Well, I have a collection of sort of bright to super bright headlamps and four years ago, I got the Coast FL85 which is a 600 lumen super bright headlight that uses three AAA batteries. Sadly although it has a lifetime warranty even while used indoors, the switch finally failed.
I also have a bunch of Petzel EL02 which are useful for emergencies, they are tiny and powered by coin batteries, I have never actually used it, but the batteries last for 10 years and if you are stuck somewhere they are really useful. But it's been 10 years since I bought it, so time to change the batteries and see what else there is.
Fortunately, Outdoor Gear Labs (and Zeroair.org)has a nice and relatively recent review. And the big news of course is that LEDs have gotten even brighter and now there are 18650 battery cells that have lots more charge, so you are not always replacing AAAs. Outdoor Hunt also liked Neutral White LED at 5700K, 70+ CRI. Other reviews include the Trail Space and Justin Simoni
The top pick is expensive at $89 and does not include batteries but it has a huge beam. It is the Zebralight H600w. It has a zillion modes and is basically a LED flashlight turned sideways with a headband, but that's actually nice. The thing is that there are zillion versions of this headlight that differ by the type of bulb that is included. Fortunately, Justin Simoni did a nice review which shows that it is bright, and then does a teardown of the many versions in a Google sheet. And you can see how much more powerful it is, the Coast FL85 was 600 lumens, but these are 1400-1616 lumens so way brighter!
The actual product descriptions are really confusing, but basically, the models differ by the Cree bulb and therefore their CRI (that is how color accurate they are), their light color in Kelvin (higher is bluer), beam-type (which is basically how wide beam is from spot to flood to full flood), ANSI lumens and battery life at that level. They are all $89, so you have to pick what you want, but basically, there is a family of Cree XHP50.2 that differ by the color and the degree of flood, and here are the choices. They actually have a Google Sheet for comparison:
- H600c Mark IV. Cree XHP50.2, 93-95 CRI, 4000K (so more yellow), spill and spot, 1616 lumens releases 10/2018
- H600d Mark IV. Same as above but bluer at 5000K
- H600Fc Mark IV. The flood version which is really done by a lens cover of the H600c shipped early in 10/2017
- H600Fd Mark IV. The flood version of the more blue H600d shipped earlier in 10/2017
- H604c. Same as H600c in Flood version
- H604d. Same as H600d in Flood version
Then there is the Cree XHP35 family which are 1400-1568 lumens so slightly lower and these have lower CRI so less color accurate at 70-80+ CRI:
- H600w Mark IV. This seems the one that most people review, it is Cree XHP35, CRI 80+, 4500K and 1400 lumens, spill, and spot launched 10/2017
- H600F Mark IV. This is the CRI70 version of the H600w at 5700K and it is a flood, so a wider beam
- H600 Mark IV. This is the blue version of the H600w at 5700K
- H604. This is the blue flood version.
Candle Power Forums has a good discussion of the tradeoffs between the different versions:
- H600w. They really like the XHP35 HI (in the SC64w Hi), but the H600w has the XHP35 HD and it has a rainbow effect.
- XHP50 vs XHP35. The XHP50 is a quad die LED and the phosphor color may vary.
- F versions. These are sacrificing distance for the breadth of the beam, so depends if you are mountain biking and need lots of throw or want to see everything around you. F is fine for hiking, but not for cycling.
- H600c. This is a spot beam which is nice and the H600d is bluer and people like it.
XHP35 vs. XHP50.2
So Extreme Lights, Candle Power and Lights N Gear has a decoder ring for the various Cree bulbs, and what is it but the XHP means Extreme High Power. The purpose of a dome is that it is over the LED array so it doubles the spread but, of course, that means you get less directed luminance. That's because the brighter the LED is more flood so there is a tradeoff there. The basic idea is that you have a spot and then there is a flood version with a filter and then a true flood.
- XHP35/HI. This is 50% higher performance than the XHP35 with a traditional dome shape. It can output up to 1883 lumens. It is a variety. The XHP35 HI is high intensity with up 1483 lumens with a very focused beam (it doesn't have a dome) with a tight spot. The XHP35HD is another variant. As an aside, this is 3.5mm x 3.5mm though so the last two digits are the size of the LED array. These are all a collection of LEDs
- XHP50/50.2. This even higher power and it's dome-shaped at 5x5 so larger than the XHP35 and is the 2546 lumens and you can get it in the Nitecore SRT9. The 50.2 version is slightly higher 2654 lumens barely noticeable. Now the 2545 lumen actually comes out to 1400 lumens when you put it into a Zebralight H600c.
- XHP70/70.2: This is a 7x7mm and is dome-shaped and is at 4022 lumens. The 70.2 is a slight improvement at 4292 lumens. It ends up being 3000 lumens in the Zebralight SC700d
What we needed up getting: Zebralight H600c Mark IV with Sanyo NCR18650GA 3500mAh
What we ended up getting was the Zebralight H600c Mark IV. This has a explained above an XHP 50.2 so 2654 lumens at 4000K so not quite as blue. It has a high CRI. And cost $89 (which is a lot, but worth it!) as a headlamp from Zebralight (direct). This is a so called "floody" which is definitely right. It is bright as heck. I have a hard time imaging what the XHP 70.2 with double the lumens, but you can literally be completely dazzled from 2 meters away. This by the way is the highest power H6xx series you can get in the headlamp mode.
As an aside, the headlamp is really nothing special, this is really a flashlight (you can remove it) with a head that is 90 degree from the battery itself. I kind of like the design as you can still use the headlamp gear for anything with a 18mm diameter.
Then for $9 each, we got the Sanyo NCR 18650GZ which is a flat top battery that fits perfectly.
Then if you do this you need a Lithium Charger and SkyRC MC3000 comes out pretty well. I got this thing and it is a little complicated to use. Basically, you put the 18650 in and then you press the button below and it starts to charge.
What if you get your 18650 stuck...in your Zebra H600 use a magnet
OK one thing about the Zebra is that the battery cylinder is actually pretty slender, so I got a stock 18650 and it got completely stuck in the body. Turns out that you need a battery that is unprotected, that is it doesn't have any circuitry in it and some 18650 have a protective rubber that is just a bit too wide. It needs to be exactly 18mm in diameter (18650 refers to the battery diameter and height which are 18mm and 65mm respectively).
So you can either send the thing back to Zebra to suck it out or you can check the Internet which says get a high-powered magnet and this will pull the battery right out. And darn it if this didn't work, it moved it just 1-2mm and that was enough to pry it out.
Protected and Unprotected 18650s work
So when inserting a battery into this thing, make sure it slides in easily. YOu can also buy a battery that fits directly from them for $13 or so each which is a good deal. The Sony VTC6 and Samsung Q30 also fit. Although the H600 apparently can run with protected 18650s (this means they have circuitry that prevents fires from:
- PTC. Protect from overheating when current draw is too high
- CID. Disable the cell if the internal pressure is too high (that is the thing is going to explode!)
- PCB. Protect against over discharges
The other Zebralight's need protected and high current draw because they use a lot of power, but the HL600 are more efficient, so if you can get a protected cell.
Zebralight SC700d 21700 XHP70.2 Flashlight
If you really want the 3000 lumen monster then there isn’t a setup for that then you want the SC700d which you can get for an incredible $119 (it is on back order now). It needs an even fatter 21700 battery (another $12 at Zebralight although you can use the Samsung 40T also work. As an aside the Zebralight is based in Texas.
The thing is a massive 28mm wide (that’s what 21700 means that the battery alone is 21mm but at least Zeroair love it and most 21700 cells. Now if only there were headlamp versions 🙂