For hiking and backpacking - and any outdoor adventure when you might be caught out after dark - reviews recommend headlamps that provide red light to preserve night vision. You can buy an optional filter kit (*est. $5) for the 2.3-ounce Petzl Zipka Plus (*Est. $40) discussed above, but owners say it's easy to misplace the filters. Keep in mind that the lightweight Petzl e+LITE also includes a red LED bulb for this purpose.
The 2.7-ounce Petzl Tactikka Plus LED headlamp (*Est. $45) includes a pull-down red filter that switches the 4-LED array to red light. It's more expensive, but it also throws light a longer distance (up to 100 feet) than the tiny e+LITE, plus it tilts for good aim. It's also brighter in general than the e+LITE, putting out 64 lux at two meters. On that setting, batteries last 100 hours, while using the lower 14-lux setting extends battery life to 150 hours (the battery on the e+LITE only lasts about 45 hours). The battery pack is in the front with the lamp.
The slightly heavier 3.3-ounce Petzl Tactikka XP (*Est. $60)is more geared for distance lighting. The single 1-watt LED normally throws a beam as far as 100 feet, but a boost mode increases the throw -- for 20 seconds at a time -- to 164 feet. This makes it a good choice for night running, cycling or hiking on challenging terrain. The color filters (green and blue as well as red) are detachable, but the headlamp includes a carrier to keep them handy. (Hunters often prefer a green light.) Petzl rates the battery life at 120 hours on the lowest light setting, but tests at Field & Stream magazine, where the Tactikka XP earns the "Best of the Best" award, find battery life longer by 30 hours -- matching that of the Tactikka Plus.
A new 2008 headlamp from Princeton Tec, the Quad Tactical (*Est. $37) is even more convenient, letting you flick back and forth between a clear lens and a colored red, green or blue lens. With alkaline or rechargeable NiMH batteries it weighs 3.6 ounces, but unlike the Petzl headlamps, can use lithium-ion batteries - reducing the weight to 2.9 ounces.
The Quad Tactical headlamp is also waterproof and has a voltage regulator - but as on the regular Quad, the regulator only keeps the light at its maximum brightness for 1.5 hours. On its medium setting, brightness is regulated for nine hours, and for 24 hours on low. Total runtime is much longer - 150 hours on low - but it's gradually fading during much of this time.
The UK Vizion 3AAA eLED Headlamp (*Est. $30) is made by Underwater Kinetics, a company that's not only based in the United States, but does its manufacturing here. Its innovative new headlamp has a unique design that reviews praise as extremely easy to use -- you just twist a knob on the end of the lamp to adjust the light among three modes: spot, flood and red flood light. The spotlight mode throws a beam up to 305 feet, with an output of 29 lumens -- a "medium" output that's comparable to that of the Princeton Tec Quad.
The design actually recycles heat from the half-watt LED back into the batteries to keep them warm for longer runtime, with a heatsink to protect the LED itself. You can remove the lamp from the wide headband to use it as a camp light, and the design is so waterproof that the headlamp is submersible to ten meters (33 feet). Battery life is good - 76 hours on high, 127 on low. There are no hinges to break, and the headlamp carries a lifetime warranty. Oddly enough, the LED itself is guaranteed for only 30 days. The main drawback is that the Vizion headlamp lacks a strobe mode.
As a budget choice, the Rayovac Sportsman (*Est. $25 for a pack of two) is actually one of the top-rated headlamps in owner-written reviews at Amazon.com. It's a hybrid headlamp that uses either a white or red 1-watt LED for task lighting, plus a Krypton bulb for distance. It's water-resistant and tilts for aim, but reviews say the aim doesn't lock securely into place. Battery life for task lighting is 40 hours, then lower for up to 200 hours, but the Krypton spotlight only runs a little over two hours on a set of batteries. If you seldom need distance lighting, owners say it's comfortable (once you figure out how to attach the headstraps), and can be a fine budget choice for campsite use.
Another Rayovac model, the Sportsman Xtreme 1-watt LED Headlight (*Est. $20), combines a 1-watt Luxeon LED for spot lighting with a floodlight array of two red LEDs and one blue. Its single alkaline AA battery makes it lightweight, and the 45-lumen output is fine for most tasks, but the two-hour runtime is a major drawback. Also, lighting experts warn against choosing the least expensive LED lights, because LED quality varies so much.