How to Choose the Best Headlamp

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No matter what your favorite outdoor pursuits may be, there is a small piece of gear that should be found in every pack. That would be a headlamp.

While some people are better at seeing at night than others, that does not compete with the fact that we as humans are just not built for exploring at night.

The use of a headlamp circumvents this natural inability and allows us to take our adventures into the still of the evening with the stability of having our hands completely free.

Headlamps are lighter in weight than your average flashlight, are more versatile in their ability to meet your intended uses and come with a huge variety of modes and brightness that will help you take your next nighttime adventure to the next level.

Here we are going to look at the most important factors that make up the best headlamps and how to compare these features with the needs you have within your intended use. So, let’s get to it!

Top 5 Best Headlamps

PRODUCTDESCRIPTION 
Best HeadlampBlack Diamond Spot325 Headlamp
-Weight: 3 oz.
-Lumens: 160
-Long Lasting
-Bright
-Comfortable
-Waterproof
-Battery Life Reader
-Lock Feature
Check Price
Best HeadlampBioLite Rechargeable Headlamp
-Weight: 2.4 oz.
-Lumens: 330
-Rechargeable
-Bright
-Compact
-Comfortable
-Battery life reader
-Lockable
Check Price
Best HeadlampLightess LED Waterproof Rechargeable Headlamp
-Weight: 9.6 oz.
-Lumens: 6000
-Waterproof
-4 Modes
-Adjustable Head
-Rechargeable
Check Price
Best HeadlampNitecore NU25 360 Lumen Triple Output Headlamp
-Weight: 1 oz.
-Lumens: 360
-Ultralight
-Compact
-Rechargeable
-Waterproof
-Fast Charging
Check Price
Best HeadlampPetzl-Actik Core Headlamp
-Weight: 2.9 oz.
-Lumens: 350
-Rechargeable
-Bright
-Performance Lighting
-Water Resistant
Check Price

Quick Answer: Best Headlamp


Tips For Choosing the Best Headlamp


Consider Battery Life

David Stock at the Darvaza gas crater Turkmenistan

The battery life of your headlamp is probably one of the most crucial attributes to consider. The battery life is measured in hours making it much easier to properly gauge exactly how long you can expect your headlamp to produce usable light at a distance of 2 meters.

That being said, when manufacturers test the total run-time, they do so at the lowest possible setting. That means it is more of a statement on the longest run-time possible versus routine performance. 

Choosing options that come with lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are usually the best bang for your buck. This is because these batteries work better, last longer, and are stronger than most all disposable batteries you can find at the store.

Plus, they will save you money in the long run when you consider the cost of replacing batteries these days. However, if you are running your headlamp only on maximum brightness alkaline batteries actually have a longer duration. 

Lumens Power

Camping night shot - best headlamp

A headlamps lumens are a unit of measurement that quantifies how much light is being put out by a light source in all directions. The standard range you will currently find on the market is between 15 and 500+ lumens.

The higher the lumens, the brighter the light. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. The intensity of the light is also directly related to how the manufacturer focuses and directs that light on its source.

So, if you have a high lumen headlamp, but it has a very broad range of vision, it may not be as extreme as another headlamp with the same lumens and a more direct field of vision. 

Also, it is important to note that higher lumens also means the headlamp will consume energy at a higher rate than those with lower lumens. This will give you shorter battery life and the lumens will decrease with the battery power.

That is why if you are using your headlamp to set up camp, run at dusk or other less crucial uses it is perfectly acceptable to use a headlamp in the 100-200 lumen range.

But, if you are needing extreme illumination in pitch-black darkness to find your footing and prevent exposure to serious hazards like when caving, or climbing you definitely want a range of 300-500+ lumens. 

Beam Types/Modes

Headlamp under a starry sky

Most standard headlamps are going to come with two modes: floodlight and spotlight. These are the basic types that give you either a focused view or a wider-spaced out area of light.

When you move into the higher end headlamps you are going to run into quite a few modes that may be helpful depending on the activity. 

  • Strobe: This feature usually comes in red or white lights that act as an emergency beacon should the need arise. It also preserves battery so you will have longer signaling time.
  • Boost or Zoom: This is a less common feature, that allows you to adjust your beam to high intensity focused ray of light for a short period of time. This is mostly used for seeing long distances or trying to decipher a specific landmark or object.
  • Low, Medium & High levels: A headlamp with these levels allows you to perfectly adjust to each given situation with just a few clicks or taps.
  • Red light mode: This mode is often used when you do not want to pollute the area with two much white light. These are best for viewing wildlife in the dark or to avoid disturbing other sleeping campers if you need to dig through your pack. 

Beam Distance

night camping shot

While lumens indicate how much light is put out at the source, the beam distance refers to the number of meters your headlamp can project usable light to illuminate a source.

Keep in mind that the higher the beam distance is, the faster your battery will deplete.

If you are a backpacker who plans to generally set up camp before dark and simply need a headlamp for finding our way around camp after dark or those what-if scenarios, a long-distance beam may be a bit of an overkill. 

Water Resistance Levels

best headlamp at night

As with all outdoor gear and apparel, water-resistance must be taken into consideration. Headlamps have their own rating system known as its IPX rating. The IP stands for “ingress protection” and the X indicates that there is no dust rating.

So, for example, if you find yourself with a lower-end headlamp with an IPX-0 rating you can expect that there is no level of water resistance, and any form of moisture can potentially muck up the electrical components. 

A good middle ground is to look for headlamps with an IPX rating of 4-7. An IPX-4 rating means that the headlamp can stand up against a few splashes or light rain, but cannot be fully submerged without issue.

An IPX-7 rating, on the other hand, means that the headlamp can withstand being submerged in up to 3 feet of water for around thirty minutes before things begin to get wonky. So, it is important to gauge how likely you are to be exposed to water why using your headlamp and choose the appropriate IPX rating. 

Additional Features to Consider

Person shining headlamp at sunrise

It is pretty impressive how many features manufacturers have managed to pump into such a small gear item throughout the years.

Almost all of these features serve a great purpose, but it will just be a matter of personal preference if you want to spend the extra cash to be able to utilize them.

Here are a few features you may find listed while looking for the best headlamp. 

  • Tilt feature: We love this feature as it allows you to tilt the spotlight up and down without having to move your head. This is great for increasing your field of vision beyond your normal up and down head movements.
  • Dimmer function: A dimmer function is great for battery longevity and avoiding angry neighbors if you need to move around in the middle of the night. However, a red light mode will give you similar functionality.
  • Light sensors/Auto-adjusting beam: This is a feature only found in some of the highest-end headlamps currently on the market. It allows for your headlamp to adjust based on the light that is being bounced back to the sensor. This feature gives you a truly hands-free experience and is great for caving or climbing at night.
  • Lockout feature: There is nothing worse than pulling out your headlamp in a time of need just to find out it is dead from accidentally turning on while it was sloshing around your pack. The lockout feature prevents this concern with a specific locking/unlocking mechanism. 

What is Your Intended Activity?

Biking with a headlamp at night

Now that we have the lingo down and a stronger understanding of what the best headlamps feature, it is time to breakdown this information and sees what is really important based on the activities you intend to take part in!

  • Running: Many runners enjoy running in the early morning hours when the weather is cooler and a headlamp is required. In this situation, weight and high beam distance should be your main concerns. You don’t want something that is bulky and awkward when you are trying to get in the zone and you also want to be able to clearly see the path in front of you for as far as you can.
  • Camping/Backpacking: If you are tossing your headlamp in your backpack for a weekend trip or an epic thru-hike you will definitely want something that can stand up to the terrain. Here water resistance, rechargeable batteries and a red light mode are key. This is because you can never predict the weather and on those long trips you want to be able to keep things illuminated while not disturbing other campers or lugging around extra sets of batteries. It probably wouldn’t hurt to add in a lockout feature as well.
  • Climbing: Here you may want to think about a tilt feature as you likely won’t have the full range of motion for your head. An auto-adjusting beam may also be a good consideration. 

Best Headlamp Recommendations


Black Diamond Spot325 Headlamp

black diamond headlamp

For midweek dawn patrols, all-night approaches, or just big climbing objectives that push beyond daylight, the Black Diamond Spot325 has 325 lumens of power, now housed in a smaller, more efficient design.

With a new, compact body, the Spot325 has been redesigned with a lower profile for better balance and is more ergonomic for added comfort.

We’ve also updated the user interface by adding a second switch for easy lens mode selection. In addition, the updated optical efficiency not only provides brighter light with more peak intensity but also saves battery life that you can now easily track with a six-setting, three-LED battery meter. 

SPECS:

  • Weight: 3 oz.
  • Lumens: 325
  • Long-Lasting
  • Bright
  • Comfortable
  • Waterproof
  • Battery Life Reader
  • Lock Feature

Check Black Diamond Spot325 Headlamp price at Amazon


BioLite Rechargeable Headlamp

Biolite headlamp

Experience top-tier performance with a fit, unlike any headlamp you’ve experienced thanks to our proprietary 3D SlimFit Construction. With a front profile of only 9mm and weighing only 2.4oz., the headlamp sits flush on the forehead without the worry of bounce or slippage.

Moisture-wicking fabric keeps you cool and dry for any activity and the rechargeable battery means you can leave the alkalines behind.

SPECS:

  • Weight: 2.4 oz.
  • Lumens: 330
  • Rechargeable
  • Bright
  • Compact
  • Comfortable
  • Battery life reader
  • Lockable

Check BioLite Rechargeable HeadLamp price at Amazon


Lightess LED Waterproof Rechargeable Headlamp

Lightess headlamp

The Lightess Headlamp has 4 Modes, is waterproof and offers a moving capability in the headlamp. Great waterproof material and switch make this headlamp safe to use even on rainy or snowy days. Composed of high quality and leakage-resistant durable aluminum alloy crust.

The view angle of the light is 90°Adjustable, so you won’t be tired when you with this headlamp. With 6000 lumens you will have super brightness to make your night travel more bright and safe. Easily recharge with the provided wall or car charger.

SPECS:

  • Weight: 9.6 oz.
  • Lumens: 6000
  • Waterproof
  • 4 Modes
  • 3 separate lights
  • Adjustable Head
  • Rechargeable

Check Lightess LED Waterproof Rechargeable Headlamp price at Amazon


Nitecore NU25 360 Lumen Triple Output Headlamp

Nightcore headlamp

The NITECORE NU25 utilizes three light sources (white, red and high CRI) to create a versatile and lightweight headlamp you’ll find endless uses for.

A powerful CREE XP-G2 S3 LED capable of 360 lumens and an 88-yard throw serves as the main output and is useful for outdoor activities like running, cycling, hiking, and camping.

There’s also an auxiliary red LED that helps preserve night vision for nighttime photography, map reading and stargazing while an auxiliary high CRI LED produces a warm, flood beam ideal for up-close reading and detail work. Dual switches located on the top of the unit provide easy access to the main and auxiliary lights.

SPECS:

  • Weight: 1 oz.
  • Lumens: 360
  • Ultralight
  • Red LED
  • Compact
  • Rechargeable
  • Waterproof
  • Fast-Charging

Check Nitecore NU25 360 Lumen Triple Output Headlamp price at Amazon


Petzl-Actik Core Headlamp

Petzl-Actik Core Headlamp

The rechargeable Actik core headlamp offers 350 lumens of power which, combined with its mixed beam, makes it ideal for outdoor activities like mountaineering, running, hiking and backpacking.

A hybrid headlamp that comes with a battery that is rechargeable via standard USB port. It is compatible with standard batteries without the need for an adapter.

Red lighting preserves night vision and prevents blinding other members of the group. Its reflective headband helps you to be seen when a light is shone on it and is equipped with an emergency whistle for rescue situations.

SPECS:

  • Weight: 2.9 oz.
  • Lumens: 350
  • Rechargeable
  • Bright
  • Red lighting optional
  • Performance Lighting
  • Water-Resistant

Check Petzl-Actik Core Headlamp price at Amazon


Stargazing in Africa - best headlamp

Not finding what you are looking for? Check out our favorite places to go shopping for travel gear.

  • Shop Columbia – The industry leader in outdoor apparel and products; You can find anything from great jackets, gloves, hats, shirts and travel pants.
  • Shop REI – They offer some of the best outdoor gear around. We love REI since they have a year Love it or hate it no questions guarantee.
  • Shop Moosejaw – Has a huge selection of outdoor gear at killer prices.

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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.



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