The headlamp is one of the fundamental outdoor tools. We combined extensive testing with decades of experience to find the best headlamps you can buy now.
Headlamps are a hotly contested item here in the GearJunkie office. We each have our favorites, and the arguments get hot over the most important headlamp features, specs, and user interfaces.
So this year, we took them to the field and put them to the test head-to-head. We compared their modes and lit up distant rock walls. And we tried their fit one after another to learn about comfort. And we wore them around the campfire, learning which was most intuitive, which buttons worked with gloves, and so forth.
But we didn’t stop there. We also took the headlamps home and put them into some measurable testing. We charged them up, then let them run on “high” mode to find out how they measured up with their claimed run times. And we compared the color rendering, throw distance, and other qualities the light the lamps produce.
So beyond our years of experience — our testers ranged from former YOSAR personnel to ultramarathoners and rock climbers — we crunched the numbers on these headlamps.
Don’t have time to read this whole article and just want a great, serviceable headlamp at a reasonable price? Just get the Black Diamond Spot 400-R. Updated for spring 2022, it’s the most well-rounded headlamp we tested and should function well in almost any use case, from hiking to hunting to mountaineering.
Where the Spot 400-R thrives forms the base of our recommendations. We judged the lights by a few criteria: battery run time, spotlight range, floodlight quality, user interface, size and weight, lighting modes, and price.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for. At the end of our list, be sure to check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide.
- Best Overall Headlamp
- Most Comfortable Headlamp
- Best Ultralight Headlamp
- Best Multi-Power
- Best Headlamp for Running or Biking
- Best Budget Headlamp
- Best Color Rendering
The Best Headlamps of 2022
Best Overall Headlamp: Black Diamond Spot 400-R
The Spot 400-R ($65) has been around for years and has gone through good and bad iterations. But with the 2022 refresh, Black Diamond gave us a small, powerful, and effective headlamp that make it the best all-around headlamp.
At 400 lumens max output, the spotlight clearly lights objects out to 100 m. While there are much more powerful headlamps on the market (and a few listed here), this is plenty of power for the vast majority of uses.
And for most users, the medium and low settings, which provide phenomenal runtimes of up to 225 hours on low (4 hours on high), give plenty of light for hiking or doing camp chores.
The user interface of this light is wonderfully simple and intuitive. It has two buttons. One turns it on and off. The other scrolls through settings of spot, proximity, red, and strobe. Hold the button to dim or brighten. It’s a simple, easy-to-learn method that works even with thin gloves.
The light is wonderfully small, weighing just 2.6 ounces. This makes it a great choice if you stow it in a backpack. Finally, it recharges through a common micro-USB charging port. So there’s no need to pack a special cord to recharge this lamp in the field or in your vehicle.
While all these specs are great, real-world testing proved the Spot 400-R is up to a lot of jobs. I used it on a Nebraska turkey hunt during which I camped for a week, and the light shined bright for the entire time. And it was the best-performing small headlamp of more than 20 tested in our longevity test!
Turned on initially on high, it ran for more than 24 hours before going into a dim but useable “limp mode.” In doing so, it competed with much larger, more expensive headlamps and left its weight class competitors in the dust.
- Lumen output: 400 lumens; spotlight to 100 m
- Rechargeable: Yes, micro-USB
- Burn time: 225 hrs. on low; 4 hrs. on high
- Weight: 2.6 oz.
- Red light: Yes
- Waterproof rating: IP67 (submersible)
Runner-Up Best Headlamp: Coast FL85R
If one of our editors had their pick for the best headlamp, it would be the Coast FL85R ($70). What do they love about this big, burly beast of a lamp?
First, it’s got giant buttons for bigger 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.
But what really blew us away in testing is the long throw of this somewhat modest headlamp. Thanks to the zooming lens of the spotlight, it easily outshined all the headlamps in our test, especially at long distances. Sure, the light quality was not as nice as the Fenix (more on this later), but to clearly see far-away objects, the Coast was a winner.
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.
Second, it’s a bit bulkier than some of the lights on this list. Some users noted it bounces a little and can drag down on your forehead.
But as far as simple, robust, and bright go, the Coast FL85R is a winner.
- Lumen output: 700 lumens max; floodlight to 70 m, spotlight to 200 m
- Rechargeable: Yes, rechargeable battery pack via USB
- Burn time: 8.5 hrs. on low; 1 hr. 45 min. on high
- Weight: 4.5 oz.
- Red light: Yes
Most Comfortable Headlight: BioLite 330 HeadLamp
This is a hotly contested choice, as each member of the GearJunkie crew has their personal favorite headlamp. But some of us have put the BioLite 330 to the test for years now, and it’s as great of a headlamp today as it was when we first got it.
The kicker for us 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 hunters, we’re often doing weird stuff in the dark, like breaking down an animal, trekking back to the rig, or trying to get to an early morning hunting spot.
This is simply the most comfortable and effective headlamp we’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.
Many of our testers don’t find any big cons with this lamp, but a couple of GearJunkies have weighed in that they have trouble with the small buttons and adjusting the headband due to the cord in the back.
But when you don’t share headlamps or use a helmet off-and-on, that’s not much of an issue. Our solution to the cord issue is the Oprah method: You get a BioLite 330! And you get a BioLite 330!
We’ll note it’s a tad more expensive than your average headlamp, but trust us — it’s worth it if you’re bumbling around in the woods like we are.
Check out our full review of the BioLite330 Headlamp.
- Lumen output: 330 lumens; floodlight to 16 m, spotlight to 75 m
- Rechargeable: Yes, micro-USB
- Burn time: 40 hrs. on low; 3.5 hrs. on high
- Weight: 2.4 oz.
- Red light: Yes
Best Ultralight Headlamp: 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 fair runtime 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 outdoors people.
Read our full review of the Petzl Bindi Headlamp.
- Lumen output: 6-200 lumens
- Rechargeable: Yes, micro-USB
- Weight: 1.2 oz.
- Burn time: 50 hrs. on low; 2 hrs. max power
- Red light: Yes
Best Multi-Power Headlamp: Petzl Actik Core
When you want a headlamp that just works simply with plenty of power for the vast majority of outdoor uses, the Petzl Actik Core ($70) is hard to beat. And while it performs as well as most of the lights on this list, it wonderfully can use multiple battery types — AAA batteries or the included Petzl Core rechargeable battery.
Let’s start out with the thing you’ll notice — the user interface. It has a single button on top. Press it once to turn it on. Push it again to increase to full brightness. Press and hold for a red light. It couldn’t be much simpler.
We tested the power and light quality of the Actik Core while camping in the Colorado Rocky Mountains this spring. It offers a nice, even light at close range. Its long-range power is middle-of-the-pack (several other models have better range). And other lights (particularly the Fenix models) have much better color rendering, meaning you see color better under their light.
But what we love is the Actik Core uses both the included rechargeable Core battery and AAA batteries. It requires no adapter, so you can switch between them in the field or even carry AAAs as a backup on longer trips.
Of course, it has a red beam. We will barely consider using a headlamp without one as it’s critical in maintaining night vision, not blinding friends around camp, and conserving battery life.
At about $70, the Actik Core is great. The headband is comfortable, and it’s easy to use. Unless you need a lot of power or longer range, this headlamp is an excellent choice.
- Lumen output: 450 lumens max (90 m throw) for 2 hours
- Rechargeable: Yes, also compatible with AAA batteries
- Burn time: 2 hours on high, 130 hours on low (8 lumens)
- Weight: 75 g
- Red light: Yes
Best Headlamp for Running: Ledlenser NEO5R
The smart and safety-minded design of the NEO5R ($100) lands it at the top of our list as a running/biking headlamp. Why? It has both a front light and rear flashing red light as well as a reflective headband to ensure motorists see you from all directions.
While this is safety-first, the NEO5R proved to be no slouch in terms of performance in testing. It has an incredibly good runtime and came in just behind our premium selection (also a Ledlenser light) in terms of the overall runtime.
The headlamp shined a full 24 hours straight while still putting out useable light. It also has a powerful beam of 600 lumens that reaches 100 m into the night.
While not the best color-rending headlamp on the list, the light is optimized for running. It gives you decent depth perception for a single light source, although a second source definitely improves depth perception while running on trails. This light has a red light also, so it can do double-duty around camp or on the hiking trail.
Our only downside is it requires you to use Ledlenser’s magnetic USB-C charging cable. While an effective system, it’s not compatible with anything else. So you will have to pack and store a cable specific to this headlamp, which we count as a negative on any lighting product.
- Lumen output: 600 lumens, 100 m
- Rechargeable: Yes
- Weight: 3.7 oz.
- Burn time: 4 hrs. high power; 35 hours on low
- Red light: Yes; both front and back
Best Budget Headlamp: Petzl Tikkina Headlamp
The Petzl Tikkina headlamp ($20) 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 runtime in low-light mode. It offers a low, medium, and bright type of light that easily adjusts via one button.
This headlamp easily fits into our KISS model of efficiency while managing to be under $20. The only downside is it doesn’t come with a rechargeable battery.
As with most budget lights, you’ll wind up spending more money over time as you buy more and more batteries. But for those looking to avoid a big hit to the wallet, it’ll get the job done on a $20 bill.
- Lumen output: 250 lumens, 10-60 m
- Rechargeable: No; 3 AAA batteries needed
- Weight: 3 oz.
- Burn time: 120 hrs. on low; 2 hrs. max power
- Red light: No
Best Color Rendering in a Headlamp: Fenix HM 50R V2
This headlamp makes a strong case for best overall. And while we gave the nod to Black Diamond in this case, you should definitely consider the Fenix HM 50R V2 ($60), especially if you care about color rendering.
What is color rendering? In short, it’s the ability of a headlamp to reveal a broad spectrum of colors to the wearer. And it’s where most inexpensive headlamps cheap out.
It’s much easier to create a lot of lumens of bluish-white light than of a broad spectrum ranging from reds to blues. And that’s where high-quality, high-cost CREE LEDs outshine the competition. And that’s what forms the core of Fenix headlamps.
The HM 50R V2 is a crazy powerful headlamp for its size. It weighs just 2.75 ounces yet punches out a whopping 700 lumens on turbo mode (400 on high). And it can run a long time even with its tiny battery (3 hours on high, or 48 on low).
The user experience is wonderfully simple. There is a single button on the side. It’s easy to find. Push it once to turn it on. Push again to increase power. Repeat for more. Push and hold for red. Push and long hold to lock. Easy peasy.
Thanks to the diminutive nature, our testers barely noticed this headlamp while testing. It fits great and is extremely comfortable.
The only negative, compared with the Black Diamond Spot 400-R, is the Fenix died early during our runtime test, turning off after about 7 hours after being started on “high” mode. But in fairness, it shined bright during the test until it shut down. We’ve experienced great longevity in real-world applications so far.
Fenix gives us one exceptional headlamp in the HM 50R V2. For many people, especially those who want good color rendering, it should be high on the list.
- Lumen output: 700 lumens
- Rechargeable: Yes
- Weight: 2.5 oz.
- Burn time: 42 hrs. (claimed) on low, 3 hrs. on high
- Red light: Yes
Best High-End Headlamp: Ledlenser MH11
If money is no object, the best headlamp we tested this year was the Ledlenser MH11 ($180). Why doesn’t it win overall? Well, it costs $180 and is simply overkill for many users.
It’s also a little complicated, with the ability to link to your smartphone via an app. While that isn’t a negative, it’s a bit unnecessary for most people.
So with those caveats out of the way, wow — the Ledlenser MH11 is amazing. It far outpowers the rest of the best headlamps with 1,000 lumens reaching an incredible 320 m into the darkness. And it does this with a simple, single-button user interface we loved in testing. But it does a whole lot more.
First, this headlamp uses reactive technology. That means it turns itself way down if you’re near objects and don’t need the full blast of the 1,000-lumen canon. You can watch it work as you move around, providing the just-right amount of light for the situation.
Next, it offers a wide range of colors — white, red, green, and blue. Read more about why all these colors have their functions below.
Finally, like our runner-up selection from Coast, it has a super easy-to-use zooming bezel. Just twist it a quarter-turn to go from wide to spotlight. It’s a great solution and one of the best we’ve used.
Beyond the price, there are only two cons to this headlamp. At 6.3 ounces, it’s among the heaviest in our testing. But given a whopping run-time of a claimed 100 hours (it won our runtime test handily), it may be worth the heft and cost for many users.
Second, it uses Ledlenser’s proprietary magnetic charging cord. Your other cords won’t work, so don’t forget to pack the headlamp-specific cord for your trip.
- Lumen output: 1,000 lumens, 320 m
- Rechargeable: Yes
- Weight: 6.3 oz.
- Burn time: 100 hrs. on low
- Red light: Yes
Best of the Rest
The Foxelli MX20 is a $13 headlamp with something like 10,200 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 to 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 $13 headlamp, so if you’re 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; 3 AAA batteries needed
- Weight: 3.2 oz.
- Burn time: 45 hrs.
- Red light: Yes
A top-rated headlamp, the Ledlenser MH5 ($70) has more than 400 5-star reviews and nearly 200 4-star reviews via REI Co-op. Overall, folks found this beefy headlamp easy and intuitive for living off-grid, and the brightness — in the highest and lowest settings — hit the mark.
Albeit not the lightest design, the interface offers various light modes (but no strobe option). And users love the rechargeable option but are docked points for the dedicated charging cord (versus a micro-USB).
The light is also detachable from the headband and can clip onto a hat or pocket for flexible use. (That said, the clip felt flimsy for some users, so be careful.)
- Lumen output: 400 lumens, 40-180 m
- Rechargeable: Yes; with a lithium-ion or AA battery while traveling without a power source
- Weight: 3.3 oz.
- Burn time: 35 hrs. on low; 4 hrs. max power
- Red light: Yes
One of our GearJunkie editors absolutely loves the Black Diamond Revolt 350 ($65). 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 its lower-end models. But the interface can be a bit complicated to learn.
Some folks have said the tab breaks off the battery compartment — and at least one of our editors had this happen with a Black Diamond headlamp in difficult circumstances. For others, there’s been no sign of wear and tear.
- 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 hrs. on low; 4 hrs. 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 it’s highly adjustable and a great headlamp for kids as well as adults.
- Lumen output: 168 lumens, 8-120 m
- Rechargeable: No; uses 3 AAA batteries
- Weight: 2.9 oz.
- Burn time: 120 hrs. on low; 30 hrs. max power
- Red light: Yes, two modes of red
For those of you not intimidated by a more technical tool, we can’t leave out the Black Diamond Storm 500 ($75). This lamp features not only white and red lights that can adjust up and down in intensity, but also blue and green light options. Plus, there are five strobe options and a blinking SOS signal.
Red light is great for nighttime when our eyes are more sensitive to white light, while blue light is useful for reading maps in the dark, night fishing, and for hunters who need to spot an animal’s blood. Green lights are also a helpful tool for hunting at night, as it won’t startle animals.
The headlamp is also certified to function up to 1 m beneath the water for up to 30 minutes. Score for snorkelers!
Bonus for eco-friendly shoppers: The elastic headband is recycled, thanks to Repreve fiber.
- Lumen output: 500 lumens, 12-120 m
- Rechargeable: Yes, lithium-ion with micro-USB
- Weight: 3.5 oz.
- Burn time: 350 hrs. on low; 7 hrs. on high
- Red light: Yes
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Headlamp
Headlamp Bulbs: LEDs
Long gone are the days of light bulbs. Modern headlamps almost universally use LEDs (light-emitting diodes). These small, powerful light sources use a tiny fraction of the energy of bulbs. Today, thanks to LEDs, headlamps produce incredibly bright light and run for many hours on rechargeable batteries.
But did you know that all LEDs are not created equal? Yep, LEDs are a rapidly evolving technology. And when you get a good headlamp, one component that makes a big difference is which LED the brand uses.
Some of the very best headlamps use CREE LEDs. Using premium components, manufacturers can enhance headlamp power and light qualities like color rendering and warmth. So when you spend a little more on a quality headlamp, this is just one of the reasons.
The standard LED color is white (we’ll go into some variations on this in the Color Rendering section below). But many headlamps also have a red LED (or other colors) light.
We consider the red mode on a headlamp to be almost mandatory. That’s because red light preserves your night vision much more than white light.
So by using a red light while cooking, around the campsite, or even while walking on a trail, you will still be able to see much more of the surrounding landscape, especially under a full moon. Red light also won’t wake up your tentmate as easily if you need to read or get dressed in the dark. And it’s the best color when hanging out with a group as it won’t blind your friends.
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 better contrast, and won’t startle animals.
Regardless of the color options, be sure to take a little time to learn your headlamps user interface so you can switch between them as needed.
One of the most important components of a headlamp is how much light it produces. We measure this in lumens. Most headlamps have a low, medium, high, and sometimes “turbo” brightness setting, which users can manually adjust via buttons on the headlamp.
The higher the setting, the faster the battery depletes, so Turbo settings are often short-lived and regulated to preserve battery life. Some headlamps also have a dimming option that lets you gradually adjust the brightness level.
Our favorite headlamps range from about 200 to 1,000 lumens at their highest output. For nighttime adventures like trail running or uphill skiing, opt for a headlamp with a max output of at least 250 to 300 lumens, which can spotlight obstacles and wildlife.
LEDs with higher lumens are better for faster activities or spotting far-off objects. But while higher lumens mean more energy consumption, you can always run your battery in low mode, which we recommend if you have a long time afield between recharges.
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 tight, concentrated beam of light that exposes the environment farther away and with a narrower field of vision. This setting sometimes 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. Others may use reactive technology to sense how much light to project, again, preserving battery life.
The distance between each headlamp’s floodlight and the spotlight is unique. For example, the BioLite 330 has an LED light of 330 lumens that reaches 16-75 m. The Coast FL85R is 750 lumens and extends 70-200 m — more than the length of two football fields.
Headlamps typically have multiple light settings that the user controls manually. 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.
One of the biggest differentiators between headlamps is battery life. The best headlamps have a long life between charges, with some able to run for days on end without recharging.
But a little education goes a long way when it comes to extending battery life. By using the lower power settings and red light, most headlamps will run for many hours.
Some of the best on this list will run for more than 200 hours on low in between charges! But using high will suck battery fast. For example, 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 your headlamp.
First, note that rechargeable batteries cost a little more at the outset. But given they last for many, many charges, they will be much cheaper over time than buying new batteries over and over.
Next, note that modern rechargeable batteries have gotten really good. You’ll see in our runtime that many of these will run for days without a recharge. And in our testing, they all managed to run for 7 to 24 hours or more. If you need a recharge in the field, just bring a small battery bank to recharge your unit.
There are circumstances where replaceable AAA or AA batteries make the most sense. For example, those running overnight ultramarathons may want to carry an extra set of batteries so they can quickly switch them without having to wait for a headlamp to recharge.
But for most users, a rechargeable battery is reliable, functional, and much more efficient and environmentally friendly. Not only do you produce less waste, but rechargeable batteries require much less energy to produce than disposable batteries and can run for up to 3,000 cycles without losing effectiveness.
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 and 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.
Some headlamps offer a lock button or switch that prevents them from turning on in your pack and wasting precious battery life. If you plan to frequently store your headlamp in a bag or backpack, especially while hiking, lockability greatly improves reliability.
On this list, the Black Diamond Revolt 350 is a high-end headlamp with a well-made lock button.
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, allowing the band to 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 7 ounces. But heavier headlamps usually need a third strap that goes over the top of your head to ensure comfort for the user.
Some headlamps have an IPX or IP 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 full submersion, like if you’re swimming with a headlamp on.
For instance, the Coast FL85R has an IPX4-rated construction, which is sweatproof 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 $180. A headlamp’s overall features, like the quantity and types of LEDs and batteries, affect the price. 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 hunting to climbing peaks. We polled our crew to determine their absolute favorite headlamps and why.
We’ve used these headlamps for spelunking, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and running ultramarathons. We’ve also used these headlamps 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 such as cooking in low light or pitch black. It’s also great for nighttime endurance sports like trail running. We’ve used our headlamp for search-and-rescue scenarios, alpine starts for long hikes, backpacking, and even walking home in the dark. And of course, headlamps are great for projects around the house like auto repair or electrical wiring in a house.
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.
How Bright Is the Brightest Headlamp?
The brightest headlamp in our guide is the Ledlenser MH11 with 750 lumens. Other headlamps are even stronger. The Sirius Survival Rechargeable Tactical LED Headlamp delivers up to 6,000 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 Ledlenser MH11. The design boasts 1,000 lumens, and the battery lasts 100 hours on its low setting and 4 hours in high-output mode.
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 at least 250-300 lumens. For spotting distant objects, look for at least 400 lumens with a spotlight mode.
Are Expensive Headlamps Worth the Cost?
The tags on our choice headlamps range from $20 to $180. 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.
Do I Need a Headlamp With a Red Light Setting?
Yes, we use the red light setting of our headlamps all the time! Most modern headlamps come with a red light setting. While red light settings cannot generate the brightness of the primary white light setting, they are extremely handy.
In social settings, red lights offer visibility without blinding your friends with overly intense brightness. Plus, they help you maintain your night vision while illuminating nearby objects.
When sharing a tent with other people, a red light is great for reading without lighting up the whole interior while others are trying to sleep. Additionally, red lights are less likely to attract mosquitos and other bugs.