The Hunt for the Best Headlamps
|Price||$89.00 at Amazon||Check Price at REI|
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|$39.95 at REI|
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|$27.25 at Amazon||$49.98 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Bright wide beam, good battery life, durable design, rechargeable||Excellent trail finding and close proximity beam, waterproof, above average battery life||Excellent spot light capability, wide evenly lit flood beam, above average in most ways||Excellent brightness and beam control, often available online at discount||Bright, wide spotlight, clear/smooth optics, long battery life, robust design|
|Cons||Expensive, 18650 Li-ion battery is not included, heavier than average||More expensive, heavier than average, claimed battery life is very misleading||Below average battery life, claimed battery life is wildly misleading, single button hard to use, lame waterproofing||Average battery life, heavier and bulkier than most||Heavy, bulky, and expensive|
|Bottom Line||An impressive, powerful light in a small package that won't disappoint if you can get past the price||A durable light that will last for years with a bright high-quality beam, slightly higher in cost and weight||A quality, durable, and bright light that hits the sweet spot for most people's needs, despite dubious marketing claims||Previously one of our favorites, but hasn't kept pace with competitor's innovations||A quality light with strong battery life, but no longer our top pick for epics|
|Rating Categories||Zebralight H600w Mk IV||Black Diamond Storm||Black Diamond Spot||Coast HL7||Black Diamond Icon|
|Trail Finding (35%)|
|Close Proximity (20%)|
|Battery Life (15%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Zebralight H600w Mk IV||Black Diamond Storm||Black Diamond Spot||Coast HL7||Black Diamond Icon|
|Measured Beam Distance||121 m||91 m||94 m||112 m||90 m|
|Claimed Distance||Not specified||85 m||80 m||119 m||100 m|
|Measured High Mode Run-time (ANSI)||3.1 hrs||5 hrs||2.9 hrs||3.1 hrs||12.6 hrs|
|Claimed High Mode Run-time||2.9 hrs||40 hrs||30 hrs||1.5 hrs||70 hrs|
|Measured Low Mode Run-time||232 hrs||42 hrs||9.7 hrs||25 hrs||74 hrs|
|Claimed Low Mode Run-time||203 hrs||120 hrs||175 hrs||70 hrs||175 hrs|
|Measured Weight||4.5 oz, 127 g||4 oz, 112 g||3.1 oz, 89 g||4.5 oz, 127 g||8.2 oz, 233 g|
|Battery Type||18650 rechargeable Li-ion||4 AAA||3 AAA||3 AAA||4 AA|
|Water Resistance||IPX8 waterproof to 2 meters, 30 minutes||IP67 waterproof to one meter and dustproof||Splash proof (dubious IPX8 claim)||water resistant||IP67 waterproof to one meter and dustproof|
|Manuf Claimed Lumens||1400 lumens||350 lumens||300 lumens||285 lumens||500 lumens|
|Beam Type||flood||flood/spot||flood/spot||flood/spot||flood/spot, dimmable|
|Red Light||no||yes, red/green/blue night-vision modes||yes||no||yes, red/green/blue night-vision modes|
|On Switch Lock||yes (tailcap lockout)||yes||yes||no||yes|
Best Headlamp for General Purpose Use
Headlamps get better each year, and that means yesterday's low-end lights may offer enough firepower now to meet your needs. A standout candidate is the Petzl Tikkina, which offers more than enough lighting power for most people's needs, is super easy, and is typically sold at a compelling street price around $16. In prior years the Tikkina just didn't have the lighting power we wanted, but Petzl has doubled its power in the last few years while keeping the price unchanged. So, walk past the low-end lights sold at checkout at Home Depot and Lowes, such as the Energizer Vision HD, and consider the higher quality, yet similarly priced, Petzl Tikkina. The Tikkina offers better lighting optics, better quality construction, better battery life, and significantly better all-around performance — well worth paying an extra $3-5 over the cheapest alternatives. The Tikkina is very easy to use and its batteries lasted longer than most other lights we tested. The Tikkina delivers a pretty darn good 62-meter beam, above average for its price point, and more than most people will usually need in practice. Petzl also makes a slick USB rechargeable battery for the Tikkina they call the Petzl Core Battery which is a great option for travel or anyone who uses their light regularly.
If your main need is for close-proximity use, such as around camp, you might want to consider the similarly priced Black Diamond Astro, which offers a bit more evenly lit flood-lighting, but does so with a haircut in distance beam performance and battery life compared to the Tikkina. If a 62-meter beam isn't burly enough for your needs, consider stepping up to the Black Diamond Storm (better), at a street price around $35, or the yeoman Black Diamond Spot at around $27 street, both of which we love and offer more performance. But keep in mind that when it comes to general use at home, in your car's glovebox, or around camp, the Tikkina is a bargain that is tough to beat. The Tikkina is our favorite of the budget-friendly lights, offering excellent performance in a small, light, and easy to use package.
Read review: Petzl Tikkina
Best for Stunning Performance
Zebralight H600w Mk IV
If you can get past the price tag, which can be hard to swallow, the Zebralight H600w Mk IV won't disappoint. It offers an amazing combination of bright quality lighting, great battery life considering its brightness, and built-to-last durability. We don't normally think of a head torch as being in the "long-term investment" category, but the Mark IV qualifies. This is a connoisseur's light, with a bomber metal casing, precise finishes, and amazing lighting. Using a state of the art 18650 Li-ion battery (not included), the Mark IV blew away most other lights on battery life, shining a wide-clear beam longer than a football field for 3.1 hours on high-mode (we used H2 mode) and lasting more than a week on the low-light setting (we like M2 mode). In both cases, the light level is regulated the entire time, so it cases a consistent level of lighting the entire time. Waterproof and submersible to 2 meters, the Mark IV will survive in the most punishing environments.
The big downside is the cost, which is very expensive and rarely available at discount. It is a slight bit heavier than average at 4.4 ounces, but that's only 0.3 oz more than the BD Storm and about half the weight of the similarly performing Fenix HP25R. Be aware that at the highest power setting, it gets noticeably warm (but not too hot) to the touch. Last, but not least, you'll need to spend another $15-$30 to get a 18650 Li-ion battery and charger, but in the long-run, the 18650 is an amazing battery (the same one Tesla used), and you'll save money by not buying regular batteries. But, at the end of the day, the Zebralight is simply stunning in its combination of power, battery-life, and durability. It is the light we'd want on hand in an epic situation like a backcountry medical issue, finding a lost trail or a rescue situation (bring a couple of extra batteries and you can run all night at super-bright lighting in much less weight and size than the Black Diamond Icon). Trust us, this light will be the envy of your most gadget-nerdy friends. For those willing to invest in a high-quality lamp, the Mark IV is a thoughtfully designed light that is sure to satisfy for years to come.
Read review: Zebralight H600w Mk IV
Best for Waterproof and More
Black Diamond Storm
If you need a light that can handle a rainstorm, and worse, our favorite is the aptly named Black Diamond Storm. And, it isn't just good in the rain, the Stom is an awesome all-around performer. It is built to last and throws a wide, bright, and quality beam 91-meters down the trail, yet also provides smooth flood lighting for close proximity use around the camp. Although we found the Storm shines 11 meters less far than the Spot, we preferred it over the Spot for trail finding due to a wider beam (and it has longer battery life too!). It weighs in at a reasonable 4.0 ounces, which is just a bit more than average, owing to its 4 AAA batteries (most use only 3). The extra battery pays off in duration though, with the Storm offering an excellent 5 hours in high-mode, and 42 hours in low mode (we found BD's claimed duration of 22 hrs in high and 160 hrs low to be very misleading, and an odd bit of puffery since real-world performance is quite good without stretching the truth). Star-gazers and hunters will appreciate the option of 3 color LED modes (red, green, blue, as well as white).
The Storm is not as waterproof as the Zebrabright H600w, which is good to 2 meters underwater for 30 min vs. the Storm's 1-meter depth. But, the Storm sells for about half the price of the Zebralight. One issue to be aware of, the Storm packs a lot of features behind a single button control, which makes accessing the light's advanced features a confusing mix of single, double, triple clicks and press-and-hold combinations. That said, basic light functionality is easy. The Storm has a sealed battery compartment that is both dustproof and waterproof to 1 meter deep for up to 30 minutes. No rechargeable battery option is offered by BD, but we found the light works very well with rechargeable NiMH batteries like the well regarded Panasonic Eneloop AAA batteries. In all, the Storm is an excellent light that will provide many years of top performance, rain or shine.
Read review: Black Diamond Storm
Solid Performer at a Good Price
Black Diamond Spot
Offering more firepower than the Petzl Tikkina, and sold at 25% lower price than its more powerful sibling, the BD Storm, the Black Diamond Spot might just be the Goldilocks solution that is right for you. It will meet or exceed most people's needs on the trail, in camp, and for general use around the house. Reasonably priced, and often found online selling for less than MSRP, the Spot combines an impressive 94-meter beam with top quality flood mode optics, and a light 3.1-ounce weight. The Spot is not rechargeable, but we found it works well with 3rd party NiMH AAA batteries like the Panasonic Eneloop AAA. The Spot has many features like a red LED to save your night vision, and we like those features, but trying to access the advanced features through its single button requires a complex combination of long-clicks and short clicks that we found confusing. Happily, the basic light operation is easy using the single button.
We found the battery life in our tests to be below average compared to competing lights, and wildly below Black Diamond's marketing claims. In fact, BD makes several advertising claims about the Spot we found dubious. They have claimed the Spot to be IPX8 waterproof, meaning it is submersible to > 1 meter for up to 30 minutes, which implies that it is a better light for wet conditions than the BD Storm. But, don't be suckered in by that dubious IPX8 rating, the Spot battery compartment has no waterproof sealing, and so unlike competing IPX8-rated lights, water readily flows inside the Spot in wet conditions. We consider the Spot to be a terrible choice for use underwater and it is really more comparable to lights claiming to be splash proof (IPX4). Further weirdness, BD claims the Spot will last 25 hours on high-mode, which we find very misleading — we found in our tests that it lasts less than 3 hours on high under ANSI testing standards and it even only lasts 9.7 hours in our low-mode tests (BD claims a wild-eyed 175 hrs in low mode). Why, oh why, would a company we love like Black Diamond, engage in marketing claims that we frankly find to be so outrageous as to be deceptive and misleading to consumers (in our opinion). That said, we are quite fond of the Spot, which we consider to be a quality light at an attractive price, and a light we'd happily recommend to a friend (albeit with a few caveats about BD's dubious marketing claims).
Read review: Black Diamond Spot
Best for Brightness
When you need a big, bright, and wide light, the Fenix HP25R is the right tool for the job. It absolutely dominates the other lights in brightness. It shines a beautiful beam 182 meters distance. Like all lights, that beam degrades as the battery drains, but not much. It drops from 182 meters to about 150 meters in the first 30 minutes, then steps down to a regulated 113-meter beam for 2 hours, and then steps down to 69 meters for a final 20 mins. That gives you 2.8 hours of an amazingly wide and bright beam to enjoy. No light except the similarly priced Zebralight H600w offered a comparable combination of sustained and powerful beam performance.
But, if a big beam is not what you are looking for, then skip the Fenix. It is heavy, weighing in at a half a pound, and offers only average flood light performance. And, at its price, there are a lot of less expensive lights with more well-rounded performance (albeit with less powerful spot beams). But, when it comes to lighting up the wee end of the trail ahead, no other lamp can match the Fenix.
Read review: Fenix HP25R
Best for Kids
Black Diamond Wiz
Kids love headlamps, but they can quickly get themselves into trouble by blasting the eyes of siblings (and parents) with blinding light, or worse, putting batteries in their mouth. The Black Diamond Wiz offers a thoughtfully designed solution by thinking through how to make a lamp that lets kids have fun with a light, but takes steps to kid-proof the common issues. First among these, the Wiz uses a uniquely designed diffuser that creates a perfectly functional amount of lighting, but at a gentle level of brightness that won't blind your eyes. You can also dim the lamp further, since it is brighter than necessary at the full brightness, and it remembers your setting. The lamp can tilt both up and down, so it works just fine if your child puts it on upside-down. Importantly, the battery compartment is child-proofed by requiring a coin or tool to open, but they conveniently include an opening tool on the headband. Last, but not least, the light has both a white light and a fun multi-color option, that allows you to choose which color of the rainbow you'd like, or you can set it to continuously cycle thru colors to create a groovy rainbow mix.
One feature we don't love is the auto-shutoff after 2 hours to prevent accidental battery drain. This prevents its effective use as a nite light, which would otherwise be a great option (we typically set headlamps to a very low dim level, and leave them on all night). The Wiz is not a great general purpose light for grown-ups (or even older kids), due to the limited beam distance, but it is perfectly adequate for walking the dog at night, reading or use around camp. The Wiz is affordable and we consider it the best light for young kids, great for travel, sleepovers, and camping, assuring you a happier family adventure.
Read review: Black Diamond Wiz
Best Rechargeable for Travel
Black Diamond ReVolt
The Black Diamond ReVolt is our favorite of the rechargeable lights due to its micro-USB charging and unique combination of strong performance, lightweight, and reasonable price. The ReVolt is above average in all categories except high-mode battery life. It casts an impressive 80-meter beam (about 180 feet), but not for long as we found the batteries degraded quickly to lose 90% of the initial brightness in just 1.1 hours in high mode. However, flood mode lighting is excellent, with an evenly lit and wide beam, and with above-average 72 hours low-mode battery life. Buyers should be aware that rechargeable batteries often perform better when new than old, but even with predictable declining performance, the ReVolt can be expected to remain impressive except for trail finding use. The ReVolt is unique in also being able to accept regular alkaline AAA batteries for added flexibility.
It is worth noting that the BD Storm works well with high-quality NiMH batteries like the Panasonic Eneloop AAA, makes for a better performing rechargeable light, at about the same price, but without the convenience of USB charging. You might also consider combining the Petzl Tikkina with their USB rechargeable Petzl Core Battery which is lower-priced than the ReVolt. But, given that the price is similar, we think the added firepower of the ReVolt, or alternatively the even more powerful BD Storm with Panasonic Eneloop AAA batteries, are better a value. The ReVolt is designed to only work with Black Diamond brand AAA rechargeables, and it won't charge 3rd party NiMH batteries unless you hack them (not recommended). For those who travel to remote regions where battery replacement is impractical, or just want the convenience of the USB recharging, the ReVolt is a simple, convenient, and quality choice.
Read review: Black Diamond ReVolt
Best for Ultralight
If light and fast is your strategy, the Petzl e+LITE fits the bill. It weighs only one ounce (27 g) and fits in the palm of your hand. It provides adequate light for work around the campsite and in the tent, but even in its brightest mode it doesn't provide a useful light for trail finding. The strength of this light, and really the only reason to consider it, is if your priority is small size and weight.
Battery life is relatively poor, but the 2032 watch batteries it uses as small and light, so bringing batteries extra won't weigh you down. It's perfect for ultralight backpackers, or anyone who is willing to sacrifice to gain small size and/or lightweight. If you want a bit more lighting firepower, consider the Petzl Zipka which is still relatively light at just 2.3 ounces (64g), and offers much better lighting and battery life. The e+LITE is a bit more expensive than other small low-end lights, and you'll want to pick up some extra packs of the Energizer 2032 Battery before you head out of town (you may not find them easily in the mountains), but nothing comes close to the e+LITE on size and weight.
Read review: Petzl e+LITE
Best for Runners
Black Diamond Sprinter
The Black Diamond Sprinter is perhaps the most purpose-built light in our test. While others we reviewed may have strengths in specific areas, they also claim general appeal, but the Sprinter makes no apologies for its niche for runners. One tester pointed out that it sure seems as though a serious night runner at Black Diamond wanted this light for his or her own use, and went about designing it. It is that specific. It isn't the brightest, nor does the battery last too long. But, when viewed for the needs of a runner who frequently runs after dark, or pre-dawn, the Sprinter is tough to beat. The battery is fully integrated and rechargeable — no need to keep replacing batteries! It is robustly waterproof, so you can run rain or shine without worry. The design evenly balances the weight of the battery and the light on a bouncing runner's head, and red tail light is included in the back to let approaching cars know you are on the run.
The Sprinter works well around camp, but it isn't ideal for that purpose due to battery life issues. If you are looking for a general-purpose light, the Sprinter is both overpriced and misses the mark when it comes to features and functionality. But, when it comes to running, the Sprinter leaves the competition in the dust.
Read review: Black Diamond Sprinter
Analysis and Test Results
As headlamps grow in popularity, the number of choices increases. What begins as a simple exercise along the lines of, "Hey, let's pick up a light for our trip," ends at your local outdoor store with you facing an intimidating wall filled with dozens of products, scratching your head and pondering questions such as, "Umm, what's a lumen?"
That's where we come in. For eight years, we've been diligently doing the outdoor industry's most comprehensive headlamp testing. In that time, we've done extensive testing on more than 100 headlamps, and in this update, we put 27 finalists through the wringer in a deep test. We have been impressed to see the pace of innovation in this lights as we have watched them evolve over the last decade, which is now making low-cost lights great choices for general purpose use. The results of our hands-on review follow.
Seeing Is Believing
One of our goals in this review is to help you see through photos exactly how these products perform. We took beam distance photos of nearly every light tested and included them in our beam comparison tool so that you can see the actual output of each headlamp, side-by-side.
In the beam comparison below, we show the amazing Zebralight (left) versus the Petzl Tikkina (right). As you can see, the Zebralight is clearly brighter and shows both a wider view and much more distance, but the Tikkina is not to shabby for a light that costs about 80% less. Our feeling is that, for most people, the Tikkina provides sufficient performance, and at a compelling price. That said, the author admits to developing a kind of man-crush on Zebralight (the author bought two Zebralights for personal use after this review — when the Zombie Apocolypse comes, the Spurrier family will be ready!).
An Evenly Lit Beam is Ideal
We also took photos of the diameter of each beam in both spotlight mode and in close-proximity mode. The best lens optics produce an evenly lit spotlight for distance viewing and a wider, but still evenly-lit, floodlight beam for proximity situations in camp.
These photos give you a sense of the optics quality. Does the beam have hot spots, rings, or anomalies in the light pattern? We found that lighting artifacts make the light less effective, tricking your eye into seeing things that are really bright or dark spots. In our trail-finding tests, the beams with light artifacts made it harder to see the trail, and surprisingly, it made us tired (we think because the eye and brain were having to do more work to interpret the trail).Lies, Damned Lies, and Head Torch Marketing
One strong conclusion we have after 8 years of testing is this, "battery life claims are not to be trusted." Before you look at the advertising and say something you'll regret like, "Hey Skippy, this shines a 100-meter beam for over 150 hours," know this; Battery claims are one area where some otherwise ethical outdoor manufacturers have decided it is OK to deceive you. We are frankly appalled by the battery life claims made by three manufacturers, Black Diamond, Petzl, and Princeton Tec, who have chosen to ignore the lighting industry standard for battery life (the ANSI FL1 specification) and instead use an outdated testing standard from 20 years ago, developed for incandescent and halogen bulb lights, that we believe wildly exaggerates battery life estimates for modern LED lights. You can read more details on this topic in our article, Why Headlamp Claims Are Deceptive (we'll soon be updating this article in June 2018 based on our recent testing).We Built a "Light Coffin" to Directly Measure the Battery Life of Every Light
To get to the facts on battery life, we measured each and every lamp's beam distance versus time with a high-tech testing rig, to get a precise measurement of what happens to the beam brightness as battery power degrades. We call our testing rig "the Light Coffin" which uses a calibrated data logging light meter inside a light-proof box to measure brightness over time. With it, we can collect data, which we then chart to show how beam distance degrades as the battery life drains.
Lumens Are for Light Bulbs
Every headlamp includes a spec for lumens, but we urge you to resist the temptation to rely on lumens to guide your decision making. Why? Because lumens are a measure of light energy in any direction. This is a good way to spec a lightbulb but is often misleading for estimating the quality of a focused beam where the mirror optics play a key role.
For headlamps, it is important to consider the quality of the optical lens system that focuses the light into a beam and ideally creates an evenly lit beam. Lumens don't get you that crucial information. We separately examine and rate the actual beam quality for both distance (spot beam for trail finding), and for close-proximity use (flood beam for around camp), which gives you a better sense of real-world performance in these two key functional areas than mere lumens do.
The value standout here, for good reason, is the Petzl Tikkina, which gives more than enough light for most purposes, offers great quality, battery life, and fall-of-a-log ease of use for an attractive street price of around $16. We consider the Tikkina a much better value than the lights you'll see at the check out aisle of your local Home Depot or Lowes, such as the Energizer light, which costs about the same but isn't nearly as good.
If the Tikkina doesn't have enough fire-power for your needs, then we'd recommend you consider stepping up to the Black Diamond Storm, and specifically the Storm over the Black Diamond Spot even though the Storm costs more. Why? Because in the long-run that money will buy you the Storm's superior trail finding, much longer battery life, and robust waterproof design — it is a better value for those who feel they need something brighter than the Tikkina. If you are the kind of person who is willing to invest a bit more money for a quality tool that will last a lifetime, then consider stepping way up to the Zebralight H600w Mk IV offers stunning performance in a durable design that is built to last, and is sure to be the envy of all your tool-loving friends.
In our trail-finding test, we took each light to a vaguely defined trail where we could look out hundreds of meters in the distance and hike along sections of trail. Beam distance was a key feature of top performers, but the optical quality of the light also made a bigger difference than we guessed. Lights that had rings, dark spots, or anomalies would trick your eye into thinking there might be a dip or hole in the trail ahead. Over time, we found the poor lights made our eyes tired and required greater attention than an evenly lit beam. We also found that narrow beams were OK at a distance because the focused light worked well, but when night hiking with too narrow a beam, it felt like you were looking down a tunnel and required too much head turning to see the trail.
The top-scoring lights in our trail-finding tests were the Fenix HP25R, the Zebralight H600w Mk IV, and Black Diamond Storm. Of these, the Fenix and Zebralight were both standouts, both offering nearly perfect optical clarity and amazingly bright, evenly lit beam that was comfortably wide. The Fenix shined the furthest of any light tested, with a regulated beam that provides pretty consistent lighting for more than 2 hours. While we like being able to see the huge 182 meter distance of the Fenix, some of our testers prefer the Zebralight's wider beam (that shines 121 meters) when walking down most sections of trail as can be seen in the photo below.
The worst light for trail finding is the little Petzl e+LITE, earning a 1 of 10 rating. It provides so little light down the trail, that it can't really be considered for any use except around the campsite. That said, weighing in at just 1 ounce, the e+LITE appeals mostly to ultralight enthusiasts who are probably doing things like cutting their toothbrush in half to shave weight and bulk.
You'll notice that there is a general correlation of beam distance with better Trail Finding scores. But, not always. Some lights which offer long beam distance, such as the Vitchelo V800 with its 134 meter beam, were given relatively poor marks for Trail Finding (the V800 earned a below average 5 of 10). This can seem confusing if you just look at specs, but typically it means the beam optics had issues, such as rings, hot spots, lensing artifacts, or, in the case of the V800, an overly narrow beam (as is obvious in the beam photos below).
Many people use their lights more often in close quarters than for distance viewing. Close proximity lighting is great at your camp kitchen area, in the tent, or at home around the house, running, or walking the dog. Among the top performers for close-proximity floodlight performance were the Black Diamond Spot & Cosmo, Coast FL85, and the tiny Petzl e+LITE. All offered very smooth, wide, evenly lit floodlight beams that are perfect for use around the campsite. The e+LITE was a surprise in this category since prior year's e+LITE had relatively poor flood lighting — but a new LED introduced by Petzl in the e+LITE starting in 2017 provides an excellent result. A handful of lights offered nearly as good flood lighting as these top performers, earning 7 or 8 of 10 scores including the BD Icon, BD Storm, and the Zebralight.
The worst performers around the campsite were the Nightbound Train and the Vitchelo V800. Both produced a light that was too narrow, which reduces peripheral vision, and left us needing to move our head too often to get the target in the beam for comfortable use.
Battery life is one of the toughest categories to score because of the various modes of each light, the huge range of maximum brightness, and the fact that some manufacturers' claims for battery life were so ludicrously exaggerated when compared to our measurements (by the way, we're talking to you folks at Black Diamond, Princeton Tec, and Petzl, and in that order, when we talk about battery life claims that we consider ludicrous).
For high-mode lighting, our light coffin test data gave us a quantitative guide for how performance fared. We then tested all lights at a similar low brightness level suitable for use around the campsite, taking regular measurements of brightness over a two-week test. In high mode, brightness levels vary, and those lights that were very dim relative to other lights, such as the Petzl e+LITE or the Nightbound Train, were penalized in their high mode score. Final scores were 60% based on high-mode battery life, and 40% based on low-mode duration.
The top-performing light on battery life was the Zebralight H600w, which offered a unique rechargeable solution with excellent battery life. The Zebralight blew us away on both long-distance, with an average 1201 meter beam that lasted for 3 hours, and also in the low-mode test, with regulated output that threw a very usable 25 meter beam for 9.5 days.
Not surprisingly, the brightest lights also suffered from shorter battery life in their high output mode. But, two strong performers, the Fenix (which lasted 2.8 hours), and the Zebralight (which lasted 3.1 hours), both offer a strong regulated beam that holds a consistent distance for most of the time period, both shining more than a football field length (shown in the beam path photos below). Click here to see a comparison of the Zebralight and the Black Diamond Storm, the Zebralight offers only 3 hours of battery life in high mode, but shines more than twice as far as the Storm over its 5 hour run-time.
It was battery life in low-mode, for close proximity lighting around the campsite, that offered the biggest variation in performance between competing lights. It was here that the Zebralight stomped on the competition, with an amazing 1.4 weeks of regulated lighting in its low-mode setting. Nothing else came close, and unlike other lights which became dimmer and dimmer over time, the Zebralight maintained an even level of lighting the entire test time. The Petzl Tikka and Tikkina also offered excellent low-mode battery life results, each exceeding 200 hours, making them excellent choices for general use around the house or campsite.
One of the most surprising lights to perform poorly in battery life is the Black Diamond Spot, which just could not hold up for long either in high mode or low mode tests. Black Diamond claims the Spot lasts a whopp'n 30 hours in high mode which we found to be wildly misleading — we found it lasted only 2.9 hours. And, it gets worse. BD markets the Spot as lasting a dubious 175 hours in low-mode. It pooped out in our test in only 9.7 hours — overstated by a factor of 18x! Other Black Diamond lights, like the ReVolt and Storm, had similarly dubious claims for battery life that we found downright misleading (and disappointing from a well-regarded brand like BD, who we like and respect). There is a sorted story behind why Black Diamond, Petzl, and Princeton Tec have battery life estimates that we consider wildly misleading, and you can read all about it in our article, Why Headlamp Claims Are Deceptive (look for an update to this article incorporating new testing info in late June 2018).
Weight is the simplest metric for us to score since the answer is on the scale. The Petzl e+LITE is the clear winner here, gracing the scales with just 1.0 ounces, or 27 grams total (batteries included). The two heaviest lights are the Fenix HP25R and Black Diamond Icon, both weighing in at about half a pound.
Ease of Use
In scoring ease of use, we considered the day-to-day operation of the light, with a little bit of consideration of periodic tasks, like changing batteries. The easiest lights to use were the Petzl Tikkina and the Zebralight. The Energizer and BD Astro were also quite easy to use.
The surprise in ease of use were the most popular Black Diamond brand lights, which offered a puzzling mix of ease of use, and complexity. Whether it was the Spot, Storm, Cosmo, or Icon, they all build in a lot of functionality into a single button interface. While basic on/off operation, and switching modes was straight-forward, accessing advanced features like cycling to color LEDs or locking/unlocking the light left us inevitably confused — we don't like to have to resort to the manual to use a head torch, but even when we did, the BD's advanced functionality was just hard to master. We think BD has simply built in too much functionality into their one big fat button.
The worst scoring products were those whose operation required reading the manual. The Petzl Reactik+ is the worst with a score of 3/10. It has small buttons, and Petzl's innovative (but not generally loved) "Reactive" mode complicates use. Without a manual handy, it is easy to be left simply guessing at which of the two buttons does what — Reactive is a wrench in the works in the operation of a device we'd like to be fall-off-a-log easy to use, we're not fans.Gloved Use
Not everyone needs or should care about our gloved-use tests, which is why we do not give it its own separate score but instead incorporate as a minor factor in our ease-of-use score. We assume that those who do often wear gloves when using a light will find this information helpful, so it is worth mentioning. We wore medium thickness winter gloves for this test and assessed how easily we could operate each light. Additionally, whether you use gloves often or not, a light that is difficult to operate with gloves on will be difficult without gloves too.
The winner, in this case, was any light with one big, simple button. The Black Diamond models all were pretty easy to use with gloves, except the relatively small Ion and Iota models, and we were happy to find that even the BD PowerTap side-tap feature worked with gloves.
The worst performer with gloves was the Petzl e+LITE. While the e+LITE is quite simple to control and operate barehanded, the little control knob is just too small to grab with gloves.
Headlamps just keep getting better and better, fueled by on-going innovations in LED technologies, battery tech, and smart tech that can hold the beam at a regulated brightness level. We're happy to see the relatively inexpensive lights becoming fully capable of serving general purpose needs. This is especially useful, in that many people end up buying more than one, and the lower cost lights might be just the ticket for your car glove box, or the "thingy drawer" in your kitchen. And, we're also impressed with how the high-end lights are delivering amazingly bright beams with great optics, and with increasingly impressive battery life. Whether you are looking for a light to use on backcountry adventures, camping, or just to use around the house, we hope you have found our review, ratings, and test findings helpful in selecting the right product to meet your needs.
— RJ Spurrier