Can you imagine trail running at dusk, pitching a tent at night, or going on an evening walk with your dog sans a headlamp?
No matter what outdoor activity you’re planning, a headlamp is a handy piece of gear that deserves a space in your kit. But you can’t just get any headlamp. You need one that fits your outdoor style and budget.
The question is: which headlamp is the best one out there? That’s what we’re going to find out in this article, so read on!
Why Buy a Headlamp
If all you need is illumination, then why get a headlamp? Won’t a high-performance, duty-ready tactical flashlight--or even a basic flashlight app on your phone--do the trick?
While there are loads of lighting options you can bring on your next night hike, campout, or walk in the park, headlamps offer tons of benefits you can’t miss.
Convenient, hands-free lighting
Sure, tactical flashlights are reliable tools that can be used for just about any purpose. And we love that they also moonlight as a self-defense weapon! But if you’ll be doing certain activities that require the use of both hands, like climbing, having a light that mounts on your head can be a huge advantage. A headlamp gives you the ability to easily direct extra light whenever you like and wherever you need it, with just a nod of your head.
A headlamp proves invaluable in emergency situations, such as when you get caught out in bad weather, suffer an injury, or get lost on the trail. The strobe mode, found in most headlamps, acts as an emergency blinker, which offers rescue teams an easy way to pinpoint your location.
Another reason why it deserves a place in your pack is its versatility. You don’t always have to wear it; you can also hold it or hang it in your tent.
Compact and lightweight
Most headlamps are incredibly compact and lightweight so they won’t take up much room in your camping bag.
How to Choose the Best Headlamp
Just because a headlamp appears to be a thousand lumens brighter than your future doesn’t mean it’s already the best one out there. To find the perfect headlamp, you need to consider a number of factors, such as specs, features, and of course, price.
Here’s a short guide on how to buy the best headlamp:
First things first: what will you be using your headlamp for? Do you need a reliable tool for a major mountaineering trip? Need something for your night hike? Or simply want one for emergency purposes?
Ultimately, your choice of headlamp will depend on your planned activity. Once you’ve established our needs, you can figure out if all you need is a basic one or if it’s worth investing in a model that comes with all the bells and whistles.
A 1000-lumen headlamp is infinitely better than the headlamp with just 50 lumens, right? Well, not really.
By definition, lumens is a measurement of the total light output of a device in any direction.
While most buyers gravitate toward the lumens rating of a device, it actually isn’t the most reliable way to compare performance. This is because it doesn’t necessarily tell you how smooth or concentrated the beam pattern will be.
Lumen output also tends to decrease once the batteries get below 100%, which means you won’t be able to get the maximum lumens out of your headlamp most of the time.
If lumens measure the total light output of a headlamp, beam distance, on the other hand, measures how far that light goes. It is stated in meters and is often placed alongside the lumens rating.
Every manufacturer indicates the beam distance specification on their products, one for the high-output mode and another for low-light mode. It’s important to pay attention to this information as it will give you an idea of whether a headlamp is suited for your needs.
For example, if you’re going to use your headlamp mostly around the home as a general utility light, then you’re not going to need one that throws an 80-meter beam. However, if you’re a hardcore outdoor junkie who often finds yourself in off-the-beaten paths at sundown, then it would make sense to go for a headlamp that lets you see far.
It’s worth noting, though, that beam distance specs are actually only valid in the first few minutes of a battery’s life. It will eventually degrade when batteries drain.
Ease of Use
Ideally, you want something that’s easy enough to operate without you having to pore over the entire manual. The easier it is to turn your headlamp on and off and access its functions, the better.
Durability and Construction
Of course, you want something that will last for more than just one night hike or two. It has to be able to survive some bumps or falls, and hold up decently in a rainstorm.
Looking at a product’s Ingress Protection (IP) rating is a good place to start.
At a minimum, the headlamp should have an IPX4 rating. But if you want to be fully protected from water or if you usually go swimming with your headlamp on, then it’s best to find one with an IPX7 or IPX8 rating.
Each headlamp comes with its own set of modes and special features. Some people prefer models with multiple output options, while others prefer a simple and no-fuss headlamp.
Here are the light modes featured in most headlamps today:
- Low-Mid – Suitable for most tasks such as reading, rummaging in the tent, or preparing meals at the campsite.
- High – Useful for night navigation, trail finding, and other situations where you simply need more light.
- Strobe – A blinking light that’s helpful for signaling in survival or emergency situations.
- Night vision – Night vision mode, often offered in the form of red light, is incredibly handy for when you want to keep your headlamp from running out of juice. It also lets you comfortably move around in the dark without blinding your buddies!
Battery run-time specs will usually tell you how long the headlamp will run when turned on low light settings. So if you intend to use the headlamp on its highest setting, then don’t expect it to run for nearly as long as is stated in the specs sheet.
We have included the advertised specs from the manufacturers in the table above.
Generally, the more powerful the headlamp and the greater its light output, the heavier it is. These headlamps usually come with external battery packs and top straps, which add bulk. If there’s no need for a high-powered model, it’s a good idea to look into more lightweight options that also do a decent job. They’re often more comfortable to wear and easier to stash into your pack.
Headlamps may also come with other special features. They are nice to have, but not mandatory options to look for:
- Battery indicator
- Standby mode
- Memory function
- Safety locks
How We Did Our Review
When you’re shopping around for a headlamp, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of products, each promising different functionalities and performance.
To help you decide which headlamp is best for your needs, we took it upon ourselves to navigate through the endless and sometimes overwhelming options available in the market.
First, we looked at an extensive list of products, read recommendations from reputable online sources, and combed through Amazon to look for highly-rated products before narrowing down our list to the top 5.
Once the line-up was complete, we compared them side by side, considered each of their pros and cons, and subjected them into various tests.
We documented it all in the reviews below: