Petzl has been busy upgrading the Tikka-Zipka line, and as part of this suite of six new headlamps gives us two versions of the old Tikka XP: the Tikka Plus2 and the Tikka XP2. Physically, the new Plus2 and XP2 have more similarities than differences and each includes the following:
- Single, high-output, white, collimated LED
- Small, red, 5mm LED
- Single control switch, mounted top-center
- Ratcheted angle adjustment
- Hinged battery compartment
- Wraparound elastic headband
The headlamp shells are similar in shape and incorporate the same materials - a combination of crystal clear and gray translucent plastics. Each is powered by three AAAs and, new to the 2-series, take any battery formulation: alkaline, NiMH, NiCd and yes, disposable lithium. Their switch control sequences are identical and both sport an IPX4 water resistance rating ("limited ingress of water sprayed from any direction"). Like the previous Tikkas, neither new light has current regulation, and both have battery life meters.
There are differences: The XP2 has a diffuser lens and head strap whistle and, importantly, is much brighter. The XP2 body is a bit deeper to accommodate the diffuser and has a slightly larger switch and collimator. The Plus2 weighs 5 grams less and costs $15 less.
A Bit of History
Four years ago, Petzl expanded the popular Tikka series of small LED headlamps with the XP, their first AAA-powered Luxeon (1-watt hyperbright LED) headlamp. Compared to the other Tikkas, with their floody 5 mm white LED arrays, the XP provided a bright pencil beam with much longer throw and very good battery life. Then, to tame that narrow beam into a wide flood Petzl added an optical diffuser lens that simply slides in front of the LED. At a bit over 3 ounces with batteries, the XP competed with the best from other headlamp makers in nearly every way, but with two exceptions: no current regulation and no use of disposable lithium cells. These XP descendants correct one of those shortcomings, add several new features, and shave a bit of weight.
Tikka Trio. From top: Original Tikka XP, XP2, Plus 2.
Many BPL readers will be primarily interested in the restoration of lithium cells to Petzl’s list of approved batteries (across the entire Tikka/Zipka line, but not brand-wide). There is no documentation as to what changes Petzl made that renders them safe to use, and I don’t know whether the deletion of the old XP’s boost mode is somehow related. It’s likely fresh lithium cells (capable of high-current draw well beyond what alkaline or NiMH cells can eke out) were overdriving the older LEDs to premature failure. Since a major appeal of LED flashlights is their effectively limitless service life compared to incandescents, a cautious approach is understandable if there is a chronic weakness.
As a refresher, disposable lithium batteries provide more stable output as they discharge compared to alkaline cells and, as noted, tolerate higher current draw. They also perform better than alkalines in the cold and are much lighter. These benefits come at considerable cost, since lithium AAAs run at or above $2 each, nearly ten times the price of quality alkalines bought in bulk. While I’ve almost completely switched over to NiMH rechargeables for everything but long-duration hikes (especially since we now have low self-discharge cells), the ability to load up the new Tikkas with lithiums is welcome indeed for longer trips and very cold locations.
Design, Construction, Controls
You can see from the photo that the Plus2 and XP2 bodies differ from the XP. The new shell plastic feels slicker and the shape is a departure, although overall dimensions and weights are roughly comparable. The old XP has a fully removable (and potentially losable) battery cover, while the new models have a secure hinged lid with thumb tab opening that's much easier to use. Interestingly, the new battery compartment is not sealed against the elements like the old model, which seems at odds with the IPX4 rating. However, through the clear body a seal can be spotted protecting the electronics. It appears Petzl doesn’t consider keeping water and fine grit out of the battery compartment to be an issue, but instead has gasketed just the electronics against intrusion. This may be in consideration of the fact that lithium cells can off-gas in use and require venting, a potential problem in sealed battery compartments. However, I caution folks in salt environments to take note of the new Tikkas’ unsealed battery compartments - anybody who uses one in the wet should dry it out when they can. If exposed to salt water or airborne grit, first rinse the battery compartment with fresh water.
The works are partly visible through the case, as is the seal protecting the electronics.
As a certified klutz, I am qualified to say both lights are tough. I've dropped them plenty with no damage or failures. They seem reasonably sturdy, although I defer to spelunkers to weigh in on just how sturdy. The collimator, red LED, and battery meter are protected by a clear shield, and the XP2 diffuser offers a second protective layer.
The old XP diffuser slides sideways while the XP2’s slides vertically, a minor change that makes operation a bit easier. The new diffuser design also uses a larger tab for notably easier gloved operation and a spring assist helps return it to its hiding spot. The diffuser portion only covers the white LED and does not affect the red LED beam. The XP2 diffused beam is a bit narrower than the XP's, but is still quite wide and even.
Both 2-series lights have a large single switch in a depression that should reduce accidental switch-on, but cannot eliminate it. I recommend stowing the light on red mode in case it does get turned on in your pack, because red mode won’t drain the batteries like white mode will. Compared to the old XP’s miniscule buttons, these new switches are a breeze to operate - a definite advance.
The operation of both 2-series Tikkas is identical. The lone switch controls all LED functions as follows. From off, a brief press switches the light on, while a long press switches between the red and white modes. Following initial power-on, each brief press cycles through the mode states in sequence.
- White mode has three states: high, low and flash, in that order from off.
- Red mode has two states: steady and flash, in that order from off.
Once the desired mode and state have been selected and the switch is unused for a few seconds, the next quick press switches the headlamp off. A long press will alternate the color mode without turning the light off. Regardless of this wordy description, the control sequence is easy to learn and use!
Large, central switch is easy to find, operate even with gloves.
By comparison, the old XP has three continuous levels plus flash. It also has a boost mode accessed via a second button that gives a short burst of very high output. Boost is heat-limited and shuts off automatically if the button isn’t released first. This happens in less than one minute (for more on boost mode, see the Petzl MYO XP Review).
For me, the most important control advance in the Plus2 and XP2 is the color mode memory. They switch on to the last mode used, whether red or white. I would prefer that they also recalled which white level the light was last in (i.e., low was retained) but red mode recall is very helpful in retaining night vision by not inadvertently blasting my eyes with high-intensity white light. Star party folks, feel free to rejoice.
Tikka Plus2 and XP2 beam patterns are similar, but not identical. The Plus2 beam is more even and has no obvious artifacts (beam unevenness or odd shape and coloration). The XP2 beam is more center-weighted and has a couple of shadow artifacts. These differences are notable projected against a white wall, but undetectable in the field. Both lights are very different from the old XP, which uses both a collimator behind and a Fresnel lens in front of the LED, a rather sophisticated control scheme that gives it a superior beam pattern in my opinion. The new models use only a bare collimator, which seems to control the beam less completely. The XP2 diffuser spreads the beam wide and evenly, dropping intensity by a factor of about ten. The Plus2 doesn't have this option, of course.
Why the diffuser feature isn’t slavishly copied by others is a mystery; instead they’re seemingly content to load up their hybrid lights with auxiliary banks of white 5 mm LEDs, rather than simply lensing their superbright main light. The costs to this approach, of course, are complexity and weight. (Conceptually, a red LED is better than a red lens [filter] in front of a white light source. A filter subtracts light, creating inefficiency compared using a red LED’s full output.)
XP2 (left) clearly outperforms the Plus2 with no cost in extra power used.
XP2 diffuser lens in place compared to Plus2 unlensed beam (both lights set on high).
XP2 (left) and Plus 2 in red mode. Beam size difference likely an LED manufacturing variation.
Tikka Plus2 beam is cool white, while the XP2 is a warmer white. When not compared side-by-side, the difference isn't noticeable, but in my experience, warmer light is a little easier on the eyes over extended periods.
Fit and Aiming
Petzl uses very good quality headband material - soft with a reassuring amount of stretch. The new headbands are a bit longer than before - good news for helmet wearers and my fellow melonheads. The buckles don't loosen in use. Helmet users can also investigate Petzl’s ADAPT system for mounting the headlamps without the headband. For all, the headband removes easily for cleaning. The whistle, added to one of the XP2 buckles, was a pleasant surprise and packing an XP2 takes care of two of the “ten essentials.” Its quite high frequency is the bane of dogs everywhere.
Non-whistlers will be pleased with the XP2 whistle-buckle.
The headlamps aim slightly downward when set to the highest angle and the ratcheted adjustment allows roughly an additional 45 degrees of downward tilt. Anyone wanting to angle the light upwards (e.g., for bear-bagging) can simply flip it over, since there’s no top strap. I find the angle setting holds securely, although the ratchet mechanism is looser than my old XP. I’m not a trail runner, so I can’t verify that these new lights hold their position while pounding dirt through the dark, but they haven't slipped in my use. The curved base is mostly padded by the strap and is comfortable on my forehead for extended stints. Petzl has been a leader in headlamp comfort for as long as I’ve used the brand (going back as far as the Zoom).
In profile. The larger XP2 is on top - extra bulk is to accommodate the diffuser.
Performance in the Lab
At the starting gate (fresh alkalines, initial reading) the Plus2 delivered 800 lux at 2 feet, while the XP2 achieved 1,800 lux, a whopping 225% brighter - a surprise given Petzl’s specs showing the XP2 putting out just 20% more lumens than the Plus2*. The Tikka XP2 also exceeded the old XP by roughly 80% (the XP measured about 1,050 lux), while the Plus2 was moderately dimmer. The original XP has a trick in its bag, however; an astonishing 2,500 lux in boost (albeit for less than a minute at a shot). (Please note: none of the lights holds the measured high value reported in the specifications for long, regardless of batteries used. A comparison of the values after at least half an hour is more valid.)
Output Over Time
I tested both lights using Duracell "Ultra Advanced" alkalines and Sanyo Eneloop NiMH rechargeables and additionally tested the XP2 with Energizer lithiums. All tests were done in high mode and measured at two feet using a lux meter.
It's plain from the alkaline results that these headlights are unregulated. The graphs plunge over the first hour then, after stabilizing for a bit, continue their downward slope, never settling into an extended period of flat output. The results show an odd "bounce" that may be heat-related (more on this later). Some, but not all, regulated lights can hold a steady output for quite awhile on alkalines.
NiMH rechargeable results show the same initial drop as the alkalines, then have a lengthy period of steady output before quickly dimming to the point that they must be changed. The performance of both Tikka models with NiMH is better than alkalines starting at about hour two and staying higher until they drop steeply at around four and a half hours. Most surprising to me is that the XP2 results essentially trace the lithium response through about hour four. Especially in view of the NiMH base cell voltage of 1.2V, this performance is laudable. Setting battery weight aside and considering the typically good NiMH cold performance, it's hard to make an argument for lithium cells except for the most extreme pursuits. The performance and frugality of today's NiMH cells are both indisputable and heartening, and we eagerly await the forthcoming nickel-zinc rechargeables to see if they can up the ante further. Reliable field-recharging is perhaps the final hurdle.
Lithiums were only tested in the XP2, and it proved an excellent pairing. Following the predictable initial drop, the output achieved a steady and very bright level for nearly five hours. The minor oscillation displayed on the graph up to hour five is likely battery-heat related and of no consequence in the field. The XP2 effectively mimics a regulated light throughout this period, perhaps signaling Petzl's intent that this light really should be powered with lithuim (or NiMH) batteries in demanding uses. The observed drop beginning at hour five is little different from a regulated headlamp dropping out of regulation as battery voltage declines. XP2 output dropped quickly after that point, as is typical of flashlights with lithium cells. Lithiums don’t have more capacity than alkalines, but as noted are better able to endure high current draw, yielding results like we observe here (this is also why alkaline batteries work so poorly in digital cameras).
We did not measure red mode battery life on either light, but suffice to say it will be very, very long - probably days - with all battery types. Red mode performance should be identical in both Tikkas.
XP2 vs. Plus2 Measured Performance Verdict
From the start, the Tikka XP2 completely mopped the floor with the Plus2. It generally emitted twice the light and there was never a penalty at the back end - some point where the output curves would cross, and the Plus2 proved to be the frugal cousin over the long haul. The results beg the question, why the performance difference between the Plus2 and XP2? It's clear the XP2 LED is simply more efficient - extracting more light from a like amount of current. If the other electronics are the same (a reasonable presumption in the absence of regulation), then it probably boils down to what “bin” the two LEDs are sourced from. Suffice to say the XP2’s LED is much more competent than the Plus2’s, so its bin was probably fur-lined.
XP2 diffuser lens tab at rest below the main light.
I'm obliged to note that the XP2's best performance - with lithium cells - is mimicked by the Princeton Tec Eos I tested a full five years ago. It's hard to believe after five years of LED advances they're so similar.
Backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts stress a lot over battery temperature, and rightly so, but they tend to look at it from just one perspective - the cold. There's no arguing that very cold temperatures diminish battery capacity and performance, and that some formulas respond better than others (partly explaining the zeal for lithium cells). It's generally considered a good idea to keep batteries from freezing, going so far as to use remote battery cases tucked in our clothing in harsh weather. But what about heat? Lights such as these Tikkas that combine the battery compartment with the works can get surprisingly warm, so much so I believe they sometimes become warm enough to negatively affect performance. If you look at the XP2 lithium graph you'll see a jump in output at 2:15. This occurred after I opened the battery compartment and allowed the very warm cells to cool in the air while running. I've puzzled over this apparent contradiction ever since testing the PT Eos, when I got better performance from alkalines keeping the light in a refrigerator than I did keeping it at room temperature (the fridge Eos stayed warm to the touch despite the near-freezing environment). I'll leave it to the smart folks to determine when taking steps to cool your headlamp might be advantageous.
All measurements for this test were performed at room temperature (about 68 F). I am hesitant to record the high initial outputs because they're so fleeting, but feel it represents an achievable target when LED and battery technology mature sufficiently, so I think of these levels as goals tantalizing today's flashlight and battery designers.
Dimming and RFI
Dimming of these new Petzls appears to be through pulse control modulation (PCM). Set on low, they visibly strobe when swung in the dark (but not when on full power) and would even blank out when I photographed them with relatively high shutter speeds. The old XP either uses another dimming scheme or the PCM frequency is too fast to notice. I can’t hear any high-frequency noise, as with some PCM lights, but these new Petzls do create a small amount of longwave AM radio interference when near a receiver. Petzl notes the following:
"Conforms to the requirements of the 89/336/CEE directive on electromagnetic compatibility."
"Warning, when your lamp is lit and in close proximity to an avalanche beacon in receive (find) mode, it can interfere with the operation of the beacon. In case of interference (indicated by static noise from the beacon), move the beacon away from the lamp until the noise stops, or switch off the lamp."
Performance In the Field
The little 5mm red LED is moderately focused, neither floodlight nor narrow spot. Red performance (intensity) is virtually the same on both models (Plus2 beam is a bit wider, probably due to LED variation) and is reasonably bright for simple navigation and camp chores. Ability to read by red light depends on one's eyes; I've found it's generally possible (making out colored detail on maps a notable exception). Importantly, red is bright enough for unwanted midnight trips to the bushes while conserving night vision. White low is, of course, much brighter than red.
As noted previously, the new lights only have high and low levels, dropping the old XP’s mid. Anecdotally, flashlight makers are dropping the mid level (Petzl isn’t the only one) because their research tells them folks use just high or low and skip what’s in between. I don’t know whether that’s true, but when I’m night hiking I prefer more, rather than fewer options to help me maintain the minimum amount of light required by the situation, and no more. A valid counter-argument is fewer redundant button presses is better. Anybody who owns a headlamp with a six- or seven-mode cycle will understand the sentiment.
Regardless, we have two white settings with these lights, so two it shall be. The XP2’s diffuser effectively doubles the settings, because it greatly reduces intensity as it spreads the beam. Nighttime navigation is typically a task for a pencil beam, and the beams of both are narrow and fairly even with some spill. I don’t find much real-world difference between the Plus2 and XP2 beams other than intensity and there, the XP2 throw distance is clearly superior, whether trying to find a trail fifty yards ahead or spotting a high tree branch to target for bear bagging.
On the trail, I generally start out in red mode. I can usually follow very distinct paths that lack tripping hazards, but if not, I switch to low white mode, which is bright enough for decent trails. Here, the difference between the two lights shows, since the XP2 low mode is twice as bright. When technical bits of navigation arise, I switch to high setting, frequently needed on typical Sierra trails that are indistinct, gravel and rubble-strewn, eroded yards wide by pack animals or disrupted by blowdowns. The XP2 can prove almost too bright with fresh batteries, so the diffuser helps knock down the intensity and preserve night vision. It's interesting to me how much I used the high setting the same way I use the old XP boost.
In camp, the XP2’s diffused beam is great. With it I can perform most of my chores without playing swivelhead and without a hotspot seared into my retinas. Reading, including maps, is another obvious application. It’s primarily the diffuser that has kept the XP in my backpack the last few years, instead of the competition and even despite the lack of regulation and lithium batteries. What finally displaces it is this new XP2. The Plus2 is a nice little light that also delivers on the trail and in camp, but its lack of key features and reduced performance instantly make me miss the XP2.
Stealthiness and Glare
If one of your nighttime goals is not being spotted from the side whilst wearing a headlamp, you might not want one of these new Tikkas. The clear/translucent bezel spills noticeable incidental light. This quality could come in handy if you were part of a team spread out some distance - the side spill could help team members keep track of one another's location. It also increases the lights’ usefulness as location markers. I’ve used flashing lights to mark a location that I want to return to, such as my hammock in a stand of woods, while I’m wandering the area after dark without a light (an actual use for flash mode!). The wider the light source, the easier it is to spot from a distance.
I don't mind the spill, but noted both lights create some glare on eyeglasses, more than the old XP, perhaps because they're shorter and spill incidental light downward on the lenses. Some headlamps do this more than others, so glasses wearers should to test beforehand to see whether glare might be a problem. When I wear contacts or wear the light over a cap, there's no glare.
The Petzl website describes their battery meter as follows: "flashing green: ok, flashing orange: remaining charge <30%, flashing red: remaining charge <10%." The owner's manual says this: "When the red battery discharge indicator comes on, 50% of the original battery life remains for proximity lighting." Contradictions aside, I have only noticed the meter in the red indicator mode once the batteries were well drained, and I suspect it's not easy to notice when either light is still operating brightly.
The tabbed battery compartment is easy to pop open, and unlike the old XP, there’s no chance of losing the cover. It opens wide for full access, but I need bare fingers to retrieve and replace the tiny AAAs. Polarity is marked inside and on the cover (not easy to read in dim light) and the asymmetrical contacts also hint as to correct battery alignment. The cover snaps shut readily and distinctly.
The battery compartment is easy to open and close, but is not sealed.
Recommendations for Improvement
In a high-tech and competitive marketplace like LED headlamps, everything can be made better, by upgrading technology such as selecting more efficient LEDs, by adding (or deleting) features and by rethinking the physical form. With the Tikka Plus2 and XP2, Petzl has done all three.
Current regulation is an obvious area that Petzl eschews in the Tikka line (and to be fair, their main competition uses it in only a few models). I’m one of the evidently rare users who occasionally calls upon the middle brightness setting, and I’d prefer that it be restored, especially considering the huge brightness gulf between the XP2’s two modes. I’d include intensity in mode memory; I’d like a switch lock; I'd prefer that the battery compartment be gasketed (and if need be, vented via a valve). I find Petzl took a small step backward in pencil beam quality from the XP, possibly when deleting the Fresnel lens.
Ultimately, I would be interested in an XP2 variant powered by two AA batteries, regulated and stepped up to operating voltage. To my knowledge, nobody makes my dream light, so I can’t demerit Petzl for not reading my mind while designing the Tikka Plus2 and XP2. As it is, they’ve taken my favorite headlamp, the XP, and improved it in several regards with the XP2. The Plus2 is a nice enough light, but it doesn’t stand out amongst the competition and frankly, isn’t even as good as the old XP. Its much higher output and diffuser put the XP2 into a completely different league and certainly place it among the best lightweight, high-performance headlamps today. Spend the extra fifteen bucks.
|Tikka XP2||Tikka Plus2||Original Tikka XP|
|Weight (no batteries)||51 g||45 g||57 g|
|Weight (3 AAA alkalines)||85 g||79 g||91 g|
|LEDs||two (1 red, 1 white)||two (1 red, 1 white)||one (white)|
|High (lux @ 2 feet, alkalines)||1800||800||1050|
|Boost (lux @ 2 feet)||N/A||N/A||2500|
|Low (lux @ 2 feet)||210||110||270|
|High (lux w/diffuser)||180||N/A||70|
|Red (lux @ 2 feet)||30||30||N/A|
- True red and white modes
- Mode memory
- IPX4 water resistance
- Operable wearing gloves
- Take lithium cells
- Easy battery access
- Plus2: Small, lightweight, moderately bright and efficient
- XP2: Small, lightweight, bright and efficient
- XP2: Diffuser lens
- XP2: Rescue whistle
What’s Not So Good
- No current regulation
- Unsealed battery compartment
- No mid output level
- XP2: Beam artifacts
- Plus2: Significantly less power than the XP2 and original XP
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author at no charge, and it is owned by the author. The author has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.