Sunday, September 9, 2012

Zebralight H31 Flashlight Review by Jason

“Which light should I buy?” is very often the first question someoneentering the flashlight market will ask. The second question isusually “how much will it cost?” A veteran will try to suggest a lightthat can scratch every itch for a new consumer. For me, that light isthe Zebralight H31. Consumers need a light with a common battery, asimple UI, and most importantly, a nice balance of features and lowcost. While cr123a batteries may not be ubiquitous in availability, they are available with worldwide shipping all over the internet. A clicky UI does not get much better than the one Zebralight uses, and all the features I will discuss later make the price of this light anamazing deal.

Hereis the current Zebralight H31 product page. Here is a product page for the original, the one I’m reviewing. Hereis a nice review on CPF, of the similar H31w. Hereis a good street price (amazon.comprice is the same at $64). Please note that there are now multiple iterations of this light, including Blue,HighCRI, Floody,FloodyRed, FloodyBlue, FloodyHigh CRI, FloodyNeutral, Red,and XP-GNeutral White. Be aware that I am speaking of the original Zebralight H31, before any of these iterations were available. There has been one significant design change (thankfully), which I will note later.

Here is a picture of my H31, as I carry it. I keep the black rubber section in the middle for the purpose of grip, but it is designed tohold the paperclip pocket clip that I lost long ago.

I have owned this light for 2.5 years. It wasn’t my first majorflashlight purchase; even so, it retains that “first light” nostalgia- it’s the one I always come back to. It’s the first on my list torecommend. Is it amazing? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Let’s see.

Design: 1

One can’t look at this flashlight and not immediately wonder what Zebralight was thinking. Its design, with the reflector directing light out the side of the body, is called an “aerosol” design, because one holds it as an aerosol spray can. Functionally, this could take a little time to get used to, but it adds a very useful benefit to the light - that of doubling as a headlamp. With the [included]headstrap, the aerosol design allows the light to be worn comfortably, and direct light properly as a headlamp. Further to the usefulness as a headlamp, it has a “moonlight” mode. Not only that, but the UI allows one to directly access moonlight without ruining dark adapted eyes by needing to cycle through higher output modes. Fins around the head of the light disperse heat such that heat never become an issue.They are also functional as grip when holding the torch in it’saerosol position.There are even glow in the dark (GITD) rubber accents around the light. There is a pocket clip included. This is the lone mark against the design of the H31. The “paper clip” pocket clip is truly terrible. Fortunately the new models have addressed this issue,and the design now rates a solid 2.

Ultimately the design of this light just works. If you can’tget around the aerosol design, bear in mind that Zebralight parallelsmost of their lights by having a “regular” version. That line is called the “SC31,” and there are plenty of iterations of it to scratch that itch.

Fit and Finish: 2

This is a well made aluminum light. The threads are clean and smooth. The tailcap has very nice and useful reeding. The headstrap is comfortable and looks nice, and the rubber holders for the pocket clipand headband are well made and useful. The Alcoa aluminum is also hard anodized, which both looks nice and increases durability.

Grip: 2

The idea of grip on the H31 is a little arbitrary. When being held as an aerosol light, the fins on the head provide fair grip, and the ribbing on the tail cap is useful as well. The body of the light has enough variation to allow it to be held well, too. Which is to say, even without any knurling, it still holds well, simply because of thedesign. When being used as a headlamp (ie “hands free”), the grip maintained by the strap is excellent, allowing vertical beam adjustment with precision.

Carry: 1

As a cr123a light, the H31 not so big as to be uncomfortable in a deep pocket. If you do deep carry this light, particularly with other pocket items, it’s feasible that the light could activate (it’s a soft electronic clicky after all), heat your pocket and drain the battery. This has never happened to me - I utilize “hard lock” on the light.That simply means I unscrew the tailcap enough to disconnect the battery. And the light is designed for this - the cap and body have enough threads so this a feature, not a coincidence.

On my H31, the pocket clip is a true disaster. Called a “paper clip”pocket clip, it consists of a wire bent to the shape of a clip, and inserted into a rubber holster, which is then slid over the light. There are multiple problems with this: The clip was delicate and bent easily. The clip slides very easily out of the rubber holder. That theclip requires the rubber holder in the first place! You will not carry this light with this clip, period. In fact it’s so bad, I will resort to a stock picture, as I have long since bent my clip past the point of usability (or even “keep” ability!).

However! The new version of this light has an amazing pocket clip.Functionally much like the renowned and often copied McGizmo clip -the clip on the H31 is actually deeper carry than that of the McGizmo (which I consider a huge plus). The new clip gets a 2, easily. Unfortunately I am not reviewing the new clip.

Output: 2

The H31 has a huge array of outputs. Six possible modes, including amoonlight of 0.5 lumens, and a high of 220 lumens. The low is amazingly useful, and it's this light that made me realize I love (and now demand) a moonlight mode.

Runtime: 2

This light wins the runtime contest. Moonlight of 0.5 lumens worksfor an incredible twenty one days. Even on high at 220lm, you get almost a full hour.

Beam Type: 2

The original version of this light is [quite accurately] described asa "Spill + Spot" light. It has a very centered spot of very bright light, but not a huge amount of throw. The following are shots of thelowest and highest mode, at 1/60 sec at f / 5.0 and ISO 800. The third is a corrected picture of "high" to show that it still has the distinct Spill + Spot.

Beam Quality: 2

It’s a Cree XP-G Cool White, and so you get exactly what you expect. Comparing this light to some of my newer lights (the Aeon,for example), one would immediately notice the temperature of this light is very cool. Even comparing the H31 I am reviewing to the new H31 of the same flavor, this light is noticeably cooler. The Spot is specific enough to allow one to use the Spill area for task specific things. For example reading a map in pitch dark, even on low the spot might be too bright. The beam design allows me to use the even lower lumen flood area usefully.

UI: 2

Ah the User Interface, the elephant in the room for most lights. Most people want one thing out of a light when they need a light immediately. What is it? BRIGHT. With this light, that’s what you get:short click = HIGH. But maybe you need moonlight mode, because you are hiking and dark adapted eyes already, or you are checking on your baby but don’t want to wake her... Zebralight have an unsung winner with their UI, because a long click will get your LOW setting. It really is a thing of beauty. And “long” isn’t really: just 0.6 seconds worth ofclick yields “low.” Now there are other settings in the UI, but they are largely gimmicky, and are more likely deemed “user programmable” than bearing specific explanation. But to put it simply, each of the 3 modes has a lower-lumen sub mode, which can be set as the default.

As far as clicky lights go, there is not a better UI, period. This gets a 3 if it was possible.

Hands Free: 2

Both ends are flat and ideal for tail standing. Even better as an aerosol light, tail standing gives light in a usable direction.Furthermore, being an aerosol, the tail stand makes it irrelevant if the H31 has any roll, since it provides side-light anyway. Even so, the head shape dictates that this light does not roll anyway.

Doubling as a headlamp, especially considering the inclusion of ahead strap, make “hands free” demand a “2” for this light. The light can be adjusted so that the beam points higher or lower, and the grip while in the head strap is excellent - the light does not “roll” or droop.

Total Score: 18/20

In case you weren't keeping track, you might not have noticed that the updates would give this light a perfect 20/20, as every problem I have with the original version has been addressed in the new one.

Let me tell you this: I have owned and still own many lights, andthere is not a single light that I like or recommend more than this Zebralight H31. I have given them as Christmas presents, I recommend them to anyone asking for a small single battery flashlight, and I recommend them to hikers looking for headlamps. There is just no morefunctional, useable, reliable, cost-conscious light out there. Andthat was before the updates! The new clip is worlds better, and if Ididn’t have nostalgic connections to the one I’m reviewing, I would replace it with the new version.  And so reasonably priced, for an item from an American company (some of these lights are even Made in America now!)


  1. Great review Jason! Intriguing design and lovely photography. It's definitely on my radar now...

    1. Even if you don't need another flashlight, consider some of the "H" Zebralights, because headlamps are much more useful than you might imagine.

  2. Great review, thanks.

    Here's one suggestion for making these reviews even better. With a focus on EDC, size is always an important factor. In addition to the specs, it would be great to see a photo with something else that gives us a sense of scale, like holding the product in your hand, which would also be great to illustrate grip.

    1. This is an excellent suggestion and I will do that from now on. This was a user submitted review, but I thought he was pretty comprehesive in his photography.

    2. That is an excellent idea, and I should have thought about it.

      However, there is a shot above of the light beside all it's parts, which includes a standard sized cr123a battery, so that should give you a pretty good idea.


    3. I'm new to EDC lights, so I've never seen a Cr123a :-) I'm a fan of Sanyo's rechargable AAs, they finally got them right.

  3. Tony, thanks for getting this review up! Hope it is thorough, and well received. I will be more than happy to field any questions that might come up.

    Oh and I found the paperclip part of that pocket clip, in a drawer beside my bed. Heh, all mangled and bent to uselessness. I should get a picture to include, just for the Hall of Shame you don't have yet.

  4. I was a hair's breadth away from buying this light, largely due to this review. Then I saw the new, redesigned clip...and hesitated.

    While the new clip is certainly better than the one shown above, it has the disadvantage of being attached to the bottom of the light. One of the advantages of the aerosol shape is the ability to clip the light to a pocket, belt, or strap; but the new clip means that the button would be on the bottom. I think this would make for awkward operation.

    It's a shame that, even with the upgrade and redesign, the clip still remains this light's weak link. I may still consider it, but it's not the must-have light it could have been.

  5. I have used the H31 as EDC for a year.I am a tradesman and the tiny light has absorbed some abuse and neglect. It is a versatile, very practical light. I prefer the CR123 version of this light due to the smaller dimensions and better balance on a shirt collar, pocket, etc. It gets very little press, so thank you for the excellent review.

  6. Update on Zebralight in general. I just got a SC52, and I have to say that the quality of Zebralight lights is continuing to improve. The sc52 is a great great little light.

    Tony, I know you like lights with moonlight. The sc52 has 0.06 and 0.01 lumen options. At the regular low (0.34) it's dark enough to look directly into with minimal discomfort. At 0.06 and 0.01, it's easy to look straight into.

    Still useful, though, for checking on kids and whatnot.

    Amazing little light.