Hands-free lighting is a necessity for all sorts of outdoor activities. Here, we line up the best headlamps of the year.
Headlamps are a hotly contested item here in the GearJunkie office. We each have our favorites, and the arguments get hot over what works and what doesn’t.
Listen, when it comes down to it, when you need a headlamp, you need a headlamp. And you need it now.
It’s easy to say that the best headlamp you have is the one that is there — and is ready to turn on when you need it. But, for the sake of gear testing, we’ve dug in and figured out what works for the majority of folks.
Please note that we mostly chose simpler models rather than highlighting some of the techier headlamps on the market. What the GearJunkie team continues to find (and complain about) is the techier a headlamp gets, the more annoying it is to use.
Our collective advice is to abide by the KISS methodology, particularly when it comes to headlamps. Keep It Simple, Stupid, or literally lose your mind as you struggle with a technically overloaded headlamp in the dark of night.
Feel free to scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:
- Best Overall
- Best Ultralight
- Best for Running or Biking
- Best Budget
- Runner-Up Best Budget
- Best of the Rest
The Best Headlamps of 2021
Best Overall: BioLite 330 HeadLamp
This is a hotly contested choice, as the GearJunkie crew each has their personal favorite headlamp. But, I’ve put the BioLite 330 to the test for years now, and it’s as great of a headlamp today as it was when I got it.
The kicker for me with the BioLite 330 ($60) is you don’t wear the battery pack on the front of your head. Instead, the light is built into the headband of the lamp, and it connects to the battery pack that now sits behind your head.
As a hunter, I’m often doing weird stuff in the dark, like breaking down an animal, trekking back to my rig, or trying to get to an early morning hunting spot.
This is simply the most comfortable and effective headlamp I’ve worn. The lack of weight on the forehead keeps the headlamp and light from bouncing or getting off-kilter. The sweat-wicking material is awesome, and you can easily tilt the light down for hiking or running.
I personally don’t find any big cons with this lamp, but fellow GearJunkies have weighed in that they have trouble with the small buttons and adjusting the headband due to the cord in the back.
I don’t share headlamps, so I personally haven’t had this issue. My solution to the cord issue is the Oprah method: You get a BioLite 330! And you get a BioLite 330!
I’ll note it’s a tad more expensive than your average headlamp, but trust me. It’s worth it if you’re bumbling around in the woods like I am.
- Lumen output: 330 lumens; floodlight to 16 m, spotlight to 75 m
- Rechargeable: Micro-USB
- Burn time: 40 hours on low, 3.5 hours on high
- Weight: 2.4 oz.
- Red light: Yes
Runner-Up: Coast FL85R
If another editor had their pick for the best headlamp, it would be the Coast FL85R ($80). What are they loving about this big, burly beast of a lamp?
First, it’s got giant buttons for man hands that have trouble with smaller buttons. And this makes it much easier to operate while wearing gloves.
You can use these to easily flip from white to red light as well as change the power of your light. Second, you can either use the rechargeable battery pack or switch batteries out for alkaline.
This is a nice feature, especially if you forget to recharge things on the regular. It’s also easy to move from floodlight to spotlight with a simple turn of the dial on the lamp.
There are several cons to this headlamp. First, the runtime, even on the low light setting, is extremely short at under 9 hours. So, you’ll prob want to pack those extra alkaline batteries with you regularly.
And, two, it’s a bit bulkier than some of the lights on this list. This can add some drag and bounce to the light. Also, three — expensive, y’all.
But as far as simple, robust, and bright go, she’s a winner.
- Lumen output: 750 lumens max; floodlight to 70 m, spotlight to 200 m
- Rechargeable: Rechargeable battery pack via USB
- Burn time: 8.5 hours on low, 1.5 hours on high
- Weight: 4.5 oz.
- Red light: Yes
Best Ultralight: Petzl Bindi Ultralight Headlamp
This well-loved and super-light headlamp is a solid option for those sick of bulky headbands and heavy lights. At 1.2 ounces, the Petzl Bindi ($45) is crazy minimal. And it still boasts more run time and decent lumens in comparison to everything else on this list.
The adjustable drawstring band is minimalistic, and it can easily go over your head, hat, or hood. It boasts a 4.7-star rating on Amazon, and the fast adjustment is a huge bonus.
Folks love this for search-and-rescue, running, camping, and anything where a minimal approach is needed. The tilt is highly adjustable, and the cord itself is reflective for safety.
Really, this is a well-loved headlamp at a decent price with a use case scenario that covers most outdoorspeople.
- Lumen output: 5-200 lumens
- Rechargeable: Yes; Micro-USB
- Weight: 1.2 oz.
- Burn time: 50 hours on low, 2 hours max power
- Red light: Yes
Best for Running or Biking: Ledlenser NEO6R
The smart and safety-minded design of the NEO6R ($40) lands it at the top of our list as a running/biking headlamp. Why? It has both a front light and rear red light built into it, as well as a reflective headband to ensure that motorists see you from all directions.
The headlamp can also be worn on your chest with the included straps. And it has multiple modes to save energy for max power or max time. The one issue here is knowing how to toggle between these modes so you’re not using up the headlamp’s power unnecessarily.
Reviewers love the swivel-mounted design of this light. Ledlenser’s iconic round lights are simple to change up if you need to focus elsewhere. It’s also not outrageously expensive.
- Lumen output: 240 lumens, 10-30 m
- Rechargeable: Yes
- Weight: 3.4 oz.
- Burn time: Out of its energy-saving mode, 3 hours high power, 40 hours low power; when in energy-saving mode, 6 hours high, 40 hours low
- Red light: Yes; both front and back
Best Budget: Foxelli MX20 Headlamp
The Foxelli MX20 is a $10 headlamp with something like 9,000-plus reviews on Amazon. It offers a lot of what the more expensive headlamps on this list offer at a mere fraction of the price.
It has different light settings from 40-165 lumens, it runs for an impressive amount of time on batteries, and it has a red light function.
So, for at least half the price of every other headlamp on this list, you get a lot of functionality. And it’s pretty darned lightweight.
Reviewers do say there’s a bit of spillover of light in your eyes, but that happens. It’s also a $10 headlamp, so if you are expecting something perfect, you’re probably expecting too much.
But, for the majority of headlamp needs — or for a battery-operated backup — this is a freakin’ great buy for most folks.
- Lumen output: 165 lumens, 15-50 m
- Rechargeable: No; AAA batteries needed
- Weight: 3.2 oz.
- Burn time: 45 hours
- Red light: Yes
Runner-Up Best Budget: Petzl Tikkina Headlamp
The Petzl Tikkina headlamp is just that — a headlamp. It’s not intensely bright, nor does it have a red light. But for $20, you get a decent headlamp that runs on batteries.
You can also purchase 1,250 mAh CORE rechargeable batteries for this lamp if you’re looking to be more eco-conscious.
The Tikkina is fairly lightweight, and it has a high run time on low light. It offers a low, medium, and bright type of light that is easily adjusted via one button.
It’s a bit brighter than our budget option, but it doesn’t offer red light capability if that’s something you need. This headlamp easily fits into our KISS model of efficiency while managing to be under $20. Win-win. All around.
- Lumen output: 250 lumens, 10-60 m
- Rechargeable: No; AAA batteries needed
- Weight: 3 oz.
- Burn time: 120 hours on low, 2 hours max power
- Red light: No
Best of the Rest
GearJunkie reporter Mary Murphy loves the Black Diamond Revolt 350 ($65). I know this because she told me point-blank. And a lot of other folks do, too. If you’re looking for a higher lumen output with the option to both recharge and use normal batteries, this is a great choice.
Black Diamond put this on a slimmer profile, making it lighter and easier to use than some of their lower-end models. But, the interface can be a bit complicated to learn.
Some folks have said the tab breaks off the battery compartment — I’ve had this happen with Black Diamond headlamps in difficult circumstances — and I can say with certainty it’s an issue.
- Lumen output: 350 lumens, 8-82 m
- Rechargeable: Yes; with included lithium batteries. Or use AAA if on hand.
- Weight: 3.2 oz.
- Burn time: 200 hours on low, 4 hours max power
- Red light: Yes
By far the most stylish headlamp on the list, the Third Eye Headlamp ($50) is a little more off the map than most of the better-known names on this list.
The brand offers some really fun headbands with a plethora of options from serape blanket to cacti to bandana patterns and more. And the headbands are interchangeable in case you want to up the fun factor.
In testing, our editors loved the two-button user interface for red and white light, and each has varying levels of light. This headlamp also sports one of the higher hours of utility on a battery charge.
Reviewers state that it’s highly adjustable and a great headlamp for kids as well as adults.
- Lumen output: 168 lumens, 8-120 m
- Rechargeable: No; uses AAA batteries
- Weight: 2.9 oz.
- Burn time: 120 hours on low, 30 hours max power
- Red light: Yes, two modes of red
We’re not sure whether this headlamp ($59) is called “LoveBeams” or “LoBeams,” but whatever it is, we tested it. And it’s got some unique — if a bit cumbersome — special features.
This headlamp is water-resistant, rechargeable, and has four basic light modes: dim, medium brightness, high brightness, and color mode. Color mode is red by default, but you can make it any color you want (more on this later).
The adjustable headband is comfortable and breathable. And its reflective design is an aesthetic detail that does double duty as a safety feature.
So far, this is all pretty standard and intuitive. But where the LoveBeams headlamp stands out are its special features: Social Mode and color customization. Social Mode is an automatic dimmer that activates when you tilt your head up from your task so you don’t blind your camping companions. (Social Mode only works when the headlamp is tilted as low as it can go, on its bottom-most click.)
Sound complicated? Well, it is. Our tester had to watch videos to figure out how to customize the “activation point” of Social Mode — the point at which it dims — as well as how to set a custom color (including color saturation and brightness). There’s a lot of button clicking and tilting of the headlamp itself involved in the process. But once you figure it out, it’s pretty cool.
- Lumen output: 300 lumens
- Rechargeable: Yes; micro-USB
- Weight: 2 oz.
- Burn time: 20 hours
- Red light: Yes, and a customizable rainbow option
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Headlamp
Headlamp Bulbs: LEDs
Headlamps universally use LEDs (light-emitting diodes), which are small, energy-efficient light bulbs.
The standard LED color is white. Many headlamps also have a red LED light, which is great for nighttime use because our eyes are more sensitive to white light. Using a red light for nighttime cooking at the campsite or reading in the tent can be more comfortable, and the color doesn’t trigger our pupils to readjust.
Some headlamps also have green and blue LED lights. Blue light is useful for night fishing and for hunters who need to spot an animal’s blood. Blue light also is a good choice for reading maps in the dark, because the tone picks up red lines on the page.
Green lights are a helpful tool for hunting at night. The color is brighter than red, provides a better contrast, and won’t startle animals.
The trick with color options is you need to learn how to toggle between them all, which is different with each headlamp. Sometimes you need to hold a button down for multiple seconds or click through the options. For some, the user interface can be confusing.
One of the most important components of a headlamp is how bright the white LED is, which is measured by lumens. Most headlamps have a low and high (max) brightness setting, which can be manually adjusted via buttons on the headlamp.
Some headlamps have a dimming option that lets you gradually adjust the brightness level. The brighter a light is, the more the battery is drained.
Our favorite headlamps range from 165 to 750 lumens at their highest output. For nighttime adventures like trail running or uphill skiing, opt for a headlamp with a max output of 250 to 300 lumens or above, which can spotlight obstacles and wildlife. LEDs with higher lumens need more battery power.
Beam Distance & Type
An increase in lumens usually helps boost the distance the light travels, but there’s not a direct correlation. For instance, the Ledlenser NEO6R provides 240 lumens and a max output of 30 m.
The Foxelli MX20 has 165 lumens but a higher max output of 50 m. Other factors influence how far the illumination travels, such as the LED placement, diameter, and beam type.
Most headlamps have two types of beams. The floodlight is broadly diffused to the area closest to you. This mode conserves battery power while reaching your immediate periphery.
The spotlight is a concentrated, tight beam of light that exposes the environment farther away and with a narrower field of vision. This setting requires more battery power, and often people manually click between the floodlight and spotlight.
Some headlamps automatically adjust between the two based on the objects in front of you. The automatic mode switch also preserves the battery.
The distance of each headlamp’s floodlight and spotlight is unique. For example, the BioLite 330 has a LED light of 330 lumens that reaches 16 to 75 m. The Coast FL85R is 750 lumens and extends 70 to 200 m — more than the length of two football fields.
Headlamps typically have multiple light settings that are manually controlled. Those options include a spotlight, which is the headlamp’s maximum light output and illuminates the environment farther away. A lower output setting concentrates light closer to you.
Some headlamps have a technology that automatically adjusts the low and max output based on the objects in front of you, which saves battery power. A handful of designs also have a strobe mode, which is helpful for visibility in areas with high vehicle traffic. The spotlight setting requires more battery power.
The battery life can be preserved by using the low or eco mode of a headlamp. In that setting, the LED typically provides fewer lumens and less distance. Getting a headlamp that automatically adjusts the eco and high output can also help protect battery power. The Petzl Bindi Ultralight Headlamp battery lasts 2 hours in high-output mode and 50 hours in low-output mode.
Before you head out, make sure you understand how to toggle between the modes in order to manage the headlamp’s battery power.
Rechargeable vs. Conventional Battery Headlamps
Most headlamps these days offer a rechargeable component, but some still rely on regular batteries. Both options can be great depending on how you use a headlamp.
If you spend days in the woods away from electricity, it can be easier to rely on the performance of headlamps operating with conventional batteries. But a power bank can be lighter and just as dependable for micro-USB charging on the go.
However, you’ll have to wait for a headlamp to recharge. If you’re simply switching out batteries, you’re good to go. So, if you’re doing some sort of extreme sporting event — like an overnight ultra — a conventional battery-operated headlamp is likely more reliable, but you’ll need to make sure the headlamp also provides adequate brightness.
You’ll see some headlamps offer both rechargeable batteries and the option for AAA battery functions. These are a great option for folks who want to be sustainable but also might need to rely on the speed of a conventional battery every once in a while.
User Interface & Buttons
This is a sticking point for a few folks on the crew. One editor wanted a headlamp that could easily be used with gloves.
Some headlamps offer the ability for the user to program buttons and lighting on their own. As we said earlier, a few headlamps offer apps for a plethora of options.
But, for the great majority of headlamp users, that is really unnecessary and a time-consuming step. Our editors and testers all loved headlamps that were simple to use and didn’t require a steep learning curve.
It’s easy enough to take a few minutes to read the instructions and figure out how to use your headlamp. But for most headlamps, they’re intuitive enough to figure out right out of the box. Those are the headlamps that made our list this year — simply because they offer the least trouble.
Headband & Adaptability
Headlamps usually sit around the head against the forehead and hair. They typically include one front-facing LED attached to a stretchy elastic strap that’s wide, moisture-wicking, adjustable, and comfortable. The LED slides along the band and is removable, so the band can be washed.
There are uncommon headlamp designs, too. For instance, the LED light can be integrated into the band, like on the BioLite 330. Sometimes, a second strap crosses over the top of the head to support a heavier headlamp.
And other headlamps have a second light or the battery pack on the back of the strap. If you need to wear a hat or helmet, the headlamp will need to fit around that layer.
Some LED units are adjustable and click up and down to angle the light in an appropriate direction. This feature can be really nice in social settings when you’re trying not to blind another person or when reading a book.
For us, comfort and a lack of bounce are key. Headlamp comfort is influenced by the type of band, adjustability, overall weight, and personal preference.
We’ve found bounce can occur with bulky or cheaply constructed designs that are less streamlined and ergonomic. The weights of our favorite headlamps range from 1.2 to 4.5 ounces.
Some headlamps have an IPX rating to show how resistant they are to water. IPX0 offers no barrier at all against precipitation, splashes, or sweat. IPX8 provides the greatest amount of protection against a full submersion, like if you’re swimming with a headlamp on.
For instance, the Coast FL85R has an IPX4-rated construction, which is sweat-proof but not fully waterproof. The Foxelli MX20 is IPX5-rated, meaning it’s resilient when hit by water but not a full dunk.
The price of our choice headlamps ranges from $10 to $80. Price is influenced by a headlamp’s overall features like the quantity and types of LEDs. The sturdiness, weight, battery capability, lumen strength, and overall power play a role in the cost, too.
Why You Should Trust Us
The GearJunkie team has tested a huge variety of headlamps for countless miles in the woods and at campsites, from multiday hunting trips to climbing peaks. So, we polled our crew to determine their absolute favorite headlamps and why.
We’ve used these headlamps for spelunking, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and ultramarathons. These headlamps have also been used at home — pulling gear out of the crawlspace, unloading the rig post road trip, and shoveling snow. The utility of a dependable headlamp is prolific.
Some of our editors have used their choice headlamp across every season for many years with no sign of deterioration or a desire to switch. Beyond our team’s experience, we also considered the most popular, most durable, and bestselling headlamps on the market as well as a broad range of price points and features.
When Should I Use a Headlamp?
A headlamp is an ideal tool for hands-on activities in low light or pitch black. It’s also great for nighttime endurance sports like trail running or uphill skiing in-bounds. We’ve used our headlamp for search and rescue scenarios, alpine starts for long hikes, backpacking, and even walking home in the dark.
How Do I Choose a Headlamp?
First, decide what you’ll use your headlamp to accomplish. If you need to move through terrain with obstacles or wildlife, you’ll need more lumens — at least 250. If you’re a hunter or angler, you might want blue and green LED options.
You’ll want to choose a design with a band that’s comfortable for your personal needs including your head, skin, and hair. If you’re bouncing around, you might want a headlamp with a top strap.
You’ll also need to consider whether the battery duration is a match for your field hours. If not, you’ll need to decide if you want to carry extra batteries or a portable power bank to recharge the headlamp.
The brightest headlamp in our guide is the Coast FL85R with 750 lumens. Other headlamps are even stronger. The Fenix HP30R offers 1,750 lumens. The Mifine Waterproof LED Headlamp delivers up to 2,200 lumens.
That said, headlamps with big-time lumens can require you to carry a separate battery case. They can also be clunky and less comfortable to wear on the head, especially during high-movement activities.
What Is the Brightest, Longest-Lasting Headlamp?
If we’re talking about lumens, our favorite bright headlamp is the Coast FL85R. The design boasts 750 lumens and the battery lasts 8.5 hours on its low setting and 1.5 hours in high output.
Ultimately, you’ll need to sacrifice battery life for more brightness. In comparison, the Black Diamond Revolt 350 has 350 lumens, a 200-hour battery life in its eco-setting, and a 4-hour battery life in the high setting.
How Many Lumens Do I Need in My Headlamp?
The amount of lumens you need in your headlamp depends on the use. We’ve found 200 lumens or less work fine for domestic tasks like pulling gear out of the storage area, loading the truck bed, or setting up at the campground. If we need to travel through technical terrain, like trail running at night, we opt for 250 to 300 lumens at least.
Are Expensive Headlamps Worth the Cost?
The tags on our choice headlamps range from $10 to $80. The cost is related to the components like the quantity and types of LEDs. The sturdiness, weight, battery, lumens, and power are all price variables, too.
Personally, we’d rather invest in one headlamp with the features we want, even if it’s a bit more expensive. Headlamps can last for years, as long as they’re not repeatedly dropped, crushed, or knocked off the side of a boat.