In terms of volume of units, LED headlamps will be the #1 outdoor specialty consumer item purchased this December (Source: current purchasing trend info supplied by outdoor specialty retailers).
There are now dozens of LED lights on the market, with about two or three dozen in a headlamp style. The major U.S. market players are Princeton Tec, Black Diamond, and Petzl. Photon, Brinkmann, Lightwave, Streamlite, Tektite, and Pelican are all vying for the remainder of the pie, and overseas manufacturers such as FrontaLED and Speleo Technics offer high end (read: pricey) offerings for alpinists and cavers.
Gear Guide Index – Product Specifications
NOTE: For a comprehensive comparison of LED Headlamps (not including hybrid LED-halogen models) from around the world, ranging from the ultralight to the ultra-expensive, check out our new LED Headlamp Gear Guide. The Gear Guide also includes several LED headlamps that are not reviewed herein.
In this review, we narrow the field down to LED headlamps that weigh less than six ounces (170 grams), and that distribute their lightware in U.S. markets (hey, you have to be able to get it in time for Christmas, right?).
You can click on “Review” to read a headlamp’s performance review, and “Specifications” to view its Product Card in our LED Headlamp Gear Guide.
- Black Diamond Ion: Review | Specifications
- Black Diamond Moonlight (New Model): M Review | Specifications
- Black Diamond Zenix: M Review | Specifications
- Petzl Zipka: Review | Specifications
- Petzl Tikka Plus: M Review | Specifications
- Princeton Tec Scout: Review | Specifications
- Princeton Tec Aurora: Review | Specifications
- Princeton Tec Matrix 2: M Review | Specifications
- Photon Fusion: M Review | Specifications
Trail’s Best Award Winners
We are pleased to announce two headlamps as winners of our Trail’s Best Awards for 2004:
Honorable Mention – Petzl Tikka Plus. The Tikka Plus competes very well on a performance basis with the Princeton Tec Aurora, but we gave the Aurora the Trail’s Best designation due to slightly better usability in cold conditions.
In this review, we focus primarily on cold weather usability and cold weather performance. Evaluation of headlamps in cold conditions is prudent because they are primarily used in the dark – when temperatures plummet. Thus, herein we test battery life and light output at 38 °F (3 °C). In addition, we evaluate headlamp usability and operation with cold, bare hands, and in cold conditions while wearing thin liner gloves, mid-weight windproof fleece gloves, shelled ski gloves, and shelled 300-weight fleece mitts – in the field – where at the end of the day, one is tired, hungry, and cold. Through this methodology, we are better able to evaluate the anticipated field performance of headlamps, rather than the typical industry standard of reviewing light performance at 70 °F (21 °C) and usability with bare fingers while typing the review at a keyboard in a warm cubicle.
Usability Assessment. For each headlamp, we evaluate weight (of course), headband design, changing the batteries, tilting the housing, operating the switch, and changing light modes (where applicable). We pay special attention to be able to perform these tasks with bare, cold hands, as well as gloved and mittened hands.
Cold Weather Performance. For each headlamp, we evaluate its initial performance with fresh batteries at room temperature (at both the beam center and the beam edge). More importantly, we take a look at the degradation of beam intensity over a 24 hour period when the lamp is left on continuously and incubated at 38 °F.
Performance Comparison Summary
TABLE 1. Measured Weights
|Model||Weight w/o Batteries||Weight w/Batteries||Weight w/Lithium AA Batteries|
|Black Diamond Ion||0.64 oz (18 g)||0.97 oz (27 g)||n/a|
|Black Diamond Moonlight||2.88 oz (82 g)||4.03 oz (114 g)||n/a|
|Black Diamond Zenix||3.37 oz (96 g)||4.54 oz (129 g)||n/a|
|Petzl Zipka||0.92 oz (26 g)||2.07 oz (59 g)||n/a|
|Petzl Tikka Plus||1.39 oz (39 g)||2.54 oz (72 g)||n/a|
|Princeton Tec Scout||1.01 oz (29 g)||1.41 oz (40 g)||n/a|
|Princeton Tec Aurora||1.49 oz (42 g)||2.66 oz (75 g)||n/a|
|Princeton Tec Matrix 2||3.74 oz (106 g)||5.34 oz (151 g)||4.69 oz (133 g)|
|Photon Fusion||3.36 oz (95 g)||5.78 oz (164 g)||4.81 oz (136 g)|
For a detailed assessment of the performance of each individual LED headlamp, the reader is referred to the individual reviews, accessible by clicking the link(s) above in the “Review Index” section.
TABLE 2. Measurement of beam intensity (Lux) at room temperature with fresh batteries
BATTERIES USED: Energizer Photo lithium AA’s were used for evaluating the performance of the Photon Fusion and Princeton Tec Matrix 2. Energizer Titanium E2 AAA’s were used for all AAA headlamps. Energizer 2032 coin cell lithium batteries were used for the Princeton Tec Scout. The stock Black Diamond 6V battery was used for the Ion.
Beam Quality Index is a measure of the ratio of beam intensity at its edge (1-foot off center at a distance of 2 feet) to beam intensity at the beam center. Higher values of the Beam Quality Index indicate a beam pattern that is more like a floodlight, while lower values of the Beam Quality Index indicate a beam pattern that is more like a spotlight. Scale: 0 to 100.
|Model||Lux @ Center||Lux @ Edge||Beam Quality Index|
|Black Diamond Ion||118||8||6.8|
|Black Diamond Moonlight||113||11||9.7|
|Black Diamond Zenix (Hyperbright)||438||7||1.6|
|Black Diamond Zenix (Normal)||125||9||7.2|
|Petzl Tikka Plus||259||13||5.0|
|Princeton Tec Scout||111||2||1.8|
|Princeton Tec Aurora||203||13||6.4|
|Princeton Tec Matrix 2||792||8||1.0|
TABLE 3. Comparison of lux at cold vs. warm temperatures with fresh batteries
Values for warm temperatures are repeated from table above. Values for cold temperatures were collected by incubating headlamps at 38 °F overnight (turned off) before light intensity measurements were taken.
|Model||Lux @ 68 °F||Lux @ 38 °F||Quality of Cold Light Beam|
|Black Diamond Ion||118||42||36%|
|Black Diamond Moonlight||113||107||95%|
|Black Diamond Zenix (Hyperbright)||438||397||91%|
|Black Diamond Zenix (Normal)||125||115||92%|
|Petzl Tikka Plus||259||252||97%|
|Princeton Tec Scout||111||81||73%|
|Princeton Tec Aurora||203||172||85%|
|Princeton Tec Matrix 2||792||604||76%|
TABLE 4. Lux decay at 38 °F
Measurement of headlamp beam intensity decay in response to incubation at 38 °F. Light is turned ‘on’ at time zero. Time zero values are reproduced from table above.
|Model||Lux @ 0 hours||Lux @ 8 hours||Lux at 24 hours|
|Black Diamond Ion||42||3||1|
|Black Diamond Moonlight||107||41||13|
|Black Diamond Zenix (Hyperbright)||397||223||44|
|Black Diamond Zenix (Normal)||115||14||6|
|Petzl Tikka Plus (High)||252||75||12|
|Petzl Tikka Plus (Medium)||110||57||26|
|Princeton Tec Scout (High)||81||14||9|
|Princeton Tec Scout (Medium)||51||10||6|
|Princeton Tec Aurora (High)||172||64||14|
|Princeton Tec Aurora (Medium)||88||38||24|
|Princeton Tec Matrix 2||604||552||0|
|Photon Fusion (Hyperbright)||220||205||0|
|Photon Fusion (Brilliant)||155||143||0|
Comparisons to Consider…
- Black Diamond Ion
- Princeton Tec Scout
3-4 LED Headlamps
- Princeton Tec Scout Aurora
- Petzl Zipka
- Petzl Tikka Plus
- Black Diamond Moonlight
Hyperbright LED Headlamps
- Black Diamond Zenix
- Princeton Tec Matrix 2
Headlamps that can accept AA Lithium Batteries
- Princeton Tec Matrix 2
- Photon Fusion
Headlamps that are easy to operate and change batteries in cold weather and/or with gloves or mittens
- Princeton Tec Matrix 2
- Black Diamond Zenix