Heady600YesNo3.7 oz$80
Petzl Tactikka450YesYes2.8 oz$70

Recommendation

The Nitecore NU32 is a great rechargeable headlamp for the money with easy to use control logic, a battery power indicator, digital lock, and white and red lighting modes. It has a high capacity 1800 mAh lithium-ion battery which has the equivalent power of 9AAA batteries, giving you a long burn time, even when using the headlamp on high (190 lumens for 17 hours). The lithium-ion rechargeable battery is also good for cold weather use because it won’t freeze. The combination of a spotlight and floodlight beams provides maximum versatility for nighttime activities, whether you’re on the move or in camp. The NU32 is also available in multiple colored cases and straps, if that kind of thing is important to you. Besides the huge battery, I think my favorite feature on this headlamp are the two top control buttons, one for the white light and one for the red. They simplify the control logic compared to single button headlamps, while providing excellent tactile and sound feedback each time they’re depressed.

Disclosure: Nitecore provided the author with a headlamp for this review.

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6 comments

  1. The burn time of Turbo on the NU32 is not 1 hr. That is a theoretical run time based on the draw on the battery. In use, the thermal protection kicks in at one minute. This is on the Nitecore website in small letters.

    Run time, at least usable runtime on High, is not 17 hours. The output on High is not regulated and loses 20% brightness an hour. The light at 2-3 hours is at ~100 lumens. The NU32 at 5 hours is ~10 lumens. This can be verified in actual runtime tests available on various websites.

    In my mind, the lack of a “high” setting of around 300 lumens is a notably lacking feature in this headlamp.

  2. Thank you for the detailed review. I love my NU25, but the extra battery capacity and turbo mode are making me consider upgrading to the NU32.

    • I have both and prefer the NU25 for backpacking for several reasons. It’s lighter, the red light is brighter, and the high intensity mode is plenty bright for the times I need lots of extra light. I used it on a section hike on the AT this spring and worried that the battery would run out before my hike ended. We camped three or four nights on each leg of our section hike, after which I’d recharge it while positioning vehicles for the next leg. The battery recharged quickly and never ran out under use. Admittedly, it didn’t get dark until nearly 9pm, however, I did use it about two or three hours each night and my hiking partners will testify that old slow, Grandpa usually got into camp by headlight well after dark-thirty.

      The NU25 has a bright red light that is powerful enough to use when you don’t want to destroy your night vision. It also has three white modes plus a turbo which handle my needs well. For three or four nights on the trail, it works.

  3. You forgot to mention how long it takes to charge. (It would be helpful to know the difference between wall charging & power banks as well).
    This info is crucial for those of us who use them on longer backpacking trips utilizing either power banks or solar panels.

    • In my experience how long something takes to charge is going to be driven more from what you’re using to charge it than it is from the device being charged. I have 2 different power banks and they charge my phone in different times. A solar panel is a whole different animal (different solar panels, and then the environmental conditions you’re using it in).

  4. I have a Fenix HM-50r and so far I love it: very durable, reliable and very simple to use. You can drop it on rock and it doesn’t break unlike most of the headlamps that are made out of plastic. the digital lockout feature I’m not a fan of. My Fenix I can lock it out by simply unscrewing the tail cap a quarter turn – more low tech more reliable, plus I can replace the battery. The quality of the beam is great perfect blend of throw and spill. I did order the Nightcore NU25 haven’t got it yet just waiting to see how it will work out

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