Running headlamps are an invaluable piece of kit for winter training. They enable you to take to the trail for a quick run before work, or get on longer routes during the long dark evenings of winter. And for those who like to stretch their long runs out overnight, the best headlamps for running also go the distance in terms of battery life.
For many people, a compact, general purpose headlamp is sufficient for short and infrequent runs. However, regular nighttime runners will most certainly benefit from using a running headlamp that is super comfortable, lightweight and stable. Bouncing lights are a big no-go. The best headlamps for running at night should also have excellent battery life, be weather resistant and should be easy to use.
- A review of the 6 best headlamps for running
- What to look for when choosing the best headlamps for running
Summary of the best headlamps for running
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|Product||Lumens||Max beam distance||Run time||Weight||Waterproof||Cost|
|Petzl Iko Core||500||100m||2.5-100 hrs||79g / 2.78oz||IPX4||$$|
|Suprabeam V3air Rechargeable||450||210m||1.75-100 hrs||148g / 5.2oz||IPX4||$$|
|Black Diamond Sprinter 275 Headlamp||275||40m||5-100 hrs||116g / 4.09oz||IPX4||$$|
|Biolite HeadLamp 200||200||50m||3-40 hrs||50g / 1.75oz||IPX4||$|
|Knog Bandicoot Silicone Headlamp||100||40m||2-80hrs||55g / 0.9oz||IP67||$|
|Kogalla Ra||800||Not available||3-72 hrs||261g / 9.2oz||IPX7||$$$$|
A review of the 6 best headlamps for running
Light settings: flood and mixed beam with three brightness levels
If you’re looking for an all round excellent light source for your nighttime training then look no further than the Petzl Iko Core. It scored very well in every single one of the testing criteria, making it the best headlamp for running on our list. Boasting 500 lumens of evenly dispersed light, the Iko Core is super powerful – especially considering its low weight – providing the best overall vision on the trail. The beam is wide and bright; ideal for technical terrain without losing barely any peripheral vision. This is rivalled only by the Kogalla. The spot beam doesn’t quite compete with the Suprabeam in terms of distance and beam quality. However, it puts up a very good fight!
As well as its excellent light output, the Iko Core also came out with flying colours in both usability and comfort. Firstly, the innovative AIRFIT headband reduces sweat build up to virtually nothing and sits comfortably in all areas. The headband is the easiest of all the headlamps to adjust, using a simple drawcord mechanism to tighten and loosen, which is still very easy to use wearing gloves. Additionally, adjusting the beam angle couldn’t be easier; it’s a very simple, non-clunky hinge that moves freely when needed yet stays in place the rest of the time.
Battery-wise, the Iko Core is a hybrid design that comes with a rechargeable battery or can be powered by three standard AAA batteries.
Finally, I love how lightweight the actual lamp component is. It feels and looks more like a bike reflector than a lamp! And as such, there is zero bounce and movement when running. The rear position of the battery pack helps with this and ensures that the weight is evenly distributed.
- Excellent light quality
- Powerful, especially considering its weight
- Super comfortable
- Zero movement when running
- Easy to adjust light angle and headband
- Is rechargeable and takes AAA batteries too
- Comes with small carry case that doubles as a lantern
- No red light
- No rear light
- The beam ankle could use a bit more forward tilt
Light settings: spot light (dimmable), flood beam (dimmable), memory function
On the face of it, the Suprabeam V3air Rechargeable headlamp appears to be fairly standard. It’s not especially lightweight and there are no fancy headband configurations to get your head around. Turn the lamp on, however, and it’s clear that this is the kind of lamp that’s essential on exploratory runs where route finding is tricky and seeing ahead is essential. Yes, the 210m reach of the spot beam is remarkable and is as good in practice as it sounds. I run a lot at night over steep dunes where the trail can disappear in an instant. The far reaching beam is ideal to look across to neighbouring dunes and relocate the route. I can also see right down to the beach below and gauge where the tide’s at (and whether it’s worth lolloping down or not!)
Another excellent feature of the light is its simplicity to adjust. Just pull the lens of the light out to focus the beam into a spotlight, or push it in for a floodlight, stopping at whatever beam distance you need. Additionally, the brightness of the beam is adjusted by simply holding down the single button to the desired intensity.
The main downsides to this exceptionally well-made headlamp is that the floodlight is such a strong and intense light that it creates a very clear ring of darkness outside of its beam. This darkness gives a slightly odd sensation in your peripheral vision. This is helped by angling the beam towards the floor more. Also, the lamp protrudes from the forehead much more than any of the other options on the list. Again, slightly disconcerting from a vision point of view. The weight is a little on the heavy side, too.
Despite its slightly higher weight and protruding lamp, the V3air manages to maintain relatively good stability and comfort levels. This is helped by a few features. Firstly, the inside of the headband has silicone strips that grip well to your forehead, though they can get a bit sweaty. Secondly, the headband splits at the rear and cups the back of the head. Thirdly, the battery pack at the rear spreads the overall weight. And finally, there’s a rather plush foam pad behind the lamp which sits very comfortably on the forehead.
- Incredible spot beam distance
- Amazingly easy to switch between spot and wide with everything in between
- Easy to adjust the tilt
- Excellent wide beam
- Very stable
- Weight distributed well over the front and back
- Floodlight creates a dark ring in peripheral vision
- Sticks out a little bit into your vision
- Easy to switch it off by accident when adjusting the tilt
- A little on the heavy side
- Inside of the headband can get a bit sweaty / sticky
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Light settings: rear red strobe, six brightness settings, memory function
Specifically designed for running and high energy nighttime activities, the Black Diamond Sprinter 275 Headlamp is the best headlamp for long runs and when distance and comfort are your priorities. Firstly, with the ability to be used at its brightest setting for up to 5 hours, it has the longest battery life of all the headlamps on the list. This is a highly appealing feature for ultra marathon runners. And, like the Iko Core, it can also run on AAA batteries, as well as a rechargeable pack that sits at the rear of the headband. Secondly, the overhead strap and small lamp minimise movement with the overall result being a highly comfortable headlamp that is comparable to the Biolite in this regard.
In terms of brightness and power, the Sprinter provides a high quality, bright, widespread beam that is excellent on technical terrain at mid and close range. But the beam lacks the power and distance needed for route finding that the Suprabeam and Petzl have.
A really nice feature is the Powertap technology which means you can transition between light intensities simply by tapping the side of the lamp. It also memorises the last brightness setting so you don’t have to go through all the settings to find your default. Additionally, I really like the rear red strobe light, especially when running on roads or through urban areas. The Sprinter is the only headlamp on the list to feature a rear light, which can be turned off easily.
This lightweight headlamp for running is a great mid range choice that doesn’t quite compete with the Petzl but offers a few added extras that may be appealing for urban runners.
- Very comfortable
- Very stable
- Really even light spread at close to mid range
- Good flashing rear red light
- Good beam angle adjustment
- Removable top strap
- Not very good distance beam – route finding is tricky
- The back battery pack easily slips off the head strap when adjusting the tightness of the strap
Light settings: red flood (dimming), white spot (dimming), red strobe, white strobe, memory function
Though it doesn’t look especially trail-ready compared with some of the other options on the list, it’s actually really hard not to love this basic headlamp. For me, its streamlined and simple aesthetics are certainly part of the appeal. But it also puts up an exceptionally good fight in the performance department, competing fiercely with the Black Diamond (which is double the weight and a fair chunk pricier too). When on max power spot beam, it puts out a slightly brighter light than the Black Diamond. However, the light spread is less even and more focussed on one area, making it better suited to easy trails where you don’t need to see too much in your periphery.
Stand out features include a very easy to adjust headband, which is hot on the tail of the Petzl in terms of usability, and a highly effective reflective strip at the rear of the headband. The lamp angle is also easy to adjust and the 5 light modes, plus brightness settings, are all controlled using one button.
But what really puts this great value headlamp up there with the big guns, is how comfortable it is. It’s the most lightweight running headlamp on our list, which immediately lowers the risk of movement and bounce. There is, in fact, practically zero movement or bounce! Plus, the headband feels incredibly comfortable, especially when worn directly on the forehead with no hat or buff beneath it. Of all the traditional headlamps on the list (so, not including the Kogalla), it’s the most comfortable running headlamp I’ve tried. And almost worth sacrificing the light quality for the luxury that the headband offers.
- Super comfortable, especially directly on the skin
- Good close and mid range light
- Zero movement
- Easy to tilt
- Easy to change the settings
- Great reflective strip at the back
- Rechargeable via USB
- Not a good distance beam
- Close beam is a bit focussed on a spot
- Relatively low battery run time
Light settings: spot, ambient, red light, reading, combo
The innovative and futuristic-looking Knog Bandicoot Silicone Headlamp is an excellent headlamp for runners who only head out occasionally and tend not to seek out technical trails at night. As the cheapest option on our list, it offers very good value if you’re after an all rounder headlamp for camping, hiking and general use, as well as running.
The Knog is up there with the most comfortable headlamps for running that I’ve tested. The silicone headband, though not soft on the skin, doesn’t place any pressure on the head and feels very secure, even when it’s not tightened right up. It also weighs only 55g and is one of the lowest weight lamps on the list. This, together with its streamlined design, equates to zero movement or bounce, competing courageously with the Petzl and Biolite. The result is that I can barely feel the headlamp when I’m wearing it; the best kind of comfort!
Another excellent feature is its waterproofness. With an IP rating of 67, it’s the most resistant to water and dust of all the options I’ve tried and a great choice for running in heavy rain or for after dark water-based activities. It even survived a nighttime kayak capsize!
I also really like that it doesn’t come with any recharging wires or fiddly extras (that just end up getting lost!). The Bandicoot is rechargeable via USB. The band comes apart and is plugged directly into a USB port. So simple. You can also load your preferred light settings via the Knog app. Great if you like customisation, but slightly faffy it you just want to use it straight out of the box.
When compared with the other lamps, the Knog falls short when it comes to light quality and brightness. I find it plenty bright enough when running on open trails or tracks when you don’t need to pay too much attention to the ground or when route finding isn’t required. But as soon as the trail gets more technical I find myself wishing I had a better, brighter lamp to light the way.
With only 100 lumens, a max beam of 40m and a very appealing price tag, it’s no surprise that the Knog doesn’t stand up to the competition. But if you’re after a headlamp for general use in wet conditions that is also good enough for straightforward nighttime runs, then you can’t really go wrong with the Knog.
- Very comfortable
- Zero movement
- Super lightweight
- Doesn’t loosen as you wear it
- Doesn’t get too sweaty
- Great for general use
- No wires needed for recharging
- Great value
- Weak spot beam
- Broad beam could be brighter
- Not easy to adjust when out and about
- Not the most straightforward setting adjustments
- Can’t adjust the beam angle
Light settings: flood beam with 20 brightness settings, strobe
Yes, this isn’t technically a headlamp. But I couldn’t not include the innovative and insanely bright Kogalla Ra in this round up of the best headlamps for running. Boasting an impressive 800 lumens of very even, high quality and warm light, the Ra is by far the brightest and best light on our list, outshining even the Petzl and Suprabeam. It doesn’t have a dedicated spot beam so falls short in terms of route finding. However, the multiple brightness settings and wide 120⁰ light pattern more than make up for this, offering the best widespread beam for superb vision on technical trails. The wide beam lights up the whole of the scene ahead of you and to the sides of the trail adding a very appealing element of visual awareness at night.
It’s tough to compare the Kogalla with ‘proper’ headlamps in terms of comfort as the light is worn on your body. It comes with a couple of connecting methods. However, for running the magnetic plate works incredibly well. I place the plate underneath my jacket or running top and attach the light to it on the outside of my clothing. It sits either on top of my chest or lower down on my stomach and doesn’t budge or bounce around once the magnets connect. The fully waterproof wire then passes through the pit vents in my jacket and attaches to the battery pack in my pocket. So, if you have issues with having a light attached to your head, this setup is ideal.
The Kogalla Ra is my go-to light for car camping as it’s so versatile to place and hang. But I’ve also used it on my road bike and mountain bike because it has such a powerful light. But I was a little dubious as to how well it would perform when used for running. Well, it’s pretty awesome!
So long as you have somewhere for the wire to hide and not get tangled with your arms (straight into a jacket pocket works), then it’s a real winner. There’s no bounce or movement, you can’t feel it at all on your body and you’ll struggle to find a brighter light for its size and weight.
The main downside is that you have to turn your whole body (and not just your head) if you want to look around you. And I also struggle to do up my laces without taking the light off my body to see my feet!
- High quality, wide light spread
- VERY bright
- Unnoticeable on the body
- Fully waterproof (other than battery pack)
- Great for lighting the whole path with multiple runners
- Easy setting adjustments
- Separate rechargeable battery pack
- Very versatile
- It doesn’t turn with your head
- It’s hard to look at your feet to tie your shoelaces!
- There’s no distance beam
- Heavy (though weight includes battery pack)
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What to look for when choosing the best headlamps for running
Most outdoorsy folk own a headlamp. Whether that’s for camping or as a safety measure on those unexpectedly lengthy days in the mountains. And though using your camping / hiking headlamp will probably be OK for a short run here and there, regular nighttime runners most certainly need something that is specifically designed for running.
As well as being bright with good beam distance and beam spread, the best headlamps for running should also be:
- Stable (not bouncy)
- Easy to adjust (both the settings and the fit)
- Water resistant
- Good battery life
So before you go grabbing the first 1000 lumen running headlamp you can get your hands on, consider the following:
Lumens is a measure of the brightness and light output of each headlamp. In theory, a brighter light will have more lumens. So, the number of lumens a headlamp has is a fairly accurate measure of how bright it is when it has brand new batteries and the beam is on its brightest beam setting. However, these conditions are not totally realistic for general use as batteries are rarely full for long and users often use lower settings to save power. Therefore, measuring headlamp brightness in lumens shouldn’t be totally relied upon. The intensity and quality of the beam pattern should also be considered as these have a bearing on how bright a headlamp will be. And of course, this can, and does, vary from headlamp to headlamp, even if they have the same number of lumens!
That said, opting for a headlamp with a high lumen rating is a good place to start when choosing a good headlamp for running.
As a rough guide, runners should look for a headlamp with 200+ lumens. This will ensure that you’ll get enough light output, whatever the beam intensity and quality of the beam pattern.
To get a fuller picture of how bright a headlamp for running is in practice, you’ll need to consider the beam distance as well as the number of lumens. A beam that reaches far tends to have a focused beam pattern which means that the lumens can be measured more accurately. Again, beam distance is measured with a full battery and at the highest setting. So for a slightly more realistic measurement, remember to knock a bit of distance off.
An adjustable beam angle is more important and useful than you might think when using a headlamp for running. There are times when you’ll need to pay more attention to the ground close to your feet if the terrain is tricky. In this instance you’ll need to angle the beam towards the ground. However, at other times you’ll want to point the beam out in front of you to route find or to get a broad view of the trail.
If you’re the sort of runner who trains at night because it’s the only time you can fit it in, it’s likely that you’ll be using your headlamp for a couple of hours at a time, max. Assuming your batteries are fully charged / new, you shouldn’t have any issues with them conking out on you, mid-run. However, if ultra-marathons are your thing then a long and reliable run-time is essential. Running through the night is tough enough as it is, but losing light just makes everything even more challenging.
Like the number of lumens, the basic battery life and run-time figures can be a little misleading until you delve a little deeper. The max run time of headlamp batteries indicate how long the light will run for on one of the lower settings. Prolonged use on a high setting will rinse your batteries much more quickly than this figure states. Most headlamps break this down easily when you look at the stats more closely, so take the time to do this.
A highly useful feature of running headlamps is a battery level indicator light. When it starts blinking at you, you know it’s time to run faster!
Finally, you’ll need to think about whether you want / need rechargeable batteries or not. From an eco-friendly point of view I much prefer rechargeable headlamps. These are usually plugged into the mains at home or a battery pack via a USB cable.
However, I also appreciate that there are times when you need to minimise weight and the best way to do this is to bring along spare batteries instead of a wire and battery pack. A good compromise is to only use batteries (including your spares) that are themselves rechargeable.
TOP TIP: If you are smart about how you use your headlamp, its batteries will do much better at meeting their claimed run time. This will mean only using the spotlight when essential and keeping the settings on low where possible.
Comfort, stability and weight
One of the most important factors (aside from the light output) when considering the best headlamps for running, is comfort and stability. There is nothing more annoying than a front heavy headlamp that bounces up and down with every step. In fact, even a headlamp with a great beam can be turned into a very average product if there is excess bounce and movement.
Low weight helps to minimise movement of the lamp, as does a streamlined design that doesn’t stick out too much. Some headlamps also adopt a second strap that goes over the top of the head to keep everything snugly in place. Additionally, headlamps with the battery pack at the rear of the headband do a good job at balancing the weight and keeping the lamp stable.
As well as good stability and low weight, a well designed headband will also contribute to the overall comfort levels of the headlamp. Look for something that is soft on the skin, grippy but not sticky and made of a fabric that deals well with sweat. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary seams or creases in the headband as these can start to place pressure on your head over time.
Ease of use
I’m always wary when a headlamp comes with an instruction manual that contains more than one page of simple diagrams. When you’re knackered and cold the last thing you need is to be flicking through 10 different settings just to be able to see the path a bit more clearly. In my opinion headlamps, and especially those used for running, should be intuitive and simple to use. That said, they also need to offer a good variety of settings to be the most useful they could be.
Speaking of settings, here are a few useful settings that the best headlamps for running should, ideally, have:
This is the maximum strength setting that creates a far reaching beam. It also uses up the most amount of battery power. The beam is concentrated into a smaller area than the flood light, making it brighter and more focussed. A good spot light is essential for route finding and looking ahead on narrow trails.
A flood light beam is much wider and lights up a much larger area than the spot light, but at a closer distance. This setting is best used if you are running on a wide trail or if you need to look at the ground directly in front of you as well as up ahead a little. A wide beam uses up less battery juice than the spot beam.
Night vision modes
Many headlamps offer night vision modes in the form of a red light. Red lights do not cause our pupils to shrink the way white light can, so it preserves your natural night vision and is ideal for extended use as it doesn’t drain the batteries. Running with a red light is good if it’s a bright night and the moon is out, or if you’re on easy terrain and just need a little extra guidance.
Some headlamps for running feature a red light at the rear of the headband. These are great if you are running in a group to keep tabs on each other. But they really come into their own if you find yourself running or next to a road. A read red light acts as an essential safety feature.
Whether used with a red light or just the normal white light, a headlamp with a strobe light is a useful setting to have in emergency situations. Some headlamps even let you choose which configuration of flashes you set. Strobe lights also massively extend the run time of batteries compared with a constant light setting. Through running to a strobe light isn’t ideal, it’s a good option if you are in an emergency and need to conserve your light.
Weather and water resistance is another essential feature of running headlamps, especially for long distance runs when the conditions can change over time. When it comes to headlamps (and other electrical stuff that benefits from not getting wet), the level of resistance against water (and dust) is given an IP rating.
The X in the rating stands as a placeholder for the level of protection against dust, and the number next to it is the level of waterproofness. Here’s a quick guide:
IPX0 – Not water resistant at all
IPX1 – Resists dripping water
IPX2 – Protects from vertically dripping water
IPX3 – Provides protection from sprays up to 60°
IPX4 – Protects from splashing water coming from any direction
IPX5 – Protects from water jets coming from any direction
IPX6 – Waterproof when sprayed with powerful water jets
IPX7 – Waterproof when immersed in water up to 1 meter
IPX8 – Waterproof when immersed in water over 1 meter
If an item is rated with just a single number eg: IP7, then this indicates that it has the same level of protection against dust as it does water. And if the X is replaced with a number eg: IP67, then this gives the level of dustproofness as 6 and waterproofness at 7.