Headlamps are undeniably handy, and not just for hard-core outdoors enthusiasts. While they're necessary for tackling dark caves or misty mountain climbs, headlamps are also useful for pre-dawn runners and campers, and should be found in any emergency kit for the home or car. While some very compact headlamps provide just enough light for casual tasks, heavy-duty models light up the night with enough power for any adventure.
Today's headlamps exclusively use LED lights. In fact, many headlamps are equipped with both high- and low-powered LEDs. Most models also have both floodlights and spotlights: Floodlights cast a more even beam closer to the user, while spotlights direct an intense, narrow beam farther away. But there are a number of other factors to consider when buying a headlamp: brightness, water resistance, batteries, price and purpose.
The brightest headlamps are best for extreme adventures. The more lumens, the brighter the headlamp. For most casual users, the brightest headlamps are overkill. For adventures such as climbing, caving and cycling, an intense, long beam can keep you out of a ditch or away from a cliff. Note the brightest headlamps are often the heaviest and most expensive, however -- they start around $50, with many around $100 or more.
Cheap headlamps light the way for a fraction of the price. You don't have to pay a fortune for a decent headlamp -- in fact, several models around $30 (or less) offer a solid blend of brightness, beam distance, battery life and comfort. These headlamps are excellent candidates for occasional use around the campfire, but if you want a light more suited to athletic use, you should plan on spending a bit more.
Rechargeable headlamps keep batteries out of landfills and put cash in your pocket. If being eco-friendly is a priority, look for a model that uses rechargeable batteries. There may be a small price premium upfront: Models start around $60 and some are over $100. But they'll save you from shelling out for alkaline batteries time after time in the long run. Rechargeable batteries may not be as powerful, though, and you will still want disposable batteries on hand as backup.
Waterproof headlamps can survive a dunk or two. Snow campers, kayakers or others who expect more moisture than the occasional rainstorm will want a waterproof headlamp that can withstand being submerged for short periods. Waterproof headlamps come at a variety of price points, but expect to pay at least $40.
Emergency headlamps provide needed light in a pinch. If your power goes out or you need to peek under your car's hood at 2 a.m., an emergency headlamp is a good alternative to a flashlight. Compact and inexpensive, these headlamps are ideal to shove in a drawer or bring as a backup. Emergency headlamps may not have quite the brightness, beam distance or range of features as more expensive models, though. There are several options under $30 or even $20.
Headlamps for runners should feel light as a feather. Runners will want a lightweight, comfortable headlamp with a long, even beam and a red strobe to increase visibility around cars. Expect some tradeoffs, however. For example, headlamps marketed toward runners may not have a spotlight for more mundane tasks, and you'll pay $50 or more for a good model.
ConsumerSearch has analyzed expert and customer reviews to evaluate ease of use, performance and durability of popular headlamps. The result is our picks for the best headlamps on the market.