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:
The Top 5 Headlamps for Every Outdoor Adventure
Black Diamond Spot
Max light output: 300 lumens
Max beam distance: 80m (high) / 16m (low)
Modes: Low, High, Dimming, Strobe, Red Night Vision
Water resistance: IPX8 rating
- Relatively lightweight
- Bright beam
- Multiple light modes
- Sturdy build
- Accessing features can be tricky
- Straps aren’t easy to adjust
- No waterproofing seals
Out of all the headlamps we tested, we gotta say the Black Diamond Spot by far offers the best value for money! How? Let us count the ways.
First, we love its sleek and solid build. Although the bulbs and batteries are all housed in front, in a small case attached to an adjustable strap, the headlamp doesn’t feel unbalanced nor does it easily slip off.
The housing also tilts, from horizontal to about 45 degrees, which is incredibly helpful when you want to keep the darkness of an eerie wilderness at bay. Design-wise, our only gripe is that the straps aren’t easy to adjust on the fly. During our test, we had to remove the headlamp altogether in order to tighten or loosen the strap.
As for its performance, Black Diamond Spot offers a compelling case for all around-use. It delivers quality lighting and is equipped with a variety of modes for your specific needs.
Low power mode doesn’t really do much. But if you’re running at night, it’d be enough for cars to notice you. Its highest setting--at 300 lumens--is also more than you could ask for, but might not want to use for hours on end as it can kill the batteries fast. What’s great is that you can easily adjust the beam strength to save some juice at the touch of a finger via a feature called PowerTap. This feature works without a hitch even with gloves on.
As much as we love Spot, we have to say usability may be its weakest area. The major issue we had with Spot during our test was having to toggle from one mode to another! Switching between features requires mastering a sequence of single, double, and triple clicks. And oh, getting to night mode? Be sure to press and hold for 4-6 seconds!
The Spot claims to have an IPX8 rating, which means it’s supposed to survive the effects of immersion in water > 1 meter up to 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the casing doesn’t come with any waterproofing seals. When we did a submersion test, water readily leaked into the battery case. Perhaps our only consolation is that it still worked despite being tested underwater.
The Spot also comes with a few extras, such as a battery indicator light, brightness memory, and a locking mechanism to keep it from powering on when stashed in your bag.
All in all, Black Diamond Spot is one of our favorite lights. It’s relatively lightweight and packable, has a simple and straightforward build, and great performance. Its usability, however, could use a bit of improvement.
Black Diamond Storm
Max light output: 350 lumens
Max beam distance: 85m
Modes: Low, High, Dimming, Strobe, Red + Green + Blue Night Vision
Water resistance: IP67 rating
- Bright beam
- Multiple light modes
- Sturdy build
- Straps are easy to adjust
- Has waterproofing seals
- Has extra pad behind headlamp housing
- Accessing features can be tricky
- Slightly more expensive
Next up, we’ve got Black Diamond Storm. This robust, high-quality headlamp has a lot to offer--and more--to the average user!
For starters, when compared to Black Diamond Spot, Storm yields better performance in terms of lighting, water resistance, and battery life. The latter, however, is pricier and heavier, owing to its 4 AAA batteries (Storm uses only 3).
Storm sports a similar construction to Spot, but also managed to cram in a few more extras, such as an additional padding behind the headlamp case, a fully waterproof enclosure, and a more durable plastic housing.
We can say that Storm may be a bit overbuilt for the average user with its multiple light modes. It has a low, high, and strobe mode, plus three different night-mode colors (red, blue, and green). If having three color LEDs for night vision isn’t overkill, then we don’t what is!
Nevertheless, Storm has proven to be one of the beefiest lights out there, based on our tests. It performed really well for long-distance spot lighting as well as peripheral lighting for close-up, campsite activities. Its waterproof design is also impressive! It features a secure latch lock plus a fully waterproof battery casing.
Like Spot, we’re not big fans of Storm’s one-button UI. It is both tedious and frustrating to have to master the single, double, triple click and press-to-hold actions just to go through the different modes.
Storm also comes with the extras, such as battery indicator light, brightness memory, and locking mechanism.
With its ace qualities and superb construction, it’s no wonder why Black Diamond Storm is a fan favorite! Unfortunately, we think that its cost, weight, and extra features may make it unsuitable for the average user.
Max light output: 150 lumens
Max beam distance: 50m
Modes: Low, Mid, High
Water resistance: IPX4 rating
- Simple and easy to use
- Compact but not ultralight
- Practical for daily activities
- Limited lighting modes--no strobe and night vision
- No locking mechanism
There is beauty in simplicity--and Petzl Tikkina is its embodiment.
Petzl Tikkina is one of the most comfortable, easy to use, and no-fuss headlamps we’ve tested! For around $20, you’ll get a compact, reliable, and functional headlamp that will meet or exceed most people’s needs.
Now let’s focus on that simplicity--Tikkina offers three modes of brightness with only one beam color. And that’s about it. No strobe, no night vision, and definitely no need to memorize a complex sequence of clicks or press-to-hold actions to cycle through the different modes! Its single power button is large and accessible with or without gloves on.
But don’t be fooled. Just because Tikkina is one of the simplest and least expensive lamps out there doesn’t mean it lags in performance. In our tests, we learned that this no-frills light with max lumens of 150 is bright enough for daily tasks, night walks, and post-sunset yard work. Which, in practice, is really all the power most people need, don’t you think?
Rated IPX4, Tikkina can withstand a drizzle but not a dunk, so you’ll still have to be careful when out on a wet adventure.
Although we love Tikkina’s simplicity, we hate to admit that a headlamp sans a lock mode can be a cause of worry. Given its large power button, it could get pressed by accident in a pack or in a stuffed duffel.
Petzl Tikkina is our favorite budget option, hands down. It packs quite a good punch at a very attractive price!
Max light output: 1000 lumens
Max beam distance: 187m
Modes: Turbo, High, Mid, Low, Eco, Red
Power source: 1 18650 rechargeable Li-ion battery
Water resistance: IPX6 rating
- Perfect if you need massive illumination
- Extremely solid construction
- Big and bulky
- Accessing features is tricky
- Floppy cord
- Poor battery life
If all you need and want is massive illumination, then Fenix HP25R is your best pick.
By far the brightest and most expensive on our list, Fenix HP25R is a 1000-lumen light-throwing beast that does everything it’s advertised and does it so well.
But just as it offers the most powerful beam, it also is the biggest and bulkiest at a half a pound. The bulb unit is located in front, and the battery pack that houses a single 18650 rechargeable battery is positioned at the back of the head. Both units are connected by a floppy cord and an elastic strap that’s quite complicated to adjust and wear.
The weight bothered our testers at first. But when you have a light that throws a 187-meter beam, weight would be the least of your concerns. That being said, we definitely wouldn’t recommend this for distance trekkers or climbers, but we think it’d make a great choice for cycling on a short trail or any activity where gear weight isn’t an issue.
We love that it’s got 6 modes (turbo, high, mid, low, eco and strobe) for spotlight and floodlight plus another for night mode. What we don’t love is that you have to keep switching between the buttons to get your desired light output, which makes it even less intuitive compared to Black Diamond Spot and Storm.
In terms of battery life, you shouldn’t expect the fun to last much long. The high mode drains the battery at a rapid rate--up to 2.5 hours of use only.
Despite its shortcomings, we think Fenix HP25R is an excellent product that’s perfect for anyone looking for powerful lighting performance.
Max light output: 180 lumens
Max beam distance: 25m
Modes: High, Low, Red Night Vision, SOS
Water resistance: IPX5 rating
- Simple and compact
- Easy to use
- Low price point
- Short battery life
- Flimsy housing
Lastly, we’ve got Foxelli MX200 USB rechargeable headlamp. Like Petzl Tikkina, this light keeps things simple and straightforward. However, unlike Tikkina, this model didn’t impress us that much.
Sure, Foxelli MX200 is compact and lightweight, but the construction is rather flimsy. The headlamp housing itself is made from thin plastic and the elastic headband isn’t as comfortable as the other lamps on the list.
Cycling through its different modes is easy because it only has one button. It requires a bit of pressure, though, which can become a bit of a challenge when wearing gloves.
In our test, Foxelli MX200 had a decent performance. Not outstanding, but enough to get you through a climbing trip or other backwoods adventure. The headlamp also boasts an IPX5 rating, so use in rain won’t be the end of it. And with a price of less than 20 bucks? That you basically cannot beat.
All in all, the Foxelli MX200 is packed with all the features you want in a compact and affordable headlamp. But between this and Petzl Tikkina, we’d have to pick the latter.
A bright and reliable headlamp is a useful piece of gear you shouldn’t be without on any adventure, from the trail to the crag.
And based on our review and testing and after weighing on all the factors we mentioned above, we can say that Black Diamond Spot ticked off all the right boxes. It’s got the best price-performance ratio out of all the products on this list as well.
Black Diamond Storm is another powerful and solid headlamp that we’ll sure you won’t regret choosing; but with its cost and extras, we believe it just isn’t cut out for the average user.
And for those who value simplicity and performance over the bells and whistles, you can’t go wrong with Petzl Tikkina.
What’s your go-to headlamp? Let us know in the comments below!