Best Headlamp for Hiking: Our Top Picks of 2021

Finding the best headlamp for hiking adventures needn't be a chore. Read on to discover our top picks in this straight-talking, BS-free buyer's guide. Let there be light!

Brian Conghalie
Last Update:

Best Headlamp for Hiking

Nitecore HC50

NiteCore HC50 CREE XM-L2 LED Headlamp, Black

The Nitecore HC50 is Bears Grylls rugged. This all metal and mineral glass headlamp is IPX-8 rated (meaning it’s submersible in water up to 2 meters) and impact resistant up to 1.5m, so it can handle knocks with ease. With over 50,000 hours of lifetime, it may well be the last headlamp you ever need to purchase.

It is powered by a single 18650 lithium battery that produces up to 565 lumens, and can clock in 400 hours of light on its lowest brightness setting. A custom catoptrics-based system produces a wide 100° beam angle, which has ten brightness settings and an additional red night vision mode.

Considering the durability, it is not the lightest headlamp we tested nor is it the cheapest. Additionally, you will have to purchase the batteries (and charger separately) which will add to the cost. If you are looking for a dependable and versatile headlamp then we would recommend the Nitecore HC50 as our top pick as the best head lamp.

The Best Hiking Headlamp: Never Lose Your Trail

Looking for the Best Trail Headlight?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • Why you need a backpacking headlamp
    • What you should consider when buying.
    • Reviews of the best headlamps on the market
    • Our unbiased recommendation on the #1 hiking headlamp

We’ve gone to the trouble of researching, testing and reviewing the following six headlamps. Each of these headlamps was analyzed in terms of their brightness, ease of use, battery life, trail finding ability and how much they weigh/how comfortable they are to wear.

  • Nitecore HC50
  • Black Diamond Cosmo
  • Petzl Tikkina
  • Black Diamond Spot
  • Black Diamond Storm
  • Petzl Nao

Hunting For The Best Hiking Headlamps: How To Choose

Whether you are searching for a midnight snack in your campsite or trying to find your way on a rainy trail, a headlamp is an absolute necessity and is considered one of the essentials for backpacking. It provides much more safety and convenience than an ordinary flashlight.

To pick out the best headlamp, think about what you will be using it for, identify what is important to you; the beam distance, brightness, battery life, durability? The ideal headlamp will differ from person to person, but you can use our handy guide to find which of these best headlamps meets your needs.

Why Should I Buy A Headlamp Flashlight?

There are a few factors that make backpacking headlamps better suited for hiking than flashlights and lanterns.


This is an improvement over the torch, especially during activities like climbing where having both hands free is a distinct advantage or activities like trail running. It also shines the light right where you need it, directly along your eye line.


These lamps are incredibly lightweight. They will not take up a lot of space or weight in your pack, and usually take up less space than a flashlight or lantern.


Especially in cases of emergency. On the trail, you never know what may happen. Any number of things can occur that may leave you stranded in bad light, poor weather, with injuries, or broken equipment or vehicles. In the case of a situation like these, having a reliable light source can go from being a useful advantage to potentially life-saving.

What Should I Look For In A Rechargeable Headlamps?

There are a few things you will need to take into consideration when choosing the perfect headlamp.


Most manufacturers will provide a specification for the amount of light output by their device. This intensity level is measured in lumens. The figure is determined by using a machine that determines the total light energy emitted in any direction. While this is a good number to keep in mind, it is not a perfect indicator of whether a headlamp will be good or not.

The measurement does not take into account the strength of the beam pattern, lens system, or beam width. So two headlamps with the same number of lumens could have entirely different performance levels. The average level of maximum brightness for headlamps ranges from around 250 to a 700 lumen count.

Beam Distance

Beam distance tells you how far the light can reach in one direction. This measurement takes into account the strength of the light and how the lens is able to focus light into a beam.

It does not, however, tell you anything about the optics beam quality. While this will not give you all the information you need, beam distance is one of the first indicators to look for.

For every headlamp you look at, you will usually find two measurements for beam distance. One is for the high-output spot mode and the other for the lower-light close-proximity option.

Pay attention to the maximum beam distance number, since this is a better indicator of performance. Although, keep in mind that the manufacturer’s specs are often overstated.

Think, too, of the situation you will most likely be in. Not everyone needs the longest beam distance, and getting a headlamp with a lower beam distance can help to cut down on costs. Beam distance generally ranges from 20 to over a 100 meters.


How durable does your headlamp need to be in the situations you expect to use it, and the price you are willing to pay?

Activities such as caving or climbing, where there is a decent chance you are going to bash, scratch, or drop your gear may be prompt you to go for a more durable model.

Similarly, if water is on the cards, you want may want to plump for a waterproof headlamp. Most of the higher end headlamps are ultra durable and can hold up in a rainstorm and in some cases are waterproof down to several meters depth.

Weight & Comfort

As these lamps are worn on your head, you will want one that is as lightweight as possible. Depending on how long you plan on wearing it, take some measure of how comfortable the adjustable head strap is. Wearing something on your forehead that is irritating is sure to sap your energy and the joy of the activity you are meant to be doing.

Make sure you can adjust the headlamp to a size that is comfortable and suitable for you. Headlamps usually weigh somewhere between 1 ounce and 10 ounces.

Power Source & Battery Life

As with any outdoors electronic device, battery life is also an important consideration. Unfortunately, the manufacturer’s specs about battery life are often overstated as well, so it can be hard to determine which headlamps will have adequate battery life.

Of course, having an extended battery run-time is not as important for some people as it is for others. You may be able to survive with your headlamp and a backup set of batteries. Somebody else may need their lamp to run all night long. It is all about knowing what type of situation you are most likely to find yourself in.

Keep in mind that greater brightness often means lower battery life. The kind of battery needed should also be something you take into consideration. Most headlamps take either AA or AAA alkaline batteries. The higher-end models generally use a rechargeable battery, often with a USB charger.

Special Activity Requirements

Consider what type of activity you will be doing with your headlamp as well. For climbing, weight, durability, and size would be a significant consideration.

If you are a frequent nighttime runner, comfort and battery life may be your top priorities. Picking out the best headlamp for you will greatly depend on what you will be doing with it.

What Are The Different Headlamp Features To Look Out For?


For seeing at a distance, you will want to use a focused, bright spotlight. The best headlamps will shine 100 meters or more, and a few have an even longer beam distance. Bright beams like this are ideal for hiking when seeing your path, and trail markers ahead are crucial.


If you are looking at the higher end headlamps, most of them will offer a separate, dedicated spotlight and floodlight settings. Flood light casts a wider and dimmer beam. This type of beam is perfect for close-proximity use like reading or searching campsites. Plus you will not blind your friends if you turn your head. The dim setting also helps to prolong battery life.

Red Light

Some headlamps also offer a red LED light setting. Red LED light has a few advantages over regular light. It is more efficient when it comes to battery life and can drastically increase the lamps run time. People also use red light as an alternate to regular night vision light. The red eases your eyes to transition into darkness. This makes it perfect for night time stargazing.

Also, the red light option is optimal for search and rescue situation should you find yourself in trouble. A flashing red LED light can be seen at greater distances and will last longer.


As hiking is not limited to good weather, having a water-resistant headlamp is a good idea. Almost all headlamps on the market today will be waterproof to some lesser or greater degree.

The Best Rechargeable LED Headlamp Reviews

Nitecore HC50

Editors Choice

NiteCore HC50 CREE XM-L2 LED Headlamp, Black

The Nitecore HC50 is an excellent headlamp clocking in a lifespan of over 50,000 hours with adjustable brightness. With a built-in battery status, you will never be out of light during your outdoor adventures. Built from durable waterproof materials, no matter what you’re doing you can trust this nifty gadget!

Key Features

  • Purpose-designed for hiking, climbing, camping and general outdoor recreation
  • High-efficiency circuit provides up to 400 hours of runtime
  • Ten rapidly switchable brightness modes to select from
  • Powered by a single 18650 lithium-ion battery for up to 565 lumens of max output
  • A custom catoptrics-based system produces an extremely wide 100° beam angle
  • Waterproof in accordance with IPX-8 (two meters submersible)
  • Constructed from aero-grade aluminum alloy and toughened ultra clear mineral glass

Nitecore HC50 Review

  • PROs

    • Lifespan of over 50,000 hours
    • Made from aluminum and extra strong mineral glass providing excellent durability
    • Comes with two different light options for optimal day and night use
    • Best waterproof headlamp – to depths of up to 2m
  • CONs

    • Batteries and charger not included
    • Expensive

Bottom-Line: For its lifespan and durability, it is a great buy for the avid outdoorsman (or woman) that wants something that can endure the tougher activities you partake in. Our top pick as the best headlamp.

Black Diamond Cosmo

Black Diamond Equipment - Cosmo 300 Headlamp - Black

This light, bright, and waterproof headlamp is perfect for beginners. It comes with many different modes: proximity, distance, strobe, dimming, night vision, and lock. The Black Diamond Cosmo can brighten up an area up to 60 meters, as well as 60 meters high and 12 meters wide. It is made out of a durable polycarbonate material which makes it perfect for backpacking trips. It also runs on AAA batteries, which are an easy buy.

Key Features

  • Settings include proximity and distance modes, dimming, strobe, red night vision and lock mode
  • The red night-vision mode preserves night vision and reduces eye strain; has proximity and strobe settings without having to cycle through the white modes.
  • IPX4 water-resistance protects against splashing or sprayed water from any angle
  • Sleek design complete with tiltable housing; runs on AAA batteries
  • PROs

    • Made of lightweight polycarbonate material
    • Brightest headlamp in our review
    • Very budget-friendly
  • CONs

    • Not rechargeable
    • Some users may find red light setting too bright for night visibility
    • Clip buckle can press uncomfortably against head
    • Not ideal for heavy use

Bottom-Line: It has a multitude of light adjustments and has heightened durability which will help it last for a number of years. Unfortunately, it sits at tough price juncture, for a little bit less you can buy the Petzl Tikkina which performs almost as well, or a bit more and buy the Black Diamond Spot which significantly outperforms the Cosmo.

Petzl Tikkina

Best Backpacking Headlamp

PETZL, TIKKINA Outdoor Headlamp with 250 Lumens for Camping and Hiking, Black

This headlamp offers great a great sense of durability, weightlessness and a long list of appropriate uses. Whether you are camping in your backyard, without electricity in your home, or backwoods camping this tool is not only dependable but also less expensive and durable than several of its competitors. With many different color options, this would be perfect for either a younger aged child or college camper. Its weight comes in at just 85 grams.

Key Features

  • Fully adaptable lighting modes let you prioritize burn time or brightness for any situation
  • Very easy to use, thanks to the large push-button operation, meaning you never have to take off your gloves to see where you are going.
  • Washable headband
  • Runs on AAA batteries and weights 4 oz.

Petzl Tikkina Review

  • PROs

    • Adjustable lighting modes
    • Lightweight & affordable
    • Waterproof
  • CONs

    • Adjustable lighting modes
    • Lightweight & affordable
    • Waterproof

Bottom-Line: For a camper on a budget, this is a very affordable and durable headlamp to invest in. It has visible buttons, lightweight, and waterproof. It has batteries included and is rechargeable, making it perfect for on the go hikers.

Black Diamond Spot 350

Black Diamond Equipment - Spot 350 Headlamp - Black

The Black Diamond Spot is a multi-functional headlamp with different light options such as proximity strobe in either red or regular light. It also features a new PowerTap option making the transition between the different modes much quicker. On the lamp, there is a nifty 3 level power feature that shows you when you need to change batteries. This headlamp is also waterproof made with a durable polycarbonate material. Its total weight equals out to 3.2 ounces making it light and easy to carry around, especially on long hiking trips.

Key Features

  • Simple transitioning between full and dimmed power using the PowerTap technology; allows you to instantly increase illumination in distance or proximity modes.
  • Red night mode to preserve night vision and reduce eye strain; proximity and strobe settings that can be activated without cycling through white modes
  • Never run out of power again with a 3-level power meter that activates for three seconds after switching the headlamp on.
  • Can sustain submersions in over 1m of water for over 30 minutes thanks to it’s IPX8 level waterproofing.
  • Settings include: full strength in proximity and distance modes, dimming, strobe, red night vision and lock mode.
  • Runs on 3 AAA batteries
  • PROs

    • Offers flood/spot light options
    • Lightweight, weighing just 3.9 ounces
    • Lock mode making storage easier without accidentally turning it on
  • CONs

    • Not rechargeable
    • On/off switch can be sensitive making it easier to lose battery life if turned on by accident

Bottom-Line: For a camper on a budget, this is a very affordable and durable headlamp to invest in. It has visible buttons, lightweight, and waterproof. It has batteries included and is rechargeable, making it perfect for on the go hikers.

Petzl Nao

PETZL, NAO + Programmable, Rechargeable Headlamp with 750 Lumens and Automatic Brightness Adjustment

The Petzl Nao offers many features to people who hike/camp/run at more extreme temperatures. It offers many great brightness choices including the ability to automatically dim when it is lighter outside or vice versa. It also has a handy locking feature when storing it to prevent battery drainage. Complete with USB rechargeable battery pack, this a great tool for people who love the outdoors.

Key Features

  • Customizable beam pattern, brightness and burn time through the MyPetzl smartphone app.
  • Reactive light technology will automatically adjust to your surroundings, optimizing brightness against burn time for an efficient “hands-off” battery optimization
  • Multi-beam lighting combines a wide beam for proximity lighting with a focused beam for long-range vision
  • Prevent accidental discharge in your backpack thanks to its lock feature
  • Rechargeable 2,600 mAh lithium-ion battery offers universal charging with micro-USB port
  • 3 year guarantee from Petzl
  • PROs

    • USB rechargeable battery pack
    • Moisture resistant adjustable head strap
    • Operates well in low temperatures
    • Automatically adjust to surrounding light levels
  • CONs

    • Expensive
    • Heavy
    • Extremely short battery life

Bottom-Line: The most expensive headlamp in our review, it outperforms all its competition in the trail finding category, but struggles when it comes to weight and ultimately cost. There are significantly cheaper options that do (almost) as good a job.

Black Diamond Storm

Black Diamond Equipment - Storm 400 Headlamp - Black

The Black Diamond Storm is a frenzy of features with lasting durability. With over five different lighting modes, including an exclusive red and green light this headlamp can withstand any need on the trail. It is built of durable polycarbonate material and features new PowerTap technology. With its high convenience and dependability, this is a must get LED headlamp for any hike or trip.

Key Features

  • Proximity, strobe and dimming modes, plus green and red night vision modes, accommodate any lighting need
  • Up to 250 lumens max on the maximum brightness setting thanks to the QuadPower LED and the DoublePower white LED
  • Bright, precise beam is perfect for route finding after dark
  • Easy to use PowerTap technology for simple transitioning between modes/brightness
  • Slick design uses 4 AAA batteries and features a 3-level power meter that shows remaining battery life when switching on the headlamp
  • Access to red and green SinglePower LEDs with dimming and strobe beam settings for night vision; activates without cycling through white mode
  • Lock mode to prevent accidental use while storing
  • PROs

    • Offers flood beam/spotlight options
    • Lightweight, weighing just 3.9 ounces
    • Lock mode making storage easier without accidentally turning it on
  • CONs

    • On/off switch can be sensitive making it easier to lose battery life if turned on by accident
    • Not rechargeable

Bottom-Line: With some extra cost you get a little more brightness levels, battery life with some additional weight compared to it’s little brother the Black Diamond Spot.

Last update on 2021-04-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Brian Conghalie

Brian has been an avid hiker and backpacker since he was a small kid, often being taken out into the wilderness on trips with his father. His dad knew everything about nature and the wilderness (or at least that's how it seemed to a ten year old Brian).

After high school, he went to university to read for both a BS and MS in Geology (primarily so he could spend his time outside rather than in a classroom). He's now hiked, camped, skied, backpacked or mapped on five continents (still need to bag Antartica) & 30 of the US states.