It’s natural to be afraid of the dark. After all, you never know what’s out there. When you’re out hiking, camping, or doing another outdoor activity watching the sun go down can be disconcerting. One of the best tools you can bring to ward off the darkness is a quality headlamp.
They’re lightweight, reliable, and leave your hands free for other tasks. With that in mind we put together a list of the best headlamps for hiking, camping, backpacking, and hunting.
- 1 Best Headlamps 2019
- 1.1 PETZL NAO+ Headlamp
- 1.2 Fenix HL60R LED Headlamp
- 1.3 PETZL e+Lite – Best Ultralight Headlamp
- 1.4 Black Diamond Icon Headlamp
- 1.5 PETZL MYO Headlamp
- 1.6 Black Diamond Spot 325 – Best General Purpose Headlamp
- 1.7 PETZL ACTIK CORE Headlamp
- 1.8 Coast FL85 LED Headlamp
- 1.9 Princeton Tec Apex Extreme LED Headlamp
- 1.10 Shining Buddy LED Headlamp – Best Value Headlamp
- 2 Headlamps Vs Flashlights Vs Lanterns
- 3 Buyer’s Guide for Buying the Best Headlamp
- 4 Final Thoughts
Best Headlamps 2019
Choosing a headlamp requires juggling several really important characteristics. You have to consider things like brightness, durability, and runtime.
Even then you’re left considering exactly how you intend to use your headlamp. Night joggers will naturally have different needs than cave explorers.
We picked out 10 of the best headlamps on the market for 2019 to help you find the perfect headlamp for your needs.
PETZL NAO+ Headlamp
The PETZL NAO+ is a 750 lumen headlamp designed for high intensity outdoor sports and professional use. It weighs 6.5 ounces and uses a three part strap system to securely attach to your head.
The NAO+ actually has 3 different light sources built into a single headlamp. Two on the front provide flood and spotlights while a red signalling light is placed on the back of the strap system. It has a 3100 mAh lithium ion battery that gives you 6 hours of light on max power mode or up to 15 hours on max autonomy.
The PETZL is one of the smartest headlamps on the market today. Not only is it programmable through a smartphone app, it also has a reactive lighting system. You can set it to either constant light or light reactive mode.
Constant provides a steady amount of light for the full run time of the battery. Reactive adjusts the light depending on outside conditions. As befits it’s high end design the button is fully functional even while wearing gloves.
The PETZL NAO+ is a high end headlamp that’s comfortable, extremely bright, IPX4 certified, and provides tons of light. It’s expensive, but if you’re skiing, trail running, or otherwise participating in intense outdoor sports at night it’s well worth the investment.
Fenix HL60R LED Headlamp
The Fenix HL60R is a feature packed 950 lumen headlamp. It weighs 5.5 ounces including the rechargeable lithium battery and offers 5 different light modes plus a red light setting. These are:
- Turbo: 950 Lumens/48 Min Runtime
- High: 400 Lumens/3h Runtime
- Mid: 150 Lumens/10h Runtime
- Low: 50 Lumens/29h Runtime
- Eco: 5 Lumen/ 100h Runtime
The body of the HL60R is made from durable aircraft grade aluminum. It uses a three part strap system for maximum comfort and has an IPX8 water resistance rating. It runs on either an included 18650 USB rechargeable battery or 2 CR123a lithium batteries. This allows you to recharge it for regular use while still carrying backup batteries in case of an emergency.
It has an ergonomic single button control system that allows you to quickly cycle through different light modes. Most of the light modes provide a spotlight style beam, with a maximum beam distance of 381 feet.
The Fenix HL60R is a high powered and extremely durable headlamp designed for mountaineering, cave exploration, and other serious endeavours. It’s priced below many other high end headlamps while still providing significant performance.
PETZL e+Lite – Best Ultralight Headlamp
The PETZL e+Lite is a micro headlamp that provides 50 lumens of light while weighing just an ounce. It uses CR2032 coin cell batteries and provides arguably the lowest brightness and beam distance on this list.
For that though you have an absolutely tiny headlamp that is storable for up to 10 years with its batteries and IPX8 water resistant. It’s inexpensive and perfect for anyone preparing a bug out bag or similar emergency kit.
Ultralight hikers similarly prize it for its incredibly lightweight design and decent performance figures. It has three light modes; high 9h, low 12h, and red light 15h. This gives you a serious amount of light, especially from coin cell batteries.
The PETZL e-Lite is ideal for emergency preparedness, ultralight hikers, and others who put a premium on weight reduction.
Black Diamond Icon Headlamp
The Black Diamond Icon is a 500 lumen headlamp designed for mountaineers, cave explorers, and others participating in high intensity activities. It has IP67 water resistance and features two light intensities as well as three different color options.
It runs on 4 AA batteries. These give you 70h of burntime on high and 150h on low. This is a substantial increase from similar headlamps. It also has dimmable options, strobe effects, and an RGB night vision setting.
The Icon also offers red, blue, or green light modes for preserving your night vision. It uses a 3 point strap system for comfort and a secure fit as well as a removable battery pack that can be worn on your head or belt.
The Black Diamond Icon is a powerful headlamp with an impressive battery life. It doesn’t come in rechargeable options but given its other excellent features we can forgive it that.
PETZL MYO Headlamp
The MYO is a part of PETZL’s endurance line of headlamps for runners, cyclists, and trail runners. It weighs just under 6 ounces, provides up to 370 lumens, and possesses and interesting set of design features.
As is standard for most PETZL products the MYO utilizes their constant lighting technology. This balances the light produced by the headlamp right up until the battery dies. No more will your light slowly dim out as the battery dies. It has more than 10 different programmable brightness and intensity levels.
These let you set your light from 20 to 370 lumens, with beam distances varying between 100 feet up to just over 300 feet and gives you a runtime of between 50h and 2.5h. All of this provides substantial flexibility in how you use your headlight.
One really interesting feature of the MYO is its flip up flood setting. Rather than multiple LED’s PETZL built a flippable flood diffuser that slots over the focused spotlight LED.
The PETZL MYO is a midrange headlamp perfect for serious use that doesn’t enter into high intensity activities. Just about anyone would be satisfied with the feature set and performance it provides.
Black Diamond Spot 325 – Best General Purpose Headlamp
The Black Diamond Spot 325 is the newest edition of the company’s wildly popular Spot line of headlamps. As the name suggests it provide 325 lumens of focused light in a durable plastic body that weighs just 3 ounces. The main light adjusts from proximity flood mode to a pinpoint spotlight on command.
It has three primary modes as well as dozens of programmable features including dimming, strobe, red light, and lock mode. The high mode gives you just under 300 feet of beam distance for up to 4h, medium is just under 200 feet for 8h, while low provides 27 feet for up to 200h.
The Spot 325 runs on three AAA batteries and is very comfortable to wear. You can adjust the brightness level at any time using the second switch on the body. It also includes features like brightness memory for easy on off preservation of brightness settings and is IPX8 water resistant.
The Black Diamond Spot 325 is a feature packed headlamp that’s affordable, lightweight, and reliable. On an ounce for ounce basis it’s just about the best hiking and camping headlamp on the market today.
PETZL ACTIK CORE Headlamp
The PETZL ACTIK CORE is a 350 lumen rechargeable headlamp built for general outdoor use such as hiking or camping. It weighs under 3 ounces, is rated at IPX4, and has a range of autonomous and programmable lighting modes.
The ACTIK comes with PETZL’s CORE rechargeable lithium battery. It’s a 1250mAh battery that provides up to 350h of runtime in red light signalling mode. The primary settings are max autonomy, standard, and max power. These give you 160h, 7h, and 2h of runtime respectively.
Max autonomy is the longest running setting and is designed to provide light at a distance of just under 30 feet. It’s great for basic tasks around camp or if you’re doing low impact activities. Standard has a beam distance over 160 feet and is great for things like night hikes, running, or other more intense activities.
Max power mode is designed for limited use cases like signalling or searching for someone at a distance. It gives you over 300 feet of beam distance. Each of these modes functions in either flood or spotlight settings and can be dimmed or otherwise adjusted.
The PETZL ACTIK CORE is a robustly built and reliable headlamp that falls in the middle of the pack price wise. It’s not the best headlamp on the market but it definitely won’t let you down when used properly.
Coast FL85 LED Headlamp
The Coasts FL85 is a dual color LED headlamp that provides a maximum of 620 lumens of light. It weighs 4.5 oz and runs on 3 AAA batteries. It has three primary modes. These are:
- High: 620 Lumens/2.15h Runtime/600 Feet Beam Distance
- 330 Lumens/3.45h Runtime/450 Feet Beam Distance
- 96 Lumens/13h Runtime/250 Feet Beam Distance
The design of the FL85 incorporates a rotating bezel design. This allows you to quickly adjust the light from a tight spotlight to a highly diffused flood light. You can also switch between white and red light LED settings to preserve your night vision. It has an IPX4 rating and is built from impact resistant materials.
The Coast FL85 is a well built and affordably priced headlamp with reasonable performance characteristics. It can’t compete with some of the more high performance models we reviewed but it’s a useful and reliable headlamp nonetheless.
Princeton Tec Apex Extreme LED Headlamp
The Princeton Tec Apex Extreme is a 550 lumen headlamp designed specifically for cold weather use. It weighs 14.7 ounces and used 8 AA batteries.
That makes for a heavy headlamp but does provide significantly longer runtime than most others on our list. It makes even more sense when you take its cold weather use case into account. The battery pack is designed to be worn on the belt, inside an insulated pouch. This transfers the bulk of the weight away from your head.
It has 5 different light modes, 2 spotlight and 3 flood, and a significantly extended runtime compared to similar lights. On maximum spotlight mode it provides 100h of runtime. At that power you’re putting out 550 lumens of light at a beam distance of almost 400 feet.
The flood setting uses 4 small traditional LED’s placed around the spotlight. You can choose between a 160h or 200h mode or a 300h flashing mode for maximum power conservation.
The Apex Extreme is honestly too intense for most headlamp users. If you hike or ski in the winter or are seriously into mountaineering though it provides just what you’re looking for.
Shining Buddy LED Headlamp – Best Value Headlamp
The Shining Buddy is a 160 lumen entry level headlamp for kids or new hikers/campers. It weighs just 2.6 ounces, has an IPX5 water resistance rating, and runs on 3 AAA batteries.
It combines a powerful center light and two red light LED’s on the sides. This gives you 4 total settings, high, low, red light, and red flashing. This gives you as much as 160 lumens of flood light for up to 12h.
Even better, the Shining Buddy is frequently available for well under $20. The Shining Buddy is a decent quality headlamp at a price that can’t be beat. For kids, general camping, or around the house use it’s one of the best headlamps on the market.
Headlamps Vs Flashlights Vs Lanterns
For modern hiking or camping you have three options for portable light sources, flashlights, lanterns, and headlamps. Each has their pros and cons but for many situations a headlamp will be the superior option.
Lanterns are the oldest source of man made light modern campers still use. They’re great at lighting up a largish area around a campsite or to provide light during an emergency. Unfortunately, the same characteristics that make them so perfect for camping or home use disqualify them for serious hikers, backpackers, mountaineers, and other sporting enthusiasts.
Lanterns provide a wide spray of gentle light. They usually have far higher lumen counts than flashlights or headlamps but they can’t be used as a spotlight. Lanterns are also generally much larger than flashlights or headlamps.
Flashlights and headlamps have pretty much identical characteristics and light effects. Where headlamps edge out flashlights is their hands free design. Using a flashlight requires you to give up the full use of a hand. A headlamp gives you the same light while freeing both your hands.
This makes them perfect for gathering firewood or performing basic campground tasks. It’s also a major safety bonus when you’re hiking at night. You’ll have both hands free to catch yourself if you fall without fear of breaking your only light source.
Buyer’s Guide for Buying the Best Headlamp
When comparing headlamps you need to have a good idea of how you plan to use it. Different models are optimized for different sports, activities, and intensities. If you’re planning a technical ascent you’ll have far more demanding needs than a weekend car camper.
Headlamps are available in a wide range of prices and feature sets. For most people you’ll get all the functionality you need for between $20 and $50. This will give you a powerful and lightweight source of light with a durable design that’s comfortable to use.
If you participate in more technical outdoor activities or if you need a professional grade light for caving, mountaineering, or other high risk activities you can spend significantly more. These start around $70 to $80 and can go as high as $500+.
The brightness of light is measured in lumens. The more lumens a light has the brighter it is. A high lumen light won’t always be the best option. The higher the lumen count the shorter your headlamp’s runtime will be.
For most purposes 200 to 300 lumens will be ideal. This gives you substantial light while still having an acceptable battery life. A good rule of thumb is to buy a light that allows you to adjust the amount of light. If you consistently use your headlamp on a medium bright setting you’ll see significantly better battery life.
As the intensity of your activity increases so will your brightness demands. If you’re out mountain biking at night, for example, you’ll want the maximum brightness possible.
It’s important to remember that brightness isn’t everything. The type of light and the beam distance play a major role in how much perceptible light it puts out.
LED Beam Type
Most quality headlamps will come with 2-3 different beam types and settings. The most common are spotlight, flood, colored lights, and strobe effects.
Spot – A spotlight is a highly focused beam of light that extends for the maximum distance possible. It’s great for when you need to see things at a distance like during night hikes or when on the water.
All but the most bare bones of headlamps will have some type of spotlight feature.
Flood – Flood lighting is the most basic type of light a headlamp will provide. It gives you a diffused pattern of light that doesn’t go very far but lights up your surroundings well. Flood light headlamps are ideal for tasks around camp, looking for something near you, or taking your dog out for a night walk.
Every headlamp will have a flood light feature.
Colored – When people mention colored light and headlamps they almost always mean red light. Red light has been used in military settings for decades to help preserve night vision. The wavelength of red light doesn’t affect your eyes nearly as much as other colors of light.
More recently though other colors have started to appear. Some higher end headlamps will have blue, green, and even purple light settings. Most camping, hiking, and hunting headlamps will have at least a red light feature.
Strobe Effects – Strobe effects have several excellent tactical and everyday practical uses. In an emergency situation the strobing of a bright light can be very disorienting to an attacker. It’s also useful for drawing attention to yourself while jogging or walking your dog at night.
Strobe effects are the least common light feature among headlamps and generally only found on higher end models.
The ideal beam distance depends entirely on how you intend to use your headlamp. For camping and emergency preparedness around 15-20 feet is the sweet spot. This will generally give you more of a diffused flood effect and light up the surrounding area better.
If you plan to do night hiking, any kind of mountaineering, or are going running you should get a longer beam distance. You should pick out a hiking headlamp with at least 40 feet of reliable beam distance.
Weight and Strap Comfort
Given the outdoor and hiking focus of headlamps manufacturers have been working to reduce their weight constantly. It’s now possible to get very nice headlamps that weigh just a few ounces.
One notable model actually weighs less than an ounce, including the battery.
A good rule of thumb is to search for the performance you need then compare headlamp weights. It’s nice to have one that weighs less but definitely worth an extra ounce or two for substantially better performance.
Strap comfort also comes into play with weight. The most comfortable straps will be adjustable and include an over the head strap. This makes them heavier but may actually make them easier to wear over multiple hours.
Battery Type and Life
Make sure you consider what kind of battery you want your headlamp to use. Rechargeable batteries are common among top of the line models but do require that you remember to recharge them. Most headlamps will run on AA or AAA batteries, with some tactically focused models using lithium batteries.
The type of battery your headlamp uses will affect the expense of operating it and how easy it is to get replacements. AA and AAA batteries don’t provide as long a battery life as higher end choices but they’re cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to carry. You can keep as many replacements as you need in a small pouch.
You should carefully consider how you intend to use your headlamp before purchase. The brighter it is the shorter its useful battery life will be. The balance between brightness and battery life is honestly the biggest compromise you’ll have to make when picking out the best headlamp.
With any outdoor electronics basic water resistance is a minimum necessity. For headlamps, likely your primary source of light, it’s even more essential. Most manufacturers recognize this and post International Protection Marking (IP) codes to help you instantly figure out how resistant they are.
You should look for headlamps that are at least IPX4. This means they’ll stand up to splashed or sprayed water for at least 10 minutes. The best you can expect to find is an IPX8. These headlamps can actually survive full immersion in fresh water for at least 30 minutes along with other potential resistances.
The headlamp market is huge. Picking out a single best headlamp for hiking, camping, backpacking, and hunting would be pretty much impossible.
With that in mind we’ve picked out several standout examples to help you narrow down your choice.
For all the ultralight hikers or emergency preparedness folks out there we recommend the PETZL e+Lite. It weighs just a single ounce yet still provides useful amounts of light.
It’s not the most capable or comfortable headlamp by a long shot but it’s great if you’re looking to cut down on every possible ounce.
If you aren’t looking to break the bank the Shining Buddy headlamp is the way to go. Its combination of useful features, quality workmanship, and downright cheap price make it the perfect entry level headlamp for occasional campers or those with kids.
Now for the moment of truth, the best general purpose headlamp of 2019.
Hands down, the Black Diamond Spot 325 is the winner here. Its combination of affordable price, high performance characteristics, and nearly indestructible design amply earn the top spot.
It’s priced well under models with similar performance and won’t let you down when it counts.