Zebralight H600w Mk IV Review
Cons: Expensive, 18650 Li-ion battery is not included, heavier than average
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Zebralight H600w Mk IV is our favorite high-performance light. It walks down the road not taken by most other head torch manufacturers, first by using a state-of-the-art Li-ion 18650 battery, the same kind of battery used in Tesla's award winning cars, combining it with a powerful LED, and packing it in a rugged metal casing. That gives it a light with power to burn for hours, and survivalist-ready durability. We've reviewed other Zebralights in the past, which impressed us, but didn't quite hit the sweet spot for outdoor use. But the H600w Mk IV delivers with a bright beam we love for trail finding, an evenly lit flood beam that's great around the campsite, and battery life that leaves the competition in the dust.
In our tests, we used the highly regarded Panasonic 18650 Li-ion Battery, considered to be a high-performance 18650 battery rated at 3400 mAh and 3.7v. For charging, we used the Nitecore i2 Intellicharger.
The Zebralight is unique in offering two different lighting level settings, which they describe simply as #1 and #2. You can simply double-click to switch between these modes. Both modes offer three dimming levels: High (H), Medium (M), and Low (L). In their documentation they refer to the two modes by the letter of the dimming level followed by the mode number (i.e. "H1" for High in Mode #1, or "H2" for High in Mode #2). We tested both modes, and found the #2 setting to be the better choice for actual use, which we recommend you set the light to (happily, it will remember your mode setting when you next turn it on). The #2 Level mode offers nearly same (amazing) brightness in the High mode as #1, but High mode battery life is an hour longer in H1. The H1 mode starts off significantly brighter than H2 when first turned on, but this dramatic difference is fleeting since the H1 drops to a regulated lighting level of about 130 meters throw within minutes, which is not much different than the 120 meter throw of H2. We also found the lighting level of the Medium level in Mode #2 to be the Goldilocks setting for general purpose use around the camp, for preparing food, use-in-the-tent, or just walking down a well-defined trail or path). The Medium M2 mode became our go-to mode for general use in our testing — our Goldilocks setting — and we grew to love it as the default setting. The ability to turn the brightness "up to 11" in the High mode whenever we needed it was awesome (trust us, either H1 or H2 on the H600w offer amazing brightness). You can also custom program the 2nd Level brightness settings to better meet your specific needs.
With a score of 9 out of 10, the H600w is tied for first place with two other products in our test. The strong, even beam of the Zebralight impressed all of our testers. As you can see in the beam comparison below, the Zebralight throws a long beam with really even light distribution.
Compared above to the Black Diamond Storm, you can see that both offer compelling spotlight beams, but the Zebralight is superior in seeing distance as well as lighting a wider area. Over time, the Zebralight's superiority increases, as the Storm degrades in brightness as the battery drains. The Fenix HP25R is another strong performer, and offers a similarly bright wide spotlight beam, but it only lasts 2.5 hours, and for most of that time the Zebralight shines further.
The Zebralight scored well above average in close proximity. It provides a nice evenly lit and wide beam for use in camp, cooking, in the tent, reading, or walking down a path. We preferred the M2 setting for close proximity lighting (2nd Lighting Level, Medium setting) over the default M1, which also offers longer battery life.
Both the Zebralight and the Fenix HP25R use the 18650 Lithium Ion battery. This battery life vs. beam distance chart shows how the two perform. In the Zebralight's case, the battery is not included, so you'll need to purchase both a battery and charger separately. Happily, you can readily find this battery on Amazon, we used the Panasonic 18650 Li-ion Battery and the Nitecore i2 Intellicharger in our tests. Expect to pay about $30 for a charger and two batteries.
More importantly, this is a powerful state-of-the-art battery that delivers an amazing combination of brightness and battery life. This is the same battery that Tesla has been using in their Model S and X electric cars since 2013.
The Zebralight lasted an impressive 3.1 hours in high mode, while maintaining a regulated bright beam that shines 120 meters that entire time. The light offers two operating modes, #1 & #2, and within each mode there are three brightness levels H, M, & L (High, Medium, Low). We preferred the #2 mode light levels, which what the 3.1 hour test figure is based on. The H1 level shines further, initially almost 200 meters, but it degrades to 152 meters throw in a few minutes, and by 5 minutes it is down to 130 meters where it settles in and remains as a regulated level. Battery life in H1 takes a hit, only lasting 2.2 hours.
In our floodlight test, using the #2 medium mode, M2, the Zebralight left other lights in the dust with an unmatched 9.7 day performance, maintaining a quality, regulated lighting level the entire time. (We found M1 to be brighter than we prefer for close proximity work, so we just kept the light in the #2 mode as our standard approach).
The Zebralight offers one mode that is even lower-level lighting, a very dim L (Low) mode, that could serve nicely as a nightlight. It is too dim for most purposes in our opinion, but if you have young kids who are scared of the dark, then you'll find the L mode to be just the ticket for a nightlight when camping or traveling (and one that you can use every night for a month, literally).
An Easy Trick to Lock-out the Battery
The Zebralight offers what is described as a "tailcap lockout" which means you can unscrew the battery cap part-way, and it physically disconnects the battery. We love this option in that it provides a simple, obvious, and effective way to avoid the situation where you pull the light out to use it, only to realize it had been accidentally turned on in your pack and the battery is dead. Unscrewing the cap just a quarter turn does the trick.
The H600w is relatively light in weight, but it is a little bit heavier than average. It weighs 4.5 oz (127g), that is 0.5 oz or 15 grams more than the Black Diamond Storm (for reference, a AAA battery weighs 12 grams). That slightly higher weight is more than made up for in the light's outstanding performance. With its top-band adding support, it feels well balanced on the head and comfortable even when running. The light can also be quickly detached from the headband and used as a flashlight (light and small, fitting in one hand, yet exceptionally powerful). We do find the fact that the light beam is not coming from center of the weight when used as a headlamp to be a bit odd at first, but you get used to that quickly, and it is not really a problem.
Ease of Use
Like many small electronics in this day and age, Zebralight packs a great number of features into a tiny package. But, the design is set up so that advanced functionality is nicely hidden under the hood and basic operation is very simple. There are three thoughtfully chosen brightness modes selected by single clicking the one button; one click turns it on in the brightest mode, and a 2nd click selects Medium, which is a nice level for around the campsite, and a 3rd click which selects Low, which is good as a nightlight. There is also a somewhat more obscure second mode, Mode #2, which we prefer; Mode #2 offers dimmer settings for High, Medium and Low which we found to be mode ideal in our testing. Getting to mode #2 is easy, just double-click to switch between Mode #1 and Mode #2. The light always comes on in the full bright mode, which requires some getting used to since it is so bright that you can easily blast your own eyes, or the eyes of friends in the campsite, if you weren't anticipating how bright it is initially. Careful where you point that thing.
Advanced users will appreciate a strobe mode, and the ability to program two basic brightness level modes (the 2nd level can be customized). By default, the 2nd mode gives you a less bright full and close proximity beam, which we preferred. You get to the 2nd mode easily enough with a double click. But, custom programming will drive you to the manual for a process involving six double-clicks to get into customization mode.
We like the fact that Zebralight has nicely buried their advanced features in a way that basic operation remains very simple and easy. That said, we'd love to see future versions of this light remember the last setting it was on, and turn back on in that mode rather than always turning on at the super-bright High level. The ability to remember-last-setting is a nice feature of competing lights like the BD Spot, and it really helps avoid blasting eyes around the campsite with lights of such powerful light output. We miss that feature when using the Zebralight.
Use it Like a Flashlight Too
Unlike most competing headlamps, the H600w can also be easily detached from the headband and used as a small, yet powerful, hand-held flashlight.
The Zebralight is well suited to use in a wide range of situations. It has enough power for the most challenging lighting or trail finding situations. Yet, it has enough longevity and a nice evenly lit flood mode for general lighting around the house or campsite. The fact that it is easily removed from the headband suggests it might also be the best flashlight you've ever used. Its weight makes it a luxury item for extended backpacking trips where every ounce of weight is paramount, but you might be tempted to bring it anyway to light up the night like never before.
Our Pick for Epic Situations
With its high power lighting, and significant battery life, the Zebralight is the light we'd want on hand for a backcountry rescue, medical situations, or just finding your way home if you are lost. If you bring (2) extra 18650 batteries, you'll have the ability for unmatched lighting during an all-night epic, at a weight and size that is smaller than the Black Diamond Icon.
This is an expensive light and for most people, it is just more light than they need or want to spend on. That said, if you consider it an investment, the Zebralight might just be the last headlamp you buy — you will have a hard time wearing it out — and the fact that it is rechargeable suggests a real savings over time on batteries if you are a frequent headlamp user. However, for occasional use, the Black Diamond Storm is a more prudent value, offering high performance at half the price.
The H600w is an amazing light with outstanding performance. The combination of huge beam strength and long battery life are the holy grail of lighting, and the Zebralight delivers a compelling combination. If you can justify the cost, the Zebralight won't disappoint.
— RJ Spurrier