Whether you’re hiking down Bright Angel Trail into the Grand Canyon after dark or relaxing around your campsite in the Florida Keys at midnight soaking up the gentle lapping of the waves the right headlamp allows you to make a friend of the dark. Today’s headlamps represent a quantum leap in technology, convenience and versatility over the bulky headlamps of yesterday and we’ve assembled the 10 best headlamps on the market today for your consideration.
The Best Headlamp
The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp is a versatile, sleek and powerful camping headlamp that can light up the trail with 300 lumens for 80 meters or last a pretty amazing 175 hours when set to low power. It allows for instant transitioning from dim to full power mode and offers red light headlamp mode so you can see your way around the large camping tent without waking anyone else up. Even in low power mode you get 50 feet of effective illumination and, should you find yourself in a bind, there’s strobe mode as well. The Black Diamond Spot is a fully waterproof headlamp with an IPX8 rating, weighs a scant 10 ounces with the batteries in and remembers your last brightness setting next time you turn it on.
Fully waterproof to 1 meter.
Instant full to dim power transition.
Effective range up to 175 meters.
Strobe and red light modes.
300 lumens at max power.
- BrandBlack Diamond
- Weight10.4 ounces
One of the most common gripes you hear about headlamps is that a headlamp that offers a multitude of functions can be a bit tricky to manipulate since all the controls are out of site. With the Bluetooth Enabled Headlamp Petzl slays that particular beast by allowing you complete control through your smartphone. But it’s more than just convenient. It also produces up to 300 lumens, is highly water-resistant, features a wide, comfortable headband and weighs only 6.4 ounces. To save battery power it can also analyze ambient light levels and adjust the LED lamp up or down automatically. Make sure you also check our guide to the best camping mattresses.
Compact and lightweight headlamp.
Maximum power 300 lumens.
Total control via your smartphone.
Automatically adjusts to ambient light.
- ModelE95 HNE
- Weight 1 pound
Sometimes while walking the trail at night or trying to find something in the darkened campsite the headlamp can seem a bit limiting. But not the Zebralight H53w. If you need more precise control to search your pack or see what’s up ahead you can remove the light apparatus from the headband and use it as a tactical flashlight. The H53w produces an agreeably neutral LED light that effectively mimics daylight. It’s waterproof down to 2 meters for up to half an hour and its unibody structure is fashioned from high quality aluminum and sports a Type III hard anodized finish. There are also 4 different settings (low, medium, high and strobe) to match your needs. Our handy guide to the best camping blankets features more great products like this.
Waterproof to 2 meters.
Fashioned from aircraft grade aluminum.
Uses a single AA battery.
4500K neutral LED light.
Great hunting headlamp.
Detachable flashlight feature.
- Weight4.8 ounces
The Fenix HL60R produces 950 lumens from its Cree XM-L2 T6 neutral white LED bulb. And it can throw that light 120 meters down the trail for an hour straight. Or, if you ratchet it back to Eco mode it will provide over 100 hours on a single battery charge. Speaking of batteries it comes with a rechargeable Fenix 18650 battery and 2 CR123A batteries you can use as a backup. The HL60R produces a neutral light that effectively mimics daylight and won’t attract bugs or cause eye strain. Operation is simple with a conveniently located on/off switch and the metal housing is tough as nails and won’t break if you drop the headlamp accidentally. Love this product? Check out our review of the best sleeping bags for our top picks.
950 lumens max output.
Cree XM-L2 Neutral LED light.
Fashioned from aircraft grade aluminum.
Great camping or running headlamp.
Over 100 hours in Eco mode.
Projects up to 127 yards.
- Brand Lumen Tactical
- Weight4.2 ounces
The Petzl Tikkina headlamp will crank out 150 lumens and project it up to 55 meters down the trail. Or you can ratchet it back to a low-intensity beam and squeeze 220 hours of life out of it. At 8 hours a night average that works out to 15 days before you need to either replace the alkaline batteries or recharge the optional (and not included) CORE battery. With its easy versatility and industry-leading lightweight headlamp construction, it’s made for everyone and will handle whatever challenges you face around the campsite. The only downside we see here is that, while there are 3 different intensity settings, there is no strobe setting for emergencies. Find more great products like this by checking out our guide to the best camping stoves.
Perfect for campsite activities.
150 lumens max power.
Alkaline or CORE rechargeable battery power.
Up to 220 hours in low power mode.
Projects light up to 55 meters.
- Weight0.32 ounces
The Fenix HP25R features a Cree XM-L2 white light spot that projects a couple of hundred meters down the trail and a Cree XP-G2 R5 flood with 90 degree coverage and a 50,000 hour lifespan. It’s a high power headlamp fashioned from rugged aluminum alloy and comes with a Fenix 18650 battery that can be recharged through the USB port in the power pack. It provides a clean, clear digitally regulated beam and tilts 60 degrees to bring that light wherever you need it. The lamp is comfortable and adjusts easily to whatever you’re wearing, which makes it a great choice for recreational camping, trail running, cave exploration and more. You may also like to check our guide to the best camping chairs.
60 degrees of tilt.
Produces neutral white light.
Ideal hiking or running headlamp.
Separate switches for flood and spot.
Fenix 18650 rechargeable battery.
1,000 lumens max output.
50,000 hour LED lifespan.
- Weight1.1 pounds
The Shining Buddy LED Headlamp features 4 illumination modes (high, low, red and red flashing) and provides simple, single switch operation. It’s powered by 3 AAA batteries and produces 160 max lumens. The head tilts up to 45 degrees, the bulb lasts up to 100,000 hours and the whole thing weighs a very agreeable 2.6 ounces (sans batteries). The Shining Buddy isn’t going to win any beauty contests but since you’re wearing this type of device at night that shouldn’t be an issue, even for the style conscious. The bottom line is that it’s a bottom line device. It brings the light you need where you need it without lots of stylish embellishments or needless bells and whistles. If you love camping check out our guide to the best camping tables.
160 lumens maximum output.
IPX 5 highly water resistant rating.
High, low, red and flashing modes.
Includes 3 AAA batteries.
LED bulb with 100,000 hour life.
90 day money back guarantee.
- BrandShining Buddy
- Weight2.56 ounces
While the Shining Buddy may be a bit stylistically challenged that’s not an issue with Black Diamond headlamps. The profile of the Icon headlamp proves that business and pleasure can mix very agreeably, at least as far as headlamp design is concerned. But it’s more than just a fashionable fixture. It also kicks out 500 lumens at its max power settings and will project that light more than 150 meters down the path. On top of that it’s highly water resistant with an IPX7 rating and that buttoned down waterproof headlamp construction also means that dirt and dust are not going to infiltrate the lamp mechanism and muck things up. It’s a bit heavier than some of the other best headlamps on our list but you won’t find yourself wanting for the right light in any situation. Don’t forget to also check our guide to the best camping cots.
500 lumens max output.
3 level power indicator.
Saves your brightness settings.
IPX7 waterproof rating.
45 degree tilt.
Red, green and blue night vision.
- BrandBlack Diamond
The Coast FL85 Dual Color LED headlamp allows you to switch to red light when inside the tent so that you don’t blind (or wake up) others. It features a maximum output of 615 lumens or you can choose to run it in its power saving low mode at 96 lumens. Even in low mode it will project a clean, clear beam nearly 80 meters down the path for up to 13 hours. The FL85 is rated safe for a 1 meter drop and has an IPX rating of 4. Which means it’s fine in the rain, just don’t drop it into the stream. Is it the best LED headlamp? Hard to say. But it’s in the conversation. For all those outdoor lovers we have prepared a guide to the best double sleeping bags so check it out.
Max output 615 lumens.
Projects up to 183 meters.
White and red LED light options.
Rated to IPX4 water resistance.
Reflective safety strap.
Switch from ultra-wide to ultra-focused.
- Brand Coast
- Weight7.2 ounces
The final entry on our list of best headlamps is the Olight H2R Rechargeable headlamp. The Olight may be our last entry but it’s also our brightest headlamp, capable of producing an amazing 2,300 lumens and throwing it more than 160 meters down the trail or across the ridge. There are 4 brightness settings in total and they’re all controlled from a single button at the head of the lamp. But the H2R is more than just a standard headlamp. It’s actually a high quality tactical headlamp/flashlight that slips out of its berth and allows you precise control over where you bring the illumination. It’s also rated to a 1 meter fall and sports and IPX8 waterproof rating. It’s in the argument for best rechargeable headlamp.
Cree XHP50 LED.
Projects light up to 165 meters.
Magnetic USB charging.
3000mAh rechargeable battery.
2300 lumens max output.
Doubles as flashlight.
- Weight 2.24 ounces
Headlamp Buying Guide & FAQ
Features To Look For In Best Headlamps
Brightness - Obviously you’re buying a headlamp to provide a light in the dark and so brightness is a paramount consideration. In the past you didn’t have much choice as far as brightness was concerned. Your incandescent bulb was only going to kick out about 25 lumens or so no matter how many batteries you added to the powerpack hanging off the back of your head. On top of that the quality of that light was going to be very poor. Today, however, we have LED headlamps that produce clean, clear, powerful light that can project up to half a kilometer or more down the trail. Some produce up to 1,000 lumens which, when pulled back to a wide beam, is enough to illuminate the entire campsite like it was your living room.
Beam Distance - Most of the best headlamps on our list will project hundreds meters down the trail. But light projection of that magnitude or even greater only really comes into play if you’re a fan of night hiking. Particularly if you’re night hiking in open country. Not everyone will be. If you want a headlamp to wear while you make your way to the camp toilet in the middle of the night any modern headlamp will do the trick. If, however, you are intent on trekking over the north ridge under the stars you’ll want something like the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp which will project a clear, strong beam of light the equivalent of 2 football fields down the trail.
LED Type - Like most bulbs LEDs will emit either warm or cool light. There are quite a few outdoor veterans who will swear that the blue end of the spectrum (cool) will attract bugs while the warmer end of the spectrum does a better job keeping your headspace insect-free. Others dispute this claim and opine that if the headlamp seems to be attracting insects it likely has more to do with the time of year (i.e. how many insects are out and about), your location and the weather conditions. From a purely aesthetic standpoint an LED in the 4,000K (neutral) range will produce light that very closely mimics daylight. Also a red light headlamp won’t blind those around you and will allow you to navigate inside the tent without disturbing others.
Weight - In the past camping headlamps that used incandescent bulbs needed a substantial cluster of alkaline batteries to provide them power. Even then the light they projected was low quality and you could burn through 4 AA batteries in just a few hours. These battery clusters never let you forget they were there. Thankfully, LED headlamps use small lithium ion batteries that not only provide long hours of service but don’t produce neck strain in the process. As a result the average LED headlamp tips the scales at a svelte 3 - 10 ounces. The other component of the headlamp that impacts weight is the light setup itself. Some are extremely simple and fashioned from lightweight plastic. Others are intended for more serious emergency applications and may be made from aluminum. These typically appeal to rescue workers, first responders and others who find themselves in situations where the headlamp is being banged around.
Ease of Use - Most of today’s best headlamps are pretty straightforward affairs. You put them over your head, hat or helmet, tighten up the bands a bit until they’re nice and snug and flip the switch. Essentially, ease of use come down to how easy it is to switch between functions. Most headlamps have a twisting bezel that lets you shift between narrow long-range and wide short-range beams. While others have a single button that lets you switch between hi power and low power beams. Still others provide a toggle switch to change from one function to another. And at the high end of things there are a few that offer smartphone control over all aspects of the light mechanism.
Battery Life - The amount of time you get out of your batteries will depend on a number of factors. Alkaline batteries will typically wear down the fastest (while also presenting an unpleasant environmental choice). Lithium ion batteries will typically provide longer life and are rechargeable. However, how long they last will depend on the intensity of the bulb, whether you are running the lamp at high or low power (if you have a choice), how long you are running it every night and the characteristics of the battery itself; since not all lithium ion batteries are created equal. Also, if your camping headlamp is powered by Alkaline batteries try and make sure it uses the same type of batteries (AA or AAA for instance) as the rest of your camping gear. This way you only need to buy one type of replacement battery. And, even if you’re out of fresh batteries, if the batteries in one device die you can install batteries from another device.
Straps and Carrying Comfort - Most of our testers prefer headstraps that have some degree of elasticity. It just makes it easier to fit the device to your head. But whether the straps are elasticized or not they need to be adjustable to accommodate both your particular head size and any head gear you may be wearing, whether that’s a baseball cap, balaclava, or climbing helmet. During the day the headlamp needs to store away neatly without a lot of parts to account for. You should be able to scrunch it up and stow it in the top pocket of your backpack without worrying too much about it.
Water Resistance - An increasing number of headlamps are water resistant and even completely waterproof. But not all of them. Certainly in our experience it’s best to have a headlamp that is, at the very least, highly water resistant because the weather can change in just a matter of minutes and you don’t want to be left in the dark if it starts to rain. Especially if you are still on the trail. Look for the IPX rating to determine the water resistance capability of your camping or hunting headlamp. IPX4 will be able to stand up to most rain storms. While IPX7 will withstand being submerged for up to half an hour.
Headlamp VS Flashlight/Lantern
In the days of yore the gas lantern was the standard when it came to camp lighting. In time the flashlight arose to augment the lantern. Then came the first headlamps a few decades ago and today we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to illuminating the great outdoors. The LED tactical flashlight has replaced the standard uber-heavy and clumsy D-battery-powered tube-style flashlight. It provides astonishing amounts of light, is tough as nails, typically fits in the palm of your hand and weighs less than half a pound. At the same time there have been enormous advances in headlamp technology. While many headlamps are still powered by AA or AAA alkaline batteries the LED lamps they power are many times more energy efficient. But there’s not a straight up multiplier involved when trying to calculate battery life. Essentially, if you are running your LED headlamp on low power you might get 20 hours out of your batteries. Maybe a bit more. With an old fashioned incandescent headlamp you’d likely get more like 3 or 4 hours.
Q: How many lumens do I need?
A: 65 lumens should project light about 50 yards down the trail. That’s more than enough for most people, who don’t stray far from the campground at night. If you opt for say, 1,000 lumens you can expect to light that trail for about 200 yards with the focused beam engaged. That’s the length of 2 football fields. Although no one is likely to ever have a real need to light a trail for 200 yards. A more practical concern is lighting the campsite itself. If you have a camping headlamp that provides 50 to 100 lumens and offers you a nice wide 90 degree beam that should be more than enough light to illuminate your campsite. But it’s up to you. Some people like to have the extra power at the ready in case they ever need it to signal a search plane or scare off persistent wildlife.
Q: How much distance do I need on my headlamp light?
A: We just touched on this but let’s look at it a bit closer. While it can be reassuring to have 1,000 lumens that will project a concentrated beam 750+ feet (in case you’re ever lost and want to be seen), there are not a lot of normal scenarios that are going to call for that type of power. Think about it. How many backcountry trails do you know of that are perfectly straight? Not many. Maybe some above tree line or that transect the desert. Woodland trails tend to rise and fall while twisting and turning. It’s part of their charm. So you can have a high power headlamp that will project 500 or 1,000 feet but all that projected power won’t really be useful any further than the next twist or turn in the trail. Which will probably be coming up in about 40 or 50 feet. If you get a headlamp with a wide beam that projects clear intense light for a hundred feet or so and gives you the option of engaging a focused beam that will project a few hundred feet you should be pretty well set up.
Q: What kinds of bulbs do most headlamps use?
A: Most headlamps these days have made the switch from incandescent to LED bulbs. LEDs use only a fraction of the energy an incandescent bulb does, produce cleaner, more intense light and they can last anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 hours. That essentially means that 99.999% of people will never have to change the LED bulb in their headlamp. Ever. For as long as they live. That said, you can still get incandescent headlamps and they’re typically less expensive. But why would you?
Q: How to care for your headlamp?
A: Caring for your headlamp is mostly a matter of common sense. But there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
- If your camping headlamp gets muddy or splashed with saltwater remove the batteries and rinse the headlamp with clean fresh water.
- Let the batteries and the battery case air dry completely before reloading the batteries.
- If you have a waterproof headlamp don’t close the battery case if the inside of the case is wet or even a little damp. Make sure it’s always bone dry.
- Clean the headlamp itself (the lens etc) with a soft, clean damp cloth.
- Should grease spatter up onto the lens while cooking wipe the grease off the lens with a clean dry cloth and then go over it again with a clean damp cloth.
- Make sure you clean the straps in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Failure to do so may harm the fabric.
- Store the headlamp with batteries out in a cool dry place.