For the past year or so I’ve been testing out the H31w headlamp from ZebraLight, a company that makes a wide selection of higher-end LED flashlights and headlamps. Prior to picking up this light, I had always been a dedicated follower of a few of the more mainstream headlamps that are out there, and even though I had heard a lot of great things about ZebraLight, I had my doubts that it would end up making it to the #1 spot on my gear list for backpacking trips. But with all the good feedback that was out there, I had to at least give the brand a shot.
The light has a very compact form factor - At 2.57 inches long and a .9 inch diameter it’s not much larger than a foil pack of breath mints and is easily small enough to fit in a hand or pocket, especially if the light is used without its headband in flashlight-only mode. (You can remove the light itself from the headband strap) The case is aluminum and very sturdy, having an almost indestructible type quality about it. A single, soft-touch (Requires very little pressure to activate) button is the only control on the light.
The light has low, medium, and high modes – Each of which have 2 sublevels. The result is a total of 6 different light settings to choose from. One of the things I like most about the H31w is the range of output settings you have to choose from - The lowest mode is a moonlight-esque .4 lumens, with the brightest mode at an extremely bright 189 lumens. Here’s the complete level breakdown in lumens, along with the corresponding battery life:
Level / Lumens / Time
1 /.4 / 21 Days
2 / 4.3 / 3.7 Days
3/ 21 / 23 Hours
4 / 37 / 12 Hours
5 / 103 or Strobe / 2 Hours
6 / 189 / .9 Hours
The modes are all toggled using the single switch - Either by double clicking to select the desired mode or by holding the button down constantly. This cycles the light from low to high, releasing the button sets the mode. Once you’re in low, medium, or high, you can then double click to cycle between the two sublevels. It’s a little tricky to get used to at first, but with practice the light becomes easy to use. If you press the button quickly to turn the light on it defaults to high, and if you hold it down with a long press it defaults to low. This is great for either situation where you need a lot of light fast or for those times when you just need a little light but don’t want to blow your night vision by having to cycle through the high mode to get to low first. The light is also very lightweight - 2.5 oz. for the entire package including light (1.1 oz.), head strap (.8 oz.), and battery (.6 oz.). Once you've set your preferred level, a single click turns the light off.
The tail cap of the light unscrews to reveal the battery compartment and a single CR123A lithium battery is used to power the light. This is a bonus if you happen to use a Steripen with the same battery type - You’ll only have to carry 1 type of spare. Rechargeable batteries can also be used, but at the cost of battery life. Everything is sealed and the H31w is waterproof to an IPX8 standard. We tested this by accident one night when the light was dropped (While off) into water several feet deep. We chose to wait until daylight to attempt retrieval - Which was a success. No water had entered the light and it immediately worked fine and has continued to work great since. If you’d like a very similar light that uses a more convenient AA battery, take a look at the H51 series, though you’ll sacrifice just a bit of brightness and runtime compared to the H31 series.
The headband is elastic and adjustable, with the light sliding into a silicone holder which allows you to twist the lamp while you’re wearing it to find that perfect angle. Previously ZebraLight integrated a glow in the dark ring into the holder, but unfortunately this has been discontinued
ZebraLight also makes the H31 (No “w”) which possesses the same design but with a different LED. The normal H31 has a cool-white LED and offers a bit more brightness as well - Topping out at 220 lumens in its brightest mode. However, I decided to go with the H31w which uses an LED that offers a much warmer neutral light output. Whereas the normal H31 would emit a light not too dissimilar to a very white fluorescent light, the H31w has a nice warm / yellow tint not unlike a normal incandescent light bulb you might find in your home. In the field, the warm light made distinguishing terrain features at night much easier, and everything just had a much more natural look with colors appearing as you would expect them to. Another bonus that I didn’t expect was just how much “At home” I felt while on the trail or in camp at night. I’ve used a lot of headlamps in the past that emit that harsher whiter light - And it’s always just made me feel out of place.
The H31w casts a wide light with a brighter center hotspot in the middle of the beam. The hotspot casts a small, bright beam quite some distance (Depending on brightness mode) while the flood illuminates a wide area in tight. In practice this seemed to offer a good compromise. However, unlike some other headlamps on the market, you can’t switch between a full flood and spot-only mode. ZebraLight does offer an “F” model if a full flood-only light is desired.
In the field the light worked very well. On the downside no red LED or filter will be found to preserve your night vision, but the lowest level (At .4 lumens) is so low that it nearly made up for it. If you’re sharing your tent or staying in a shelter, you can still read a book without disturbing others around you and the light is low enough that you’ll still be able to see the stars after you turn it off.
With 6 total light levels to choose from, you can really dial the light in to your particular need. Medium 1 (At 37 lumens) was my pick for navigating unfamiliar trails at night - With enough light to get things done but saving a lot of juice compared to the high modes which I reserved for times when I needed a lot of light quickly, and not for long. The highest mode is very bright and really lights up a lot of terrain.
The light is regulated, so for the most part it will maintain its brightness level throughout the life of the battery compared to a non-regulated light that gradually dims as the battery is used. While the H31w has no low battery indicator, in my experience the light would begin to step down from high to medium after a couple seconds towards the end of battery life. At this point, about an hour of the brightest medium mode was left, after which the light would again step down from medium to low when turned on. Again, I found that at this stage approximately 1 more hour of light was left on the brighter low mode until the battery completely drained. At just .6 oz., packing along an extra battery isn't of much concern if needed.
The strap was comfortable and stable, but not quite as comfortable where the front of the light rests on your forehead compared to other headlamps I’ve used in the past. (It seems that the light was adapted for headlamp use vs. being built with that use in mind from the ground up) One thing that I found very helpful is to unscrew the tail cap just slightly to disengage the battery during the day while the light is in your pack - Otherwise the switch is easily activated by accident and you could end up with no juice left when darkness falls.
Overall the H31w has worked out very well in practice and is at least for now, my go-to light. It’s very compact, very lightweight, and offers so much range between the dimmest and brightest modes that it seems to be just right for every situation. Additionally, that warm / neutral tint is so much more usable than a stark white light in the field - I never knew what I was missing in regards to tint until I gave the H31w a try.
Interested in the light? You can pick it up for about $64:
Check out the ZebraLight H31w at Amazon
CR123A Batteries at Amazon (Batteries aren't included with the light)
Editor's note: For our review of the never Zebralight H52w see this post.