Small hiking, waterproof, uber reliable headlamp recommendations

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rickypanecatyl

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I work for an NGO that does relief work in war zones and disaster areas - Syria, Iraq, Burma, Southern Philippines etc. On some of the "tamer" trips I bring my family with me. This year is different - it'll be the first time ever my 17 year old daughter goes into one of these places without me :huh: and she wants/needs a reliable, waterproof headlamp - good enough to take baths in the river with at night without worrying about it breaking.

I've got nearly a dozen but none of them quite fit the bill. I'll mention a couple top choices I already have and why they aren't quite right:

At the smallest end of what I'm looking at is the Nitecore NU20 Hi CRI lamp and at the large end of what I'm considering is the 18650 Fenix HP12.

NU20 Pro's
- Small and lightweight
- efficient = although the battery is small, it can be recharged dozens of times with a 10K phone power bank.
- UI is fairly straightforward and simple which is important. (Most of the "upgrades/newer versions" of this head lamp have bigger batteries, multiple LED's with multiple buttons. Hiding in a war zone it is imperative to know what mode the light will turn on in at times and not have to stop and think about it in the pitch black!)
- Love that Hi CRI.

NU20 Con's
- Very unreliable and not even close to waterproof! I've had several and bought dozens to give away; I would say averaging 20 different head lamps they average the ability to recharge 5-8 times before something breaks! (Some of course can do more charges and some are dead on arrival!)
To be clear, I'd certainly be willing to pay much more for a much more reliable version of the same.

Fenix HP12 Pros
- The lamp in the front and 18650 battery in the back do a great job of balancing each other; my favorite trail running lamp for this reason!
- Fairly straightforward UI.

Fenix HP12 Cons
- At the big end of what I was thinking.
- The low isn't that low.
- While it is much tougher than the nitecore NU20, I don't trust it for taking a bath in a river when I'm going to be away from the grid for another 2 weeks.
To be clear, I've gotten a couple of mine wet, dunked and 8/10 times they're fine. But 8/10 is a pretty bad ratio for something like a parachute and even a light you really want to depend on!


So what say you? I'm willing to pay more, sacrifice lumens for dependability...

(Of course I'm familiar with the mantra 2 is 1 and 1 is none! But I would NEVER buy a light/gun/gps etc from a dealer/manufacturer that says that!! She'll often be hiking 15-20 miles of mountainous terrain a day and we want to keep her gear light! Once you start really practicing 2 is 1 and 1 is none things get RIDICULOUS! 2 lights, 2 chargers, 2 tool kits and 2 first aid kits and a back up pair of boots and duct tape to fix them and gorilla tape to back up the duct tape if it goes bad after getting wet which it will!)
 
badtziscool

badtziscool

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Zebralight? Specifically the AA model? I'm assuming AA batteries are available all over the world. I have the H51w (older model), and that has been on all of my backcountry excursions and has performed without a single hiccup. I can't speak for the newer AA models, but I'm hoping the quality and reliability is still the same.
 
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Strintguy

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I have a couple of the new ZL's AA models and I would recommend against in this case. They go through alkalines way too quickly. It's fine if you can use Eneloops, but I wouldn't take them on a long camping trip again.
 
Keitho

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If it were me personally, I'd probably go with a ZL 18650 model--like you, I love high CRI, so it would probably be my H600Fc. As you mentioned, probably too heavy/bouncy for a running light, but fine for other non-bouncing applications. Sub-lumen modes and a very efficient driver make this one my choice for multi-day backcountry trips. Potted driver and a pretty burly build means that I would probably be OK with only one light, even if it gets rough treatment. I would take, however, a couple Folomov A1 chargers and at least one spare 18650 (I carry a spare 18650 in a ZL SC64c, but I guess there are other battery carriers!)

In all seriousness, there are relatively small 18650 lights with built-in USB charging--the light itself becomes a spare cell holder and a backup charger, besides obviously being a flashlight. I don't like the Olight's color temp and CRI, but the H2R might be worth a look if only for the in-light charging ability.
 
tech25

tech25

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As much as I like my zebra lights, the UI is a bit more complex and you can inadvertently go to high plus not USB rechargeable.

For simplicity and durability, I would consider the Surefire minimus.

Pros are small, adjustable dial for output, tough and nice beamshape for closer use.
Cons: not HCRI, a bit pricy and not usb rechargeable.

In the more budget range there is olight H1R nova and similar headlamps from fenix etc.

Surefire has a nice light with the Minimus but needs a few tweaks from a flashaholic to get it right. Or we can hope Malkoff or HDS makes a nice tough headlamp.
 
peter yetman

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Do you know, I was thinking HDS. It's going to be the most reliable light to use.
Especialy with a 2 x AA tube.
If a lot of her use will be handheld, you could consider this with a headband that fits it for bathtime.
I don't think there a light I trust as much as an HDS.
P
 
P_A_S_1

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Have the second generation minimus and while it hasn't seen a lot of use it's been reliable. That said the beam doesn't throw far and has all sorts of backscatter. It's heavy and pricey too. The latest version is suppose to be better with a redesigned lens. Try before you buy as the size/weight might not work for you. Those that used my light all thought it was too bulky.
 
Kestrel

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I have the discontinued Minimus Vision ("HCRI" or at least SF's idea of what that would be, lol); and for me it seems to be an optimum camp / utility headlamp - great flood & field of view.
But to obtain any amount of 'throw', I definitely have to run it at its 75-100 lumen 'max' - which is pretty hard on CR123's.
And while reports on CPF indicate that it drops the tailcap current down when running 3.7V LiIons, it still isn't officially rated for them IIRC.

The other issue I have with them is their parasitic drain; I do not know if this was addressed in subsequent generations.
 
Buck91

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O have an old zebralight h-something that’s a simple twisty three mode AA light. Rock solid and many hours of light on medium. Doesn’t look like they make though anymore, too bad.

My thrunite th20 has been a champ for camping and car work but I’ve never tested its ipx8 rating.
 
Lynx_Arc

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I would think that a light with external battery pack would have a greater chance of leaking and even though built in USB charging is convenient it also would be another place to leak but then most lights have rubber caps on the switches a place to leak. One option that you may have not thought of is a headband that holds a regular flashlight on the side that would allow you more options you could have dual use of a flashlight and a headlight using the same light. I have a Fenix HL60R and it has an Eco mode and also dual red LEDs too and built in USB charging port not sure what the IPX rating is though.
 
P_A_S_1

P_A_S_1

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Yeah the flood on the minimus is really good but on mine it produces a ring of light that shines out at 90 degrees right into the eyes. No drain on mine, it lived in the car for years no issues. Only used mine with primaries, thought li ions would fry it. One other issue some complain about is the loose housing but there are adjustment screws under the padding to address that (small Allen wrench).
 
T

Tixx

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This zebralight is my recommendation
http://www.zebralight.com/H53w-AA-Headlamp-Neutral-White_p_197.html

Your story of your child going without you just made my heart drop. My neighbor on the next block down lost his only daughter of highschool age to an explosive device while delivering books to a school over there in the middle east for an NGO. We memorialize it every year. I walk past their house daily. Something I'll never forget. I know the probability is low and such, but this sticks with me any time someone goes over there.
 
GeoBruin

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I have a couple of the new ZL's AA models and I would recommend against in this case. They go through alkalines way too quickly. It's fine if you can use Eneloops, but I wouldn't take them on a long camping trip again.

Curious about your comment here. One of the advantages to Zebralights is that you can run a bunch of different modes including extremely low modes that have tiny current draws. You could make an alkaline (which arguably performs best at very low currents) run for weeks or months on these really low modes. Zebralights also have extremely efficient circuits so you are getting the most possible lumens out of a given battery chemistry. If you're recommending against Zebralights, I'm curious what you think would be better at not "going through" alkalines?
 
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Strintguy

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Partly the problem was that I couldn't get my wife and daughter to run them on only med or low. These lights seem a bit over driven and with only a brief use of H2 they drain quickly. For the small extra weight, next time I would get an 18650 model. I don't like having a light and not being able to use the brightness...
 
Buck91

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Partly the problem was that I couldn't get my wife and daughter to run them on only med or low. These lights seem a bit over driven and with only a brief use of H2 they drain quickly. For the small extra weight, next time I would get an 18650 model. I don't like having a light and not being able to use the brightness...

Thats what is great about my old Zebralight, I think its an H50b. Twisty on/off with LMH modes only. Great runtimes but I wish the old XRE Q5 could be swapped without too much trouble. Not real feasible on that light though.
 
Lynx_Arc

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Partly the problem was that I couldn't get my wife and daughter to run them on only med or low. These lights seem a bit over driven and with only a brief use of H2 they drain quickly. For the small extra weight, next time I would get an 18650 model. I don't like having a light and not being able to use the brightness...

I have 2 18650 headlamps a Wowtac A2S and Fenix HL60R and the modes are pretty close to the same both having a low/medium/high and Turbo and eco/moonlight mode. The Wowtac may be more suitable for your wife and daughter because to access the moonlight and turbo modes you have to click differently. The moonlight you have to hold the button when off till it comes on if you just click it the light comes on in the last mode it was on. The Turbo is accessible when on in any mode by quick double clicking it so if you "forget" to tell them that option they may never use it... LOL
 
A

AVService

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Partly the problem was that I couldn't get my wife and daughter to run them on only med or low. These lights seem a bit over driven and with only a brief use of H2 they drain quickly. For the small extra weight, next time I would get an 18650 model. I don't like having a light and not being able to use the brightness...

One of the handiest features of the ZL with the current new interface is that you can program one of the Groups to not even go to the high modes thus limiting output to increase run times.
Then with a simple set of clicks you can run it in another group of settings entirely.
It may take a little work to get it set up for the extremes of runtime AND output from different groups but it has been worth it for me for just this reason and works great here!
 
De-Lux

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Well, I am probably going to get slammed for saying it but I would stay away from Zebralight if Uber dependability is important. Had a couple fail and one after lite use. Don't get me wrong, I love my Zebralights, I own 4, fit and finish are excellent. Not super crazy about the UI and definitely would be reluctant bathing or showering with any of my Zebra lights.I would look at ArmyTek otherwise buy two Zebralight to have one as back up JIC. I would also go with a Head lamp that runs AA primaries especially for the environment you will be using the light. A dozen AA's would roughly be the weight and space of a LiPo charger and you can get AA's just about anywhere.
 
Last edited:
A

AVService

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I don't know why you would get slammed for sharing your own experience but mine is exactly the opposite too.


Well, I am probably going to get slammed for saying it but I would stay away from Zebralight if Uber dependability is important. Had a couple fail and one after lite use. Don't get me wrong, I love my Zebralights, I own 4, fit and finish are excellent. Not super crazy about the UI and definitely would be reluctant bathing or showering with any of my Zebra lights.I would look at ArmyTek otherwise buy two Zebralight to have one as back up JIC. I would also go with a Head lamp that runs AA primaries especially for the environment you will be using the light. A dozen AA's would roughly be the weight and space of a LiPo charger and you can get AA's just about anywhere.
 

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