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Thread: Headlamp for Backpacking

  1. #1

    Default Headlamp for Backpacking

    I'm looking for a new headlamp for use when backpacking. It will be used on trails in densely-forested areas and also back at camp. I always carry an HDS and Tiablo A9 in my chest pack so throw is covered.

    I'm thinking Zebralight but would be open to any other reliable headlamp. Question:

    1) Is the AA format more practical in the event I'm in a grab-and-go in a remote area?

    2) Is high CRI preferred?

    3) Is the ZL flood a better choice than the floody?

    Any advice is appreciated.

  2. #2
    Flashaholic* Lou Minescence's Avatar
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    I like the Zebralight Floody beam better. I find I crank up the output with Flood because itís not intense enough and then you will use up batteries unnecessarily
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    1) I suppose. A single 18650 will last a looong time at the outputs a backpacker will need, but it's bulkier, and uses heavier batteries than, a AA version.
    I've used a AA H52Fw with a rechargeable as my backpacking light for hundreds of nights over the last 7-8yrs, and aside from lighting up a campsite for a nighttime pic, have never once used H1 or H2. I don't do trips more than 7 days, and have never once used the lithium AA spare I keep in my "emergency"(first aid, repair, etc.) kit, either.
    If you wanted a dedicated night hiking light, 18650 all the way, but for "normal" backpacking use, I don't see the point.

    2) Neutral tint is, for sure. Some of the high CRI LEDs(including some Zebralight's used) have a reputation for crappy tint, and tint is what really decides how you see things, because it overlays, and provides contrast for, everything you shine the light on. I'm not familiar with them, so can't say which ones are preferable, or to be avoided. My plain "w" has been great, so I've never had reason to try other versions.

    3) No. Unless it's just going to be used inside a tent, the floody is a lot better. A pure flood will require much higher output to see at any distance, go through batteries faster as a result, and still never really have much reach. The floody has more reach, and is also much better than a defined spot for hiking with. I have an older neutral Zebralight that's pure flood, and the Nitecore NU25, which is all the craze nowadays, and has both a cool LED with focused beam and a high CRI pure flood mode. The short version is that they are both crap compared to the Fw.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    For backpacking, I'd suggest a Nitecore HA23 2AA headlight. You'll have a hard time finding a lighter headlamp in that format and it has a very floody beam. Also, it only costs $25. If you have to stop in towns or mountain shops along your route (on a long trip), AAs are the easiest batteries to find available.

  5. #5
    *Flashaholic* Lynx_Arc's Avatar
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    I'm a proponent of 18650 lights as the power density is unmatched and with that you get very high outputs and very very long running low output modes. The lower modes can run the light so long that you may not even need to change the battery for a week at a time if you aren't constantly using it. Having to change AA batteries 3-4 times as often gets to be a hassle plus if you choose to use primaries it gets expensive to fuel and if you use rechargeable AAs (nimh) it takes more weight and volume of them to equal 18650 power. I lean heavily towards rechargeables as you can top them off when you have access to power and know how much runtime you have while using primaries you can end up with half used batteries or them even going out unexpectedly. Carrying a few 18650s and a charger with a power bank function can be used also to charge your phone and other devices even power a USB fan perhaps.
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    I'm team AA. I find that I rarely need more than 150 lumens. My choice is the H53Fc. One battery easily lasts a whole 3-5 day trip with plenty to spare. I like the smaller size and lighter weight on the head. If I do carry my XTAR PB2 bank which houses 18650's (perhaps a new trail where I might use GPS on my phone), I take my H600Fc just to offer mental freedom knowing I'm using one cell. If I was doing a multi-month thru-hike, or hiking through the night, I would consider this set-up.

    In terms of energy density, Lithium Primary (non-rechargeable) AA are fantastic and last time I investigated, rival 18650s. I scored a wonderful sale and bought about 40 for $40, and liberally use them. A single cell lasts multiple trips.

    If you're bringing other flashlights, pure flood might be nice. But I wouldn't purchase one because I'm a "one light at a time" kind of guy.
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  7. #7
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    Smile Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    I realize that most people have little concept of backpacking, or a backpacking light's purpose, so here's some perspective.
    I did a short quickie overnighter last night, arriving in camp 20-25 minutes after sundown. After screwing around and finding the best spot for my shelter, it was dark enough to need a headlamp.

    Walking around, setting up my tarp, unpacking my gear...all camp use was with the 2.7 lumen L1 mode of my H52Fw.
    Messing around inside the shelter after waking up in the middle of the night was all with the L2 mode, which is set on .06 lumen.
    The runtime for the 2.7 lumen mode is listed as "4 days". For the .06 lumen L2, it's "2 months".
    If I had run out of light, and had to finish in the dark(like a few weeks ago, when my chosen site was unexpectedly taken, and I had to hike an extra hour to get to another I liked), I'd have been using M2 at 25 lumens, maybe M1 at 50 if the terrain had been rougher, or the little stream crossing before my campsite more challenging.
    That is typical backpacker use, at least in terms of need. In camp, or walking into camp late because they didn't make it by dark.
    A lot of backpackers just use a keychain light.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    All very helpful and thoughtful ideas and advice. Thank you. I get out and backpack a fair amount so I know that most of what is does not require a lot of firepower.

    I've been using a pair of Quark Mini on a headband but that ni longer is ideal. I will relegate the two of those (both CR123) to backup status. They are small and weigh almost nothing but would be very handy if needed. As mentioned earlier, I also have an HDS handheld which I use often when hiking on trails at night, if more light is needed than the Minis.

    The argument for an 18650 is that I would have 60-140 lumens all night if needed compared with 25-55 lumens with AA. The HDS would become the backup to the ZL 18650. Redundancy for use on trails at night and back at camp too. I like that.

    I'm still not sold about the 18650 format, at least in my circumstance.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Quote Originally Posted by wiiawiwb View Post
    All very helpful and thoughtful ideas and advice. Thank you. I get out and backpack a fair amount so I know that most of what is does not require a lot of firepower
    That was for the sake of other people.
    I don't know what they think hikers do in the woods, but the suggestions I see often do not reflect the uses we have!

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    I recommend the Zebralight h600fc over the h604c for general use. The Armytek wizard pro Nichia is also a great choice if you want built in charging feature, but it's also bulkier and heavier. Last but not least, the Skilhunt H04 with TIR optic and high cri LH351D is a great alternative to the two above, at a much lower price. The H04 still uses an efficient buck driver but the highest setting has a timed step down, meanwhile the Zebralight can sustain the high output if used in very cold weather with sufficient cooling.

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  11. #11

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Decided to stay with the AA format for now. Just ordered the Zebralight H53Fc.

    Thanks again everyone. You're the best!

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    I'll be interested to hear how you like the tint and the levels. Not sure how I feel about the factory L1 being so low.
    I'd reprogram it, and do away with the higher levels altogether, if I bought it for a dedicated backpacking light.

    Not much for videos, but I made one for you last night.
    Between the two lights, I may have jumbled a few decimal-specific lumens numbers, but not badly.
    You might have to tell it to go to 1080p so it's not too horrible.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Owen, thank you for sharing your video. The SC64w is pretty amazing.

    I also like your tarp...is it a ZPacks?

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Yes, it's a ZPacks Hexamid Pocket Tarp with a Solo+ floor.
    I'd have a lot more use for the one with doors, but it was free, so no complaints. My friend used it a few times, and decided it was too minimal for him.
    I'm going to be using it as my fair weather shelter in fall through early spring when the bugs aren't out.
    It's almost hilariously light. 334g/11.78oz for the tarp, floor, rolltop bag, and stake bag with 7 6"Easton Nanos and 3 ti shepherd hooks(a spare of each). My stake bag makes up 24% of the total shelter weight!

  15. #15

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    That's a sweet setup. I've consider the tarp route but have always been concerned about venomous snakes and them visiting my camp while sleeping. How do you avoid that issue...a bivy?
    Last edited by wiiawiwb; 12-25-2020 at 10:35 AM.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Not worried about snakes, except stepping on one. They don't want anything to do with us.
    Bugs, on the other hand...
    I always use a "tarp" with groundsheet, unless the bugs are out. Then I use a mesh inner.
    For 8yrs, that was a Tarptent Notch, and now it's a MLD Solomid XL. May get another Notch fly to replace the one I wore out, and keep the MLD for using with my bivy when I want a bomb shelter. 40mph winds don't even begin to faze that thing, but smaller 'mids just don't have much head or shoulder room, so I'm always brushing up against the walls. Doubt it'll be an issue with the Hex tarp, pitched high and being so open, but the Solomid XL is a condensation trap if there ever was one.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Quote Originally Posted by Owen View Post
    I realize that most people have little concept of backpacking, or a backpacking light's purpose, so here's some perspective.
    I did a short quickie overnighter last night, arriving in camp 20-25 minutes after sundown. After screwing around and finding the best spot for my shelter, it was dark enough to need a headlamp.

    Walking around, setting up my tarp, unpacking my gear...all camp use was with the 2.7 lumen L1 mode of my H52Fw.
    Messing around inside the shelter after waking up in the middle of the night was all with the L2 mode, which is set on .06 lumen.
    The runtime for the 2.7 lumen mode is listed as "4 days". For the .06 lumen L2, it's "2 months".
    If I had run out of light, and had to finish in the dark(like a few weeks ago, when my chosen site was unexpectedly taken, and I had to hike an extra hour to get to another I liked), I'd have been using M2 at 25 lumens, maybe M1 at 50 if the terrain had been rougher, or the little stream crossing before my campsite more challenging.
    That is typical backpacker use, at least in terms of need. In camp, or walking into camp late because they didn't make it by dark.
    A lot of backpackers just use a keychain light.
    I've got 6+ weeks in the back county with last year's black diamond (the don't mark them for modern# that i can see). It takes 3aaa and was rated at 300 lumen on high white. It had a red and a white flood/spot / combo that was adjustable by tapping the side. With lithium aaa i still had lots of juice after 2 weeks of use each time. It is small, low weight and high output.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    I'm glad somebody got out for 6 weeks in the past year! That's great.
    I've been out of action off and on with a bunch of screwed up discs in my back, canceled 2 of 3 trips out West, and now working gobs of overtime due to coworkers out with COVID. Only 27 "bag nights" for the year

  19. #19

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Popping in to say that I have used the Petzl Tikkina headlamp for night hikes and really like it. The battery life lasts a long time and has three different brightness settings. The angle is also adjustable so you can direct the light exactly where you need it which I've found helpful when trying to find stuff in my backpack. It's also a great price.

  20. #20

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    I've never owned an 18650 format flashlight nor have I ever recharged a battery. I didn't want to jump into it until I had some experience with a flashlight. I just got a Zebralight SC600Fc and will play around with recharging batteries. Once I'm comfortable with that, I'll consider an higher-powered headlamp from Zebralight. Thanks again everyone, I really appreciate all your help.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Quote Originally Posted by wiiawiwb View Post
    I just got a Zebralight Once I'm comfortable with that, I'll consider an higher-powered headlamp from Zebralight.
    I just got one for work, though I did take it on an overnighter Tuesday-Wednesday, for its first, likely last, trip into the woods. Like I said, bulkier, and the higher levels are pretty useless for a backpacker. It might go again sometime, for the runtime on a long night hike, but those are pretty rare for me.


    I should do an experiment, and see how many dozens of nights' use the spare lithium AA that's been in my first aid kit for the past 8yrs lasts.

  22. #22
    Flashaholic* Outdoorsman5's Avatar
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Quote Originally Posted by wiiawiwb View Post
    I've never owned an 18650 format flashlight nor have I ever recharged a battery. I didn't want to jump into it until I had some experience with a flashlight. I just got a Zebralight SC600Fc and will play around with recharging batteries. Once I'm comfortable with that, I'll consider an higher-powered headlamp from Zebralight. Thanks again everyone, I really appreciate all your help.
    Hey Wiiawiwb,
    I go camping every month with our scout troop and use lights a whole lot. For general use I prefer a small floody (not full flood) Zebralight such as the H53Fw and a throwy flashlight such as the still available SC64w HI or even better but now discontinued SC600 Mk IV HI. For many of our trips we go backpacking Friday's after school which means we hike well into the evening. Some of these trips I bring an 18650 Zebra headlight for the added runtimes such as the H600Fw Mk IV and a throwy flashlight as mentioned above. If I don't need that extra runtime, I prefer the smaller more comfortable & better looking AA Zebra headlight.

    Regarding using rechargeable cells such as AA eneloops or Li-ion 18650's, I HIGHLY recommend you invest a bit of money here. You will from then on have "free-ish" power for years & years, and you will not have to wonder if your primary cells are full enough to "take on that next trip." I have had both of these types of cells last upwards of 12 years before the cells die/won't take a charge (be sure to write the date purchased with a sharpie on each of your cells so you can track this. I like using my newer cells on trips, so I'm certain the cell is in excellent condition) Everything in my house that runs on AA or AAA bats are powered by eneloops. Whenever I go on a trip, I pop my recargeables in the charger for a little while to top everything off, and I'm fully charged. I bet you will come to appreciate this a whole lot, and you will be more inclined to actually use your lights more since you won't be concerned over using up a battery. Finally, if you are using alkaline cells in any of your lights or other items, then you are asking for trouble. Alkaline bats are well known for leaking and destroying anything they leak on/in. I'd hate to see you lose an expensive light or other electronics over a leaky alkaline.

    Good luck!

  23. #23
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Quote Originally Posted by wiiawiwb View Post
    Decided to stay with the AA format for now. Just ordered the Zebralight H53Fc.

    Thanks again everyone. You're the best!
    Can you tell me about the fit on your head? Does it leave fingerprints on my head or is it a comfortable fit?

  24. #24

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Quote Originally Posted by wiiawiwb View Post
    I'm looking for a new headlamp for use when backpacking. It will be used on trails in densely-forested areas and also back at camp. I always carry an HDS and Tiablo A9 in my chest pack so throw is covered.

    I'm thinking Zebralight but would be open to any other reliable headlamp. Question:

    1) Is the AA format more practical in the event I'm in a grab-and-go in a remote area?

    2) Is high CRI preferred?

    3) Is the ZL flood a better choice than the floody?

    Any advice is appreciated.
    here's the short advice i wish i could have read all in one place when i was trying to select a ZL headlamp:

    battery life is very important to me. i can go a long ass time with one or two spare 18650s in my pack. most of my advice directly relates to battery life.

    regardless of which light you get, it's important to play around with all 12 brightness levels and try to pick ones that work well for you (in the G6/G7 programmable modes). not using modes that are brighter than you actually need makes a huge difference.

    1) definitely go 18650 unless you absolutely cannot bring/use extra batteries (they don't take up much space) and/or a charger. the 18650 lights are already plenty small.
    AA sucks, but if you only want to power your light on stuff you can buy in a convenience store or whatever, then i guess you gotta do what you gotta do.
    NiMH batteries also suck, even eneloops.
    i'd probably only use AA if i were homeless and couldn't plug in a charger somewhere. then again, if i were homeless, i probably wouldn't give a crap about which ZL to buy. i'd have bigger problems.

    2) assuming you like the tint / color temp, then of course get as high CRI as you can.

    3) neither. in ZL speak, get spot and spill (not frosted). you get more throw, and you're not wasting precious battery life illuminating things you're not looking directly at. the headlamp automatically points at what's in the center of your vision. that's the point of a headlamp. nifty, right?
    also, the low modes aren't useless.

    if you get unfrosted/spot-spill, you can always add a diffuser (look up d-c-fix film) to turn it into a floody on-the-go. i've never done it personally, but i've heard good things.
    conversely, you can't make a floody into a spot-spill.

    imo, the three ZLs to look at are:

    h600w: my preferred lamp. decent tint. i like it because it has the tightest beam, but honestly it's still plenty floody. the CRI's high enough for me.

    and then you have the high-CRI options.
    these are slightly floodier than h600w. i'm not sure if the reflector is any different, but the emitter is bigger (5mm vs 3.5mm), so that makes for a wider beam with all other things equal. these are also the 2nd gen XHP emitters (indicated by the "2" part of XHP50.2). they're a little more efficient compared to gen 1 (which h600w has), but they also have a greenish color cast at the edge of the beam perhaps due to the new extra yellow phosphor style. that issue can be mitigated by a frosted optic which would blend the beam, but i'm not into that as i explained above. honestly, it's fine in use.
    h600c: 4000K
    h600d: 5000K
    Last edited by SYZYGY; 01-23-2021 at 01:47 AM.

  25. #25
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Quote Originally Posted by SYZYGY View Post
    here's the short advice i wish i could have read all in one place when i was trying to select a ZL headlamp:

    battery life is very important to me. i can go a long ass time with one or two spare 18650s in my pack. most of my advice directly relates to battery life.

    1) definitely go 18650 unless you absolutely cannot bring/use extra batteries (they don't take up much space) and/or a charger. the 18650 lights are already plenty small.

    2) assuming you like the tint / color temp, then of course get as high CRI as you can.
    I think the OP made his decision but I agree with you 100%. I've done a lot of camping and find the 18650 headlamps are my go-to now and preferred over the AA lights. I usually give my AA lights to friends to use for campsite activities or going for a walk away from the campsite to, uhh, do their business. I also go for high CRI so everything is not washed out by a wall off light.


    Quote Originally Posted by SYZYGY View Post
    in ZL speak, get spot and spill (not frosted). you get more throw, and you're not wasting precious battery life illuminating things you're not looking directly at. the headlamp automatically points at what's in the center of your vision. that's the point of a headlamp. nifty, right?
    also, the low modes aren't useless.

    h600w: my preferred lamp. decent tint. i like it because it has the tightest beam, but honestly it's still plenty floody. the CRI's high enough for me.

    and then you have the high-CRI options.
    these are slightly floodier than h600w. i'm not sure if the reflector is any different, but the emitter is bigger (5mm vs 3.5mm), so that makes for a wider beam with all other things equal. these are also the 2nd gen XHP emitters (indicated by the "2" part of XHP50.2). they're a little more efficient compared to gen 1 (which h600w has), but they also have a greenish color cast at the edge of the beam perhaps due to the new extra yellow phosphor style. that issue can be mitigated by a frosted optic which would blend the beam, but i'm not into that as i explained above. honestly, it's fine in use.
    h600c: 4000K
    h600d: 5000K
    I have both a newer ZL H600c MKII and an older ZL H600w II and love the tint on both. However, I prefer the 12 degree spot on the older H600w II especially when I do the occasional night hike. I went for a night hike in Yosemite a few years ago and my ZL was perfect... although I wound up letting someone in my group use it as she had some knee issues and I wanted her to have both hands available in case she took a spill. As you said, it provided a good hotspot down the path while also providing plenty of spill. And zero worries about runtime... but I still brought a spare 18650 just in case.
    SF 6P, E1e, E2e, C2, M2, M3, Z2, HDS 60GT, Zebralight SC600w MKIV Plus. EDC rotation: Lumintop Geek, SF Titan Plus, Jetbeam RRT-0, SF E1e w/ Tana Nichia B219 TripLED

  26. #26

    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Sometimes the trail gets difficult to navigate at night. One time encountered so many downed trees that we had to find a way through off trail. It is nice to have the much brighter 18650 headlamp for navigational purposes in adverse conditions & to search for trail markers. It is possible to need to hike significant distance after dark during emergency or time critical situations on trail.

  27. #27
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    Default Re: Headlamp for Backpacking

    Agreed! I once did a multi-day portage trip and, while we managed to get to our camp sites during the day, a couple of times, we needed some lights to help guide our way as dusk came before we made it to our site. When you're carrying a canoe or plenty of gear, it helps to have a decent amount off light to make sure you don't trip. 18650 headlamp definitely helps with that.
    SF 6P, E1e, E2e, C2, M2, M3, Z2, HDS 60GT, Zebralight SC600w MKIV Plus. EDC rotation: Lumintop Geek, SF Titan Plus, Jetbeam RRT-0, SF E1e w/ Tana Nichia B219 TripLED

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