Flashlights have gone the way of the Dodo bird when it comes to backpackers' lighting gear of choice.
In May 2006, I came to this realization when I tried to use my trusted Mini Maglite on a pre-dawn hike to the top of Temple IV in Tikal, Guatemala to watch the sun rise over the awakening jungle. I was staying at the Jaguar Inn, one of the three lodges inside the park…a park that turns off the electricity every night. I first ran into challenges trying to use the bathroom with just a small flashlight.
The experience was later trumped by having to carry the thing on a 30-minute walk in the dark, followed by a very steep climb of the old, wooden staircase that leads up the temple. I looked on with envy at my fellow travelers wearing headlamps. I could only use one hand to steady myself on the way up those stairs, while they had both, and a far brighter light to boot.
As I continue to gather the few and essential items for my trip around the world, I was excited to purchase an LED headlamp and join the 21st century. I headed to a local REI store, and quickly found plenty of options in the headlamp section.
There were two options by Petzl, which I debated back and forth for 20 minutes. Headband (Tikka Plus), or no headband (Zipka Plus)?
- Headband = security (+), adjustable mount (+), $5 cheaper (+), 78 grams/extra weight (-), extra size (-)
- No headband (spring-loaded, retractable string) = 65 grams/lighter (+), smaller (+), easily worn on wrist (+), $5 more (-), no adjustable mount (-), questionable durability of retracting mechanism/string prone to fraying (-)
I found it difficult to make a decision, so I fell on the side of less weight being better, and went with the Zipka Plus, which uses a retractable, spring-loaded string to hold the headlamp to one's head, versus a normal stretch headband. Both headlamps take 3 AAA batteries, and are far more efficient than a regular flashlight. Both models are water resistant and have 4 settings (maximum – 100 hours life, optimum – 120 hours life, economic – 150 hours life, and strobe).
Below is my not-so-scientific comparison with the Mini Maglite on left, and Petzl Zipka Plus on right:
REI.com offers the full line of Petzl headlamps and products, including user reviews and detailed expert advice. The Tikka Plus (headband) retails for $34.95, while the Zipka Plus goes for $39.95.