Types of Headlamps
If you're hiking or camping, both weight and space in your pack come at a premium. The best headlamps for outdoorsy pursuits acknowledge that by striking a useful balance between brightness, compact size, light weight and battery life. The controls for any hiking or camping headlamp should be easy enough to use with gloves on, and having a red light mode helps preserve night vision while doing tasks around camp or reading in your tent at night.
For those who depend on their headlamp during far-flung outdoor adventures or have to work outside no matter what the weather is doing, a weatherproof headlamp is the best way to preserve your source of light. Rubber seals and precision-fitted compartments make the best headlamps waterproof against wind-blown rain and even full immersion; some models are also proof against dust.
Sometimes biggest and brightest isn't best. Compact headlamps are the perfect tool if you need a hands-free light source that is small enough to tuck in your purse or pocket, or as a backup to use while you're changing the batteries in a larger headlamp. Compact headlamps generally provide enough light for reading and performing tasks that are close at hand, but their capability for route-finding is limited.
Runners have a few special needs when it comes to headlamps. The light should be small, light and well-balanced; nothing kills a run like having a headlamp slip or bounce around on your head. Brightness factors in, too: If you're running in an urban environment, you usually don't need a lot of light to see your path and make yourself seen by drivers or cyclists. But if you're doing ultra-endurance runs or long trail runs that extend into the night, you might prefer a somewhat heavier, but brighter, headlamp to help you find your way.
There's a headlamp to fill every lighting need
If you've ever tried to change a tire or work on your car
by the light of a flashlight clenched in your teeth, you already appreciate the
convenience of hands-free lighting. A good headlamp gets you the same result
without putting your dental work at risk. Most headlamps also go one better than
a flashlight by having several lighting modes, including a strobe light for
signaling in emergency situations, and a red light mode to discreetly
illuminate while preserving your night vision.
Many modern headlamps are water-resistant or waterproof as
well, with solid seals that block out dust, water and other contaminants. Once
you try a headlamp, you probably won't go back; they're indispensable for
everything from exploring dark caves to cycling on dark roads or finding that
quarter that rolled into the dark space under your car seat.
Measuring a headlamp's brightness
Today's headlamps use LED bulbs exclusively; they're
smaller, brighter and more energy efficient than the bulbs found on older
headlamps. Brightness is measured in lumens: the higher the number of lumens,
the brighter the headlamp. Most headlamps nowadays have several lighting powers
and, of course, the manufacturers want their products to look as impressive as
possible, so they almost always list the lumen rating for the headlamp's highest
High-powered light eats up battery life, though, so
headlamp manufacturers usually give the battery life for the lowest light
setting, placed right next to the lumen rating for the brightest mode. The
result is, predictably, that consumers expect that sort of battery life at the
high setting. You can read more about how headlamp manufacturers almost stopped
this misleading practice -- then decided to keep it up anyway -- in an
excellent article by OutdoorGearLab.com. That said, we're happy to report
that on many headlamps freshly updated for 2017, we see some manufacturers
making more realistic claims about beam reach and battery life.
Usually, if you flip the headlamp packaging over and check
the backside (or make a few prudent clicks online), in almost every case you'll
be able to see the lumen rating and battery life for each of the headlamp's
lighting modes, plus the "throw," or how far the beam's light reaches
for each mode.
most powerful headlamps average around 500 lumens of lighting power. That's
great for cyclists advertising their presence on dark roads, climbers lighting
up the crag, or hikers scaring Sasquatch away from their backcountry campsite.
But that much light can also be annoying, battery-slaying overkill if all you
want to do is read a book or tie your bootlaces, so take a look at the specs
for your uber-headlamp's low light modes, too.
particular tend to appreciate the compact size and light weight that come with
a mid-range headlamp that provides between 150 and 300 lumens. That's also a
sweet spot for use in the home or around the car, and some backcountry users
are comfortable with this sort of light, too.
What IP ratings
mean for your headlamp
headlamps are both waterproof and dustproof, which allows them to keep working
in almost any adverse conditions. An engineered object's protection against
solid objects and liquids is usually given with a two-digit IP, or ingress
protection, rating. The first digit in the number gives the protection against
solid objects, with "0" being no special protection and "6"
being totally protected against dust.
digit gives the protection against liquids, with "0" being no special
protection and "8" being protected against long periods of immersion
under pressure. Another common IP rating for liquids, "7," signifies
protection against the effects of immersion in 15cm to 1 meter -- about 3 feet
-- of water. So a headlamp with IP67 protection, which you'll see more than
once in this report, is completely dustproof and can be submerged in up to 1
meter of water. If you see an "X" in place of a digit -- for example,
IPX8 -- it's a placeholder that means the headlamp is not rated for that
category of protection.
You can see a
full listing of IP ratings, including information on the rarely used third
digit that signifies protection against mechanical impacts, at EngineeringToolbox.com.
Finding The Best Headlamps
"The Hunt for the Best Headlamp"
"The Best Headlamp"
"7 Headlamps for Runners, Reviewed"
headlamps are lightweight, bright, compact, and reliable even in challenging
weather or dusty conditions. To find the headlamps that really stand up to
their manufacturer's claims, we first examined expert, hands-on reviews from
sites like OutdoorGearLab.com, TheWirecutter.com, GearInstitute.com, and
Switchback Travel. Trail Runner magazine and TrailandUltraRunning.com had
useful feedback for running headlamps, as did the online presences for Outside
and Backpacker magazines. We also found lots of helpful user reviews on REI.com
We give the
same thorough evaluation to other outdoor gear -- so before you leave the
house, you might want to check out our reports on binoculars, insect repellent, and hiking footwear.
you're out on the trail after dark or just puttering around camp, the best
headlamp for hiking and camping is bright, compact, lightweight and easy to
use. A red light mode comes in handy for preserving night vision while doing
tasks around camp, or for reading at night without bothering your tent mate;
and anyone who's ever switched on a headlamp only to be bombarded by bugs will
also appreciate that the red light mode is less likely to attract insects than
a bright white light, since they can't see the red light.
manufacturers seem to be engaged in an arms race to create the brightest bulbs
-- but more power usually means a heavier and more expensive headlamp, which
you're then less likely to buy or carry. We found the sweet spot where light
weight, compact size, powerful light and reasonable price all intersect in our
best reviewed model, the (Est. $40), which has long been beloved
of expert and user reviewers alike for its great performance, good battery life
and exceptional value.
introduced 2017 model of the Spot offers 300 lumens of lighting power with spot
and flood modes combined, a 50 percent increase over the 2016 model's 200
lumens. Otherwise the features on the newest version of the Spot remain
unchanged, including full IPX8 waterproofing. So far, early user feedback
indicates that like the 2016 model, the 2017 Spot will continue to outperform
many headlamps that cost twice as much.
Black Diamond Spot is tested to operate for up to 30 minutes while submerged in
more than a meter of water. It should keep running even if water gets into the
battery compartment, although you'll need to dry it out afterwards or the
headlamp's performance will degrade. User reports from the field show that the
headlamp usually lives up to those durability claims very well.
and waterproofing aside, the Black Diamond Spot has all the features you'd
expect from a more expensive headlamp, including a red light mode (both strobe
and floodlight) that you can get into without toggling through the white light
mode, and a lockout mode to keep the headlamp from accidentally turning on in
your pack and draining the battery. It also has a three-stage battery indicator
that illuminates for three seconds when the headlamp first switches on, letting
you see how much juice you have left.
(along with almost all current Black Diamond headlamps) also has a
"PowerTap" feature that lets you adjust brightness by tapping the
right side of the casing. Experts and users are split on just how useful this
feature is, but you don't have to use it; you can also adjust beam brightness
by holding the power button when the headlamp is already on. The single-button
control isn't terribly intuitive -- you use a combination of holds (of varying
length) and double-presses to switch modes or adjust brightness -- but most
users say they get used to it after a little while.
receives a high score from expert testers at OutdoorGearLab.com, performing
particularly well in the trail finding, ease of use, proximity and brightness
categories. It's also a top pick after hands-on testing from TheWirecutter.com
and Switchback Travel, and gets a great review from OutsideOnline.com. Its
QuadPower and DoublePower white LEDS offers a max distance of 80m at high mode;
the SinglePower red LED has a max distance of 10m.
brightness claims hold up well when batteries are fresh but, without regulated
output, the Spot's light output dims as the battery power fades. In their
latest update the manufacturer downgraded their claims of battery life at high
power from 50 hours to 25 hours, but user reviews indicate that real-world
performance is likely to more like 7 hours of usefully bright light. You can
conserve battery power quite a bit if you switch to a lower setting.
As we noted
earlier, hat discrepancy between claimed burn time and actual burn time is all
but universal in the headlamp industry. In spite of that, the Black Diamond
Spot's estimated 7-hour burn time at max power still puts it near the top of
the field for a compact headlamp. It runs off three AAA batteries and weighs
90g (3.2 ounces).
If 300 lumens
of light in a compact headlamp -- unheard of just a few years ago -- isn't
enough light for you, the newly redesigned 500-lumen (Est. $100) is a solid heavy-duty headlamp. We mean the
"heavy" part literally, since it weighs 230g (8.1 ounces) and runs
off four AA batteries -- but experts and users say it's plenty bright enough
for lighting up a climbing crag or route finding in the dark, and its fully
sealed, dustproof and waterproof (IP67) body is tested to keep the headlamp
functioning for 30 minutes in up to a meter of water, with no maintenance
In fact, the
Icon gets one of the highest scores in trail finding from the expert testers at
OutdoorGearLab.com, along with praise for its battery life, brightness, and
ease of use. We didn't find any tests of battery life for the newest version of
the Black Diamond Icon, but OutdoorGearLab.com measured the previous version's
run time at 9.4 hours of usable light in the brightest light mode. Although
that's significantly less than the manufacturer's claim of 75 hours (now reduced
to a more modest 50 hours in the 2017 model), it's a substantial increase over
the Black Diamond Spot, so this is the headlamp you go for if you need a full
night of serious illumination.
Black Diamond Spot, the Icon also has a three-stage battery power indicator and
a night-vision mode that you can access without cycling through the white
light; the night-vision mode offers not just red lighting but also blue and
green options. The Icon's beam distance fell just a little bit short in
OutdoorGearLab.com's testing -- 82 meters versus the manufacturer's promised
100 meters (now updated to 110 meters in the 2017 model) -- but users are still
thrilled with the Icon's brightness and battery life, and the new model comes
with brightness memory that switches the headlamp back on at the same
brightness setting as when you turned it off.
feature for the 2017 Black Diamond Icon is a detachable battery pack that you
can stow in your pocket. Keeping the battery pack warm in cold weather extends
the headlamp's battery life, and of course it takes a little weight off your
head and neck, too. Although some complain that the battery pack on the Black
Diamond Icon makes it too bulky, it's become a surprise darling of hardcore
ultra-runners who need a headlamp that packs enough brightness and battery life
to see them through an entire night of running.
We found a
few scattered complaints that the waterproofing on the previous version of the
Black Diamond Icon wasn't always up to snuff -- perhaps due to issues with
getting the sealed battery compartment properly latched -- but in general, it's
still plenty tough. One user said that when he accidentally left his headlamp
tied to a tree for a few months, all he had to do was replace the batteries and
put it to work again. The new version of the Icon also draws praise from
GearPatrol.com for being one of the highest-quality headlamps of the year, and
Switchback Travel describes it as "bombproof." The only real downside
is that, like the Spot and many other headlamps currently on the market, the
Icon's light is not regulated; so as the battery power fades, so does its light
two top picks are pretty waterproof, users and experts still love the (Est. $40) for use in really foul weather. It's also a great value and
offers regulated lighting in a small and lightweight package, so the light
stays constant even as the batteries weaken. Like most Black Diamond headlamps,
the Storm received a recent upgrade: the 2017 model now packs 350 lumens -- a
full 100 lumens more than the previous year's model -- and a max distance of 80
meters. It has red, green and blue-light modes to preserve your night vision.
Both night modes have strobe and proximity settings, and can be accessed
without cycling through the white light mode.
this headlamp's most valuable feature is its fully sealed IP67 dustproof and
waterproof casing. Thanks to a secure-latching battery compartment and
waterproof gasket, the Storm is tested to perform for 30 minutes in up to one
meter of water and doesn't require any maintenance afterward. If you need to
use a headlamp in a dust storm or go swimming in the dark, the Storm is up to
waiting for updated battery life results on the newest model of the Storm, but
it has a decent reputation to uphold: Testers at OutdoorGearLab.com found that
the 2015 model lasted about 8 hours at max power, and while testing headlamps
for Outside.com, kayaker and expedition photographer Darin McQuoid noted that
the Storm had by far the longest battery life of the models he tested. The 2017
Storm's manufacturer specs have been updated to reflect a battery life of 22
hours -- much more realistic than the 80 hours promised for previous models.
weighs 110g (3.9 ounces), uses four AAA batteries, and comes with the same
PowerTap technology, single-button operation, lockout feature and three-stage
battery level indicator that you'll find on the other upgraded Black Diamond
headlamps. Reviewers consistently found the PowerTap technology -- a
touch-sensitive dimmer switch on the side of the housing -- easy to use, but
say they didn't miss this feature terribly when using other headlamps. The
Storm's brightness memory, which lets you switch it on at the same brightness
levels it had when turned off, is a more popular feature just added on the 2017
Not a fan
of Black Diamond?
has come to dominate the headlamp market in recent years, and users say their
customer service is generally good about backing the three-year warranty on
their headlamps. If you're not a fan of Black Diamond for any reason, though,
consider the following brands, which have become recognized for their powerful
illumination and sensible features.
The (Est. $35) scored a real coup by bumping older, most
established brands to claim the top spot in the latest round of testing from
OutdoorGearLab.com. The magic recipe here is a combination of simple, intuitive
controls and bright light in a relatively lightweight package -- just 4.4
ounces (124g). For users who are frustrated by high-tech headlamps that require
you to memorize a complex sequence of complex taps or button presses, the Coast
HL7's controls are delightfully simple: It has a button to turn it on, a lever
on the back of the headlamp to adjust light intensity, and a focus ring to
adjust the beam from close-up floodlight to far-reaching spot.
HL7's 285 lumens of light output are more than enough for most users. Although
we're still waiting on comparative test results for the newest version of the
Coast HL7, testers evaluating a previous version for OutdoorGearLab.com
measured a beam distance of 131 meters and a runtime of 3.4 hours in high mode.
That exceeded the manufacturer's promised 119 meters and max runtime of 1.5
hours -- a refreshing change in a product field where most manufacturer claims
aren't very realistic.
The HL7 is
clearly built with just one task in mind, and it excels at that: "It's
simple functionality that is absolutely painless in use—there's no need
to cycle through various modes to swap between close proximity and distance,"
write the staff at Switchback Travel, where they name the Coast HL7 one of the
year's top headlamps. It's also built sturdy, with an impact- and
weather-resistant casing that is backed up by a lifetime guarantee and customer
service that users say is wonderful.
The only thing that keeps us from placing
the Coast HL7 higher in this report is its poor battery life, a concern echoed
by almost every reviewer that's handled it, although that does little to
diminish its overall popularity. There's no denying the HL7's great mix of
performance, sensible controls and great value.
Another hot topic is the (Est. $85). This
headlamp has been on our radar for a couple of years, but wasn't included in
last year's report because it was temporarily unavailable. Now it's back in a
rechargeable version that earns a "Top Pick" designation from
OutdoorGearLab.com for its exceptional brightness and trail finding ability.
"Sometimes you just need a super bright light," they write.
The Fenix HP25R's light
output is impressive, with a total of nine different lighting modes to choose
from. Its standard spot strength is 350 lumens, but that can be boosted to a
staggering 1,000 lumens in Turbo mode, although that diminishes total runtime
to an equally staggering 1.5 hours; it's rated for 4.5 hours in the standard
At the opposite end of the
spectrum, the Fenix HP25R also offers a faint, 0.2-lumen red light mode. The
headlamp itself weighs 6.5 ounces (184g), not including the rechargeable
lithium-ion battery, which can be swapped out for two CR123A batteries in a
Users say this headlamp is
great for cycling, caving, and work applications like night avionics, where
high light output is the absolute highest priority, and they like its rugged
aluminum chassis and having a dedicated push-button control for each bulb (spot
and flood). That said, the headlamp can get hot quickly when used at max power,
and the chassis is only rated IPX6 -- water-resistant enough for most
conditions, but if you need a super-bright headlamp that is also fully
waterproof or dustproof, consider the 500-lumen (Est. $100) or the 350-lumen (Est. $40).
Ultimately, we think the
Fenix HP25R is a great choice if you need a super-bright light for short
periods. But for hiking, camping, and any other applications that require you
to balance weight, runtime and lighting, you'll may be better served by the
many other headlamps we've covered that are smaller, lighter and less
expensive. Or, as the editors at OutdoorGearLab.com write, "If you need
less than the brightest, choose something else."
headlamps are great as a backup
camper or climber can tell you that when your headlamp dies, changing the
batteries in the dark is a lot harder than you might expect. Having a small,
lightweight headlamp like the 50-lumen (Est. $30) in your pocket makes
the whole process much easier. This tiny headlamp -- about the size of a roll
of quarters, with a lightweight headband and a built-in whistle for summoning
emergency help -- is also great for stowing in your glovebox in case of car
trouble, or in your bike panniers in case you find yourself out longer than
cinch-able, lightweight band makes it easy to attach this light to your bike
handlebars, a fencepost, or any other handy object. If you see a Petzl e+LITE
with an elastic cord instead of the lightweight headband, it's an older version
-- still very good, but with only about half the lumens of the newest version.
weighs only 26g (just under one ounce), runs off two CR2032 batteries, and has
a dial to switch between red, white and strobe light modes, along with a
lockout mode to eliminate accidental battery drain. Although it only puts out
50 lumens with a reach of up to 10 meters, that's enough to help out in an
emergency, and it's waterproof (IPX7) for up to 30 minutes of exposure at 1
meter of depth. Testers with OutdoorGearLab.com reported that the Petzl e+ LITE actually exceeded its
advertised burn time of 9 hours, and it is covered by a 10-year warranty.