Headlamps are simply flashlight lamps worn on a comfortable headband. Since headlamps leave both hands free, reviews recommend them for household power outages as well as for remodeling, auto repair and construction tasks. Headlamps are also useful, of course, for all kinds of outdoor sports - hiking, running, cycling, climbing and more. Reviewers now recommend LED headlamps as the best type, since LED technology can now provide bright light with long battery life. LED bulbs are also virtually unbreakable and last 50,000 to 100,000 hours - compared with about 40 hours for an incandescent headlamp bulb.
We found the best headlamp comparisons at BackpackingLight.com, whose review ranks ten LED headlamps based on detailed tests. Specific ratings cover eleven factors, including comfort and value. Expert reviews at FlashlightReviews.com also cover headlamps based on thorough testing, recommending two models as the best headlamps as of June 2007 -- when the site's author stopped reviewing new headlamps. REI.com provides the most current user reviews. The REI reviews are especially useful because they include staff measurements of the light output of each headlamp.
According to staff at REI, the major headlamp manufacturers have recently agreed on a set of standard measures of beam throw and battery life, so it's now easier to compare newer headlamp models. (The information on older headlamps isn't as standardized.) But for some purposes, other factors are more important -- such as weight, comfort and beam width. Both objective tests and owner-written reviews show that specifications don't tell the whole story; some headlamps perform better than others, and battery life seems to really separate models.
The Petzl e+LITE (*Est. $30), for example, doesn't get the best battery life (about 45 hours), but the trade is its tiny size and feather weight. A competing model, the Coleman Exponent Mini Headlamp (*Est. $40) is brighter; one reviewer at CandlePowerForums calls it a "super-duper version of the Petzl e+LITE." However, battery life is extremely short -- only 2.5 hours on the brighter light level, 6 hours on the lower setting. The Coleman headlamp lacks red light for preserving night vision -- one feature users really appreciate on the cheaper e+LITE. So unless its brighter light is essential, the less expensive and well-tested Petzl e+LITE looks like a better choice.