CAMPING & HIKING

Best Headlamp: Stay Lit and Aware

Headlamps
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

When you’re out in the wilderness, you can’t carry all of the modern conveniences with you, but it’s important that you’ll be able to see when you’re moving around at night. Rough terrain can make it difficult for you to stay upright, and an injury isn’t what you want when you’re far away from a hospital. Instead, you can make things easier for you by investing in the best headlamp for your needs.

You may think that you will be able to accomplish the same things with a flashlight or your cellphone, but there are very real advantages to using a headlamp. You can use both hands when you’re taking care of certain tasks instead of having to fumble around with just one. This is especially good for when you’re climbing or need to carry heavy objects. You can have more direct light where you need it without having to bear your flashlight in your teeth.

Headlamp review

Having a headlamp at your disposal certainly makes traveling, hiking and setting up camp a lot easier to deal with, allowing you to stay alert and having your hands free for whatever problems you need to tackle in that moment. So exactly what features should you be looking for? This article is going to show you the key elements of a good headlamp that you should consider.

Our Top Picks

Product nameWeightLumensBest usePrice
Fenix HP258 ounces340CavingCheck price on Amazon
Black Diamond ReVolt10.4 ounces130Camping and urban useCheck price on Amazon
Coast HL74.5 ounces285Nighttime outdoor activitiesCheck price on Amazon
Black Diamond Storm6.4 ounces250Nighttime outdoor activitiesCheck price on Amazon
Yalumi Professional LED2.8 ounces120Nighttime outdoor activitiesCheck price on Amazon
Petzl – NAO6.6 ounces575CavingCheck price on Amazon
Petzl – e+LITE0.9 ounce26Camping and urban useCheck price on Amazon
Zebralight H52w AA2.9 ounces280Nighttime outdoor activitiesCheck price on Amazon
Princeton Tec Apex LED8 ounces275CavingCheck price on Amazon
Energizer Vision LED8.8 ounces80Camping and urban useCheck price on Amazon

Things to consider before buying

When it comes to finding the best headlamp, it’s a good idea to know what they come equipped with. There is a wide range of features that can make or break a sale, depending on your needs, while some features are just there as an added benefit to your experience.

Performance

In order to determine how well your headlamp is going to run, you need to look at three very important things: lumens, beam distance, and battery run-time. However, you should take any information you research with a grain of salt, as many manufacturers overestimate the amount of lumens of their bulbs as well as the run time of the batteries.

Headlamp features

Naturally, the larger the number of lumens, the brighter the headlamp will be. However, this isn’t the only thing that determines how well you see. The best headlamps have better optics, meaning that they provide smoother and more even lights that make it easier for you to see everything around, and not just where the end of the light beam is. And this is achieved by looking at the beam length. You’d be surprised at just how far the beam can go.

Beam Length

Many headlamps will list two beam lengths: one for spotlight mode and another for floodlight mode. The former is the one you should really pay attention to, as it tells what the maximum distance of the beam is.

Floodlight feature is a very wide beam that helps you to see things that are nearby. These are good for close-proximity use, and offer a dim setting so that you’re not blinding the people around you.

High-lumens-led-headlamp

Spotlight feature is the feature you need when you’re looking at something far away. A majority of the headlamps in the market that are more than $30 will have a spotlight mode that will provide you with a very long light beam. This focused bright beam can shine as far as the length of a football field, and the more expensive models are even further.

Many headlamps come with a red LED light mode in order to help your eyes adjust more quickly to darkness when your headlamp is turned off. Another great use for these LEDs is for emergency situations (they come with flashing modes). When using the red LED, the battery life is also extended much longer, as it doesn’t require as much power as the other modes.

Waterproof

Being waterproof is essential for the wilderness, as you never know when a spot of rain is going to come by to ruin your day. Not only rain, but your headlamp may fall off and get submerged in a body of water, and you need to know whether it will still work once you fish it out. Not all headlamps will be watertight, but many of them will be waterproof against rain and light snow.

Type of Battery

Not only does the kind of the battery determine how much power your bulb will receive, but it also dictates how many extras you’ll need to bring with you on your trip. Many of these headlamps do work with rechargeable batteries, but you should expect that they’re not going to be as bright as normal alkaline or button batteries.

Headlamp battery

The battery run-time is only an estimation as the manufacturers likely ran their headlamp on the lower power mode in order to achieve a longer rating of battery time. The more you use the higher-powered modes, the less battery time there is, meaning that you may run out of juice long before the specified time on the packaging.

Durability

Headlamps are designed to be tougher and more water resistant than flashlights, given the method of carrying it around. And because they’re mostly designed for outdoor work, they’re likely to take more punishment than an ordinary flashlight.

You want a headlamp that is durable. This means that the cheapest ones you find just aren’t going to cut it. Cheap materials aren’t going to withstand the rigors of bad weather, being tossed around in a backpack, and the treatment of sweat and sun throughout your camping trip. Dust is also a big hazard that can affect how your headlamp functions, so look for ones that are dust-tight.

Fit

You want to know that your headlamp will fit properly. Many of them use elastic in the headbands so that they can easily fit whatever head size and shape the wearer has. Some of these even have buckles so that they can be adjusted to fit smaller heads.

Headlamp for every activity

Headlamps are actually a bit smaller than rugged flashlights, and they typically weigh less than an ounce in order to avoid neck strain of the wearer, but it’s still a good idea to try them out first in a sporting goods store to see how they feel, especially with the weight of the battery pack on it. After all, you might be wearing your headlamp for an extended period of time, so it’s important to know that you can withstand wearing it without irritation or neck strain.

Tilt

When you’re moving around, you want to be able to point your headlamp where you need it to be without straining your neck. Headlamps that allow you to tilt and move the lights themselves are definitely a better option over those that don’t, as you’ll have more versatility in where your beam is pointed.

Best products on today’s market

Now that you’re aware of what’s out there and what to look for, here is a short list of some of the best headlamps in the market. This list is by no means exhaustive, so feel free to shop outside of these top ten to find the one that is right for your purposes.

Fenix HP25 HeadlampFenix HP25 Headlamp

Price: Approximately $250

Weight: 8 ounces

Lumens: 340

Specific features: Waterproof, 525-foot beam, choice between which bulb to use, rugged and comfortable design

Best use: Great for outdoor use such as caving thanks to its durability and bright light

Fenix HP25 Headlamp is probably one of the brightest lamps you’ll find on the market. It uses 4 AA batteries in order to fully power the batteries, and that can make it a bit heavier than other headlamps.

On high mode, it can last roughly about 2 hours, which is enough for you to take care of those important tasks in pitch-black darkness. Some assembly is required once you get your headlamp in the mail, but once you’ve got it together, it’s ready to go when you are.

PROS:

  • One of the brightest headlamps
  • Durable, will withstand rough treatment
  • Easy to adjust the control, even when you’re wearing gloves
  • Great floodlight and spotlight

CONS:

  • On the heavy side
  • Expensive
  • Head straps are a bit too short

Related: In case you are going to stay in the wild for quite a while and you’re worried that the Fenix HP25 Headlamp will run out of power before your trip ends, purchase these Panasonic K-KJ17KHCA4A Eneloop Pro Individual Cell Battery Charger so that you’ll have replacements on hand.

Check the price on Amazon

Black Diamond ReVolt HeadlampBlack Diamond ReVolt Headlamp

Price: Approximately $80

Weight: 10.4 ounces

Lumens: 130

Specific features: One Triple Power LED, two single power white LEDs and two single power red LEDs, strobe and red night-vision modes, battery-life meter, easy to use

Best use: Great for walking around the tent at night, but not bright enough for caves

One of the more affordable headlamps on the market, the Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp uses 2 AAA batteries and is fully rechargeable, so you can minimize how many batteries you throw away. It uses a USB adapter to do the charging, which you may already have with the other electronic devices you’ve brought with you, so that means fewer cords to shove into your backpack.

It does have a medium-length beam, but it performs solidly no matter the conditions. The life meter also tells you how full the batteries are when charging and how much juice is left when it’s in use. Definitely a handy feature to have that takes out all the guess work.

PROS:

  • Rechargeable battery, environmentally friendly
  • A well-made and sturdy build
  • Battery display

CONS:

  • Floodlight and spotlight are mediocre
  • Not bright enough for extremely dark places such as caves
  • A bit difficult to adjust thanks to the way the buttons are placed

Related: Although the batteries for Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp are rechargeable, it does not mean that you’ll be able to use them forever. When the time comes to replace the battery, you should purchase the original Black Diamond AAA Rechargeable Battery.

Check the price on Amazon

Coast HL7 Focusing HeadlampCoast HL7 Focusing Headlamp

Price: Approximately $30

Weight: 4.5 ounces

Lumens: 285

Specific features: 119-meter beam, pouch, easy to use, great brightness, rechargeable

Best use: Great for short excursions in extremely dark places, but battery is not strong enough to withstand cave-hopping

At this price, you’ll be surprised at how bright it really is. Coast HL7 Focusing Headlamp is definitely a headlamp you should consider on your list of fundamentals if it’s your first time camping, and you’re looking to save some money.

Unfortunately, the battery life is pretty short, running on only 3 AAA batteries, but you can extend this by running it on the lower-power option. It’s very easy to use, with only a power button, and a dial to choose the power setting, so there’s no confusion on how to make this headlamp work.

PROS:

  • Cheap
  • Light is sufficiently bright
  • Nicely adjustable. Lights can be dimmed to preserve the battery

CONS:

  • Short battery life
  • Feels bulky around the head
  • Not very durable

Related: If the short battery life of Coast HL7 Focusing Headlamp is a major problem to you, consider purchasing Mifine LED Headlamp instead. They come with a similar price tag but Mifine LED Headlamp’s battery is rechargeable and infinitely more long-lasting.

Check the price on Amazon

Black Diamond Storm HeadlampBlack Diamond Storm Headlamp

Price: Approximately $55

Weight: 6.4 ounces

Lumens: 250

Specific features: 1 quad power LED and 1 double power white LED, power tap technology, red and green single power LEDs for night vision modes, power meter, waterproof

Best use: Great for most nighttime outdoor activities but not bright enough for caving

Sporting 4 AAA batteries, Black Diamond Storm Headlamp is extremely bright. It is one of the more durable headlamps made by Black Diamond, but is a bit heavier than the other models of headlamps manufactured by this company.

It’s very good at finding trails, which is definitely worth the extra cost. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a headlamp that’s too dim for you to see. Some users have reported that the headband strap is a bit uncomfortable, due to one of the buckles facing inward, so keep that in mind if you’re considering this as your go-to headlamp.

PROS:

  • The brightness is easily adjustable with just a tap of your finger
  • Comes with a lock button to keep it from accidentally flicking on
  • Great customer support with lifetime warranty

CONS:

  • A bit heavy
  • Doesn’t fit comfortably around the head

Related: If you’d prefer a headlamp that comes at a similar price but is equipped with rechargeable battery, Nitecore HC30 1000 Lumens CREE XM-L2 U2 LED is the answer. This headlamp is even powerful enough for cave-exploring.

Check the price on Amazon

Yalumi Professional LED HeadlampYalumi LED Headlamp Spark Professional

Price: Approximately $20

Weight: 2.8 ounces

Lumens: 120

Specific features: Bright, affordable, easy to use, 4 red-white modes, lightweight and compact

Best use: Great for most nighttime outdoor activities, but a bit too bright for indoors even when dimmed

It uses 3 AAA batteries, making it easy for you to carry spares with you. Which is a very good thing, as Yalumi Professional LED Headlamp is quite bright and is going to need all the juice it can get its hands on.

It’s definitely one of the lightest headlamps in this list, making it easy to pack into a backpack, as well as wearing. You won’t feel overburdened with this on your head, and provides excellent illumination of the path in front of you.

PROS:

  • Very affordable
  • Both floodlight and spotlight work nicely
  • The lights are bright
  • Very lightweight
  • Useful dual beam function

CONS:

  • The headstrap fits a bit loose, so you may need to readjust it every so often
  • Tends to make loud clicking noises when being adjusted
  • Waterproof, but only to a certain level of submersion

Related: If Yalumi LED Headlamp Spark Professional is not cheap enough for you, the LED Headlamp Yalumi Spark, Lightweight is even cheaper. It offers most of the same functions, just perhaps a little less bright.

Check the price on Amazon

Petzl – NAO HeadlampPetzl – NAO Headlamp

Price: Approximately $160

Weight: 6.6 ounces

Lumens: 575

Specific features: Rechargeable, sleek design, Reactive Technology, uses both alkaline and lithium batteries, bright

Best use: Great for when your hands are too occupied to adjust the lights thanks to the automatic adjustment function

When it comes to light quality and great optics, Petzl – NAO Headlamp is the best one you can find. It has a light quality that makes it very easy to find your trails, no matter how dark it gets.

This is because of the added feature of reactive lighting: there’s a light sensor that adjusts the beam strength in order to have an ever distribution of light throughout the beam. This is supposed to extend the battery life by not using the power that isn’t needed, but this feature can sometimes end up being a hindrance.

Around other light sources, the sensor will detect these and you may find your beam flickering. And because of the extra light sensor, you end up consuming just as much battery power in keeping this feature going. However, for the even brightness offered, it’s definitely one to consider.

PROS:

  • Very bright
  • Comes with a wide range of additional features
  • Automatic light adjustment
  • Works both with AAA batteries and rechargeable batteries

CONS:

  • Expensive
  • The extra features drain energy

Related: If you don’t feel comfortable wearing the NAO around your head, all you have to do is purchase this Petzl Nao Belt Extension Cable and you’ll be able to wear it around your waist. It’s a great addition, although a bit expensive.

Check the price on Amazon

Petzl – e+LITE HeadlampPetzl eLITE Headlamp

Price: Approximately $25

Weight: 0.9 ounces

Lumens: 26

Specific features: Resists extreme temperatures (-30 ° C to +60 ° C), waterproof, red LED lighting, ultra-compact, ultra-light, retractable cord

Best use: A good replacement for a flashlight when hiking and great for urban emergencies

The smallest and lightest headlamp you can find on the market. Petzl – e+LITE Headlamp is good to keep around the home in emergencies, or if you need a backup when your bulkier headlamps run out of juice. It only uses 2 button batteries, and can be stored with said batteries for at least 10 years and still work!

It comes with strobing features that can be used in emergency situations, and the light is affixed on a ball joint that can be rotated 360 degrees, giving you a lot of versatility in very small corners. And for when you’re tired of wearing it on your head, the retractable cord allows you to wear the light on your wrist instead, so you can still keep your hands free while you work.

PROS:

  • Very affordable
  • Does what it should with small lumens
  • Rotatable light
  • Very long battery life
  • Very lightweight

CONS:

  • Not bright enough for really dark places
  • Headstrap does not fit nicely enough

Related: Since the e+LITE lamp comes with lithium battery, one should be enough to last for years on end. But once it runs out, you’ll have to replace it. It’s best to stock up on this Energizer 2032 Battery CR2032 Lithium 3v for easy replacement.

Check the price on Amazon

Zebralight H52w AA HeadlampZebralight H52w AA Headlamp

Price: Approximately $90

Weight: 2.9 ounces

Lumens: 280

Specific features: Waterproof, over-discharging protection, various beam types, compact, lightweight

Best use: Great for most of everything save for long-distance caving because of the battery life

Zebralight H52w AA Headlamp is quite compact and very bright, but it does suffer a bit from poor battery life as it uses a single AA battery. It’s very good at finding paths, and the floodlight feature for close-proximity works well in maneuvering around your campsite in the dark.

It sports a single button, but the number and depth of presses can give you access to a number of different functions, such as the strobe and varying beam types. It can be troublesome to remember them all, but practice with the headlamp will have you using it like a pro in no time.

PROS:

  • Easy to adjust – control is designed ingeniously but needs some time to get used to
  • Lightweight
  • Bright light with a great color that’s not affected by the temperature
  • Made from long-lasting materials, such as silicone instead of plastic
  • Very durable

CONS:

  • Short battery life
  • On the expensive side

Related: The short battery life of Zebralight H52w is its only caveat, but it can be easily fixed by stocking up on Panasonic K-KJ17MCA4BA Advanced Individual Cell Battery Charger Pack so you’ll never have to worry about not being able to use this amazing headlamp while you’re on a trip.

Check the price on Amazon

Princeton Tec Apex LED HeadlampPrinceton Tec Apex LED Headlamp

Price: Approximately $70

Weight: 8 ounces

Lumens: 275

Specific features: Maxbright LED, various light levels, strobe effect, heat regulation, battery life meter, waterproof, can use rechargeable batteries

Best use: Great for anything from cave adventures to illuminating the trail on a moonlit night

The Princeton Tec Apex LED Headlamp is more than versatile; it can take care of your every need. You won’t have to worry much about lugging around a ton of batteries with you, as it can use rechargeable as well as lithium batteries, which are much smaller and lighter than alkaline.

The bright LEDs can provide you with enough illumination as much as 116 meters away, giving you excellent visibility on the highest power setting. And for emergencies, you can turn on the strobe effect to make it easier for other people to find you. For all that versatility, this is definitely an affordable price for this tiny package.

PROS:

  • Can be used with many different kinds of batteries, according to your preference
  • Great customer service with lifetime warranty
  • Offers bright light with great adjustability

CONS:

  • Heavy
  • Not very durable
  • Runs out of juice rather quickly

Related: While you’re not using the Princeton Tec Apex LED Headlamp, you should store it in this Princeton Tech Stash Headlamp Case. This is not the most expensive headlamp out there, but it is not cheap either, so you should offer it some form of protection.

Check the price on Amazon

Energizer Vision LED HeadlampEnergizer Vision LED Headlamp

Price: Approximately $20

Weight: 8.8 ounces

Lumens: 80

Specific features: Waterproof, shatter resistant lens, impact resistant, various light modes, bright, red LED for night vision

Best use: Great for hiking and urban emergencies; a suitable starter choice

If you’re looking for cheap and affordable, but still durable, then Energizer Vision LED Headlamp is the headlamp for you. There can be some glare in your eyes from using this headlamp, but for the price, it does provide a lot of light a good distance away.

It’s a good starter headlamp before you decide to invest in something more serious and rugged, and makes an excellent emergency light to keep around your home when the power goes out.

PROS:

  • Very bright for its price and lumens
  • Durable
  • Great battery life
  • Cheap

CONS:

  • Heavy
  • The glare is quite the major flaw

Related: Consider purchasing Coleman Divide+ 275 lm LED Headlamp instead if Energizer’s glare is too much for you to handle. The Coleman Divide+ is similarly priced. It is a suitable alternative.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

You want to ensure that your headlamp is suitable for the kinds of activities you’re going to be engaging in. Not all of them are built the same, as some are specifically made for camping and hiking, while others are made for running on the street.

If you’re going to be engaging in multiple activities while you’re on your camping/hiking trip, then you might want to consider getting multiple products, or finding a headlamp that covers the majority of features that you’ll need so that you can cover more bases.

Best headlamp battery

Are there any good headlamps that we’ve missed? Which one of these would you consider the best? There’s so much variety in the market that it can be difficult to call only one headlamp the best, but there are some that definitely outperform others, depending on what activities you’re engaged in. Which one of these will you consider first?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Andrew Richardson

    I bought my Petzl Nao a little more than 1 1/2 years ago and it’s still going just as strong as it ever has.This headlamp is my #1 favorite item I own, hands down. I love this light, even at my work I sell lights at our bike shop and we aren’t able to sell Petzl products but I’ll still show people this light and tell how much I love it.

  • John L. Streik

    Petzl is pretty awesome. I have been using it for 8 years but is still functioning great. The LED’s are rated for thousands of hours. Petzls are not actually waterproof, but it can resist water. My wife accidentally submerged it in a tub of water at one point, but it still works. Although Petzl is good for almost everything, I won’t suggest it for construction. The headband will immediately lose its elasticity pretty quickly, so it will not fit on your head very well. As for that, it would be better (I think) to buy cheaper brands like Energizer when working around.

    • Mark Foster

      The hefty price of the Petzl is worth it! As I said plenty of times, gear up with quality products and go for reliable brands. I’ve been to much worst and the Petzl has stood its ground with me. It is water resistant and the broad headband is comfortable to wear, even for hours. At 575 lumens, this baby is indeed bright!

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