Light It Up

The 8 Best Headlamps for Any Adventure


July 5, 2018 Buying Guides By Photo by Chase Pellerin

Keeping your hands free while lighting the trail on your next outdoor adventure is a must. And while that flashlight duct taped to your head might be a wallet-friendly solution, there are much more elegant and functional products out there. When you’re out on the trail at night, whether you planned to be or not, your headlamp becomes the most important part of your kit. You could have the best backpack, or the best hiking boots, but without a headlamp you might as well stay at home. Whether you’re a backcountry skier gearing up for your next heli-skiing trip or just looking to walk the dog at night, these headlamps have you covered.

Understanding Headlamp Specs

We’ve outlined the key specs for each headlamp in this guide, but it’s important to know how to read them correctly. In a store, a headlamp will typically be displayed with its lumens front-and-center on its packaging. This is slightly deceiving, and you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that the number of lumens a headlamp is capable of emitting is equivalent to its overall power. This is true, to an extent.

These specs refer to light emitted by the headlamp at its most powerful setting. The catch is that many headlamps have a burst mode, which may only be operational for a short period. So, a headlamp claiming 500 lumens may only emit that much light for a period as short as 10 seconds.

The good news is, headlamp manufacturers are generally very transparent with this information, providing detailed charts and graphs on how long a light will last at a given strength. In this guide, we detail each headlamp’s maximum light output as a measurement of lumens in its most powerful setting. Similarly, maximum runtime refers to how long each light will last on its lowest setting.

Buying Guide

Editor’s Pick: Black Diamond Spot

Best Overall: The Spot is great because it’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s basic. The headlamp uses three AAA batteries (which you’ll be able to find pretty much anywhere on the planet), and it’s fully waterproof. The main light is 300 lumens, which emits a beam to a claimed range of 80 meters (about 262 feet) and is easily dimmable. There’s also a red night vision setting.

Black Diamond equipped the Spot with its PowerTap Technology, which lets you cycle through modes by tapping the side of the lamp housing (a feature that strays toward gimmicky but is actually very useful for reading and cooking, among other things). Another smart feature is a lock mode that prevents the light from turning on in your backpack and killing the batteries — you only forget to use that function once.

We’ve tested this headlamp from park-in campsites to the top of Mt. Rainier, and it’s performed adequately in both situations; it truly is a well-rounded light. But the great part about the Spot is that for all this functionality it’s still only $40.

Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
Max Output: 300 lumens
Max Runtime: 175 hours
Weight: 3.1 ounces

Nite Ize Inova STS

Most Innovative On/Off Control: Boulder, Colorado-based Nite Ize is known for crafting innovative, outdoor-oriented technologies and the Inova STS headlamp is no exception. The Inova is unique in that it offers a simple touch-activated user interface dubbed Swipe-To-Shine and is also waterproof down to one meter. Swipe-to-shine is an easy interface that works like swiping to unlock your smartphone; one direction for white led, the opposite direction for red. It features one high-power white LED and two red ones to preserve your night vision. Both the red and white LEDs offer five beam modes: high, variable dim, medium, strobe and lockout.

Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
Max Output: 142 lumens
Max Runtime: 255 hours
Weight: 3.3 ounces

Coast FL75

Best Lumen to Price Ratio: Portland, Oregon-based Coast makes some of the brightest and most durable headlamps on the market. The FL75 is one of its latest releases, which is capable of pumping out a massive 430 lumens and comes with an IPX4 weatherproof rating. Its construction facilitates switching between different beam outputs with the twisting of a bezel — no repetitive tapping necessary — and there’s a separate button to engage the red LED. Impact resistance was also a priority for the design of this light, but if you aren’t sold on the durability, the FL75 is backed by Coast’s lifetime guarantee.

Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
Max Output: 435 lumens
Max Runtime: 17 hours
Weight: 3.7 ounces

Petzl Actik

Most Reliable: Petzl’s latest headlamp features an easy-to-locate, large push button that toggles the lamp off and on and allows access to a proximity bulb, wider flood light, and a red LED that can operate in solid or strobe mode. The headband comes with a safety whistle attached and can be washed easily after long hikes or runs.

Power Source: 3 AAA batteries or Petzl Core
Max Output: 300 lumens
Max Runtime: 80 hours
Weight: 3.25 ounces

Black Diamond Icon

Highest Quality: Combining a 500-lumen maximum output with Black Diamond’s durability is a recipe for a great headlamp — thus, the new Icon. If you’re looking for the highest quality at a reasonable price, this is it. IP67 rated, the Icon can be submerged down to 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes and still operate perfectly.

Power Source: 4 AA batteries
Max Output: 500 lumens
Max Runtime: 200 hours
Weight: 10.6 ounces

Fenix HP25R

Most Versatile: Fenix is a well-known flashlight and utility light maker, but it often gets overlooked by people shopping for headlamps. It may not be as flashy as some of the outdoor companies, but its roots are in lighting and in headlamps, that’s what matters. The HP25R is a high-powered headlamp with smart features. A dedicated push button for both the flood and spotlights means that you don’t have to fumble through the headlamp’s every setting. A rugged aluminum chassis also helps to shed heat away from your head and keeps the lamp cool during extended outdoor activities. The light also includes a battery level indicator so you don’t get surprised without power mid-adventure.

Power Source: One 18650 rechargeable Li-ion battery (included) or two CR123A batteries
Max Output: 1,000 lumens
Max Runtime: 150 hours
Weight: 6.5 ounces (excluding battery)

Petzl Reactik+

Best Technical Innovation: Petzl has long been an innovator when it comes to headlamp technology, and its latest tech is reflected in the Reactik+. This headlamp features reactive — hence the name — lighting that automatically dims or brightens the bulb based on ambient lighting conditions. The Reactik+ also comes readily-compatible with Petzl’s proprietary Bluetooth mobile app, which allows you to custom-tune your headlamp to your specifications from your phone. Monitor battery life, control output, and set it up for specific, pre-programmed activities or create your own. You can even write out a message that the headlamp will convert into Morse code.

Power Source: 1800 mAh Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (included)
Max Output: 300 lumens
Max Runtime: 60 hours
Weight: 4.06 ounces

Light & Motion Seca 2000 Race

Brightest: If you ever imagined a headlamp that’s as powerful as the average car headlight, the Light & Motion Seca 2000 Sport is the answer to your prayers. With a blinding max output of 2,000 lumens, the Seca is the perfect headlamp for high-speed after-dark activities like skiing and mountain biking. It’s waterproof and comes with a full set of mounts that’ll let you integrate it into whatever sport you need it for.

Power Source: Lithium Ion
Max Output: 2,000 lumens
Max Runtime: 6 hours
Weight: 12.52 ounces

BioLite PowerLight Mini

Best Headlamp Alternative: Camp lighting usually boils down to two options: headlamp or lantern. BioLite’s PowerLight Mini is a little bit of both. Unlike the cylindrical construction characteristic of most lanterns, it’s a rectangle. It has a rotating metal clip that can act as a hanger or kickstand-like support. That clip can also be used to secure the PowerLight Mini to a shirt or pocket though, which is why we’re pointing it out on this list. No, it’s not a headlamp, but it can be used similarly, and like some of the great lights on this list, it’s affordable, offers a variety of brightness settings and can even be used as a backup battery to charge your tech accessories.

Power Source: 1350 mAh Li-on, USB Rechargeable
Max Output: 135 lumens
Max Runtime: 52 hours
Weight: 2.82 ounces
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