Hunting for the Perfect Headlamp
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.
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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 headlamp meets your needs.
Why should I buy a Headlamp?
There are a few factors that make 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 requirement. 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 Headlamp?
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 700 lumens.
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 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.
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 rechargeable Lithium Ion or NIMH batteries.
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. Floodlight 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.
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.
Nitecore HC50NiteCore HC50 CREE XM-L2 LED Headlamp, Black
- Battery Type: 1x186502xCR123
- Maximum output: 760 lumens
- Nitecore Headlamps
- Utilizes a premium CREE XM-L2 (T6) LED
- Purpose-designed for hiking, climbing, camping and general outdoor…
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!
- 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 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
- 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
- Waterproof to depths of up to 2m
- Batteries and charger not included
- ExpensiveBottom-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.
Black Diamond CosmoSaleBlack Diamond Cosmo Headlamp, Black, One Size
- One Triple Power LED and one Double Power white LED emit 200 lumens
- Red night vision has dimming and strobe modes and activates without cycling…
- Sleek, low-profile le design uses three AAA batteries
- Settings include proximity and distance modes, dimming, strobe, red…
- Waterproof: Protected against water immersion down to >1m (3.3 ft) for 30…
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.
- 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
- Made of lightweight polycarbonate material
- Has many different modes
- Very budget-friendly
- 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 useBottom-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 TikkinaPETZL – TIKKINA Headlamp, 150 Lumens, Standard Lighting, Rose
- HAVE A LIT ADVENTURE: With its easy-to-use design, the TIKKINA is perfect…
- BRILLIANT BEAMS: Features a wide beam. This close range light is ideal for…
- CHOOSE YOUR LIGHT: Features a single on/off button, which easily selects…
- DON’T GET CAUGHT IN THE DARK: With its longest burn time at 220 hours,…
- CHARGE IT UP: Every TIKKINA includes three standard batteries, and is also…
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.
- 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.
- Adjustable lighting modes
- Lightweight & affordable
- Not recommended for heavy use
- Not rechargableBottom-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
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.
- 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
- Offers flood/spot light options
- Lightweight, weighing just 3.9 ounces
- Lock mode making storage easier without accidentally turning it on
- Not rechargeable
- On/off switch can be sensitive making it easier to lose battery life if turned on by accidentBottom-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 NaoSalePETZL – NAO+ Headlamp, 750 Lumens, Bluetooth Enabled
- LONGER BURN TIME: Enhanced visual quality, and reduced to a minimum manual…
- CONSTANT LIGHTING: It is also possible to use the lamp with the CONSTANT…
- MULTIPLE LIGHT CONES: Combination of a wide light cone for close-up vision…
- RECHARGEABLE BATTERY: Lithium-ion battery 3100 mAh with charging via USB…
- USES PETZL MY LIGHT APP: Shape of the light cone, light duration and…
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 a USB port for a rechargeable option, this a great tool for people who love the outdoors.
- 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
- Rechargeable, and can be used with most USB chargers
- Moisture resistant adjustable head strap
- Operates well in low temperatures
- Automatically adjust to surrounding light levels
- Extremely short battery lifeBottom-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 StormSaleBlack Diamond Storm Headlamp, Octane
- One Quad Power LED and one Double Power white LED emit 350 lumens
- Red, green and blue Single Power LEDs for night vision have dimming and…
- Power Tap Technology allows instant transitioning between full and dimmed…
- Settings include full strength in proximity and distance modes, dimming,…
- Waterproof and dustproof: Sealed housing withstands immersion up to 1m for…
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 a durable polycarbonate material and features new PowerTap technology. With its high convenience and dependability, this is a must get for any hike or trip.
- Proximity, strobe and dimming modes, plus green and red night vision modes, accommodate any lighting need
- Up to 250 lumens 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 settings for night vision; activates without cycling through white mode
- Lock mode to prevent accidental use while storing
- Offers flood/spot light options
- Lightweight, weighing just 3.9 ounces
- Lock mode making storage easier without accidentally turning it on
- On/off switch can be sensitive making it easier to lose battery life if turned on by accident
- Not rechargeableBottom-Line: With some extra cost you get a little more brightness, battery life with some additional weight compared to it’s little brother the Black Diamond Spot.