Updated January 13, 2017

The Best Headlamps

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Find the best headlamps for hiking, camping, cycling, mountaineering, spelunking and putting your flashlight out of work.

Best Headlamps
Best Headlamps © CreditDonkey

Why You Need a Headlamp

Thinking that a top-tier headlamp is reserved only for the most extreme adventures is a mistake that’s realized the first night of car camping. Being able to see where you’re going as soon as the sun sets is just as important on the trails as it is when you need to see your way around camp. You can use a headlamp around the house if you lose power or on a bicycle if you need an extra headlight. You might want to do some car work and change your oil filter without clamping your teeth on a flashlight.

A headlamp makes all the difference in terms of portability and convenience. They are lightweight, easy to pack, provide full use of your hands, and can be a lifesaver in case of an emergency. It means you don’t have to carry around a bulky lantern or flashlight at night. Whether you’re on a hike that takes much longer than anticipated and now you need to find your way back, or you want to extend your day past sunset, having a good headlamp will make all the difference after dark.

What to Consider When Shopping for a Headlamp

There are a lot of factors to take into account when trying to pick the right one. Price is obviously going to be the first thing that comes to mind. Usually the lighter and brighter headlamps cost more money, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Some of the pricier lamps offer a lot of bells and whistles that might not be for you, and you can find excellent value out of bright spotlights.

If you want a headlamp loaded with features, there are plenty of considerations. Some of them include the ability to dim the light based on how much light you need. This is great for reading in a tent as well as hiking. There are also red lights which are easier on your pupils during nighttime use. The ability to blink the light if you’re riding a bike, water resistance, comfort, battery life, and spotlights versus floodlights are all going to separate your headlamp from the rest.

Best Headlamps for Outdoor Activities

Considering when you would use the headlamp the most (which activities, what you need) is an excellent way to find the right headlamp. The best headlamp while riding a bicycle or running outside is going to be different than the best headlamp for a car camping trip.

Best Headlamp for Hiking and Backpacking

Aside from the comfort, USB-rechargeable battery and loaded features, one of the coolest features behind the Petzl Tikka RXP is its reactive lighting mode. Thanks to the built-in sensor, the Tikka can detect how much light is necessary and automatically adjust based on what you need. This is great for both battery life, ease on your eyes and keeping your hands free as much as possible. This is perfect if you’re holding onto trekking poles or need your hands for balance down a rocky trail at night. These features don’t come cheap, starting at around $100.

Best Headlamp for Camping

Black Diamond Icon Headlamp: Whether you’re car camping, backcountry camping, mountaineering, bicycling or doing anything in the outdoors at night, it’s tough to beat this 320-lumen offering from Black Diamond. You can start with the over-the-head strap for maximum comfort and stability. The waterproof design works in a meter of water for 30 minutes. The balanced batteries-in-the-back container reduce weight on your head. The Icon has full-strength, dimming, strobe, red light and locking modes. The power meter displays the remaining battery strength and the LED lights are great for any outdoor adventure when you’ll need light after sunset.

Best Headlamp for Hunting and Fishing

Petzl Tactikka +RGB: This headlamp was designed with stealth in mind, and is great if you need to move around the woods while keeping detection to a minimum. The camo strap design, red, green and blue lighting for night vision, and focused brightness offer up to 160 lumens. You can choose between a wide, spotlight or red beam. Plus it comes with all the comfort and durability of Petzl headlamps at a very competitive price of around $50.

Best Headlamp for Running and Biking

Black Diamond Sprinter: This headlamp was made for running and biking use. The 200-lumen lamp also includes a red taillight strobe on the back of the strap so that you’ll be spotted by cars behind you. It is water resistant in case the skies open up during a jog. It’s powered by a rechargeable lithium battery with a USB cable and has a full strength, dimming and strobe mode so that you can bring it to a campsite just as well as you can take it for a bike ride. The strap over the head ensures comfort on even the most rugged of trails and the wide beam offers plenty of visibility no matter where your adventure takes you.

Best Headlamps for Features

If you are looking for a more versatile headlamp that you can get the most use out of, then you can consider everything a headlamp can offer. This means finding a headlamp loaded with features that you can take anywhere you go. You might want a headlamp purely based on brightness, or one that has the longest-lasting battery, or one that is water-resistant for any wet-weather outdoor activities. If you find that everything a headlamp has to offer fits your outdoor profile, then you can find one that you’ll take along with you no matter where you go.

Best Headlamp for Brightness

Excellent for mountaineering, spelunking and backcountry hiking, the Fenix HP25R has the capability to reach up to 1,000 lumens in spotlight mode and 614 feet. That’s over two football fields of light! In addition to that, it can be run in floodlight, spotlight or red light mode. You can also use a separate set of batteries to withstand temperatures as low as -40oC. It is an excellent tactical headlamp with extreme brightness.

Best Water-Resistant Headlamp

Even though it looks like something that can be strapped to a robot, the Petzl NAO Headlamp uses its sensor technology to adjust its strength from as low as seven all the way up to 575 lumens. This gives it tremendous versatility, whether you want to read in a tent without waking someone else or find yourself mountain biking down a trail at night. It is charged with a USB cable and also has a very nifty locking mode so that it doesn’t burn through battery time while stuffed in a bag. It’s great for cold-weather activities and lasts up to 12.5 hours on autonomy mode.

Best Rechargeable Headlamp

Fenix HL60R LED Headlamp: Fenix’s headlamp with all-around capabilities offers up to 100 hours of use from one rechargeable lithium-ion battery. It has a strength of up to 950 lumens that projects a maximum distance of 381 feet of vision. It is waterproof up to two meters of water and comes with a limited lifetime guarantee from Fenix. It has five brightness levels, a USB charger and a weight of only 4.3 ounces (without batteries).

Best Feature-Loaded Headlamp

The Petzl Reactik doesn’t just hold up in almost any weather you throw at it, it also has some technology-rich features that put it in its own category amongst headlamps. The headlamp offers Bluetooth Smart connectivity that maximizes its output and efficiency. It will adjust its brightness to get the most out of the rechargeable battery. It will sync with your smartphone and self-regulate to be the best on your eyesight at night. It takes three rechargeable AAA batteries and weighs only 4.1 ounces with the batteries included.

Best Headlamps Based on Cost

If you have a budget that you’re working with, consider the best headlamps on the market within certain price ranges. You can get a lot of bang for your buck without spending a lot of money, especially if you need a straightforward lamp that will get the job done. If you want something that will be many steps up from a flashlight and lantern without breaking the bank, there are a lot of options there as well.

Best Headlamp for Under $30

With a price tag of around $24, the Princeton Tec Sync Headlamp features a small dial that allows you to adjust the brightness and mode up to 150 lumens, which is a fantastic value for the price. It comes in both flood and spotlight mode, five brightness levels, and up to 150 hours of run time on its three AAA batteries. The weight with batteries is less than three ounces, and the comfortable band will make it perfect for a camping trip.

Best Headlamp for Under $20

If all you need is a simple, 90-lumen sleek headlamp, the Black Diamond Gizmo is a stormproof adjustable design that comes in full-strength, dimming and strobe settings. Its weight with batteries is less than three ounces, it can see up to 30 meters of distance, and provide up to 75 hours of battery strength. With a cost of under $20, it’s a great headlamp that gets the job done.

Where to Buy Headlamps

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