The Petzl Zipka uses the most innovative headband system of any headlamp we tested: a string that retracts into the back of the light. Otherwise, the Zipka is essentially the same light as the Petzl Tikka. The innovative headband gives it lower weight and a smaller packed size, which can be an advantage for something like backpacking were size and weight are key.
The trail finding score was OK in general but pretty poor compared to top-performing lights that also list for $30, such as the Black Diamond Spot. But, the Spot is 0.8 ounces heavier (25g) and doesn't pack as small.
A more fair comparison is probably looking at the Zipka versus the Black Diamond Ion, which is similarly small and slightly 0.4 oz lighter than the Zipka. As you can in the beam comparison images below Zipka offers a much brighter and wider spotlight beam than the BD Ion.
Beam Distance Photos
Black Diamond Ion
Another alternative worth comparing to, is the Black Diamond Spot, which sells for the same price, only weighs 0.8 oz more (25g), and delivers much stronger lighting performance, for both close proximity and as a spotlight, as can be seen below:
Beam Distance Photos
Black Diamond Spot
The Zipka is below average in its flood mode lighting, with a score 4 of 10. While it is perfectly functional, it lacks the wide even lighting of the BD Spot or the ultralight e+LITE.
You are likely to rely on a light like the Zipka primarily for close-proximity flood lighting, and it offers impressive battery life for that application, much better than the e+LITE, and about the same as the BD Ion,
By design, the Zipka is one of the lighter headlamps, although certainly not the lightest.
Ease of Use
The Zipka is quite easy to use and has the same intuitive one button activation as the rest of the Tikka line. However, the string headband makes it hard to use when wearing gloves. In addition, you should be careful if you plan to use this with a climbing helmet. Without a wide elastic headband, the Zipka does not attach as well to helmets. Also, if you're running and bouncing, it's not as easy to get the Zipka really cinched down hard around your head.
The Zipka is at its best for an application like a 3-5 day backpacking trip, where weight and size matter, but so much as to mandate the most ultralight solutions like the Petzl e+LITE. For a weekend backcountry trip, the Petzl Tikkina or BD Spot might be a better choice, since they weigh only a little bit more, and offer much superior performance as a general purpose light in the long-run.
In the current headlamp market, $30 is a price that needs to deliver a lot of performance. The Zipka is kind of a special purpose solution, in that it is not the light we'd choose for general-purpose use, which means buying it involves a compromise on performance in the long-run, to gain its lighter weight and smaller size. The beam power and other lighting metrics are just not that impressive for the price of this light.
It the size and weight of the Zipka meet your needs, then it might be a good solution. But, we see it as straddling two worlds — not light or small enough for the ultralight backpacker, but not offering enough performance to be a good option for general purpose use (and the occasional backpacker, who does shorter trips, might not be so obsessed with weight and size to want to make the Zipka their primary headlamp).