While Petzl has been one of my sponsors since January 2007, I’ve been using the same trusty Petzl Tikka Plus for what must be four or five years now. I long believed that there was no reason for me to try any other headlamp. However, in my waning days on the Montrail-Nathan team, curiosity got the best of me and I ordered a Petzl E+Lite and the Petzl Zipka Plus. Below are reviews of Petzl’s Tikka Plus, Zipka Plus, and E+Lite that may help you choose from among the three.
Petzl Tikka Plus
The Tikka Plus is a workhorse. This light-weight (78 g), 4-LED headlamp provides plenty of light for a full night’s worth of trail running on 3 AAA batteries. Most LED headlamps lose some brightness over the course of a night (or longer) and the Tikka Plus is no exception. (Some larger LED headlamps have regulators that maintain more constant brightness.) As a habit, I doput fresh batteries in my Tikka Plus before each focus 100 mile race to maximize brightness. However, many times I’ve used one set of batteries for the equivalent of multiple nights of running and not thought twice about the brightness of Tikka Plus.
While we’re on the subject of brightness and battery life, you should be aware that a few years back Petzl essentially doubled the brightness of the Tikka/Zipka line (maximum distance went to 32 m from 17) and added 30 hours to the total burn time. According, if you thought your earlier version of a light from this series didn’t pack enough punch, you should take another look these headlamps.
Like all of Petzl’s Tikka/Zipka line, the Tikka Plus is small and flexible enough to fit in many water belt and fanny pack pockets. That said, I tend to where mine on my head even when it’s not in use, as I never notice the weight and it does not bounce around at all. In fact, I notice it so little when it’s in head storage mode…. or even when it’s in use, that I often have to remind myself not to inadvertently fling the Tikka Plus into the woods by thoughtlessly removing my cap.
Consistent with Petzl’s “Plus” model modifier, the Tikka Plus has three brightness levels, as well as having an intermittent strobe light. I would highly recommend the maximum (default) setting for trail running.
One aspect I like about the Petzl Tikka Plus is its horizontal linear array of LEDs as opposed to a single halogen bulb or cluster of LEDs. It might all be in my head, but I feel that the spread of the LED array helps on technical trail by providing better depth perception. Anyone else feel this way? Any sciency folks care to offer an educated opinion? Any psychologists need a new patient?
Petzl Zipka Plus
The Petzl Zipka Plus is essentially the Tikka Plus with a zip cord replacing the Tikka’s elastic band. Identical features of the Zipka Plus and Tikka Plus include 4-LEDs, brightness, battery type, and battery life.
The Zipka Plus does offer two advantages over the Tikka Plus. First, the Zipka Plus is lighter – weighing in at 65 g versus the 78 g of the Tikka Plus. Second, the replacement of the Tikka Plus’s elastic band with a zip cord means that the Zipka Plus takes up less space in a pocket or pack.
In my opinion, the Zipka Plus also has two drawbacks when compared to the Tikka Plus. First, the lack of an elastic band means there’s nothing to act as a sweatband. The lack of a sweatband would not be worth noting if it weren’t for the second drawback – the inability to adjust the aim of the Zipka Plus.
It was only after I wore the Zipka Plus for the first time that I realized (a) I could not adjust how far down the trail the light was aimed and (b) how gosh darn important that is! This lack of aim was complicated by the fact that I almost always wear a hat while running to stop sweat from running into my eyes or dripping onto my glasses. With the lack of a sweatband in the Zipka Plus, I would definitely use it in combination with a hat or visor. Unfortunately, when I put on the Zikpa Plus the LED housing fell partially into the empty half circle of my backwards turned hat. If I edged the housing over the bottom band, the light would point too far down the trail. On the other hand, if I put the housing over the top of seam of the semi-circle, the light shined too close to my feet. These are both problems. (In comparison, the Tikka Plus can be adjusted to five different angles, thereby allowing the wearer to aim at five different spots down the trail.)
Even without the hat issue, I would much prefer to be able to adjust my headlamp’s aim depending on whether I’m climbing or descending, my pace, or the technical difficulty of the trail.
While sitting around having beers after a trail run recently, someone admitted to having “headlamp envy” for the Petzl E+Lite and I can see why. While the E+Lite is Petzl’s lightest (at a svelt 27 g!) and most compact headlamp, it is more than adequate for night trail running.
With the E+Lite, Petzl takes all of the essential elements of a headlamp, put them in a trimmer package, and then adds “one more thing,” as Apple’s Steve Jobs might say… except that the E+Lite adds three more things! As far as standard headlamp features go, the E+Lite includes 3 white LEDs with two brightness settings and an intermittent strobe setting, the ability to adjust aim down the trail, and an adjustable elastic head strap.
Now for the cool stuff! Petzl’s E+Lite also includes:
- An single red LED with a single brightness setting and a strobe setting. This is actually two features in one.
- The red LED acts as a safety signal; and
- Red light is preferable for detailed reading (maps, turn sheets, star charts, east of eden) in low light conditions.
- A clip to attach the E+Lite to a visor. (The elastic band can be removed easily.)
- The ability to aim the LEDs horizontally, as the LED housing is mounted via ball-and-socket joint. I’m not sure what the purpose of the ball-and-socket joint, as I tend to look roughly where my head’s pointed. Any thoughts on how this might be a feature? Could it just be that it’s easier/more compact to mount the housing via ball-and-socket than another method that would allow only vertical aim variability?
The E+Lite is definitely not as bright as the Tikka or Zipka Pluses; however, I found that the E+Lite’s maximum brightness setting was enough for me to handle the trails. Actually, last night I was using the minimum brightness setting, found it adequate, and then discovered I wasn’t using the maximum setting. Good for the E+Lite, bad for me!
That said, I will not be making the E+Lite my default headlamp for night trail running. The Tikka Plus is still firmly in my lighting sweet spot, but I can see many low light or emergency situations where I’ll be glad to have an E+Lite with me. I suspect that I will most often use the E+Lite for runs that straddle either side of the day/night border. For instance, I sure wish I had the E+Lite at last year’s Holiday Lake 50K. The trails were still dark when Horton unleashed the masses upon the trails. I opted for no light due to weight/bulk considerations, which resulted in me not enjoying the first 20 or 30 minutes very much.
When it comes to headlamps, iRunFar recommends…
- The Petzl E+lite
- As a backup light for fastpacking/adventure runs
- At races with early starts (Wasatch Speed Goat agrees)
- To carry when you aren’t certain you’ll hit your crew or drop bag by sundown
- To wear when headlamps are mandatory, but you can pick up a brighter light before darkness really settles in
- For anywhere you need to stash an emergency light
- The Petzl Zipka Plus
- For the trail runner looking for lightest adequate kit
- Hatless running on more or less level ground or non-technical terrain (less need to adjust the aim)
- The Petzl Tikka Plus
- For gardening at night
- As the go to headlamp for night trail running!
- For making shadow puppets
For more information regarding Petzl’s headlamps, check out this technical chart comparing Petzl’s line of sporting headlamps. The table includes useful technical specifications such as the brightness after various periods of usage and the estimated battery life of each headlamp model at each brightness setting. You can also further explore Petzl’s headlamps at their website or in the Petzl sport catalog for 2008 from which iRunFar extracted the headlamp comparison chart. (Warning: The full catalog is 37 MB!)
Future Lighting Solutions
While you’re thinking about lighting, check out the iRunFar preview of GoMotion’s LiteVest, LiteBelt, and 3-Watt LED Sternum Kit. We will post a review of the GoMotion Sternum Kit as soon as it becomes available early this summer.
You may also be interested to know that Petzl is launching the Petzl Ultra, a more powerful headlamp that is still designed for active users, such as trail runners, ultrarunners, and adventure racers. iRunFar aims to shed more light (doh!) on the Petzl Ultra in the future.
As always, please share your thoughts – good/bad/mixed – about these products with other iRunFar readers.
Have a question about one of the reviewed Petzl headlamps? Ask away! Same goes for questions about the forthcoming products. We or another iRunFar reader may know the answer; if not, we’ll do our best to find one.