What you’ll find here – The overall best headlamp, the best essentials headlamp, and the best budget headlamp. We review headlamps from the top headlamp brands like Petzel and Black Diamond as well as provide expert advice on how to figure out which headlamp is best for you.
Overall Best Headlamp
Battery life (low / high settings):
130 hrs. / 2hrs.
Rechargeable with the Petzl Core Battery.
Weight: 2.8 oz.
Pros: Rechargeable (you can use a rechargeable battery pack or you can use AAA batteries) , very bright, comfortable padding, 100% full brightness (brightness doesn’t dim as battery depletes), easy to use, locking angle feature (you can adjust the angle of the light beam), red light setting so your eyes stay adjusted to the darkness (better for star gazing).
Cons: Price is on the high end, only water resistant, not waterproof.
Bottom line: The Petzl Actik CORE is the best all-around headlamp. It’s high points are that is easy to use, is very bright no matter how low the battery is, and has a red light setting. This headlamp is has a beam that is both spot and flood light styles.
Top pick: Whether you’re camping and need to see the food your cooking to walking the dog in the evening, having a hands free light is awesome and an essential tool. This headlamp is the one we use out on our adventures and has become one of our favorite items in our top gear picks.
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Page last updated: November, 2020
Summary of the best headlamps
Best Headlamp with all the Essentials
Battery life (low / high settings): 200 hrs./ 4 hrs.
Sustainability: Not rechargeable, uses 3 AAA batteries
Weight: 3 oz.
Pros: Extra long batter life (burn time), average brightness, very comfortable, waterproof, battery life indicator, easy to use angle locking feature, great value, red light setting.
Cons: Very few, the only issue we find is remembering all of the different settings and modes.
Bottom line: The Black Diamond Spot 325 is a newer model with great burn time and an LED that is bright enough for what you need but not so bright it blinds your fellow campers. This headlamp has many features at a great price. Black Diamond makes high-quality products and this is no exception.
Best Budget Headlamp
Battery life (low / high settings): 120 hrs. / 2 hrs.
Sustainability: Rechargeable with the Petzl Core Battery.
Weight: 3.03 oz.
Pros: Price, easy to use, rechargeable (you can use a rechargeable battery pack or you can use AAA batteries).
Cons: No red light mode or strobe, not completely waterproof, not as bright as many other headlamps, no angle locking setting.
Bottom line: This head lamp offers 150 lumen brightness and a wide beam for proximity lighting which is great for walking around the campsite. Simple, compact and with a long burn time, it is practical for outdoor activities like camping or trekking, or for traveling, and also for daily activities and projects around the house.
Choosing the best headlamp for you
Brightness – Lumens and beam distance tell you how bright your head lamp will be. If you’re just around camp you don’t need a super high lumen or long beam distance headlamp. If you like to hike at night having the brighter and longer distance beam can be really nice.
Rechargeable vs Non-rechargeable – Rechargeables are more sustainable because they reduce battery waste. While rechargables tent to have slightly shorter battery life then difference is usually not an issue. Using non-rechargeable batteries, usually AAA, will increase your burn time (time the headlamp is on). You may want to use non-rechargeable batteries for last longer hiking trips. Overtime you’ll spend more on non-rechargeable batteries and also create more waste. If you are picking up some AAA batteries, consider choosing long-lasting Lithium batteries because they are lighter, more efficient and tent to be better in the cold than Alkaline. We like having a rechargeable headlamp (or some some call it a head flashlight).
Price – Luckily you don’t have to spend a lot to get a headlamp that will work well. However, our rule of thumb is buy once, cry once. Buying a quality piece of equipment costs more initially but in the long run it will last longer.
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Lumens – Lumens is a measure of the total quantity of visibly light emitted by the headlamp at a given time. While lumens is a good indicator on how bright a headlamp will be, you should also consider the beam type. A spot light vs a flood light may have the same number of lumens but the light viewing distance will be very different. We find that beam distance is a better gauge of the quality of light a headlamp produces.
Burn time (batter life) – This is the amount of time the battery will be able to run the headlamp. Using low light settings allow for longer burn time.
Alkaline vs. lithium batteries – If your headlamp uses traditional AA or AAAs, we recommend you use Lithium instead of alkaline. Lithium provides a longer burn time, is better in the cold, and they weigh less. Lithium, is usually around 30% lighter than alkaline.
Light modes – Most headlamps have light modes: high, low, strobe, and red light. High is usually max light output, low is low light output, strobe blinks the high output, and red is a red light that is used to not disrupt your night vision.
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