Climbers have been searching for the "perfect headlamp" since the days of the infamous Wonder Light (aka the Blunder Light), which used hard-to-find flat batteries and often crapped out at inconvenient times. Usually the search has required a tradeoff between a small pathetic light source that barely illuminated the ground in front of your feet or a powerful torch that sucked batteries dry in about the time it takes to down a beer. Dual beams (LEDs for close work and halogen for distant route finding) have been a passable compromise but still tend to be rather heavy, bulky and hungry.
At long last, micro-sized perfection is within our grasp with the introduction of the Black Diamond Zenix headlamp ($45 including batteries), an LED micro-headlamp on steroids. Like most LED lights, the Zenix gives good wide-perimeter, flicker-free illumination for camp chores, reading, and other close up work. BD lists a usable range of 45 feet but that's a bit optimistic, 30 feet is more like it. A big plus is that unlike a few other micro headlights we've tested, the Zenix extends far enough out so that the wide beam does not hit eyeglasses.
Wide beam aside, the Zenix really kicks butt when you turn on the "HyperBright LED" that throws a powerful narrow beam to light up the trail about 100 feet away; more than enough most of the time. The Zenix uses three AAA batteries yet will last 15 hours at full blast or 100 hours on its low beam. The complete light only weighs 5 ounces (141 g) and is smaller than a baseball.
Even more exciting for the Zenix, Energizer will finally offer lithium AAA batteries this fall which should double burn time. These will also allow full performance in severe winter conditions (down to minus 40 degrees), reduce weight by 12 grams, and ensure the headlamp works even after years in storage.
As provided, the Zenix comes with a central head strap that really isn't needed since both light and battery pack are so light. This is easily removed to improve comfort and reduce bulk and weight (10 g) even further; no bouncing was noticed while running. Also the power cable is routed along the bottom of the headband but we found it much more comfortable and easier to put on with the cable routed above. This is another easy fix. We did find that the wide viewing angle of the two LEDs makes it blinding to look at the wearer even from the side -- a minor irritation that only bugs your climbing or hiking partner, so it is easy to overlook.
Minor nits aside, the Zenix is a fantastic headlamp that does just about everything well. It's rugged, water-resistant, all but impossible to accidentally turn on inside a pack, easy to operate and affordable. Rescuers and cavers may still opt for more power but the search has all but ended for climbers and backpackers.
SNEWS Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $45
For more information: www.bdel.com