Running Headlamps


Now that days are getting shorter one of the runner’s many pieces of kit is his headlamp.

Some times running at night or early morning is the only option. Other times I actually enjoy night runs because of the different animals I can see, like badgers, foxes or mean looking sheep

Coming from a hiking background, when I first thought of going for a night run I went through an old box and found my old Petzl Tikka with 3 leds. Unfortunately it wasn’t as trustworthy as I thought as it had somehow cracked and the strap had lost all its elasticity.

I went on e-bay and for about £5 I bought a Chines headtorch that looked like a Ledlenser H5.


cree headlamp

This is slim and lightweight headlamp which takes 3 AAA.

The light sits on the forehead while the battery pack is located on the back of the head. This is very important as it makes the headlamp more stable when running.

It has a little lever on the lens which allows to focus the beam in a spot or to widen the beam and have a bigger circle of light. It also has a lever on the battery housing which can regulate the amount of light produced (and thus how long the light will stay on).


There were 2 issues I wasn’t happy about:


  1. although it was lightweight on the forehead, the weight of the battery pack on the back was noticeable and made the whole lamp not sufficiently steady when running.
  2. I often run with minimal Vivobarefoot shoes and I need to see where I put my feet. The light was either illuminating ahead or at my feet. As with most headlamps, if you just look down with your eyes, without moving your whole head downwards, the ground remains in the dark.


To solve the second issue I got a cheap 310lm 90 degree light, change the lenses with a diffused lens, and carried it on my belt during night runs.


new 310lm


Having two lights was great: I would just use the torch on the belt on its low setting when on a known and flat trail. Then I would use the headlamp when I needed more light or when I would have to see farther ahead.

This light uses 1 AA battery, but even on low it doesn’t last long. As night runs got longer I was now searching for something that wouldn’t leave me in the dark.


The headlamp market for runners has some interesting lamps, but they’re all way overpriced, and often the led used are not of the last generation. They mostly use at least 3 AAA batteries and result being kind of heavy.

I was looking for a lightweight and stable head torch with a small battery pack. When running at night I find that 50lm is plenty light when running on an easy trail, a little more might be needed when the trail gets more technical.

I also wanted a second light to have at waist height to shine the trail next to my feet. This not only provides more light globally, but it also gives a more 3D perception of the ground: having two different light sources (one on the head and one at the waist) creates shadows differently and my brain reads better the trail. Not to mention that I don’t need to move my head downwards when I want to look at my feet.

A second backup light is also often required in the mandatory kit of many ultras.


To sum it up:

  • lightweight headlamp that will last more than 5 hours at 50 lm; that can provide more lumens if needed
  • lightweight waist torch with a more flood beam to light trail at feet
  • use easily available AA or AAA batteries, especially compatible with NiMH rechargeable batteries.


With the help of the Budgetlightforum I decided to invest in 2 Zebralight torches: H52w and H502w


 Zebralight-H502w-H52w-01 Zebralight-H502w-H52w-02

Here are some technical specs of the two torches




Cree XM-L2 Nautral White  (Nominal CCT 4400K)


User Selectable Levels: 3 main levels (High, Medium and Low). Each main level can be programmed to one of its two sub-levels. The second sub-level of the each main levels can be further programmed to different brightness levels or strobes.


H1 280 Lm (0.9 hrs)

H2 172 Lm (1.7 hrs) / 108 Lm (3 hrs)

H1 260 Lm (0.9 hrs)

H2 160 Lm (1.9 hrs) / 100 Lm (3.3 hrs)


M1 50 Lm (7.5 hrs)

M2 25 Lm (12 hrs) / 12 Lm (27 hrs)

M1 50 Lm (7.5 hrs)

M2 25 Lm (12 hrs) / 12 Lm (27 hrs)


L1 2.7 Lm (4 days)

L2 0.34 Lm (3 weeks) / 0.06 Lm (2 months) / 0.01 Lm (3 months)

 L1 2.7 Lm (4 days)

L2 0.34 Lm (3 weeks) / 0.06 Lm (2 months) / 0.01 Lm (3 months)

Hidden strobe

Beacon Strobe Mode: 4Hz Strobe at H1 / 19Hz Strobe at H1


1 AA (NiMH, lithium or alkaline)  or 3.7V 14500 li-ion rechargeable.

1 AA (NiMH, lithium or alkaline)

Beam Type

80 degree spill 12 degree hot spot

Flood, with 120 degree beam spread


Diameter: 0.86 inch (21.8 mm)

Length: 3 inch (76.5 mm)

Diameter: 0.84 inch (21.3 mm)

Length: 2.76 inch (70.1 mm)


1.1 oz (32 gram) 

2.9 oz (80 gram) with an Eneloop AA and headband

1oz (29 gram)

2oz (55 gram) with an Eneloop AA

2.8 oz (78 gram) with an Eneloop AA and headband 


  • Battery capacity indicator (LED flashes 1-4 times, 4 short clicks to start)

  • All levels are current regulated (no PWM)

  • Low battery alert when the light is switched Off (LED flashes if the battery voltage is below 1.06V)

  • Automatic stepping down to lower output when battery (AA and 14500) capacity is low

  • Smart user interface provides fast and easy access to all brightness levels and beacon-strobes.

  • Battery power can be disconnected by slightly unscrewing the tailcap to prevent unwanted activations or parasitic drain (Negligible = equivalent to 16 years)

  • Waterproof to IPX7 (2 meters, 30 minutes)

Light output are ANSI out the front (OTF) values. Runtimes tested (and parasitic drain estimated) using Sanyo 2000mAh Eneloop AA batteries. Light output for H52W with 14500 batteries are the same except that the H1 is 500Lm for the first minute and then step down to 280Lm.


These two lights are around £40 each, thus not budget lights, but in my opinion they are worth every penny.

They are extremely light and work with 1 simple AA battery that you can find anywhere. Even better if you use a rechargeable NiMH or a lithium primary for additional runtime.

They will stay on 50lm for more than 7 hours with a single battery (possibly even 10 or 11 on a lithium primary).

They both have a XM-L2 led which at the moment is the most efficient led around. The tint of the led is a warm white, meaning that you’re able to appreciate greens and reds even at night, almost as you would in daylight.

They are completely waterproof, they are not plastic and won’t break if you drop them.

The H502w is a flood torch which won’t shine far but will illuminate a very close area. I keep this lamp on my belt


 Zebralight-H502w Zebralight-H502w-on-belt


With both headlamps I’m now able to efficiently illuminate the path in front of me


IMG_1537 IMG_1538


In the above photos you can see how using only the H52w on my head (and not pointing my head downwards) the ground is illuminated starting from the 2 yellow leaves, about 1m from my feet. Once I turn on the H502w the whole area in front my feet is illuminated. Both torches were at 50lm and the pictures were taken with my phone.


Only one issue was still bothering me: the H52W comes with a strap which is not built for hours of running. The plastic rings that attach the light to the strap will slowly dig in your head over time.

The solution is using a Nite Ize headband.


NiteIze-headstrap Zebralight-H52w-NiteIze-01 Zebralight-H52w-NiteIze-02


This is a non elasticated strap with an elasticated sleeve that houses the torch. The strap fastens to itself with Velcro. Seeing as the Zebralights are angled lights, they end up resting on the forehead as you would expect.

At first I didn’t think that something not elasticated would be comfortable but I wanted to try it out as it was being praised by many over the internet.

The strap sits on your head like a hat would, it doesn’t move or bounce. It doesn’t bother me even after hours of running and I can re-strap it over any garment or hat I might be wearing when it’s cold.


Overall I’m very satisfied with these 2 headlamps which I often use in other situations beside running. They are extremely reliable and efficient, small and lightweight.



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