Black Diamond Spot 350
In our opinion, the Black Diamond Spot 350 is the best headlamp for hiking and backpacking. The Black Diamond Spot packs a maximum output of 350 lumens, which is bright enough to illuminate 85 m of trail. Combine that with a great burn time, simple to use functionality and a compact & comfortable design and the Spot just edges out the Petzl Actik Core as our top pick.
In addition to its max output, the Black Diamond Spot comes with 3 light intensities which are all dimmable, strobe light and a red LED night vision mode. Weighing a lightweight 3 oz (86g) you’re unlikely to notice it’s there, and with an IPX8 rating, it can handle accidental drops and submersion while out on the trail.
While we love the Black Diamond Spot, one area that could be improved in future versions of the model would be to make it compatible with a micro-USB rechargeable battery. At present, the Black Diamond Spot only accepts 3x AAA.
Bottom-line: The best all-round headlamp for the outdoors and at great price to boot.
2021 Guide to the Best Headlamps for Hiking, Camping & Other Outdoor Activities
Looking for the Best Hiking Headlamps Reviewed?
You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:
- The real metric you should use to find a bright headlamp
- Pros & cons of rechargeable headlamps vs alkaline batteries
- Headlamp reviews of nine the best headlamps
- Our top pick for the best LED headlamp
Hiking headlamps are a must-have for any avid hiker or backpacker. Under-estimating your journey time and arriving late at your destination is a common occurrence. Unfortunately, hiking at night, in poor or low light conditions is also one of the most likely times for accidents to occur.
Rechargeable headlamps are one of the best ways to light up your evening hike, but there are so many options that choosing one can be confusing.
We’ve done all of the research for you and have identified 9 of our favorite headlamps for hiking out on trails! This article breaks down what makes each model unique and why we recommend it over others. You’ll also find some tips about how to choose your next headlamp based on important factors to consider like brightness, battery life, or intended use!
What to Look for in a Good Headlamp
Brightness in Lumens vs Beam Distance
One of the “banner” specs thrown at you by headlight companies is the brightness measured in Lumens. Lumens are a measure of the total amount of light that comes out of your headlamp, and the more lumens you have, the brighter the output will be.
If you’re the sort that likes to know the technical definition, a lumen is a unit of luminous flux and it’s equal to the amount of visible light emitted by one candle per square meter. So your headlamp with 200 lumens is equivalent to the light output of 200 candles shining on a single square meter.
There is a wide range of lumens in headlamps, ranging from 50 to 950 (on maximum setting). The maximum brightness of the headlamps we’ve reviewed falls between 200 and 600 lumens – which is a powerful enough range for the demands of hiking.
One thing to keep in mind is that the more powerful the output, the more power it will require. More power equates to more demand on the batteries, and therefore shorter battery life. To help extend the life of the batteries many headlamp models allow you to adjust the level of brightness.
Beam quality refers to how well the light is focused from a headlamp by the optical lens system. Depending on the bulb type and the quality of the construction a lower lumen headlamp may have a longer beam than a more powerful one. While one lamp may technically be brighter, it may not do as good a job of focusing the light from practical use.
Beam distance varies significantly between different models, with the products reviewed ranging between 50 to 150 meters (180 to 500 ft) while set to max brightness.
Whether you are buying AAA alkaline disposable batteries or a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, they both have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Alkaline costs less than the rechargeable battery but cannot be recharged, meaning you’ll (1) have ongoing battery costs & (2) you’ll need to carry additional replacement batteries with you on longer trips. Although, we’d always recommend carrying spare batteries with you as a backup on every trip, no matter how short.
Conversely, lithium-ion batteries are the more expensive option but will last longer than their alkaline equivalents. While being rechargeable is a plus, it does have the downside of having to carry a power source (e.g. a solar panel or power bank) on longer trips. If you count every gram in your pack, then Li-ion batteries are also lighter than the alkaline cousins.
Burn Time (Battery Life)
Depending on the length of trips you take the battery life of your headlamp may be a fundamentally important feature. Running out of juice too soon can lead to disaster.
Manufacturers like to boast about how long the headlamp’s battery will last. But don’t be fooled by these claims as unfortunately they usually overstate the actual performance in real life situations.
While overall duration is lower, the beam distance also suffers over time, as unless the light output is regulated then the headlamp will progressively dim as the batteries run down. Few manufacturers publish them, but look out for charts of max beam distance over battery lifespan.
Pro-Tip: Only use as much brightness as necessary for the task at hand to extend our battery life
Regulated light headlamps such as the Petzl Actik Core will maintain the same brightness before suddenly failing. Headlamps which regulate light are great for activities such as winter sports or caving where dimming could be dangerous.
The weight of a headlamp is another important metric to consider. The lightest models weigh less than 20 grams, and heavier ones can tip the scales at over 200 grams or more. This may not seem like a huge burden but it will impact both comfort while in use and also how much gear we need to carry in order to keep it close by for use when needed.
Lightweight lamps are more comfortable to wear, easier to pack, and don’t inhibit movement so much. More powerful headlamps and more durable ones bring with them more heft.
In our opinion, it’s best to choose the lightest model that meets your usage requirements.
Weight alone is not the sole determiner of the comfort of a headlamp, as the weight distribution of the headlamp can have a large impact on the comfort during use. Poorly distributed weight will be obvious the moment you tilt your head abruptly or try jogging a short distance.
Less important for day hikers, but for those gram-counters in the ultralight community, you may want to choose a lighter model to keep your pack weight down.
Durability and Weather Resistance
As an outdoor activity, hiking, backpacking, and camping gear need to be able to hold the weather and the occasional bump or drop at bay. How weather resistant a headlamp is, is determined using IP ratings – an industry standard for electronics equipment.
Ingress Protection (IP) ratings are best known as a way of measuring how resistant electronics are from water or moisture damage.
Every product is tested and given an IPXX number, with the first X representing how well it can handle the ingress of solid materials (think dust). Solids protection is rated from 1-6, with one being the lowest level of protection.
The second X tells you how water-resistant the product is, with the protection level ranging from 1-8.
Cheaper models are an IPX0 that offers no protection from the elements, and you’d best get them covered up at the first sign of bad weather. At the other end of the scale, an IPX8 rating means you can dunk your headlamp in the local lake for a while and it’ll still come out shining.
For some more precise definitions of the IP ratings then check out the table below.
To live up to the weather demands of hiking and the outdoors, all the models reviewed range from a minimum of IPX4, which is protected against splashes of water (think light-moderate rain). At the top end is the Fenix HM50R, the most durable headlamp with a top rating of IP68.
Cold Weather & Battery Life
Still on the topic of weather, let’s turn back to batteries, and specifically batteries and cold weather.
In cold weather, batteries can perform poorly. This is because the electrolyte inside them becomes thicker as the temperature drops, and this slows down chemical reactions that are necessary for charging and discharging. Meaning a significant decrease in your battery’s lifespan & a longer recharging time.
Alkaline batteries are the worst offenders here, although Lithium-Ion batteries also suffer greatly from a drop in the mercury. The best option in cold weather is to choose a CR or rechargeable NiMH batteries- the Fenix HM50R is the only headlamp in our review that accepts CR123A batteries, making it a great choice for colder weather trips.
Pro-tip: When not in use store your batteries somewhere warm like inside your sleeping bag or jacket to keep them warm.
A few headlamp models allow you to remove the battery pack while it is in use. Thus allowing you to store it inside your jacket or next to your body to help keep it warm.
Durability is important for any piece of outdoor gear that will occasionally get dropped, bumped and scratched. Cheaper “plasticky” models are easily spotted and should be avoided, lest you want to replace your rechargeable headlamp every time it suffers a mishap.
More robust models will incorporate aluminum or other light metals to help give a sturdier build, but this does come at a cost of weight. There is a middle ground of solidly build plastic models such as the Black Diamond Spot, and the Petzl Actik core which combine durability with reasonable weight.
So, how to pick?
Activity type, weather, and trail conditions you expect to face play into how rugged a model you should select. For instance, if you regularly encounter rainy weather on your hikes then choosing a more water-resistant model may be a smart choice.
Headlamp Lighting Modes
Quality headlamps will allow you to switch between different beam modes for use in various situations. Most headlamps will use separate LEDs for different lighting settings, while others “shape” the LED to the specific function desired.
Spot lights are meant to provide a focused beam of light, allowing you to see off into the distance. This mode is perfect for spotting an animal in the distance or following trail markers.
Some headlamps have different spot settings that allow you to choose between a wide and narrow beam. The best way to identify what is best suited for you and your needs depends on how much ground space you need illuminated.
Proximity or Flood Light
Flood Beam diffuses the light to cast a wider beam of light, giving a wider coverage area and allows you to see your immediate surroundings better.
This is best suited for campers who want to illuminate the ground and nearby objects with enough brightness so that they can find their way around in the dark.
Most headlamps have a strobe mode. This feature is intended for emergency use to attract attention while conserving battery power.
The strobe light mode is also great as a bike light or for runners who need to be seen by traffic.
“Night Vision” Red Light
Softer and easier on the eye than white light, red light mode is great for reading or finding something in your tent in the middle of the night without disturbing your fellow tent-mates.
Red light has the added benefit of not causing your pupils to adjust, so you won’t be night blind when the dark returns. As it can take up to an hour for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, this is a particularly useful mode if you want to do some star-gazing without fumbling your way around the campsite.
Green or Blue Light
Some headlamps come with green light, which preserves the natural color of objects in the dark. This is a particularly useful color filter for hunters who are tracking a wounded animal, with the blood showing up as a vivid red in the dark.
Blue light has been shown to prevent night blindness and decrease eye strain when reading maps or using a GPS device.
Brightness, durability, and weather resistance are all great, but if your headlamp is not comfortable to wear then it’s not going to be used often. There are two main elements to think about with comfort – weight distribution and the headlamp straps.
The heaviest part of any headlamp, the battery pack, is typically in the light body or as a separate pack at the back of the strap. It is standard to have the battery pack in the light housing which works well for lighter headlamps.
More powerful lamps will separate the battery pack and place it at the back of the strap to balance weight and prevent the headlamp from becoming too “front-heavy”.
The weight distribution of a headlamp can be hugely important, depending on your intended use. Front-heavy models like the Black Diamond Storm feel off-balance for activities like trail running, where a lighter or lower profile model such as the Biolite 330 will help prevent “bounce” on the trails.
The headband straps generally come in two styles, the simple wrap-around and a two-piece design with an additional strap that crosses the dome of the head to help balance weight more. The lighter headlamp models are typically the former, and heavier one’s the latter.
The head strap should be able to fit snugly against your head without feeling like it’s cutting off the circulation to your scalp. It should also be easily adjustable when you need to throw on a beanie in cold weather, or a helmet for activities like climbing or caving.
Not a 1:1 correlation but you tend to get what you paid for, and cheaper models will feature cheaper, less well-made headbands that either don’t wick moisture away well or feel uncomfortable next to your skin.
Ease of Use
Headlamps are not complicated devices and certainly won’t give technophobes the “fear”, but certain models have a more intuitive design that makes them easier to use.
Many headlamps use a single touch button design, this allows you to cycle through the various light modes, which frankly, can be a bit annoying. Several of the higher-end models incorporate a brightness memory, or a two-button design to help alleviate the pain of cycling through modes.
Others like the Coast HL7 make use of a twist lens and a lever to control the flood/spot and brightness making it much easier to control the exact light output you want.
For specific tasks models that allow the headlamp housing to be tilted allowing you to direct the beam in a specific direction is hugely useful. Allowing you to stand in a more ergonomic position rather than craning your neck while you complete the task.
Another helpful feature for battery life is an On-Off Lock. This prevents any accidental turnoffs mid-task and also prevents the battery from running down if it were to accidentally get turned on when inside your pack.
Best Headlamps for Outdoor Adventures Reviewed
BioLite Headlamp 330
Best Trail Running Headlamp
For the trail runners out there, the Biolite 330 is our top recommendation thanks to its low profile ergonomic design. Standing at 9mm, this low profile is thanks to the design moving the battery pack to the back of the head to help balance the weight. Combined with its low overall weight (2.34 oz / 69g), this helps to reduce any bounce or movement when running.
The Biolite 330 has three white light settings (Flood, Spot & Strobe). The maximum light output is 230 lumens, with a beam distance of 75m. Expect the rechargeable battery to run down in less than the 3.5 hours the manufacturer specifies.
The flood setting uses a separate 100 lumens LED, which is one of the brightest on our list and helps illuminate up to 16m of your campsite. The battery life on this lower mode is the poorest we tested at 40 hours making it not well-suited to longer trips in the backcountry.
A great feature is the ability to dim both these settings for more precise light output, and the headlamp features a brightness memory whenever you switch it off, and on again.
To help with routine tasks without waking up your tent mates it features a red light mode and a strobe setting for emergency situations.
On the downsides, the single button design can be a little tricky to control, particularly when wearing gloves. Unfortunately, while the headband is extremely comfortable, it is not possible to remove the head torch meaning careful handwash only.
- Hugely comfortable no-bounce design
- Reflective headband wicks well
- Brightness memory
- Single-button design can be tricky
- Unable to machine wash head strap
- Poor battery life
Bottom-Line: If comfort is a prime concern or you’re a trail runner in search of a new headlamp, then the Biolite 330 is without a shadow of a doubt our top pick.
The Coast HL7 headlamp has the most intuitive light output controls of any of the headlamps in our night hiking testing. It features a single powerful beam that can be adjusted to either spot or flood mode with a twist of the focus ring, the brightness can then be adjusted to the desired level with a second small lever.
In spot light mode, the headlamp provides 305 lumens of power in an intense beam that reaches up to 125m. Perfect for long-distance trail finding and sits second on beam distance behind the Ledlenser MH10. Its lowest proximity light produces 4 lumens of power in a wide beam that reaches up to 16m. Great for close proximity lighting or reading maps at night.
Overall, the beam quality is excellent, and the ability to adjust the settings in more detail makes it stand out from the pack.
As an older model compared to the more recently updated Black Diamond & Petzl headlamps, it is a pretty heavy option at 4.4 oz (125 g). Despite the heavy battery pack being positioned at the back of the head strap, it’s still ungainly.
A second let down is the short battery life on the maximum brightness setting. The three AAA batteries will drain in less than an hour and a half making one of the shortest options tested. Switch to flood mode at 4 lumens and you’ve got a mediocre (consider the light output) 70 hours of burn time.
- Powerful bright beam with excellent beam distance & quality
- Very intuitive beam setting control
- Superb flood lighting
- Excellent optical quality
- Bulky & heavy
- Contender for worst battery life
Bottom-Line: If you want easy control over the light output of your headlamp, without constantly pushing buttons to cycle through modes then the Coast HL7 is for you.
Princeton Tec Snap
Most Versatile Headlamp
The Princeton Tec Snap has a modular design that allows you to use it as either a headlamp, bicycle lamp, lantern, or torch. The Snap comes with several mounts and is even magnetic, allowing you to go hands-free when required.
On the brightest mode, the lamp gives out 300 lumens for up to a remarkable 10 hours. Unfortunately, this is tempered by its poor beam quality which means you’ll struggle to see more than 50m. In proximity mode, you’ll get up to 155 hours of light from the three AAA batteries allowing you to see about 7m around you.
The one-button design allows you to cycle through the flood, spot, and strobe functions easily. However, unlike many of the other models we tested, there is no ability to dim the brightness.
From its weight (3.5 oz / 99 g), to its build quality, the Princeton Tec Snap is a pretty middling product that is not in the same league as similar headlamps manufactured by Petzl, Black Diamond, or Ledlenser.
- Unique modular design
- Long battery life on proximity mode
- No dimmable function or red light
- Durability is lacking
Bottom-Line: A middle-of-the-road product, but if you need a light to perform multiple functions for a reasonable price then the Princeton Tec snap might be for you.
Best Budget Headlamp
The Petzl Tikkina is a great minimalist headlamp at a stellar price. The 250 lumens on high mode may make the Tikkinia one of the weakest headlamps on our list. However, with a spot light distance of up to 60m, this is sufficient to see the trail ahead on night hiking trips.
In addition to distance mode, there are two more white light settings; movement mode and a flood light option. Each of the three-beam settings can easily be cycled through with the large single button.
The Tikkina is designed to take three standard AAA batteries, but the battery compartment can also accommodate Petzl’s CORE battery. The ability to use rechargeable or regular AAA batteries combined with a low weight of 2.86 oz (second lightest headlamp on our list) makes it an excellent choice for backpacking.
The large center button is easy to find, and operate allowing you to quickly cycle through all the beam modes. We did find it a bit fumbly to work when wearing gloves in colder weather.
As a budget pick, the Tikkina does have some drawbacks. The primary issue we have with it is despite the lower light output compared to other headlamps, the battery drains very quickly in distance mode. Less than 2 hours and you’ll find yourself with a dead lamp. With proximity lighting, you are good for over 100 hours.
The three white brightness settings don’t have the ability to dim, so you are stuck with only three brightness levels in total. Missing a red LED, be prepared for some night blindness after a jaunt to the toilet in the middle of the night.
- Practical headlamp for a great price
- Lightweight headlamp
- USB rechargeable headlamp (combined with CORE battery)
- Not very powerful
- No dimming & average light quality
- Poor battery life on distance mode
Bottom-Line: The Petzl Tikkina is a cheap, reliable, and compact headlamp that is simple to use. While it lacks the functionality of other high-powered headlamps, it does its job well, for a great price.
Black Diamond Spot 350
Best Hiking Headlamp
Black Diamond headlamps are known for their quality, and in our opinion, the Spot 350 takes the top spot as the best hiking & backpacking headlamp overall. At 350 lumens it’s a bright headlamp that will allow you to see up to 85m of trail ahead of you. Has lots of functionality, yet is easy to use and packs some excellent battery life to boot.
In addition to the distance beam, the Spot has an additional two beam patterns, with the proximity light offering up to 8m of light in a wide beam around you. All the lighting settings are dimmable by holding down the large button which we found to be excellent to get the light levels you want without battery waste. To top it off, the brightness memory will remember your settings the next time you power the headlamp off and on again.
The newest incarnation of the Spot has a significantly improved battery burn time than the older model. On the highest brightness, you can expect over 3 and a half hours, and nearly 200 hours of power on flood – giving it a longer battery life than most of the competition. One cool feature is the 6 setting 3 LED battery indicator so you can readily see the remaining battery life available.
To cap it off the new design is more compact & comfortable, and has an IPX8 rating so you can be sure of its water resistance.
If we’re going to be pick on the Spot then the lack of compatibility with micro-USB rechargeable batteries is where we would mark it down.
- Bright light, easy to use & weather-resistant
- Excellent battery life
- Lightweight at 3 oz (86g)
- Compact & comfortable design
- Lack of rechargeable battery
Bottom-Line: The Black Diamond Spot 350 performs well across the board, is bright enough for the task at hand, hardy, has a longer battery life, and weighs a meager 3 oz.
If you need a head torch that packs a lot of power then the Ledlenser MH10 provides 600 lumens of blinding light, making it the most powerful headlamp on our list. That many lumens combined with excellent optical performance will illuminate the darkest trails or caves. The distance mode will allow you to see a whopping 150m (that’s over 1.5 football fields), and the proximity light gives a 20m halo of light.
Despite the output, the MH10 surprised us with the long burn time of its rechargeable battery, lasting an incredible 10 hours on the spot light function. Expect around 120 hours on proximity mode.
The MH10 is straightforward to use on the two standard light modes but becomes a bit more fiddly if you want to use red or green light for night vision. Instead of being fitted with separate LEDs, the MH10 uses light filters that you manually slot over the main beam. Which as we discovered, is best done before going to bed or else face try finding the attachment in the dark.
At 5.57 oz (158g) this is by far the heaviest headlamp on our list. Combine that with the fact that the brightness/beam distance of this head torch is overkill for most hiking, backpacking or car camping situations, then this extra heft seems unnecessary.
- Very bright light
- Amazing battery burn time for a rechargeable LED headlamp
- Very intuitive and simple headlamp flashlight
- Superb beam quality
- Rear light for safety
- Heavy and bulky
- Red/Green filters are separate attachments
Bottom-Line: The Ledlenser MH10 is a brilliantly bright rechargeable headlamp that is best suited for activities such as caving, or winter sports where you need a longer beam distance to spot upcoming obstacles while traveling at speed.
Petzl Actik Core
Best Rechargeable Headlamp
The Petzl Actik Core came within a whisker of taking the top prize. If you are specifically looking for a headlamp that takes rechargeable batteries then the Actik Core takes the top spot. The Actik takes either Petzl’s CORE USB rechargeable battery or if you’re stuck in a pinch will also accept standard AAA batteries.
The Actik Core has regulated spot and flood settings which are dimmable and has similar light quality and beam distance as the Black Diamond Spot. The distance beam is rated at 450 lumens, allowing you to see just shy of 90m and the flood light gives you a wide beam of light allowing you to see about 7-8m. The downside is that the burn time of the batteries is about 30-40% shorter than the Spot giving you only 2 – 120 hours on distance & spot respectively.
The easily adjustable headband and head lamp are a lightweight 2.64 oz (75g) making it one of the lightest headlamps, second only to the Biolite 330. With an IPX4, the water resistance of the Actik core is at the lower end of our review but survived several heavy downpours during our testing unscathed.
- Compatible with standard AAA or rechargeable battery
- Excellent beam distance & quality
- Light Output Regulation
- Reactive lighting technology
- Short battery burn time on high mode
- More expensive option
- No lock feature
Bottom-Line: If you’re on the search for a rechargeable headlamp then the overall top performer is without a doubt the Petzl Actik Core.
Black Diamond Storm 400
Best Headlamp for Hunting
Black Diamond’s Storm 400 has many of the same features as the Black Diamond Spot but distinguishes itself by having a longer beam distance, regulated lighting that lasts 5 hours on high mode, and green night vision. These added features mean the Black Diamond Storm is well suited for hunting expeditions.
With a 400 lumen output, enabling you to see up to 100m on the highest beam intensity, you (or your prey) won’t be left out in the dark. The Black Diamond Storm also comes with two lower light modes, strobe function, and three-night vision options (red/blue/green).
A great feature is the ability to use any of the light intensities in proximity or turbo mode, which can be easily dimmed to the perfect brightness for the task at hand. A simple push of the Powertap button and you’ll jump back to full intensity (or back again to your dimmed setting).
The downside to this added light output compared to the Spot (and other cheaper Black Diamond models) is the heavier weight of 4.2 oz (120g), partially caused by the need for four (instead of the typical three) AAA batteries.
- Excellent spot & proximity beams with adjustable brightness
- Regulated light & good burn time considering the output
- Very sturdy and weather resistant (IP67)
- Features 3 Night Vision modes
- Meter shows remaining battery life
- Heavier option
- Not USB rechargeable
Bottom-Line: The Black Diamond Storm 400 has a myriad of lighting options, great beam distance, and battery burn time. We prefer the Black Diamond Spot over the Storm for hiking/backpacking but would recommend the Storm as the go-to headlamp for hunters.
Best for Winter Activities
The Fenix HM50R is a unique headlamp, in that it works with CR123A batteries. While it comes with a rechargeable Li-Ion battery, replacing this with CR123A will allow for a longer battery burn time in cold weather conditions where traditional alkaline & Lithium batteries don’t fare so well. Combine that with the simple to use button which is easy to control, even with gloves then the Fenix comes out on top if you need a headlamp for those winter hikes.
The Fenix HM50R has four brightness settings, with the high mode achieving a beam distance of around 80m and on a 2.5 hour burn time. Cycle down to the lowest setting and you will have power for around 90 hours.
With an IP68 rating and extremely sturdy aluminum casing, this headlamp will take some punishment on the trail and still keep going. This design does mean that at 3.47 oz (99g) the HM50R is not the lightest of headlamps, but neither is it excessively heavy (compare to the 5.57 oz Ledlenser MH10).
- CR123A compatibility makes it great for cold weather
- Very durable and great water resistance
- Simple single-button control
- Battery life meter
- No red night vision or strobe light modes
Bottom-Line: The Fenix HM50R specs sit largely in the middle of the pack when it comes to brightness, weight, and battery life. What sets it apart though is the CR123A battery compatibility which works better than traditional batteries in cold weather.
Last update on 2021-06-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API