When faced with the choice between holding a flashlight or enjoying the hands-free convenience of a headlamp, most individuals would opt for the headlamp - at least when it comes to outdoor and recreational activities. If you know you need a headlamp for your adventure but don't know much about headlamps, here are some quick tidbits to get you started. Battery life, also referred to as run time, tells you the amount of time your headlamp will emit light you can actually use. Run time is typically reported in hours, and assumes the lowest setting unless otherwise stated. Whenever you hear the term lumen, that is the unit used to measure the intensity of your light (lumen is simply the measurement of light output). Beam distance refers to how far the light extends in front of you. These characteristics, in addition to size and weight, are some of the main things to consider when deciding on a headlamp to best fit your needs. This list focuses on the top contenders for best headlamp based on light output, durability, run time, customizable options, and customer satisfaction.
The Tikka XP 2 is a fantastic option for an all-around excellent headlamp due to its small size, powerful beam, durability, and customizable options to meet your varied lighting needs. It will last you through years of use - and even inclement weather - if properly cared for. Read Full Review
The Tikka XP 2 offers an incredible amount of power in an itty-bitty package. The white LED dishes out a whopping 80 lumens on high setting, and the beam extends a maximum of 68 meters. You can choose between three white lighting modes and two red lighting modes to best illuminate your space, both on and off the trail (your tent mates will thank you for using the more eye-friendly red LED). This headlamp will last up to an insane 180 hours if you use only low level white light, and upwards of 70 hours on high setting. The tilt head is convenient for precisely directing your beam, and the flood and spot options allow you to vary your beam type whenever you need to (the diffuser is an acclaimed favorite feature of this headlamp). All these perks weigh in at 3.1 ounces, and that includes the batteries.
The Storm is a surefire choice when you want a durable, waterproof headlamp with a super intense high beam and wide low beam. Four tilt options, infinitely adjustable brightness, and long battery life make this headlamp a perennial favorite of outdoor enthusiasts in many different fields. Read Full Review
If you enjoy more extreme adventures that involve snow, rain, and downright nasty weather, Black Diamond had you in mind when they created this beast of a headlamp. Boasting a maximum light output of 100 lumens with its TriplePower LED, this headlamp's max beam distance spans 70 meters. The low beam, SinglePower white and red LEDs are great for illuminating your campground and maneuvering in conditions where less intense light will suffice. Pop this bad boy into low setting and it will last you upwards of 200 hours (50 hours on high). If you accidentally drop it in a lake, don't panic - it's waterproof down to a depth of one meter. The Storm also includes an infinite dimmer feature which allows you to gradually adjust from the dimmest to the brightest setting and stop anywhere in between.
This headlamp is a great choice for backpackers, runners, and those who desire the convenience of having a compact, lightweight, and powerful light. The retractable cord increases your options for positioning the headlamp on yourself, or around your campsite. Consider the Plus model for five lighting modes and a red LED option. Read Full Review
The Petzl Zipka 2 LED headlamp is ideal if space and weight are among your main considerations. For starters, this puppy only weighs 2.4 ounces, batteries included. The retractable cord is much less bulky than a headband, and allows this headlamp to be easily attached to other areas such as your wrist - or even different spots throughout your camp. Three lighting modes are available depending on your trail and camp needs, and the four LEDs will help you see up to 29 meters. It is always a good idea to pack extra batteries, but this lamp will last up to 120 hours on the lowest setting. It's unlikely you'll have to use your reserves, unless you're planning an insane series of night hikes or frequently use the higher level settings. Speaking of batteries, lithium batteries can be used in this headlamp, which is a big plus if you are planning on using it in colder conditions (side note: always check to see if your headlamp is compatible with lithium batteries before using them so you don't inadvertently damage it).
The T-Trail is a solid headlamp choice for many different recreational activities. It is small and lightweight, includes three brightness levels and an emergency strobe setting, and offers handy diffused lighting when paired with the Ambient Light Dry Bag (which can also double as a waterproof stuff sack). Read Full Review
Say hello to the king of versatility. Whether you're hiking, camping, rock climbing, night running, paddling, cycling, or even skiing, you'll be able to see clearly with the Mammut T-Trail and barely notice the 2.5 ounces of weight you are carrying. The 4 LED bulbs in this headlamp deliver 60 lumens and illuminate up to 30 meters in front of you. With an average run time of 80 hours on low setting and 20 hours on high, its battery life is among the shorter ones on this list, but respectable nonetheless. One especially convenient feature of this headlamp is the Ambient Light Dry Bag. Attach the headlamp to this bag for more diffused, scattered lighting as opposed to a more focused, intense beam. This feature is especially handy around base camp, or while you are performing various tasks.
Consider this headlamp if you want a rugged, waterproof, and intensely bright light with numerous options to meet your extreme adventure needs. The head strap is comfortable, durable, and very adjustable for a snug fit. Read Full Review
If you long for a bigger and brighter headlamp for your spelunking adventures or other serious-lighting-required activities, take some time to check this bad boy out. The Princeton Tec Apex headlamp is definitely massive and perhaps overkill for certain backpacking or camping trips, but it is considered a virtual necessity by many avid cavers and extreme adventurists. This headlamp is waterproof and includes one Maxbright LED and four Ultrabright LEDs which together offer five beam settings. Add in the fact that those four Ultrabright LEDs come in white, green, or red and you have a slew of lighting options at your disposal. The beam is ridiculously bright (200 lumens) and on the Maxbright High setting, it reaches a maximum distance of 116 meters. On low, this headlamp will last upwards of 150 hours (200 hours in blink mode).