Whether you are camping in your backyard or spending the night suspended half way up an alpine route in the middle of nowhere, having a good headlamp is an absolute must. Sure, there are times when a mega powerful flashlight might be a better choice. But I can honestly think of very few scenarios when you might choose a flashlight over a headlamp – mainly for the brightness. However, headlamp technology is moving almost as fast as light itself with the best headlamps competing fiercely with flash lights when it comes to excellent light quality.
To fully understand what to look for when buying a headlamp, click ahead to the following sections:
- Why choose a headlamp over a flashlight?
- The number of lumens
- Beam distance
- Battery life
- Light settings
- Weight and size
- Ease of use
- Water resistance
Summary of the best headlamps in 2020
Otherwise, this quick overview of the best headlamps gives you a basic idea of which headlamp might suit you best, and for the full details of each, continue below to read reviews of the 11 best headlamps.
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|Product||Highlight||Weight (with batteries)||Max beam distance||Number of lumens||Battery run time||Type of battery|
|Knog Bandicoot Silicone Headlamp||Lightweight, waterproof all rounder||60g (2.1oz)||40m||Not available||2 - 80hrs||USB rechargeable|
|Black Diamond ReVolt||Best battery life||97g (3.4oz)||70m||130||80 - 300hrs||USB rechargeable/ 3 x AAA|
|Petzl Tikkina||Best value||85g (3oz)||55m||150||60 - 220hrs||3 x AAA/ CORE rechargeable|
|Fenix HP25R||Brightest||183.5g (6.5oz) no batteries||185m||1000||2.5 - 150hrs||Rechargeable|
|Black Diamond Spot||Waterproof all rounder||90g (3.2oz)||80m||200||80 - 200hrs||3 x AAA|
|Coast HL7||Excellent light quality||128g (4.5oz)||119m||285||1.5 - 70hrs||3 x AAA|
|Petzl Actik||Excellent run time and good all rounder||92g (3.2oz)||90m||300||60 - 260hrs||3 x AAA/ CORE rechargeable|
|Black Diamond Sprinter||Best running headlamp||105g (3.7oz)||50m||200||4 - 42hrs||Rechargeable|
|Nitecore HC50||Toughest||130g (4.58oz) (no battery)||98m||760||1.25hrs - 55hrs||1 x 18650 3400 mAH battery|
|Petzl e+Lite||Lowest weight||26g (0.9oz)||10m||50||9 - 12hrs||2 lithium CR2032 batteries|
|Black Diamond Icon||Great all rounder||230g (8.1oz)||110m||500||50 - 200hrs||4 x AA|
The 11 best headlamps for camping and outdoor activities in 2020
Weighing a miniscule 60g (2.1oz), the Knog Bandicoot Silicone Headlamp is the second most lightweight headlamp on our list, behind the Petzl e+Lite. But where the e+Lite excels as an emergency backup headlamp, the Bandicoot totally rocks as a full functioning, versatile and waterproof headlamp. It’s also like no other headlamp on our list, combining practicality and functionality with an innovative design. So, aside from its unusual looks, what makes the Bandicoot stand out from the crowd?
Firstly, the Bandicoot uses silicone instead of plastic; an environmentally better option that also lasts longer and doesn’t degrade or stretch like elastane. Next, it’s rechargeable directly into a USB socket with no wires needed. It’s also waterproof and dustproof with an IP67 rating. I recently capsized my kayak (not on purpose, might I add!) wearing the Bandicoot, and it survived the excitement (shock) with no dramas at all. Running in the rain has been a breeze for it since then! And boy does it feel secure around my head when out on the trail. No bouncing at all. Just amusing lines across my forehead afterwards! The silicone doesn’t tangle in my hair either, and because of the way the strap is adjusted to fit, there’s no way of it loosening with wear.
From a lighting point of view, there are certainly brighter lights out there with more powerful beams that reach further. However, the Bandicoot is an all rounder of a headlamp that meets the needs of most close to mid-range activities with the advantage of having lots of customizable settings. Set the headlamp up with 5 different settings which can be chosen and pre-set using the Modemaker App, and then use them with 4 different light intensities, including a reading light, red night LED and SOS signal.
It’s superb for running in, highly waterproof, looks pretty cool and has a highly powerful high beam. Plus, it’s insanely lightweight. The ideal option for multi-activity adventurers, backpackers and campers.
The Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp is one great all round compact lamp and is the best headlamp with rechargeable batteries out there. Its battery run time soars above the rest boasting up to 300 hours of light, with only the Petzl Actik coming anywhere close to this impressive battery output. It can be recharged directly via most USB charging devices making it a solid and reliable headlamp for those out in the wilderness for extended periods (providing you have a power source like a solar panel or Flamestower). It also takes regular AAA batteries but performs at its best with the rechargeable batteries that it comes with. To make the battery system even more reliable, the ReVolt also has a built-in power meter to give you the full picture of the remaining battery life before it unexpectedly dies on you.
The light quality is very respectable for such a low weight and compact headlamp providing an excellent 70m beam distance at best. And together with the flood beam, dimming mode and red night-vision mode, the ReVolt offers everything you will need in a headlamp for almost all moderate outdoor scenarios.
The ReVolt offers limited weather protection (IPX4), which is fine in most scenarios, but for a headlamp that is more suited to extreme weather conditions, the Black Diamond Spot should be considered.
If it’s great performance with excellent rechargeable run time that you are after then you simply cannot go wrong with this reliable and versatile headlamp. And although it might be towards the higher end of some people’s budget, is well worth the extra pennies.
The Petzl Tikkina is a tried and tested favourite amongst budget campers and backpackers, and is by far the cheapest option in this review. It is also one of the lightest headlamps with only the Petzl e+Lite beating it in low weight. As a hybrid headlamp it runs on 3 AAA batteries, but is also compatible with the Petzl CORE rechargeable battery that can be bought separately to add a little more versatility to its power options.
For such a low cost headlamp the Tikkina has a surprisingly good battery life that is ideal for most moderate camping scenarios. Where it falls short in comparison to most of the other headlamps is the light quality which will struggle to stand up to use out on the trail at night, or during more energetic nighttime activities. But that is to be expected for a headlamp with such a small price tag. For something a bit more robust and high performing, the Spot or Actik are better lightweight options that also include a night vision mode that the Tikkina lacks.
The single button that takes you through the three lighting modes (proximity, movement and distance vision), makes this a very appealing headlamp for those looking for something simple and easy to use whereas the Spot can prove a little complicated for some.
If it’s a no frills headlamp that you are after that offers superb value for money, then the Tikkina is for you.
This is one bright light, and the brightest headlamp in this review. With a whopping 1000 lumens that claim an insane beam distance of 185m, it’s easy to see why! Its weather resistance rating of IPX6, makes the Fenix HP25R waterproof when sprayed with jets, but not when submerged in water. It is also impact resistant to 1m. Together with its exception light quality, this makes the Fennix HP25R an excellent option for cave exploration and nighttime navigation in all weathers.
The HP25R is an improved version of the HP25. The newer version now includes a rechargeable 2600mAh 18650 Li-ion battery that can be charged directly from the lamp via a USB cable, and the battery pack housed at the back of the headband is now much smaller too. Although these are excellent improvements, it still puts the HP25R as one of the heaviest headlamps in this review along with the Icon. Similarly to the Icon, the head strap over the top helps to maintain stability for the wearer.
Like the Black Diamond headlamps, there is a battery power indicator which is an essential feature, as on full power mode the HP25R will only be able to show off its far reaching neutral white flood light for around 2.5 hours.
There is a red light mode for night illumination, and two switches control the spotlight and floodlight separately through low, medium and high settings.
If it’s simply the brightest headlamp you are after, and run time isn’t an issue, then look no further. The Fenix is for you and will not fail to impress.
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If you envisage being out in the dark in all weathers then the Black Diamond Spot will show you the way with ease and reliability. The 200 lumens provide an excellent beam of up to 80m via 1 triplepower LED. Although it doesn’t quite compete with the Coast or Fennix when it comes to light quality, it sure puts out an excellent light compared with the other compact headlamps. With a fully waterproof housing rated to IPX8, the headlamp will continue to function in water that is up to 1.1m deep for 30 minutes. All this combined makes the Spot ideal for use in more extreme mountain conditions where weight, quality and robustness should be considered in equal measure.
The Spot has a good array of light settings including a full strength spot light in both close and distance modes, dimming, strobe, red night vision and lock modes. These settings are accessed using PowerTap technology, which although sounds as simple as a quick tap to adjust the brightness, is actually surprisingly complicated to get your head round! Once you’ve sussed it though, this function is a really easy way to alter the light output according to your surroundings.
Like the ReVolt, there is a built-in power meter which indicates when the 3 AAA batteries are nearing their 200 hour limit. The Spot is also one of the lighter headlamps making it a great option, together with the Petzl Actik, for night running and high energy activity. But for the best headlamp for runners, the Black Diamond Sprinter wins the race every time.
As Black Diamonds most popular headlamp, the Spot offers really excellent value and is the best all rounder headlamp for use in almost every outdoor scenario.
Despite it only having 285 lumens, the beam design of the Coast HL7 is such that the light quality is good enough to fiercely compete with the Fenix when it comes to brightness. The max beam distance of 119m is delivered through the bulls-eye spot beam whilst a broader light can be achieved via the ultra view flood beam. The simple to use dial, that alters the focus of the beam as you twist it, provides unrivalled beam control for a precise and sharp light like no other. And the single on/off button makes it comparable with the Tikkina when it comes to ease of use.
Like the Fenix, the battery run time is one of the lowest in this review at only 1.5 hours on its brightest mode. But for such a bright light it makes up for this shortfall by being impressively light and only around 30g heavier than some of the compact headlamps. The rear battery pack contributes to this extra weight and also lowers the comfort levels slightly in comparison.
So putting the poor run time aside, the Coast HL7 well deserves the spotlight for its relatively low price tag that gives you an exceptional light that is low weight and simple to use.
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The Petzl Actik is the upgraded and vastly improved version of the ever popular Tikka Plus. With more than double the number of lumens (now 300), and an improved max beam distance of 30m (now 90m), the Actik is an all round more useful and desirable headlamp than it’s predecessor.
Along with the Tikkina and Spot, it is amongst the lightest of the compact headlamps and carries 3 AAA batteries that run for a super impressive 260 hours, being trumped only by the ReVolt. It is also compatible with a rechargeable Petzl CORE system that comes separately. The more powerful Actik CORE is available in March 2017.
The Actik is one of the lower priced headlamp option and offers very similar performance in brightness and light quality to the Spot, with several lighting modes that include red night mode and both wide and mixed beam patterns.
Where the Spot really shines is in its ability to withstand terrible weather and submersion in water. But if you don’t plan on needing a headlamp in such extreme conditions then the IPX4 of the Actik will do just fine.
This is an excellent step up from the no fuss Tikkina with a few extras like a reflective headband for added safety on the roads at night, and also an emergency whistle on the back of the headband. It is also a much cheaper option for running and activity than the Sprinter.
New to the Black Diamond headlamp range, the Sprinter is the best headlamp for running in this review, and a favourite with climbers too. The compact design weighs in at 105g (3.7oz) which is just light enough to not bounce around when running. But to ensure that movement is minimised as much as possible, this weight is split between the front and rear of the headband, with a red tail light strobe in the rear to increase visibility when running on the streets. It also has an overhead strap to further stabilise the lamp.
With 200 lumens and a max beam distance of 50m, the light quality does just what it needs to to create a dispersed beam for good visibility when moving, but nothing spectacular compared with the Coast or Fennix. And whilst it is left flagging behind when it comes to value and versatility, it remains in pole position when used for its designed purpose.
The battery run time is disappointingly low for a headlamp of this price, so don’t expect to be doing any nighttime ultramarathons. But the batteries are rechargeable via a USB cable which is a big plus.
The Sprinter uses the same PowerTap technology as the Spot to easily change the light settings – a super useful feature when you are constantly moving. And its high tech doesn’t stop there. As with the Icon, Black Diamond have developed a brightness memory setting that when activated stores the brightness levels from your previous use. Pretty smart!
For night runners and dawn joggers this is the headlamp for you. For everyone else, the Spot or the Actik both perform well enough when running and are much more versatile overall.
Constructed from aero-grade aluminum alloy, the Nitecore HC50 is the toughest headlamp in this review, challenged only by the impact resistant Fenix. Like the Spot, its IP rating of X8 makes it fully waterproof and a superb option for the rough and tumble of caving. At 130g (4.58oz), some will find it too heavy for backpacking or mountaineering and with a super low run time of only 1.25 hours on its highest setting, it wouldn’t be of much use out in the backcountry anyway.
What it does do very well though is provide excellent light quality rivalled only by the Icon and the Fenix. With 760 lumens and a max beam distance of 98m, the Nitecore provides an exceptionally smooth and even light for clear and wide illumination.
Due to its powerful output, there are integrated cooling ribs to keep the headlamp, and you, as cool as possible. And with a single on/off button that controls 10 different light settings, including red night vision light, the Nitecore is a desirable and fairly priced headlamp to use when camping. But for a little less of a dent in the pocket, the Spot is a more versatile, albeit less bright, option.
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This is one teeny tiny headlamp that although designed as a backup emergency headlamp actually does a really decent job at dealing with everyday camping and backpacking scenarios too. At only 26g (0.9oz), the Petzl e+Lite is by far the lightest and smallest headlamp in this review that you will always be able to find space for it in your backpack. It comes in a miniature hard case that is small enough to slip into your pocket.
Sure, its 50 lumens that put out a max beam distance of just 10m isn’t going to win any prizes for the brightest headlamp, but when it comes to durability and robustness it competes strongly with even the bomb proof Nitecore. It is waterproof down to 1 meter and is also designed to withstand extreme temperatures up to 60ºC and down to -30ºC – impressive for such a tiny lamp.
Like the Actik, there is a handy emergency whistle on the head band, and the powerful red LED can be seen from up to 100m away for a whole 15 hours. Put the red light on the strobe setting and you can extend your SOS alert to 70 hours! The 2 lithium CR2032 batteries will give you around 9 hours of light when using the white LED, which is a fairly low run time. But those tiny batteries have a shelf life of 10 years making the e+Lite a must for every emergency or survival kit, or an excellent backup headlamp to stick in your pack on long day hikes or multi-day trips.
The Icon is one of Black Diamonds brightest and most powerful headlamps for adventurers. With an IP rating of 67 it is almost as dust proof as it is waterproof making it an ideal option for trail finding in a huge variety of conditions.
Although one the most expensive headlamps in this review, followed by the Fenix and the Sprinter, this all round excellent headlamp is well worth the extra if you are looking for both excellent light quality and versatility.
The Icon features red, green and blue night vision modes that, like the Spot, can be activated without cycling through the white light setting, thus preserving your night vision further. And like the other Black Diamond headlamps, it has a brightness memory function which takes you straight to your last light setting when activated, and a built-in power level meter too.
At 230g (8.1oz) it’s the heaviest lamp in this review and the 4 AA batteries don’t help with this. But Black Diamond have recognised this and have made the rear battery pack removable so that it can be stored in your pocket instead of on your head, thus increasing comfort and stability and also helping to preserve the battery life in colder conditions.
Aside from its solid design, the Icon has a really excellent beam that reaches up to 110m, and 500 lumens that display clear and even light – to be expected from a lamp of this price. And of course it has plenty of light modes to choose from in addition to the night vision settings. It also has an impressive run time of up to 200 hours.
For a super high quality and bright light source that is also highly functional in a variety of adventure scenarios, the Icon won’t disappoint. But for something a little kinder on the bank account, the Black Diamond Spot is an excellent option.
Why choose a headlamp?
There are of course a load of great reasons why packing a headlamp on your outdoor adventures is essential. Even if you’re not on an overnighter, it’s always a good idea to pop one in your pack, you know, just in case.
Hands free camping
As soon as the sun goes down at camp, even the smallest task can become a bit of a pain if there’s not quite enough light on the subject. A good headlamp set on flood light mode offers a broad pool of light that leads the way wherever you go! And for more delicate tasks the best headlamps have a spot light that is more intense and focussed.
Extends the adventures after dark
If you’re the sort of person to not let the bad weather or dark evenings get in the way of your adventures, then you need a high quality headlamp in your life. Not only will the optional illumination take the pressure off getting back to base before dark, but it also opens up a whole host of adventure opportunities like night hiking and trail running. One of the best headlamps for running and high energy activity is the Black Diamond Sprinter. For a more gentle adventure with a twist, get out canoeing or SUPing on the river at night with the fully waterproof Nitecore. Exploring after dark with a powerful headlamp also offers excellent wildlife watching opportunities.
One of the best and hopefully least used reasons for making sure you have the best headlamp packed at all times, is for use in emergency situations. A simple hike that has gone awry can mean that you are out in the wilderness way longer than you might have planned. You’ll need to navigate, map read, possibly tend to injuries or cook some food. And it’s at those times you’ll be glad that you took the time to choose a great headlamp with batteries that won’t die within an hour or that will let in the sideways rain and fizzle out.
So although using your headlamp for emergencies will happen infrequently, if at all, it’s pretty important to consider how well it would perform in sticky situations before you choose which one is for you.
What to look for when choosing the best headlamps
If you’re after the best headlamp for your nighttime adventures, then yes, there’s more to just going for the brightest headlamp with the highest number of lumens. Lots more in fact! So before you go grabbing the first 1000 lumen headlamp you can get your hands on, consider the following:
The number of lumens
The brightness and light output of each headlamp is measured in lumens. And in theory, the more lumens, the brighter the light. This is a fairly accurate measure of brightness when a headlamp has brand new batteries and the beam is on its brightest beam setting. However as these conditions are not totally realistic for general use, measuring headlamp brightness in lumens shouldn’t be totally relied upon. The intensity and quality of the beam pattern also has a bearing on how bright it will be and can vary from headlamp to headlamp, even with same number of lumens. Confusing hey?!
So here’s a very rough guide to how many lumens you’ll need for your nighttime adventures, assuming you’re not going to take into consideration other factors:
- 50 lumens = fine for being around camp and in your tent
- 80+ lumens = you’ll need this for night hikes and navigation in the dark
- 200+ lumens = needed if you’re running or biking at night
The beam distance
To get a fuller picture of how bright a headlamp will be, you need to look at the beam distance as well as the number of lumens. A beam that reaches far like the Fenix HP25R, will have a focused beam pattern and so the lumens can be measured more accurately. Beam distance, like lumens, is measured with a full battery and at the highest setting. So remember to knock a bit of distance off for a more realistic measurement.
The battery life
The run time of headlamp batteries is a seriously crucial bit of info to consider when you’re choosing a headlamp. And like the number of lumens, the basic 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. If you plan on constantly using it on the highest setting then don’t expect it to run for nearly as long as the figure states. Most brands will break this down easily when you look at the stats more closely, so take your time to do this.
Not all headlamps run on the same batteries. Some are specific to the headlamp brand and some take rechargeable batteries. Here are the main options for headlamp batteries:
- 3 x AAA – This is a standard battery setup that most compact headlamps use.
- 4 x AAA – Less compact headlamps use 4 AAA batteries but things can become a bit heavy at the front. So if it gets above 110g (4oz) then ideally you should be looking for battery storage at the back of the headlamp strap.
- Battery packs – More powerful headlamps like the Black Diamond Icon require bigger batteries that are usually stored at the back of the headlamp strap to balance the weight and manage stability.
- Rechargeable – Many of the the newer headlamp designs are rechargeable when connected directly to a power source or take rechargeable batteries. You might pay a little more for this type of headlamp, but in the long run you’ll probably save on buying batteries, not to mention the environmental brownie points that you get for free!
- Hybrid –These are headlamps that have the capacity to recharge, as above, but also take AAA batteries making them highly versatile. Many of the higher end Petzl headlamps are powered in this way with their CORE system.
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.
The light settings
The best headlamps should have a variety of light settings to choose from. These vary from lamp to lamp, but the basic settings include:
This is the maximum strength setting that creates a far reaching beam, and 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 trail finding and activity.
A flood light beam is much wider and lights a much larger area than the spot light, but at a closer distance. This setting is best used around camp or when in your tent and it 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. It’s also good when you are with other people to avoid blinding them each time you look at them!
If a headlamp has a red light, it can often be used as a emergency light when set onto strobe mode. This mode massively extends the run time of the batteries compared with a constant light setting. The Petzl e+Lite is an excellent example of this.
Weight and size
The best headlamps for serious light output are generally heavier than headlamps used in more pedestrian scenarios. But even the lightest headlamps do a decent job at providing enough light for the task in hand. The Petzl e+Lite weighs a minuscule 28g, and with 50 lumens will be just fine for general use around the campsite or as a backup headlamp. For a headlamp that excels in light output, battery life, beam distance and durability, you can expect to have to sacrifice carrying something much heavier like the Black Diamond Icon that weighs around 230g.
Most head lamps are mounted on a single elasticated head band that goes around your head almost horizontally. with the front sitting on your forehead. In general, the heavier headlamps tend to be less comfortable to wear. However, heavier lamps like the Black Diamond Icon often have an extra strap that goes over the top of your head to increase the stability of the headlamp and spread the weight. In addition to this, some headlamps also include extra padding behind the lamp itself to improve the comfort.
Ease of use
The easier it is to turn your headlamp on and off and alter the settings, the better. And this should ideally be doable with gloves on too. If it’s a no faff option you are after then the Coast HL7 uses a simple dial which allows you to easily take full control of the beam. Whilst Black Diamonds TapPower technology uses a far more complex system to flick between the light settings.
If you envisage using your trusty headlamp in all conditions then you’ll need something that is going to stand up to the elements as effectively as all your other expensive weatherproof gear. 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 ratings 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. So there you have it! The mystery numbers now have meaning!