Group Review: LED Head Torches Tested

Photo of the Petzl e+LITE, Princeton Tec Byte, Petzl Zipka 2 and the  Peli 2690 HeadsUP Lite

On Test: The Petzl e+LITE, Princeton Tec Byte, Petzl Zipka 2 and the Peli 2690 HeadsUP Lite.

For a long time, head torches were labelled as something ‘uncool’. Something only miners, hikers and the like used. Oh how they were scoffed and laughed at! Fair one though (to an extent), for when we used them for mountain climbing a few years ago, they were bulky, cumbersome, heavy and it looked like you were wearing a lampshade. We always liked them for practical reasons however – you simply can’t hold a hand torch for five hours straight while traversing razor-thin mountain-top pathways.

Princeton Tec Byte LED head light being used to inspect a car engine in the dark. The beam pattern is good.Now though, we’re having the last laugh. Latest head torches are lightweight, neatly-styled and far more popular than before. Runners, climbers, mechanics, the military and many more benefit from the latest LED technology, resulting in lengthly battery life, tougher components and smaller units.

Keeping one in your car’s glove box means it’s far easier to change a tyre, or check out your engine in a breakdown. Cool.

For our for Head Torch Group Test, we’ve been sent torches from some of the world’s foremost companies in outdoor equipment and lighting. There are a lot of manufacturers making head torches, and we had to limit the group test to a sensible number. We’ll do another test in the future at some point with more manufacturers included.

Anyhow, here are our findings…

Petzl e+Lite LED head torch - 8.5/10 *Best Buy*

Excellent features, extremely lightweight and compact yet robust

Not as bright as some of the larger head lights

Close up photo os the Petsl e+Lite torch showing the LED array and the selector as well as the emergency whistle.

Petzl’s tiny e+LITE is, visually, one of the coolest lights in the group. The main unit is just 40mm across and 13mm deep – ‘tiny’ would be the word to describe the size then. It is designed to be an emergency torch, one which slips easily into your rucksack or glovebox with the minimal space taken up and to top it off, a 10 year shelf life! Between the tester guys though, there was dispute. The e+LITE is designed as emergency light, so was it a real contender as a ‘proper’ and ‘focussed’ head torch? Some said Yes, others, No.

We were about to find out though – let the testing begin! Petzl e+ Lite LED torch with its tough red plastic case.The Petzl was relatively easy to control with thick gloves on – although you do have to use both hands to operate it once it’s on your head, as one-handed usability can be annoying – the torch starts to twist itself out of place this way. The functions themselves are simply excellent. The first setting gives you Economy mode, the next Maximum, then flashing white light, then flashing red LED, then Maximum steady red LED. The four LED’s (three white, one red) themselves are set deeply into thick, quality plastic, minimising risk of damage.

At only 16 Lumens, you may write this head light off, but don’t! It’s 19 metre beam (11m on eco) is easily enough to work or navigate with, and although there’s no spread-adjustment, it gives a decent enough beam we decided. Time-wise, you’re talking 45 hours on eco and 35 on max. Okay, after 30 hours the torch will only give a 3 metre beam, but that’s still enough to light your way on a path in the pitch black.

In a real emergency, the ‘flash’ modes will give an excellent 70 hours of use. The Petzl e+LITE's included emergency plastic whistle with signals embossed.After initial scepticism from a certain tester who shall remain nameless, Nathan, we decided that we totally loved this little torch. It’s comfy and light (just 28 grams) to wear, can be rotated 360˚ thanks to the back piece it’s attached to (which also includes an attachment clip), comes with its own waterproof oblong storage box (which reminded us of a ship’s emergency lifeboats), and comes with a 100db whistle which has the S.O.S code stamped onto it and can be heard for up to 500 metres (it hurt our ear drums when we blew hard on it), oh and it doubles as the adjuster for the head band.

A final aspect we liked is that the e+LITE is fully waterproof up to 1 metre! Overall an absolutely great and well-thought-out head lamp, the Petzl e+LITE impressed us with its durable build quality and sleek design, coupled with a really fair price and numerable useful features.

Petzl e+Lite specs

Power  16 Lumens
Beam  19 metres
Burn time  35 hours on full beam
Batteries  Included: 2 x CR2032
Waterproof   1 metre
Bundle  Petzl e+Lite, batteries, waterproof case, emergency whistle
Website  Petzl.com
Price  £27.99 rrp

 

Petzl Zipka 2 test - 8/10

Minimal fuss, excellent burn time, great styling, solid

Some may dislike the lack of angle adjustment

Review and test of the Petzl Zipka 2

Another wee beauty from Petzl, the Zipka2 takes the visual award of the group by looking like Apple’s totally fab iMac G3 from the late Nineties. Even the ‘Tropical Blue’ colour we have looks similar to the showcase’s G3 ‘Bondi Blue’. Cool.

Photo of the Zipka2 showing its patented recoiling headband.

We really like the design of this torch, the compact size and light weight (but chunky feel) of 69 grams makes it an easy one to slip into a pocket or small vehicle compartment. It did well in our ‘toughness test’ too, and seemed to be made robustly enough to endure the everyday drops and knocks.

The patented recoiling headband gives the Zipka2 its neat dimensions, and is held within a small plastic housing. Since we’ve owned a first generation Zipka for a few years now – which has the same recoil system – we know that this won’t break or wear out easily at all, so no worries there. The recoil system means the Petzl can be attached or hung to virtually anything too – a big bonus.

The Petzl Zipka2 with the recoiling mechanism illustrated by being stretched out over an iphone.The power button is rubberised and large enough to be used even with big chunky gloves on. We never had a problem switching it on or off.

Although there is no adjustable spread and you can’t angle the light, the position that it sits in is well thought out, and even with a hat on there was no real problem. The beam pattern is positioned not too close and not too far away either. The spread of light was excellent, and the 40 Lumens it gives out from the four LED’s was easily enough for any task. It sits well on your head, and is comfortable thanks to the soft pad at the rear of the unit.

A huge bonus for the Zipka2 is the battery life. A massive 90 hours on maximum and 120 on eco mode is simply outstanding! Features-wise, you have three light settings; max, eco and flash. Incidentally, flash mode will last three hundred hours. Amazing.

Photo of the Petzl Zipka2. Showing the patented recoil unit at the rear of the torch

Minimal fuss is what we liked about the Zipka2. It’s a torch which you pull out of the packaging, insert the included batteries, place on head and click the power button, and you’ve got a great spread and angle already there – believe us, buying this torch is money very well spent.

Petzl Zipka 2 specs

Power  40 Lumens
Beam  29 metres
Burn time  90 hours on full beam
Batteries  Included: 3 x AAA
Waterproof   Water resistant
Bundle  1 x Petzl Zipka 2, batteries
Website  Petzl.com
Price  £34.99 rrp

Princeton Tec Byte test – 8/10

Tough casing, comfy, decent features, exceptionally-priced

Doesn’t stay on max brightness for long, angle adjustment too tight

Photo of the Princeton Tec BYTE LED head torch showing the LED array and the headband.

Playmobil. You know, those tough plastic toys you had as a kid? We’re likening the build quality of the Princeton Tec Byte to Playmobil. This, officially, is a Good Thing, and anyone who owned the toys will know exactly what we’re on about.

Photo of the Princeton Tec BYTE showing the angling bracket and the switch.The 64 gram weight of the Byte, alongside its small proportions (width and depth around the length of a AAA battery) makes for an easily stowable unit, whether that means your coat, car or wherever you choose. There’s a good spread of light from the 35 Lumen LED, and it’s a good clear and sharp beam right to the outer edges. There’s no particular centre to the light, but as mentioned, the overall effect is decent anyhow.

The ‘Maxbright’ LED give a slightly dissapointing two hours on maximum (a 30 metre beam), but a good 96 hours on low which allows a fifteen metre light. We’d class Low as more of a medium light however. Features on the button include a red LED, useful for both map reading and signalling for help in an emergency situation. On red, you do get a huge 146 hour burn-time too, which is helpful.

The power button on top of the unit, although rubber for better grip, was a little on the small side when wearing gloves, and proved to be a little fiddly for our liking. It was much the same story when trying to turn the angle of the torch up or down. Maybe it’s because the Byte is still new, but angling it was an effort as it was so stiff, and with wet and cold hands it was a pain. on a positive side though, being so stiff means it isn’t going to change angles on its own accord, as some head torches are susceptible to.

Photo of the Princeton Tec BYTE showing the rugged battery case.To wear, it was comfortable even after hours of use and after a while you even forget you’re wearing it. Another plus was the way the batteries are changed – you simply flick a chunky little catch open on the side and slide them out. Lovely.

The Byte is priced surprisingly well at just £19.95, and we think it’s brilliant value and it physically looks like it should cost more. We also loved just how meaty and rugged it was, and it passed our ‘Tough Test’ with flying colours. Overall, a little tough-nut which won’t disappoint.

Princeton Tec Byte specs

Power  35 Lumens
Beam  30 metres
Burn time  2 hours on Full, 96 hours on Low
Batteries  Included: 2 x AAA
Waterproof   Water resistant
Bundle  1 x Princeton Tec Byte, batteries
Website  Whitby & Co
Price  £19.95 rrp

 

Peli 2690 HeadsUP Lite test – 7/10

Tank-like build, high luminosity, honest simplicity

Heavy, low battery life, access to batteries not easy

Peli 2690 HeadsUP Lite LED head torch showing the LED array and twist switch

Compared to the other torches in our group test, the Peli (U.S.: Pelican) 2690 is a bit of a big beast. At the start of the testing, we were a little non-plussed by it, but ended up giving the 2690 a fond nickname; the Russian Tank. Why? Several reasons really. The World War II Soviet T-34 (one of the most mass-produced tanks ever made) was built basically and heavily – but it was also ultra-reliable and highly effective.

Likewise, the HeadsUP Lite looks pretty spartan and wouldn’t exactly win Mr Head Torch 2012 in that department, and is only available in solid Black. At 116 grams (4.1 oz) it’s also heavy compared to the others in this group ,and there no real features to it, just ‘On’ and ‘Off’. However, we grew to like this torch for its ruggedness, durable build, and dependability – hence the moniker we gave it.

Photo of the Peli 2690 HeadsUP Lite showing detail of the tough exterior.Price-wise, although the retail cost is nearly £40.00, as with any Peli this is very flexible and we’ve seen them for as little as £25.00.

A feature we disliked was the weight. On more than one occasion when out walking and having to negotiate fallen trees in a woods, or jumping over a brook etc, the 2690 slipped down and cracked a couple of us on the bridge of our noses. Yes, it was painful. We tried to combat this by tightening the head band, but the sheer weight of the HeadsUp Lite overcame this, and the same problem occurred. As the torch comes with a heavy-duty rubber strap too (for use with helmets), that might partly cure the problem, but then this would give you the dreaded forehead sweat rash – something that makes any normal person insane with an hour.

Another thing we weren’t keen on was the resistance of rotary bezel switch. To turn it on is definitely a two-handed job as the bezel is so stiff it feels like you’re trying to turn a tank’s turret manually! Having said that, some torches are prone to turning themselves on when stored in a rucksack, or somewhere they are knocked about constantly, but you can turn the bezel so far past the ‘Off’ position on this torch that there’s no chance of that happening. Good.

Image shows rear of main unit of the Peli 2690 HeadsUP LITEThe 60 Lumens of light the Peli gives off is excellent, and mega-bright, but we found it a little too harsh if pointed at the ground directly in front of you when walking. It’s so bright you get bounce-back and this makes it a little glaring and distracting. However,  point it slightly further away using the angle adjustable and it works great. On the angle point, thumbs up from us on that front. It’s nice and positive and stays where it should.

The beam is not adjustable, but gave a large-enough spread to work or hike off. As mentioned, if using it in close proximity to whatever is in front of you, the centre of the beam is a bit savage, and we think Peli would make the HeadsUP even better (and more usable) by having the light distributed better.

Changing the batteries is a going to be an issue if you’re using the torch in the middle of no-where and they go dead, as they are held in by the rear of the unit with two smallish screws. Fine if you happen to have a small positive screwdriver on a multi-tool or pen knife – bad if you haven’t. That’s one point we really feel needs changing. Okay, it keep the battery compartment sealed well, but no good if you were in the above situation.

Peli 2690 HeadsUP Lite - Photo shows tank like build qualityThe Peli 2690 does give a really powerful 81 metre beam, but this is counteracted by a low 10.5 hour burn time. That sort of battery life sounds okay, but in reality is only a few hours more than old standard bulb Petzl’s we were using in the 1990′s. The head band and foam pad which sits next to your head are very comfortable, even with the weight of the torch, and even after a few hours of wearing it in the rain, the band barely loosened at all.

All this may seem like a lot of negatives against the Peli, but still, we really do like the HeadsUP. Yes, it does have a few points that need working on, but its tough build and the honest simplicity of the whole unit won us over to a large extent. If you’re not so bothered about battery life or packing light, but do want something that could possibly be fired out the barrel of a T-34 Soviet tank without much in the way of damage, then the Peli 2690 HeadsUP Lite is definitely worth a look at.

Peli 2690 HeadsUP Lite specs

Power  60 Lumens
Beam  81 metres
Burn time  10.5 hours
Batteries  Included: 3 x AAA
Waterproof  Water-resistant / submersible to 1 metre (see Peli’s site)
Bundle  1 x 2690 Peli HeadsUp Lite, batteries
Website  www.peliproducts.co.uk
Price  £39.00 rrp

 

We’ll continue to test these torches, and update the review if and when necessary.
Many thanks to Pelican PR/Whitby & Co, Lyon Outdoor and PeliProducts for sending the torches to review

Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies, Nathan Fielder | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies