This super-bright LED strap light is ridiculously useful (Review)

Kogalla RA LED strap light
© Kogalla

Personal lighting just took a huge leap forward with the Kogalla RA.

Good lighting can make all the difference, not just in a home or business, but during all sorts of activities, from cycling to running to camping, hiking, and adventure sports. Having easy access to a light that clearly illuminates your trail, worksite, or even just the sidewalk is one key component of a safer, more productive, and enjoyable outing after dark. What was once the sole domain of gas- and battery-powered lanterns ended up giving way to handheld flashlights, which dominated until soon after the commercialization of LED bulbs, but has now been slowly giving up ground to LED headlamps that let users go hands-free. With the current state of LED bulb and battery technology, it's now possible to pick up a cheap, lightweight, energy efficient, and bright LED headlamp or flashlight right from the impulse buy section at the local hardware, auto parts, or home improvement store.

Headlamps, especially LED models, are incredibly useful, and I've been a heavy user of headlamps for tasks and activities of all kinds over the years, using them for everything from midnight diaper changes to roadside auto repair to backpacking trips, because they free up your hands while offering bright light and long battery life in a lightweight package. However, there are some drawbacks to head-mounted lights, first and foremost being the fact that they only illuminate what you're looking at when you are facing it, and they aren't very good for lighting bigger areas, and they're pretty much only meant to be worn on the head. And because one of the selling points for headlamps is that they're lightweight, there's a big compromise between battery size, battery life, and overall brightness in order to keep it comfortable to wear.

The latest entry into the personal lighting market is looking to create and dominate a new category altogether, which the company, Kogalla, is calling a "strap light." This new type of light is in keeping with the hands-free theme, but takes it a step farther by going 'head-free' as well. The RA strap light is designed to be attached to just about anything, using a magnetic backing system, a velcro strap system, or even just hung from a D-ring, to provide extremely bright light (800 lumens) from the device's 5 Cree LED bulbs, and to do so across a wide angle (120°) and a large area. The RA can be adjusted as low as 50 lumens for a "Moonlight" setting that can offer enough light for small tasks, or adjusted upward for more light, and it has a flashing mode for emergencies.

Along with having a strip of lights on a flexible platform rather than a single 'spotlight' configuration, another difference of the RA is the fact that the battery pack is separate from the LED strip, which allows for the placement of the device to be different from where the weight of the battery is carried. A USB cord connects the battery pack to the light, so the RA could be mounted to a backpack strap, while the battery pack can go in an exterior pocket of the backpack, or the light can be attached to a shirt or coat while the battery sits in a pocket. The single version of the RA comes with a 6700 mAh battery bank, which is said to provide for up to 3.5 hours of lighting at the highest level, or 63 hours of light at the lowest level, and higher capacity battery packs are available (such as to run two strips at once).

The RA has strong magnets built into it for attaching to ferrous materials, which makes it handy as a worklight, but it also comes with a backing strip that has magnets embedded in it as well, so users can simply put the backing strip on the inside of an object, such as a coat, and then place the RA on the outside of it for a secure and relatively comfortable placement. The RA can also be placed on a Velcro-secured strap that can be clipped onto a bag or elsewhere, or strapped with Velcro strips onto a bike or other piece of equipment, so there are plenty of options for mounting the light itself. Mounting the battery pack is slightly more work, as there is no built-in strap for it, but the single pack (BatPack1) is light enough - 4 ounces - to slip into a pocket, or be strapped to a handlebar or bike frame with Velcro strips if desired.

Along with the D-ring strap, Velcro strips, and magnetic backing strip, the RA also comes with a set of red and green lens covers, which snap easily over the LED bulbs for different applications (such as a rear light for a bike). The RA itself looks to be well-engineered and solidly built, with the flexible steel "backbone" of the device enclosing the wiring and circuitry (which is waterproofed to IPX7 standards, equal to one meter of immersion), and heat dissipation fins on either side of each bulb helping to keep the device from overheating.

Kogalla RA strap light© Kogalla

The RA measures about 7.5" long (19 cm), not including the USB power cord, which is hard-wired into the end of the strip. It's about 1.5" wide (3.8 cm) and just under .5" in depth (1.25 cm), and weighs 2.5 ounces (70.8 grams), and the power cord is a few inches over 3 feet in length. All told, the RA doesn't take up much space or weight, and other than the limitations of mounting a 7-inch long strip or the constraints of a 3-foot long cord, this light has a lot of potential mounting options.

Originally launched via a successful Kickstarter campaign in early 2016 under the name Zyntony RA, the device now falls under the corporate name Kogalla, and is available to the public via the website. The company offered to send me a review model of the RA, along with the BatPack1 and basic accessories, a few months ago, and I've been putting it through its paces since then. I live in a rural location and off the beaten path, with no streetlights or other lighting after dark other than a porchlight, so I use a headlamp or flashlight pretty much every night, for everything from rounding up the dogs to taking out the garbage to checking for water leaks, and while I was a bit skeptical about the RA at first, I quickly found it to be a ridiculously useful light for almost every nighttime task.

The light from the RA was easily brighter than almost any other portable light I've ever used, other than a battery-operated spotlight that just ate up batteries like nothing else, and the wide throw of light made it quite a bit more usable for task lighting than a single focused bulb. It disperses a smooth and natural-seeming light across a big area, and being able to quickly mount it directly via the magnetic base or with the magnetic backer strip was a big plus. And although I do like to have a focused source of light to direct on what I'm looking at or working on, I found that being able to go both hands-free and 'head-free' and have the light stay constantly on the task at hand, rather than moving when I move my head, is a gamechanger for certain tasks. The Moonlight mode, which is pretty dim compared to the highest setting, is a great option when first turning on the light (instead of being almost blinded by going from complete darkness to 800 lumens), and is a good low-light setting for walking at night without lighting up the whole neighborhood.

One way that I found myself consistently using the RA is with the magnetic backing strip, with which I attached the light to the front of my shirt or jacket, as it gave me plenty of light from below the level of my eyes, projected over a large area, to turn my immediate surroundings from completely dark to really bright. The battery pack sits in my pocket, keeping the light itself enough of a featherweight to not be bothersome to wear. For longer use, or for more secure attachment, I also used the D-ring attachment to mount the RA on a backpack strap, which avoids the potential for chafing or pulling on clothing, and if I was using it for running or cycling after dark, I would want to mount the light more securely, such as strapped across the body, to keep it from swinging back and forth while moving.

Of course, there are faster options for lighting, such as grabbing a small flashlight for a quick look outside, and options with a longer 'throw' of light, such as a high-power flashlight that can focus the light on a single point over longer distances, but the overall usefulness of the RA makes it solid tool in my book. And because the Kogalla RA battery packs have a standard micro-USB input port with a rating of 5V 2.1A, it can easily be recharged with one of my portable solar panels, most of which have USB or micro-USB output ports, so it lends itself well to off-grid usage.

A single RA unit with the battery pack and accessories currently costs $100, a double pack with two RA lights and a 13400 mAh capacity BatPackII and accessories costs $200, or for the most battery capacity, the company offers the double pack XL version, which features a 20100 mAh battery pack. See the Kogalla website for additional info.

Disclosure: I received a review model of the Kogalla RA, but all opinions, errors, or omissions in this post are mine alone.

Tags: Gadgets | LEDs | Lighting

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