The first time I saw a Petzl ZOOM I was at Boy Scouts, doing a night hike with the scary looking Venture Scouts, the “Big kids.” The ZOOM seemed to be the cool piece of gear at that time. People looked on with jealousy as they clutched their Dad’s torches bought from local hardware store, or their Mum’s “power-out flashlight” from under the stairs. From then on I needed one. My brother, as ever, being older got his first but mine followed soon after.
The Petzl ZOOM was first introduced in 1981 and it changed things massively. It was designed by Fernand Petzl; a French caver, innovator and all around legend.
”[Petzl] was designing and distributing solutions that aid in commitment and progression on vertical and/or dark terrain with optimal efficiency, freedom and safety.”
Until the introduction of the ZOOM, head torches had been limited by their heavy battery packs and robust design. Because of this they were more suited to cavers and workers. What made the Petzl truly unique was its all-in-one construction. The battery pack sat on the back of the head and the torch component sat at the front. The original model used an incandescent bulb powered by a 4.5v flat battery.
What always struck me with Petzl gear was not only the innovative nature but also the quality. Their catalogues read more like mountaineering and caving manuals, each meticulously illustrated with details of the correct uses for each piece of kit. These are the kind of books that I would pore over as a child.
Each year Petzl would change the pattern on their headband, I always saw this as a nice touch – all your friends had the same model torch but they we’re all different. It meant that something was being considered each year; this was an evolving product. I also liked that there was a small recess behind the flashlight section that housed a spare bulb. This became really useful when Halogen bulbs became more readily available; it meant that with a little fiddling you could have a high powered but short lasting focussed beam or a more conventional longer lasting softer beam. Their ongoing commitment to research, development and innovation has also lead Petzl to the forefront of LED head torches. They are now the standard for most hikers.
Even though my ZOOM is no more, it was one of the first legit serious pieces of hiking kit I ever bought and more than worthy of a place in hiking annals.