Scenario 1: Sure, there’s a campfire, but it’s not enough to let you see what’s on your plate. You’re alternating between a fork and a flashlight. That’s no way to enjoy your ramen.
Scenario 2: Digging through your bag for your earplugs when your tent mate has shattered your sleep with her snoring takes both hands.
Scenario 3: That budget hotel is on generator power, and that goes off at 10am. It’s 3am, it’s as dark as the inside of an elephant, and you have to pee.
You need a headlamp. I’ve tested a few of these and I’ve settled on a favorite, Petzl’s Zipka Plus 2. Here’s what I like about it.
The Zipka has a spring-loaded retractable cord rather than a typical elasticized webbing headband. It’s super compact right from the get-go because the design has cleverly eliminated the strap. I like that you can strap it to your hand or your arm or whatever – tent pole, beer can… if it’s the circumference of your melon, you can put the lamp around it and it will stay put. Win.
Next up? There’s a red light mode. That snoring camp buddy? You don’t have to paste her with high wattage while you’re rooting around in your bag. You’re not a jerk. This is a really nice feature I didn’t know I wanted, and now, I think it should be standard. The red light is just, well, it’s more polite, so it’s great for dorm rooms, too, or any situation where low light is a better choice.
There’s a blinky mode, too, so if you’re striving to be seen (say you’re using it as a bike light), you can set the blinker to go off in either red or white light. It’s really bright when it’s blinking in the full power white light mode, if they’re within visible range (a maximum of 35 meters, according to Petzl) your crew will find you. When it’s blinking in red light mode, it’s not as bright, but it’s still useful for making yourself seen by those around you.
You can use the white light in two modes — full and “economy”. In economy mode,the light is plenty bright for reading and, according to the specs, the light will last for up to 140 hours. That’s a good long time.
Finally, if you’d like to attach the light to something, Petzl has an adapter kit that allows you to mount the light in bunch of different scenarios, including to a standard elasticized headband.
As I mentioned, I have a few headlamps (including the Irix, that Gadling Gear Guy Kraig Becker reviewed here) but this one is my favorite. It’s tiny, it’s bright, it has more features than I thought a headlamp could possibly need — and I like all of them. Mine lives in my travel bag now, I don’t head out on a trip without it.