The Coast HL7 (Est. $36) offers a lot of light -- 196 lumens -- at an impressively low price. The beam is particularly strong for close tasks, and the headlamp is a relatively light 4.4 ounces. The HL7 also earns praise for its smooth, easy-to-use controls. But battery life could be better and the beam could be more even, reviewers note. The headlamp is also only "water resistant," and some users say it will not survive a rainstorm.
Those who need a more robust headlamp without sacrificing brightness should check out the Princeton Tec Apex (Est. $52) . Unlike the Coast HL7, the Apex is waterproof, and reviewers say it won't budge during high-impact adventures thanks to a center strap that increases stability. The bright, long beam is ideal on the trails but might be too much for closer tasks, experts caution. As with the HL7, users wish for better battery life, but the Apex does offer extra options: It's compatible with alkaline, lithium or NiHM rechargeable batteries.
If you won't be satisfied without the brightest of the bright headlamps, look into the pricey but cutting-edge Petzl NAO (Est. $175) . The NAO offers a long, almost blindingly powerful beam and a rechargeable lithium battery. While it works well on trails, it's not the best for hanging out after dark, according to experts. The NAO also has very poor battery life, though some users will appreciate the convenience of its USB-compatible charging.
These days, you can get a lot of headlamp for relatively little cash, and the Black Diamond Spot (Est. $30) is a prime example, reviewers agree. The Spot is lightweight, easy to use and versatile enough to wear while tackling the trails at night or lounging around with a book. It also has enviable battery life and an infinite dimmer that allows any level of brightness between low and high. On the downside, it's not completely waterproof, and some users say the plastic could be more durable. It's also not as compact as some competing headlamps.
The Princeton Tec Byte (Est. $20) is even less expensive than the Black Diamond Spot. It's also smaller and more than an ounce lighter -- its compact size makes it a good backup light to store just about anywhere. It also barely edges out the Black Diamond Spot for ease of operation, with a button that's simple for gloved hands. However, the Byte has a much dimmer, shorter beam than the Spot, and it actually quit working during one expert test.
Experts say the Black Diamond ReVolt (Est. $60) is an ideal pick for general outdoor use, especially if you're tired of wasting money on alkaline batteries. The headlamp is comfortable and easy to use, with a dimmable light and built-in battery meter. Reviewers also like the NiMH batteries, which are a cinch to charge using a USB cable. However, the ReVolt performs better with alkalines, and its brightness drops off significantly after initial usage, reviewers say. They also caution that beam distance and brightness might leave something to be desired for more extreme tasks.
The Petzl Tikka RXP (Est. $90) offers a brighter beam than the Black Diamond ReVolt at a comparable weight. Experts find it excels at long-distance tasks such as trail finding. The headlamp's "reactive technology," which instantly adjusts output based on a light sensor," can have a frustrating learning curve, and the rechargeable lithium batteries don't hold a charge as long as the ReVolt's NiMH AAAs. The RXP is also considerably more expensive than the ReVolt.
A third option, the Light & Motion Solite 250 (Est. $150) is reportedly brighter than both the Black Diamond ReVolt and the Petzl Tikka RXP. The light is also very even, according to expert tests, and can be mounted on a bicycle with a separate kit, making it a good potential choice for night cyclists or bicycle commuters. However, the higher price might be a turnoff for some, and the rechargeable lithium battery doesn't hold out as long as the batteries powering the ReVolt and the Tikka RXP.
The waterproof Black Diamond Icon (Est. $80) is an all-weather lamp that excels in almost every area. The Icon can be fully submerged and its five white and red LEDs make it versatile enough for most situations. The Icon boasts a bright, long beam sufficiently powerful for highly technical climbing or caving trips. Of course, all that power comes with a price: At almost 8 ounces, it's heavier than many other headlamps. And while it's comfortable to wear, some reviewers consider it bulky.
If you prefer a less costly, more compact waterproof headlamp, the Black Diamond Storm (Est. $40) might be the right headlamp for you. The Storm can also be submerged, and it wins rave reviews for easy operation and versatility with both white and red LEDs. The dimmable lights mean just the right brightness, and there's a lock to keep the light from turning on accidentally in your bag. On the downside, some reviewers still find the Storm a bit too heavy for a compact lamp, while others say the battery life could be better. Though users say the Storm stands up to water as promised, there are few reports of cracked plastic casings.
The Petzl e+LITE (Est. $30) packs a punch in a remarkably small package. Weighing in at just under an ounce, the e+LITE isn't much bigger than a few coins -- perfect for stashing in an emergency kit or bringing as a backup to a higher-powered headlamp. Its retractable strap can be worn around the arm or wrist. Another bonus: It's waterproof. While experts say the e+LITE is durable and provides enough light for casual or emergency needs, they caution it's too dim for extended night hiking, climbing or any extended athletic use.
If you don't want to spend $30 on an emergency headlamp, the easy-to-use Energizer Pro 3 (Est. $13) is a solid choice and easier on the budget. While it's not as compact as the e+LITE, the Pro 3 is still a relatively light 2.7 ounces. It has slightly better battery life and uses AAA alkaline batteries, which may be easier to find than the watch batteries required by the e+LITE. But the Pro 3 suffers from the same major limitation as the e+LITE: It has a short, dim beam. The Pro 3 is not waterproof or even splash-proof.
The Petzl Tikkina 2 (Est. $19) offers a better quality beam than the Petzl e+LITE or Energizer Pro 3, experts say, and it's still fairly compact and lightweight at 2.9 ounces. Still, the light is much shorter and dimmer than pricier headlamps. The Tikkina 2's battery also performed much better in expert testing than its compact counterparts. Though splash-proof, the Tikkina 2 is not submergible unlike the e+LITE.
Reviewers agree the Black Diamond Sprinter (Est. $70) is the clear winner among headlamps for running. Although there are lighter headlamps, the 3.7-ounce Sprinter has an even beam that's ideal for predawn jogs or late nights on the trails. The Sprinter wins praise for comfort and stability, and the lithium battery is rechargeable via USB. On the downside, there is no spotlight mode and experts say battery life might not be sufficient for longer runs.
If no spotlight mode is a deal-breaker, the Petzl MYO RXP (Est. $90) could be a good alternative. It's more powerful than the Black Diamond Sprinter, with a longer, brighter beam. Of course, that means it's also on the heavy side for a running headlamp at just over 6 ounces, although testers claim the MYO RXP is comfortable despite the extra weight. Unlike the Black Diamond Sprinter, it's not fully waterproof. Battery life could also be an issue, according to experts.