General Purpose Tools

Zebra Headlamp


Angled, wide-beam task light

This LED headlamp is the travel light I’ve been seeking for years. It’s AA-powered, tiny (2 5/8″ long x 3/4″ diameter), light (2 oz. w/battery and headband), and can serve as a mini-torch, too. Unlike most small LED flashlights, the Zebra’s LED is mounted perpendicular to the body of the light, which makes for less awkward placement if you are using it as a headlight, and feels nearly as natural when using it handheld. Zebra’s H50-Q5 has three settings: a darn-useful low of 2.6 lumens, a medium of 13 lumens, and a surprisingly-bright high of 66 lumens.

The real kicker: the beam is an even, wide (120 deg) flood. I can’t discern a hotspot even under the most cynical examination and even at it’s “wide” setting. This makes for a less-fatiguing reading experience than the usual harsh corona. One of the few things I disliked about my previous headlight, were the obvious hotspots.

This is also the most comfortable headlamp I’ve tried. I used it frequently on a working vacation in Israel, mostly to read at night in bed, on evening bus trips and to comfortably type on my Eee laptop, which lacks illuminated keys. I now use it to read comfortably on domestic flights (the overhead doesn’t always swivel where I’d like it to). I also use mine as a close-up light for looking inside computers, and all the underlit places I tend to lose stuff (behind shelf, under desk, under car seat), and as an ersatz ring flash for macro photography — it doesn’t wash out the close objects like my digicam’s flash. I’ll be taking it camping from now on, too.

Included with the light are a headlamp strap, a pocket clip, a neckstrap (so the lamp can rest on your chest or be hung from a hook or loop), and a small rubber glare shield for use when you don’t want the full flood. Nothing in the accessories is revolutionary, but they’re helpful. The sleeve that fits over the body of the Zebra makes attaching it to other things — like my bike’s handlebars — much easier.

For years, I’ve always owned at least one cheap Energizer swiveling LED headlight; like the previously-reviewed Zipkas and the bulk of others on the market, these operate on three AAAs. Anytime I can have one AA in a device rather than three AAAs (or even one AAA), I’ll take it. AAs are ubiquitous and seem to me a better bargain, cost/energy-wise. The only other headlight I’ve had is a low-end version of the previously-reviewed Petzl Myo 5, which I broke after only a short time by dropping it just a few feet onto a wooden floor. I’ve seen the similarly-sized, previously-reviewed Fenix L1D, which also functions on a single AA and puts out more lumens. However, the 90-degree head of the H50-Q5 makes it much more natural as a headlamp, because it fits comfortably on the forehead rather than pointing from over one of the ears. Plus, I have not run into any LED (or incandescent) bulbs with as smoothly-dispersed a beam as my Zebra.

Shortcomings: Even at the high setting, this light does not provide enough light for biking on unlit streets, nor does it offer a strobe mode, but I’d certainly wear it for urban biking as a safety device. It also does not have all that much throw; for that reason, I’ll likely travel with a similarly-sized Inova X1 (also AA-powered), which is approximately all throw and no flood.

Zebra offers a range of other, tiny headlamps. I did not consider the H30-Q5, which uses a CR123As. I know they have an energy density advantage, but I’d rather stick with AAs since they’re universally available. The newer, slightly more expensive H501, which was not available when I ordered my light, offers 96 lumens at the same, claimed battery life.

-- Timothy Lord 03/31/09