If there’s one piece of equipment that tends to be in anyone’s backpack, it’s the headlamp. Whether you’re a die hard mountaineer or a day hiker who’s never gone over three miles, the odds are you own a headlamp. The market is heavily saturated as you might guess, and selecting the right one can be a challenge. Everyone knows the benefit of hands-free illumination but the impressive advances in headlamp technology over the past few years deserve some recognition. Headlamps today use LEDs almost exclusively as their light source. LEDs are rugged, energy-efficient and long-lasting.
That brings us to the deciding factors; what sets one headlamp apart from another and how do you know what to buy? There are several main variables that differentiate the best headlamps.
What to Look for
The flood / wide ones ordinarily do not throw light a long distance and are for general camp tasks, up-close repair work and reading. The spot / focused / narrow enables long-distance viewing and is a better choice to navigate a trail in the dark.
The output is measured in Lumens that gauges the total quantity of light emitted in all directions by a light source. Ideally, a light with a high lumens count will consume energy at a higher rate than a light with a lower lumens number. This means, in most cases, the higher the lumens, the brighter the light.
Headlamps are tested to determine how far (in meters) they can project usable light.
Headlamp makers calculate run time until lights can no longer produce usable light (the light of a full moon) at 2 meters.
Average weight with batteries included for most is 7 oz. Some have top straps and external battery packs that add bulk. Such models are intended for specific needs (e.g. climbing) rather than routine adventures.
Brightness Levels / Modes
Most offer high and low mode, others have strobe (flash - emergency blinker), mid and boost (zoom).
Red Light Mode
Red light does not cause our pupils to shrink the way white light can, so it's good for nighttime use.
They should be able to withstand some degree of exposure to rain and snow or at least tolerate shallow, short-term immersion.
Lithium batteries are a good choice for cold weather usage as they outperform alkaline batteries in cold conditions. NiMH are also a good option in cold conditions.
10 Best Headlamps for Any Outdoor Activities
Black Diamond ReVolt
A high-output headlamp that’ll give you options for charging. This headlamp uses USB outlets or you can also pop in regular alkaline batteries when you want a little extra power or when recharging isn’t an option. This eco-friendly light saves you money and keeps batteries out of landfills, but won’t leave you lightless when you’re deep in the backcountry, far from a power.
Light Source Type - LED
Batteries - 3 AAA alkaline or 3 NiMH
Dimensions - 5 x 5 x 2 inches
Weight - 10.4 ounces
- 3-level power meter shows for first 3 seconds after lamp is turned on so you know how much juice remains
- 5-lighting modes and a lock-out to prevents accidental switch on
- Proximity, distance, dim, strobe, and red night vision modes
- Adjustable headband
- Medium length distance beam
Opt for this model if your top priority is to avoid the waste of money and time of constantly replacing batteries while using a headlamp in all but the most extreme situations. The Black Diamond ReVolt is also a great option for extended trips where you don't want to carry extra batteries. While you might find this headlamp expensive, it becomes a great long-term value because you do not have to buy batteries as often.
Coast HL7 Focusing
The Coast HL7 Focusing Head Lamp boasts both adjustable focus and light dimming functions. With Coast's beam shaping technologies such as our pure beam focusing optic system, you get more usable light. With the Variable Light Control Technology onboard you will have the ability to adjust the light output with the control lever to any point between the lowest low and the highest high so you can have highly personalized output and runtimes. For additional durability, it comes with an expandable Z-Cord provides power to the LED from the battery pack and it’s built in to the headband to reduce the possibility of snagging.
Light Source Type - LED
Batteries - 3 x AAA batteries
Dimensions - 24 x 3.2 x 2.1 inches
Weight - 4.5 ounces
- Incredible brightness and beam control
- Beam distance: High - 119 meters (390 ft); Low - 13 meters (42 ft)
- Runtime: High - 1 hour 30 minutes; Low - 70 hours
- Short battery life
If you're looking for the brightest lamp at the lowest price, the Coast HL7 might be the way to go. The HL7 is easy to use and lightweight for such a bright light.
This headlamp provides maximal brightness (7 to 575 lumens), a longer burn time, along with greater usability and fewer manual interventions. The rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery is suitable for frequent use. Its integrated sensor analyzes and responds to reflected light. So when you start reading a map, the beam becomes soft and diffused. When you're moving, it uses a wide, mid-bright setting to show immediate obstacles. When you glance ahead, it brightens and narrows to let you pick out details.
Power - 7 to 575 Lumens
Batteries - 2 AAA, Rechargeable
Dimensions - 1 x 1 x 1 inches
Weight - 6.6 ounces
- Can be charged with USB
- Reactive lighting mode
- Adjustable headband with top strap for technical activities
- Poor battery life
The Petzl NAO offers fantastic performance and innovative technology that has been well executed. This is one of the most innovative headlamps ever designed. Everything about it is cool from the look, the headband, the built in USB plug for charging, and the reactive lighting.
Black Diamond Spot
The Black Diamond Spot Head Lamp keeps the great outdoors visible when you're playing after hours and the 200 lumens of bright light show you the way to go. It comes with PowerTap technology that gives your fingertip the power to dim the lights. The red LEDs provide proximity lighting. It comes with a lock mode that makes it possible to prevent burning through batteries when the headlamp is in your pack.
Power - One TriplePower LED, two SinglePower LEDs
Batteries - 3 AAA batteries
Dimensions - 5 x 5 x 2 inches
Weight - 8.8 ounces
- Red night vision mode
- 3-level power meter shows remaining battery life for three seconds after switching on headlamp
- IPX8 waterproofing
- PowerTap technology
- Less battery life than competitors
Considering the beam performance and battery life, $40 is an excellent value for this light.
Nite Ize Inova STS
The Nite Ize Inova STS is an inexpensive dual-light headlamp with decent visibility and an easy to use strap that is also waterproof and uses a “swipe” on and off. Its waterproof & will stay safe from head sweat in the summer and safe from rain in the winter. It is a battery operated LED headlamp with Swipe-to-Shine™ technology. The INOVA STS headlamp is both durable and dependable for hands free lighting in any condition.
Power - 1 white high power LED featuring 5 modes (high, variable dim, medium, strobe and lockout)
Batteries - 3 x AAA alkaline replaceable batteries
Dimensions - 7 x 5 x 2 inches
Weight - 4 ounces
- Swipe-to-Shine, touch-activated interface
- Five lighting modes
- Waterproof to one meter (IPX-7 standard)
- Impact-resistant polycarbonate body
- Loose headband
- The touch control isn’t great
This headlamp makes brilliant hands-free illumination simple, versatile and comfortable. Its lightweight body, high-quality woven strap and waterproof construction makes this adjustable head lamp an indispensable lighting tool anywhere high-quality hands-free illumination is needed.
Snow Peak SnowMiner
The Snow Peak SnowMiner is an incredibility creative piece of equipment that serves two functions – a headlamp and a lantern. This is achieved by the silicone diffuser that sits on the front of the light. It takes seconds to do and is extremely simple. The SnowMiner’s smart design allows the lens to be easily removed with a single hand, converting to an amazing ambient light spanning 180 degrees.
Power - Single LED
Batteries - 3 x AAA Alkaline batteries
Dimensions - 10 x 4 x 3 inches
Weight - 9.4 ounces
- Single LED operates on high, low, variable and strobe
- Low battery indicator
- Converts from headlamp (focused light) to lantern (ambient light) in a single action
- No red light
- Silicone diffuser can become permanently dirty
- Bulb isn’t replaceable
The multi-function, sleek design and long battery life are all included with the SnowMiner. Use it to light up the trail or your tent.
Petzl Tikka RXP
This headlamp is hightech and powerful for dynamic activities and gives an ideal amount of light whether you're running, climbing, hiking, backpacking, skiing, fishing, or camping. The Reactive lighting mode uses a light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness & the headlamp also works like conventional headlamps with low, medium, and high levels. The housing is water-resistant and you can also tilt it to get the best angle along with the best brightness.
Light source - 2 LED & 1 Red
Batteries - Rechargeable 1800 mAh Lithium-Ion battery
Dimensions - 6 x 5 x 3 inches
Weight - 1 pound
- Reactive Lighting Technology
- Three lighting levels available
- Dual buttons with power at top and cycles at side
- Low battery life
The Tikka RXP multi-beam headlamp offers 215 lumen brightness. It’s compact and USB rechargeable, making it ideal for dynamic, energetic activities. If you’re looking for a high-powered, but lightweight headlamp, the Petzl Tikka RXP is an excellent choice for your needs.
Princeton Tec Corona
The Princeton Tec Corona impresses with an eight-LED array powered by three AA batteries. It’s perfect for hikers and campers who want an efficient floodlight-style LED headlamp that also supports semi-technical nighttime navigation. Corona is versatile and easy-to-use. It’s designed to reduce eye fatigue; the Corona’s wide beam eliminates the need for your eyes to adjust quickly from very bright to dark areas, as they do with standard, narrow beam lights.
Light source - LED
Dimensions - 8 x 5 x 2.2 inches
Weight - 10.4 ounces
- Durable nylon head strap
- 10,000 hours of bulb life
- Bright flood / area light
- Emergency / flashing signal modes
- Slightly heavy
It’s a great hands-free lighting choice to satisfy all of your outdoor, work and personal lighting needs.
The Fenix HP25 Headlamp puts you in charge as conditions change with 20 distinct lighting patterns. It features a heat sink for excellent thermal management / heat dissipation, whilst the built-in mode memory circuit remembers your last used lighting level for each lamp unit. It comes with two dedicated light sources combining with an individual control system to deliver flood and spot combinations up to 360 lumens from 4 AAA batteries.
Light source - 1 LED
Batteries - 4 AAA batteries
Dimensions - 2 x 3 x 2 inches
Weight - 8 oz.
- Multiple output options
- IPX-6 Waterproof
- Tilt gearing is of poor quality
- Heavy with limited battery life at max power
When an overabundance of light is what you want, the Fenix HP25 should be on your list.
Black Diamond Icon
This headlamp is Black Diamond's most powerful headlamp for alpinists, climbers, and other explorers. It comes with multiple LEDs, including a powerful 320-lumen QuadPower LED for lighting up to three hundred feet of darkness. It’s powered with five modes, so you're sure to find the perfect mode for every activity and condition you get yourself into
Light source - 1 LED
Dimensions - 5 x 4 x 5 inches
Weight - 13.6 oz.
- Single Quad Power LED spotlight, 2 Single Power white LEDs and 2 Single Power red LEDs
- 3-level power meter
- Red LEDs have separately controlled proximity and strobe settings
- Heavy, bulky and expensive
It's waterproof to 1 m, it’s ready for everything your adventure might entail. It's great for professionals, search teams and adventure racers. Independent red LEDs let you switch lighting to read charts or maps without impeding your night vision.
There is always a chance that even a well-planned hike may end up taking much longer time than anticipated (due to weather, injuries, blocked trails, etc.) and stretch beyond sunset. This makes it crucial that you bring a headlamp in your backpack so you don’t end up being stuck in nature in pitch-black. It also gives you possibility for planning activities in the dark, whether it is star-gazing away from city lights, taking a run after sunset or simply getting an early before-sunrise start of your hiking trip.