A good headlamp is an essential backpacking or camping item. A headlamp is great for finding small items in a crowded backpack and ensuring a safe trip out of your tent to use the restroom in the middle of the night.
Headlamps also come in handy to light up hard-to-see places when working on your car or trying to find that lonesome box of family memorabilia that you stored in the crawl space under the house 10 years ago.
Fortunately, there are many amazing headlamps to choose from today. Our list of the Top Ten Headlamps will help you narrow down your options and our extensive Buyer’s Guide will guide you to a headlamp that’s perfect for you!
1. Black Diamond Spot
A great, affordable option for anyone looking for a low-profile, high-performance headlamp, the Black Diamond Spot fits comfortably on your head and can chill around your neck when not in use.
The headlamp features one triple power LED, one single power white LED, and one single power red LED emit at a max setting of 200 lumens. It’s also waterproof and protected against water immersion down to about 3.3 feet for up to 30 minutes. This awesome headlamp is powered by three AAA batteries and includes a three-level power meter that displays the remaining battery life.
2. Petzl NAO Plus
One of the most technologically advanced headlamps out there, the Petzl NAO+ is perfect for anyone who wants the next headlamp they buy to be the last headlamp you’ll ever buy. A lithium-ion, rechargeable, 2600 mAh battery that charges via USB port powers this headlamp.
This 700 lumens headlamp boasts reactive lighting technology that enhances visual quality because the luminosity and shape of the beam are automatically adjusted via a brightness sensor, which also serves to optimize battery life.
3. Shining Buddy LED
From Shining Buddy, this LED headlamp is great for handymen, mechanics, DIYers, runners, and more. It comes with four settings, including high beam, low beam, red beam, and red flashing. The lamp also swivels down 45 degrees for easy adjustability to a number of situations.
Powered by three AAA Duracell batteries that are included with your purchase, this headlamp also features a 110 lumens bulb that will last up to 100,000 hours. Finally, Shining Buddy offers a 90-day, no-questions-asked refund if, for any reason, you’re not satisfied with this lamp’s performance.
4. Coast HL7
The Coast HL7 headlamp is designed for the user that’s looking for the utmost in adjustability, as it features the Coast’s unique Pure Beam Focusing System. This system allows you to go from an ultra wide flood beam to a long reaching spot beam with transition halo with a simple twist of the bezel.
This headlamp is also powered by three AAA batteries (which are included) and it’s impact-resistant, weather-resistant, and “virtually unbreakable.” The light output can be adjusted from 4 to 285 lumens and the high beam reaching over 390 feet while the low beam still lights up objects at a distance of about 42 feet.
5. Princeton Tec Apex
A great option for anyone looking for a headlamp that they need to stay secure in position on their head, the Princeton Tec Apex offers a two-strap design made for security. This lamp also features a 350 lumens power with 1 Maxbright LED and 4 Ultrabright LEDs.
This headlamp is powered by 4 AA alkaline batteries, which are included. It offers an outstanding max burn time of 150 hours and weighs just 279 grams with batteries. It also boasts a waterproof and impact resistant design, four light levels, and an ever-important safety flash mode.
6. Black Diamond Icon
Another spectacular option from one of the most recognizable brands in headlamps, the Icon is perfect for those looking for a headlamp that’s durable enough to handle extremely wet or dusty environments.
This lamp offers one quad power LED spotlight and one double power white LED with maximum emit setting of 500 lumens. It also features 3 night vision settings (red, green, and blue) and a three-level power meters that show remaining battery life for three seconds after switching on headlamp.
7. Petzl ACTIK
Petzl is back again and struck gold with the ACTIK model. It’s the perfect headlamp for users that love a variety of outdoor activities, including mountaineering, running, hiking, and backpacking.
This multi-beam headlamp is specifically designed for proximity lighting, movement and distance vision. It is powered by three standard AAA batteries but is also compatible with the CORE rechargeable battery (1), which is sold separately.
8. Energizer Hard Case Rugged
This headlamp from Energizer is designed for construction workers or other that are going to put their headlamp “through the ringer.” The lamp’s adjustable, non-slip head strap fits helmets and hard hats, and this lamp can withstand drops from up to 2 stories high.
Powered by three Energizer MAX AA batteries, the powerful 350 lumens beam on this headlamp reaches up to 100 meters in high mode. It also features a pivoting head to direct the beam of light and can easily be switched from flood to spotlight mode.
9. Fenix HL60R
The Fenix HL60R should be your first choice for high altitude climbs, cave exploration, or extended backcountry trips. It utilizes a Cree XM-L2 T6 Neutral white LED that boasts an amazing lifespan of 50,000 hours.
This headlamp is powered by one 18650 rechargeable Lithium Ion battery or two CR123A batteries. It features a digitally regulated output that maintains constant brightness and reverse polarity protection to protect against improper battery installation. Fenix also makes a tactical flashlight and is a well liked flashlight.
10. OLight H2R Nova
This unique headlamp is an amazing option for anyone looking for superior flexibility. Unlike the other options in this article, this is both headlamp and a flashlight. The flashlight secures to a comfortable head strap via a magnetic mount and also wraps around the light for a firm hold.
With a maximum output of 2300 lumens, a single rechargeable 18650 battery powers this OLight headlamp and it also features a highly efficient Cree XHP50 LED and TIR (2) bead lens. The flashlight is easily recharged through the tail cap of the light using OLight’s signature mechanic charging cable.
Now that we’ve highlighted the best headlamps on the market, it’s time to examine the critical factors to selecting the right one for you. This Buyer’s Guide will focus on three major characteristics: brightness, battery life, and LED type.
This seems like an obvious first question, but it’s important to point out that higher lumens (3) don’t necessarily equate directly to higher quality. Lumens, in general, measure the amount of visible light a headlamp is capable of producing. Importantly, however, more visible light doesn’t mean more brightness and doesn’t take into account the quality of the light being produced.
In selecting a headlamp based on brightness, you should remember that you most likely wouldn’t be operating the lamp for extended periods of time at maximum brightness. This will drain the battery much more quickly than necessary.
In general, a headlamp with a range between 25 and 150 lumens will be great for around the campsite or on an easy night hike. When it comes to strenuous mountaineering or for detailed operations in zero-light settings, we recommend a lamp with 250 lumens or more.
Battery life is an important consideration because a headlamp without power is just about as useless as no headlamp at all. The difficult part about battery life, however, is that there can be a significant difference between figures reported by manufacturers and actual operation. Battery life can be influenced by the climate the headlamp is primarily used in, as well as the habits of the user.
Generally, we recommend headlamps with disposable batteries for hiking and backpacking, as these are often easier and more reliable to carry than a power bank or solar charger. However, if you’ll be using your headlamp on a daily basis and you have a place to charge it every night, then a headlamp with a rechargeable battery might be a good option.
Another factor to consider in this section is whether a headlamp is equipped with constant lighting technology. This technology provides steady brightness even when the battery is low, which can ultimately shorten battery life. Headlamps without this technology tend to provide poor illumination when battery levels become low, so there are pros and cons to both types.
Every headlamp buyer and user should know about the three common types of LED: spot, flood, and red lights. Almost all headlamps offer a standard spot beam, but some include a number of options that are better for different situations.
Spot beams focus light and allow you to look further down a trail or to pick out objects and features at a distance. Flood lights are better for items nearby and are most often used in and around a campsite. Finally, red lights are great to see objects up close when you don’t want to disturb the eyes of those around you, especially when stargazing. Red lights also function well as emergency or visible light.
Frequently Asked Questions
Headlamps aren’t particularly complicated, but knowing more about the elements that go into them, as well as maintenance, will help you make the best choice. Our list of Frequently Asked Questions will teach you all there is to know about headlamps.
Can LED bulbs be replaced?
No. But fortunately LED bulbs have no filament and are made of super-strong resin, so the likelihood of them breaking or burning out is extremely small.
Do rechargeable batteries last forever?
Unfortunately no. While rechargeable batteries have a much longer life than most traditional alkaline batteries, they still have a useful life. In general, the more times a rechargeable battery is used the more likely it will be to lose the ability to hold a charge. Most rechargeable batteries will last for 500 to 1000 charges or approximately two to three years.
Is there such thing as too many lumens?
While the short answer is no (check out this “Lotta Lumens Light” (4)), there is no reason to overpay for extra lumens if they are not going to serve a useful purpose. If you’re using your lamp primarily for camping, for example, 1000 lumens will more likely annoy your neighbors rather than actually be useful.
What does regulated output mean?
Regulated output guarantees that the light from your headlamp won’t dim as batteries drain. This is also known as “constant lighting technology” and is a popular feature in today’s headlamps. The downside of this feature is that you won’t have a warning before your headlamp suddenly goes dark.
Are there benefits of the red light mode?
Many models offer a red light in addition to a brighter LED. Red light is especially useful for nighttime use because it does not cause our pupils to shrink the way white light can.
Should I get a headlamp with a top strap?
While this is largely a matter of personal preference, some people find top straps uncomfortable. They do provide stability when included, and are also great for headlamps with external battery packs, as they tend to redistribute the weight from the battery pack back towards the forehead.
What is reactive lighting technology?
Primarily offered in Petzl headlamps, this technology combines a light sensor in headlamps to make a really nice quality of light. The sensor measures the amount of light coming back into the headlamp. If it senses more light coming back, it reduces the amount of light coming out of the headlamp. If it senses less light coming back, then vice versa.
What do the water resistance ratings mean?
Many headlamps with boast a waterproof rating. These range from IPX-0 to IPX-8. IPX-0 essentially means no water protection. A little bit of rain can cause these headlamps to short and become useless. IPX-8, the other extreme, means these headlamps have been designed to handle submersion for more than 30 minutes in at least 2 meters of water. However, buyers should always check with the manufacturer for exact details on a headlamp’s water resistance.
Having a good headlamp on hand for your next hiking, backpacking, or mountaineering trip is essential! They are an essential item in a bug out bag or tactical backpack. We hope you’ve found the information on headlamps here successful and we wish you happy shopping for your next headlamp!