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Shopping Guide for Best Headlamps

The headlamp is a simple yet revolutionary tool. Wearing a flashlight on your head frees up your hands for other tasks. You can wear a headlamp when you’re jogging at night, when you’re walking the dog in the evening, and when you’re cleaning the dark corners of your basement. The applications are seemingly endless.

At BestReviews, we’re highly impressed by the convenience and enhanced efficiency a headlamp provides. It pays to do your homework before you buy one of these handy tools, though. That’s where we can help.

We spent numerous hours researching headlamps. We spoke with our expert consultant, Amy Horton, to find out what potential buyers should look for in a headlamp. The shopping guide that follows unveils key information you can use when selecting the best headlamp for you.

When you’re ready to buy a new headlamp, please consult the product matrix above. Each product featured is one of our favorites on the market today. Our selections are based on deep product research; we never accept free samples from manufacturers.

In this way, you can count on our endorsements to be honest and free of bias.

If you plan to wear the headlamp for an extended period of time, look for a comfortable fit. Heavier headlamps tend to bounce around more on your head than lighter headlamps. A headlamp that uses AA batteries weighs more than a headlamp that uses AAA batteries.

Uses for Headlamps

If you’re wondering whether you really need a headlamp, consider the versatility these devices offer.

A headlamp can come in handy in situations like the following:

  • When camping

  • When cleaning dark areas

  • When cycling, running, or walking the dog at night

  • During vehicle repair

  • When conducting home repairs

  • In the event of a nighttime emergency

Amy
EXPERT CONSULTANT

Amy is an outdoor addict who began her love affair with nature as a tiny 3-year-old running the trails of Nova Scotia with boundless energy. She has continued to live in close harmony with the outside world ever since, growing up hiking and camping on the East Coast. She moved to Los Angeles after college and lost no time exploring the infinite adventure opportunities that the Southwest offers. She is now a backpacking guide with TSX Challenge on their Eastern Sierra and Grand Canyon routes. She adores nerding out about anything to do with gear, camping, or backpacking in general.


Amy  |  Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

“Headlamps are good for everything,” says Amy. “It’ll end up being one of the most useful tools around your house. It’s basically a hands-free flashlight, and who doesn’t want that? The uses are truly endless.”

Even during daylight hours, Amy says that a headlamp is a valuable safety device.

“I always keep my headlamp on me, even on day hikes, because I don’t know what might happen,” she says.

“It’s best to be prepared. You don’t ever want to be caught in the middle of nowhere in the dark.”

EXPERT TIP

You can even use a headlamp in bed at night as a reading light, if you don’t mind looking a bit nerdy.


Amy  | Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

Determining Brightness Requirements

Headlamp manufacturers denote the brightness of their lights in lumens. The term is commonly used to indicate the brightness of all kinds of lighting, including light bulbs and flashlights. The more lumens a light has, the brighter it will be.

The following list contains some of the ranges of lumens required for common tasks.

Brightness

Up to 100 Lumens

A brightness of 100 lumens works well as a camping night light. This level of illumination is also ideal for performing home repair tasks or while walking in the moonlight.

DID YOU KNOW?

Some headlamps offer the ability to work underwater for brief periods of time.

Brightness

100 to 250 Lumens

If you’re working or hiking outdoors on a night without moonlight, a mid-range setting of 100 to 250 lumens works well. If you’re performing particularly precise tasks in a dark area of your home, this brighter option could serve you well.

Brightness

More Than 250 Lumens

Any task that involves moving fast at night requires an extremely bright headlamp — especially if you need to keep your eyes on the terrain below. Biking or running at night works best with a high lumens setting. And drivers will also see you better at night if you’re walking or running with a bright headlamp on.

For nighttime activities where you must move fast, such as cycling or running, a higher lumens setting is best.

Staff
BestReviews

Some headlamps offer more than one brightness setting. A lower setting conserves battery power, so if a dimmer light does the job adequately, use that setting to save your battery.

“The higher the lumens, the more energy consumed,” Amy says.

She adds that a higher lumens count does not necessarily equal a better headlamp. “It’s more important to look at how the lamp focuses and directs the light to best utilize the lumens.”

DID YOU KNOW?

Headlamps with multiple brightness settings allow you to conserve battery power on the lower settings.

Headlamp Battery Types

Headlamps are portable; you’re not tethered to an electrical outlet by a cord. Instead, headlamps run on a few different types of battery power.

Battery types

Alkaline Batteries

Small-diameter AAA batteries are the most common type you’ll find in headlamps. Manufacturers prefer them, as they don’t weigh down the lamp very much. However, some headlamps run on AA battery power. Most devices require three or four AA or AAA alkaline batteries at a time.

EXPERT TIP

A headlamp with a red-light mode is better for nighttime, especially in camp when you need to see but don’t want to disturb anyone.


Amy  | Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast
Battery types

Rechargeable Batteries

Some headlamps contain rechargeable batteries similar to those found in a smartphone or digital camera. You simply plug the headlamp into a USB cable when not in use to charge the battery. These rechargeable batteries should continue to work through dozens of charges, but you may need to purchase replacements at some point.

Battery types

Watch Batteries

A small handful of today’s headlamps run on the power of flat, round watch batteries that look like coins. However, you’re more likely to find headlamps that run on alkaline or rechargeable battery power.

Headlamps that use alkaline batteries typically need three or four AA or AAA batteries at once. For long-term savings, consider a headlamp that takes rechargeable batteries. In most cases, rechargeable batteries render a longer headlamp lifespan than alkaline batteries.

Staff
BestReviews

Some headlamp manufacturers list the maximum battery life based on full-power lumens. Others base battery life measurements on the lowest lumens setting.

Unfortunately, you cannot always rely on a manufacturer’s estimated battery life to predict the life of your headlamp batteries. It varies from model to model, and no market standard exists.

As a general rule, however, you can expect several hours of battery life at full-power lumens. And if you often use a lower brightness setting, you could easily receive triple that battery life — or more.

EXPERT TIP

Always, always, always carry extra batteries. You never know when you’ll need them, and you don’t want to be left in the dark.


Amy  | Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

Headlamp Prices

Price

Under $35

The smallest headlamps fit this price point. Such headlamps usually carry a maximum brightness rating of less than 250 lumens.

Most inexpensive headlamps require AAA or watch batteries rather than rechargeable batteries.

Price

$35 to $75

The mid-range headlamps on the market offer lumens ratings in the 200 to 400 range. Some use rechargeable batteries with above-average battery life results, but most take AAA or AA alkaline batteries. And most mid-range headlamps allow for two or three different brightness settings.

Price

$75 and Higher

The priciest headlamps deliver the highest brightness ratings, running anywhere from 400 to 1,000 lumens or even more. Such headlamps also offer multiple brightness settings. This allows you to use a lower lumens setting when appropriate to conserve battery power.

DID YOU KNOW?

More than half the headlamps costing $75 and up use rechargeable batteries, offering above-average battery life. These also tend to offer great versatility like wide beams, narrow beams, and red LED light.

“Obviously, as with all gear, you should look for something made well that will be long-lasting and dependable,” Amy says.

“In my opinion, you should buy something that offers wide and narrow beams as well as a red-light mode. A headlamp with a single-beam option may be slightly cheaper, but you’ll wish you had all three for versatility while using it. You’ll probably end up ditching it and buying the three-beam version instead.”

EXPERT TIP

Check to see if your headlamp will dim as your batteries wear out, giving you a warning, or if you have a regulated headlamp that will abruptly go out.


Amy  | Backpacking Guide and Outdoors Enthusiast

The factors listed below can affect price.

  • Lumens

A headlamp with a higher number of lumens costs more than a headlamp with a lower number of lumens. Expect to pay the most for a headlamp with a lumen measurement of 500+.

  • Battery Life

The longer the battery life, the higher the price. Additionally, headlamps that use rechargeable batteries cost more upfront than those that use alkaline batteries.

  • Maximum Light Beam Length

Headlamps that produce longer light beams generally wear a higher price tag.

Some headlamps include a focusing ring that allows you to adjust the width of the light beam for different tasks.

Headlamps FAQ

Q. What types of lighting does my headlamp offer?

A. A modern headlamp features an LED bulb. Within the LED, the headlamp produces some different types of light.

  • Most headlamps offer a narrow beam of light that works over a long distance.

  • Some also offer a floodlight setting in which the headlamp spreads the light over a wider area.

  • Some headlamps include a red LED. This is great for times when you want a type of light easier on your eyes.

Q. How important is a headlamp’s weight?

A. Even the slightest weight difference can alter a headlamp’s comfort factor. A heavier headlamp definitely becomes more noticeable the longer you wear it.

  • Headlamps that weigh three to five ounces are common, but some weigh as little as one ounce, and some weigh nine ounces or more.

  • A heavier headlamp is more likely to bounce up and down on your head during running or hiking.

Q. What are some of the best brand names in headlamps?

A. By sticking with well-known brands, you’re more likely to end up with a quality product. What’s more, it’s easier to find replacement parts for a product from a popular brand. The best manufacturers of headlamps include Black Diamond, Fenix, GRDE, InnoGear, Northbound Train, Petzl, Princeton Tec, and Wsky.

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