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.
Multiple buttons beyond what’s needed? Annoying. Using an app to turn on a headlamp? Why?
Our collective advice is to abide by the K.I.S.S. 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. I’ll tell you what, it ain’t a fun time when headlamps don’t deliver in the field.
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 Moosejaw, 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
This 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
According to Merriam-Webster, a lumen is the “SI unit of luminous flux, equal to the amount of light emitted per second in a unit solid angle of one steradian from a uniform source of one candela.” So, that’s all you need to know. Done and done.
Kidding, of course. Essentially, the number of lumens in a headlamp indicates brightness. The higher the number, the brighter the headlamp. Most headlamps offer a range of lumens, and this adjustability is helpful for a variety of scenarios.
Most folks don’t need an exorbitant number of lumens, but it’s nice to have more brightness in certain situations. Visibility to others — whether roadside or in a survival situation — can be lifesaving, so consider your use case when purchasing a headlamp.
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.
You’ll see some headlamps offer both rechargeable battery packs and the option for AAA battery functions. These are a great option for folks who want to be sustainable, but who also might need to rely on the speed of a conventional battery every once in a while.
User Interface, aka 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. For me, personally, comfort and a lack of bounce are key.
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. Our editors and testers all loved headlamps that were simple to use and didn’t require a hard 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.