There once was a time when the only way you could use a flashlight and keep both your hands-free was to cram it into the crook of your neck.
While there is no evidence to suggest that this caused untold neck and spine injuries, it certainly was not OSHA approved.
Thankfully those days are behind us, and now all you need to go into the dark and still use both your opposable thumbs is a great headlamp.
The common misconception is that any decent headlamp will work for any purpose, but this is patently untrue.
Spelunkers need a narrower beam for exploring caves, while survivalists need a sturdier model that can stand up to adverse weather conditions.
Runners need something that will stay in place through every bump in the road, while trackers need something that won’t ruin their night vision.
Make sure you choose the right lamp for your needs.
LED LENSER H14
- SPECS: 60-1000 lumens, 70-300 meter range, and up to 35 hours of run time. Weighs 340 g and has adjustable head strap. Water resistance level IPX4.
- EFFORTLESS FOCUSING: The Advanced Focus System allows you to easily transition from a close-up wide beam to a long-distance focused beam using the one-handed Rapid Focus mechanism.
- SMART LIGHT TECHNOLOGY: Allows you to program your individual range of functions with different touch and switch combinations so you always have the perfect light mode at hand.
- ERGONOMIC DESIGN: The light unit, head straps and battery box have been redesigned with a specially formed battery case and more comfortable foam to conform to the natural curve of the user's head. This ensures maximum comfort during extended use.
- 5 YEAR WARRANTY: We take extraordinary measures so your Ledlenser will give you many years of dependable service. If the product has a defect in material or workmanship or fails to work under normal use, we'll repair or replace it.
Jack of All Trades: The H14 is much more than just a headlamp.
It is a lighting system that can go almost anywhere and serve a multitude of purposes.
Unsurprisingly they are made by the Leatherman Tool Group, the biggest name in multi-purpose since the Swiss Army.
The beam is adjustable, so you can get a broad range for night biking or a narrow beam for cave diving. It has three output modes that range from the modest 25 lumens to nearly 200.
The mounting bracket attached to the light can easily fit on bike handlebars or clamp-on almost anywhere, so it can switch from headlamp to work light with the turn of a screw.
More: The Best Home Tool Kits
- Constant Lighting Technology - Emits light over a sustained amount of time.
- Multi-Beam Lighting - Combines a flood beam for close proximity and a focused beam for longer distances.
- Reactive Lighting Technology - Allows the light sensor to automatically adjust brightness and optimise battery use.
- Self-Regulating - Brightness self regulates depending on the selected burn time.
- Adjustable Headband - Fits comfortably on your head and can be adjusted.
Runnin’ Down a Dream: You know what’s more expensive than the Petzl NAO?
A twisted or broken ankle. If you like the peacefulness and tranquility of doing a little jogging at night, the Petzl NAO should be your only choice.
The cost is a little steeper than some, but if you’ve ever done a little roadwork with a cheaper alternative, the difference will be apparent immediately.
The NAO headlamp uses reactive lighting that uses a sensor to automatically detect ambient light and adjust accordingly.
If a cloud suddenly blocks the moon or twilight gives way to pitch blackness, your light won’t fail you, and you won’t miss a stride.
If you prefer more control, you can even customize your settings to help you avoid night runner’s tunnel vision.
The lightweight is easy to adjust to, and it won’t hop out of place as you move. Output ranges from 25 to approximately 150 lumens.
More: The Best Wire Strippers
PRINCETON TEC APEX
- Power: 550 Lumens
- Lamp: 1 Maxbright LED (regulated), (dimmable)4 White Ultrabright LEDs (regulated), (dimmable)
- Burn Time: 150 hours
- Batteries: 4 AA Alkaline or Lithium
- Weight: 9.8oz / 279g
Thunder Underground: Caving adventures are not for the faint of heart, and these sturdy people need an equally sturdy light to ensure their exploration into the tunnels of the world don’t leave them stranded in the dark.
The Apex line is a little heavier than most, so hopefully, you don’t need to run from any Morlocks during your subterranean excursions.
The reason for the additional heft is the 5 light system that the Apex uses.
It has a single primary LED light surrounded by 4 secondary lights to help give you a panoramic view, as well as a redundant lighting system that will ensure that even if one light breaks, you will still be able to reach the surface safely—a maximum of 200 lumens.
More: Best Camping Gear
BLACK DIAMOND SPOT
- Emits up to 350 lumens on max setting
Apocalyptic: When the dead rise and you’re trying to get your ragtag group of survivors across town to the mall, this is the headlamp that will make the difference between living to fight another day and becoming zombie chow.
It comes with three power settings that can be changed with just a tap to the side of the lamp and includes red LEDs for illumination that won’t hurt your night vision so you can remain battle-ready.
The Spot can take a severe beating without breaking, though this makes it one of the heaviest choices out there.
It illuminates nearly 250 feet in front of you with 130 lumens so you can see a threat or trouble from a distance.
The tap technology is ideal for operation with gloves, so it works well in any kind of extreme conditions. The low output gives it the longest battery life of any option.
More: Best Hiking Backpacks
Industrial Light: If you’ve ever asked yourself what Sam Fisher of Splinter Cell wears on the weekends, this is the answer.
It looks like the headgear you would want if you were about to do some serious wet work against an entrenched terrorist camp, but really it is better suited to doing any heavy or detailed labor.
The head strap is one of the best and won’t budge while you are under a car or rappelling down the side of a building.
It maxes out at 344 lumens, making it bright enough that you can easily clean and reassemble your AR-15 without missing a single grease spot.
The simple twist focus on the side can narrow your beam so you can see for nearly 700 feet or broaden it so you can watch for mines at your feet.
ZEBRALIGHT H600F MKIV
- Smart user interface provides fast and easy access to all brightness levels and beacon-strobes.
- Precision machined unibody casing from premium grade aluminum bar stocks
- Proprietary heat sinking design bonds the LED board directly to the unibody aluminum casing
- Durable natural hard anodized finish (Type III Class I)
- Waterproof to IPX8 (2 meters, 30 minutes)
Hunter’s Helper: We first looked at Zebralight for their H600 model during our LED flashlight roundup.
The H600F model is slightly different from that one because it is geared much more toward hunters, while the other was for the average home user.
It is light enough for hunting down prey if you prefer doing your killing at night while also simple enough to operate that it won’t interfere with your hands whether you prefer a gun or a bow.
The beam gives enough distance to make your shot while also offering sufficient flood capacity for skinning and cleaning.
It is also removable for work that requires a standing or hand-held light. The LED is much warmer than most other headlamp options, so it makes following a blood trail significantly simpler.
Ranges from less than 1 lumen up to more than 1000 if you choose the right model.
Almost everyone that has ever looked into buying a headlamp has been disappointed to find out that they aren’t all that versatile. However, there are some real gems out there, and we will show you how to identify them and separate them from the rest of the pack. This way, you can make sure your hard-earned dollars go towards good use, no matter what situation arises where a headlamp is needed.
Before we begin our analysis of different types of headlamps available on the market today, it is important to understand exactly what purpose you need one for. That way, you can ensure that you get the proper model that fits your budget and gives off enough light in the desired direction.
Best Types of Headlamps by Activity
The most important thing to consider when choosing a headlamp for camping, hiking, or running is its Lumens rating. As a rule of thumb, it should be at least 100 Lumens which will give you enough light to see your surroundings and making sure that you don’t trip on anything. The best way to determine how many Lumens you need is by looking into the distance you must see in front of you. In general, if you are going to be out after dark hiking or biking, get one with 200-300 Lumens, while 100 would do fine if going on a short night hike.
Since most industrial work takes place inside or has many obstacles lying around that are quite low to the ground, a headlamp with a red light option is a must. By turning this LED on, you can keep your night vision and still be able to see where you’re going without blinding yourself or anyone else.
Also, it goes without saying that if you are working in an environment where there might be water around, then get a waterproof model or one that is meant for wet conditions. In addition to that, any headlamps made by reputable manufacturers come with standard features such as adjustable straps and non-slip design, which makes them perfect for industrial work.
Camping/Hiking/Running vs. Industrial Work
There are a few things to consider when choosing between a camping/hiking/running type of headlamp vs. an industrial type. The first and most obvious one is that industrial headlamps tend to be bigger and bulkier than their counterparts, even though they do pack more Lumens. However, industrial lights use CREE LED technology, making them brighter and longer-lasting than the LEDs used in camping/hiking/running headlamps (except for those using higher-end models).
Then we have the price difference – industrial lights cost more because of their added durability and features, all this at a very low increase in weight and size due to better engineering technologies. One could almost say it’s worth paying a slightly higher price for getting much extra value out of your purchase.
A common misconception is that the only way to keep weight down on a headlamp is by not giving it any batteries. This couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter how much you try to pack light for your trip, all headlamps will need some sort of power source in order to function. What separates good headlamps from bad ones is how long they can run without new batteries and whether or not it is comfortable enough for you to wear.
After evaluating certain key factors such as minimum/maximum brightness settings, battery life, and weight (doesn’t include battery), we have assigned scores to each model, which are displayed in this table:
Bulb & beam type
One thing that can be said about headlamps is that they are the most energy-efficient way of using LEDs to provide light. This isn’t saying much, though, since any beam expends 90% of its total flux within the first 50 meters. Hence, anything over 100 Lumens is pretty much pointless.
Another thing to consider when buying a headlamp is whether you want one with a wide or narrow beam, as this will affect your overall visibility pattern. The price difference between the two models may not always be significant either. Some brands sell their high-end models with both types of beams, which allows for choosing later on after making the initial purchase.
As far as bulb type goes, several options are available today, including standard incandescent, LED, HID, and Halogen. LED models are the most common today due to their energy efficiency and durability for both shock resistance and long-term use. There is a misconception that your headlamp might explode if you put in the wrong type of bulb. This won’t happen because a built-in safety mechanism will shut off power from going through the wrong bulb type.
Surprisingly enough, there have been few studies on which types of bulbs work best for different activities such as camping or hunting. In general, though, it all comes down to personal preference since they all have their ups and downs, just like any other type of lighting technology would.
Even though headlamps all have several Lumens as a minimum standard, that’s only the amount of light it puts out at its lowest setting. Most people find themselves using higher brightness levels. For a much longer time than their predecessors, we judge our headlamp choices on how long they last on HIGH mode rather than LOW.
A good rule to follow is the 80/20 rule which states that an average person will use 20% or less of the total output throughout their entire trip (provided you don’t get lost). The rest is mostly just “flood” lighting which isn’t necessary unless you’re trying to scare away wild animals – in this latter case, extra bright lights are preferred.
Beam distance is one of those characteristics that you simply cannot ignore, as it will determine how far your headlamp will let you see. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standardized way to measure this feature, so most manufacturers use their own measuring method, which might not correlate with the overall visibility pattern.
The better headlamps on today’s market will focus their beam patterns into tighter beams, making them much more suitable for camping or even late-night outdoor activities where you need lots of peripheral vision to avoid obstacles. One thing that can be said about these better products is that they are often targeted towards hikers and campers who require extra light for longer periods of time since they don’t have electrical outlets readily available to recharge batteries.
One possible downside of this is that most people are used to the wide beams of flashlights, so having a more focused light can be slightly annoying at first since you have to move your head around to see what’s happening far away.
The weight of your headlamp would mostly depend on the type of batteries it uses. As mentioned before, LED models are usually lighter due to their lower power requirements and thus less battery usage. The best headlamps for camping should be lightweight, especially if you tend to move around a lot or hike long distances each day.
Durability & Waterproofness
The main idea behind using your headlamp for camping is that you expose yourself to harsh conditions in the wilderness, ranging from constant jostling when hiking to being submerged underwater. At the same time, kayaking, so it’s good to know just how sturdy your equipment is.
This durability rating is determined by what materials were used in manufacturing and what kind of seals it has to protect its electrical/optical components from water damage. Therefore, a good headlamp for kayaking or snowboarding should be lightweight and waterproof without compromising the brightness level.
What good is a headlamp if you can’t use it when you need it? We feel that your headlamp’s battery life says a lot about how much thought was put into designing it since most models either require special size batteries or have proprietary power adapters, which are more expensive to replace in the end. Most manufacturers will indicate how long their headlamps can last with regular usage on certain modes (usually High). Still, only some consider the effects of cold weather, which tends to reduce the amount of usable time.
This is something to keep in mind when you’re looking for your new camping headlamp since none of us want to end up stranded in the wilderness without a source of light. There are even cases where hikers have resorted to burning their own clothes due to a lack of available materials at night.
Other specifications can help determine if a certain model is right for your needs or not. Still, most people wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between similar models, which is why we decided against mentioning them above. The best way would be to take a look at the product description before making any rash decisions regarding colors and other gimmicks because they will serve no purpose during nighttime use.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need more than one headlamp?
Having more than one means you can hand them out to your friends so they can see while you work on something, but this also depends on the level of illumination each model provides.
How do I use my headlamp?
The official way is to strap it around your head like a crown (since that’s where the light comes from), but most people simply place their lamp in front of them and point it towards what needs to be illuminated.
What are lumens, and how much do I need?
This refers to the total amount of light that a certain model emits, so more lumens would mean you can see farther away. If you’re looking for an extremely wide beam, then 1000+ lumens should be enough, but otherwise, something like 200-500 would be sufficient for camping since it illuminates everything close by.
Can my headlamp start fires?
This is actually possible if your lamp has focused beams (like spotlights), but this is an extreme case that probably only applies to industrial/search & rescue workers. You should know not to shine any type of light at dry leaves or other combustible materials during outdoor use, though.
Are rechargeable batteries better?
Yes, even though most headlamps can be used with ordinary batteries, they will not last as long. The user is also forced to buy replacements more often since they cannot be recharged.
What’s the best way to use a headlamp for hunting?
While many hunters swear by their weapon-mounted lights, having a separate headlamp is usually better since it allows you to illuminate your prey without spooking them. It also means you don’t have to carry any extra weight on your gun, which may affect its performance.
Can I attach my headlamp to my bike?
Yes, as long as it has the proper straps and adapters, then you should be able to secure it above or under your handlebars, depending on what kind of mode you need. Most mountain biking enthusiasts choose something with one bright mode and maximum battery life since bumpy trails can cause other lamps to flicker or lose focus easily.
Are all headlamps water-resistant?
Usually yes, but only certain models have been designed for underwater usage, so it’s important to check the product description before making any purchases if this is important for your needs.
Can I use my headlamp during a power outage?
Yes, but keep in mind that most units are not designed to be powered by alternative sources, so using it with an ordinary battery would drain it quickly and leave you without lights when you need them. Lithium batteries are usually better though they are more expensive.
Are there headlamps designed for infants/the elderly?
There’s no difference between regular models and those made specifically for children since these only have lower lumens which means weaker beams. Some lamps are also created especially for senior citizens who may have difficulty seeing objects up close due to impaired vision or other medical conditions.
Why do more expensive headlamps use red lights?
While it’s true that some lamps emit a red glow, this is more of a gimmick than anything else because objects cannot be seen in red. The real reason they are used is that bright lights can disrupt the human circadian rhythm and cause insomnia or other conditions that may affect performance during nighttime activities.
Are headlamps comfortable on your face?
Yes, all of these products use soft materials like elastic bands and low-friction plastics, which won’t irritate the skin during long periods of use outdoors. If possible, then try out one before making your purchase to make sure that it fits securely without feeling tight or loose. When adjusting the band, pay attention not only to its overall length but where it connects at the top since this will determine how far the lamp is away from your eyes.
What activities need a headlamp?
While most people use these during camping, hiking, and other outdoor sports, these lights are also useful for industrial workers who have to work in dark areas without proper lighting since they can avoid tripping over obstacles or being struck by falling objects. Headlamps are becoming popular because even though flashlights are effective, they may be too dense or bulky for certain tasks requiring pinpoint illumination instead of wide beams covering a large area.
Can I wear my headlamp while playing sports?
Some players prefer their weapon-mounted lights since they don’t have to hold anything extra while aiming. Still, others take advantage of models with special features that make them even better for specific activities. For example, some hunters swear by headlamps designed especially for equestrian use, emitting special beams to help them cycle easily through dark forests.
As you can see, there’s no reason to be left in the dark since a good headlamp is only a few clicks away. Whether you need one for your bicycle, gun, or hiking equipment, it doesn’t matter because each of these lamps has been designed to suit specific needs and make outdoor activities easier to perform even when darkness falls across the land.