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10 Best Headlamps of 2019

Everyone should own a headlamp. Whether you’re going on a backpacking trip, walking the dog in the evening, or car camping with friends, a hands-free light is an essential tool and is sure to become one of your favorite gadgets.

With all the technical data to sift through and seemingly endless choices on the market, it can be a real challenge to figure out what to buy. We researched and tested dozens of headlamps to put together this list of the very best.

For more of our favorite gear recommendations, have a look through these popular CleverHiker Gear Guide links:

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Why Trust Us?

We fully understand how tough it is to find trustworthy gear advice, and that’s one of the main reasons we built CleverHiker. We live for outdoor adventure, and we take these guides very seriously. Here are some of the reasons you can trust us:

  • Our choices are completely independent and based on personal experience.

  • We’ve logged over 10,000 trail miles and test outdoor gear for a living.

  • We own and field test every product we recommend, which is sadly not the norm.

  • We travel to industry trade shows to learn about upcoming product innovations.

  • We constantly update our guides when new products launch.

  • We treat our recommendations as if they were for our family and friends.

  • We’re lifelong learners and we’re always open to constructive criticism. If you think we’ve missed a product or got something wrong, we’d love to hear your feedback.

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Critical Considerations

While brightness (lumens) is an important factor to consider, there are several other key headlamp considerations, like beam distance, battery life (burn time), weight, comfort, reliability, and ruggedness. We considered all those factors for this list of the best headlamps. If you want to know more about those topics, scroll to the bottom of this post for our Critical Considerations section.

To make this list, these headlamps had to be:

  • A good value for the money

  • A good balance of beam distance to burn time

  • Ideal for remote trips and home use

  • At least IPX4 (rain/splash proof)

  • Under 5 oz, so they won’t weigh down your noggin

Rechargeable vs. Non-rechargeable BATTERIES

Rechargeables are more eco-friendly and reduce battery waste, however, they tend to have shorter burn times. Non-rechargeable batteries last longer for extended backcountry trips, but cost more and are one-time use only. If you want to go the rechargeable route, choose one of the rechargeable headlamp options listed below or pick up some Eneloop AAAs. For headlamps that take standard batteries, consider picking up some long-lasting Lithium batteries, which are lighter and more efficient than Alkaline.

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10 BEST HEADLAMPS OF 2019


Best All-Around Headlamp

MSRP: $39.95

WEIGHT: 3 oz.

MAX LUMENS/ BEAM DISTANCE: 325 lm./ 272 ft. (83 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 600 hrs./ 65 hrs.

PROS: Long burn time, bright, comfortable, waterproof (IPX8), battery life reader, locking feature, excellent value

CONS: Not rechargeable, slight learning curve

BOTTOM LINE: The Black Diamond Spot 325 has been a tried and true favorite of hikers and climbers for some years, and now it has an even brighter LED and longer burn time than ever. It’s sleek, comfortable, and stays the brightest for the longest out of any of the headlamps we tested. We highly recommend this feature-rich, high-quality headlamp and we think its price point makes it an exceptional value buy compared to the competition. Black Diamond headlamps do take a bit more time to learn than most Petzl models, but that’s to be expected for a light with so many features and modes.


Best Rechargeable Headlamp

MSRP: $69.95

WEIGHT: 2.9 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 350 lm./ 312 ft. (95 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 160 hrs./ 2 hrs.

PROS: Rechargeable, bright, performance lighting (doesn’t dim as battery depletes), easy to use

CONS: Expensive, short burn time, not fully waterproof, no locking feature

BOTTOM LINE: We trust Petzl since lighting is their forte. The Petzl Actik CORE is a user-friendly, hard-working headlamp with the Petzl dependability we’ve grown to know and love. The Actik CORE is more expensive than the Actik, it’s AAA-powered bro, but weighs a tad less and burns 50 lumens brighter on it’s max setting. While both models have the option to use longer lasting AAAs or the rechargeable CORE battery pack, the Actik CORE model includes the rechargeable battery. Both models are easy to operate and emit a quality beam that’s a combination of spot and flood light. If you’re looking for a trustworthy rechargeable headlamp and the comfort of knowing your batteries will be fully juiced every time you head out on the trail, the Petzl Actik CORE is a great choice.


Best Ultralight Headlamp

MSRP: $26.95

WEIGHT: 1.9 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 160 lm./ 197 ft. (60 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 60 hrs./ 2 hrs.

PROS: Ultralight, compact, inexpensive, comfortable, waterproof (IPX8), locking feature

CONS: Not rechargeable, slight learning curve, dimmer max output, short burn time

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re looking for a headlamp with most of the features of the popular Spot 325, but want something a bit lighter and more compact, the Black Diamond Spot Lite 160 is your match. It’s small enough to carry in a hip belt pocket and it’s very comfortable on the forehead. Though the two AAA battery system of the Spot Lite 160 limits it’s burn time and max output, we still find that it works great for the most common uses on the trail. For example, it’s pretty rare that we find ourselves actually needing a full 300 lumens of brightness. For ultralight backpackers in need of a dependable headlamp that will easily cover most situations, this is an excellent choice.


Best For Runners & Walkers

MSRP: $49.95

WEIGHT: 2.4 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 330 lm./ 246 ft. (75 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 40 hrs./ 3.5 hrs.

PROS: Rechargeable, bright, compact, comfortable, locking feature, battery life reader

CONS: Short burn time, not fully waterproof, small on/off button

BOTTOM LINE: The BioLite 330 has the lowest profile of any torch we tested. It has a flush-fitting front light and a slim battery pack on the back, which balances out its weight very nicely. The BioLite doesn’t bounce or slip with impact, which makes it an excellent choice for night running and walking.  Also, we found that moving the battery pack to the back just makes for a generally more comfortable and balanced headlamp. The BioLite 330 has a bright, rechargeable light and a battery reader so you can check to see exactly how much juice it has before you set out. We think the BioLite is an excellent choice for running, walking, or multi-day wilderness trips where you don’t plan to do much night hiking.


Best Budget Pick

MSRP: $19.95

WEIGHT: 3.03 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 150 lm./ 164 ft. (50 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 220 hrs./ 60 hrs.

PROS: Inexpensive, long burn time, easy to use

CONS: No red mode or strobe, not fully waterproof, dimmer max output, no locking feature

BOTTOM LINE: The Petzl Tikkina is a simple, long-lasting option for an unbeatable price. If you just need a headlamp to meet basic needs, this is your guy. Petzl designed the no-frills Tikkina to be easy to use, with very little learning curve or special features. Press 1x for low, 2x for medium, or 3x for high, and that’s pretty much it. The Tikkina has the ability to use 3 AAA’s or you can buy a rechargeable CORE battery for about $30. For its price and functionality, this is a perfectly good choice for backpacking, hiking, emergencies, working around the house, keeping in your car -- whatever.  If you want something lighter and more compact with a few more features, check out the Petzl Zipka.


MSRP: $49.95

WEIGHT: 3.2 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE:: 300 lm./ 295 ft. (90 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 260 hrs./ 60 hrs.

PROS: Bright, long burn time, performance lighting (doesn’t dim as battery depletes), easy to use, rechargeable battery option

CONS: No locking feature, not fully waterproof

BOTTOM LINE: The Petzl Actik is an all-around strong headlamp. It’s most attractive qualities are it’s ease of use, unique hybrid-energy option, performance lighting, and long burn time. It runs on either 3 long-lasting lithium AAAs or a rechargeable CORE battery (not included). That said, if you’re planning to use the rechargeable CORE battery, it probably makes sense to pick up the Actik CORE model listed above to save a bit of money. This model is better for those who plan to go the non-rechargeable route in order to get longer burn times. Both Actik models are dependable, high quality, and easy to use.


MSRP: $36.95

WEIGHT: 1 oz. (1.8 oz. with strap)

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 360 lm./ 266 ft. (81 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 160 hrs./ 5 hrs.

PROS: Ultralight, compact, inexpensive, rechargeable, waterproof (IP66), battery life reader, locking feature, charges quickly

CONS: Wide beam easily shines in camping partner’s eyes, short burn time, strange head strap connection clip

BOTTOM LINE: The incredibly lightweight NITECORE NU 25 has a lot of really useful features in an affordable package. The 360 lm. “turbo mode” only runs for 30 seconds before stepping down to prevent overheating, but the high mode (190 lm.) is still plenty bright for the most common uses on trail and around camp. The NU 25’s main limitations revolve around its short battery life (in our testing, the NU’s burn time was much shorter than listed) and the fact that it’s hard to keep the light from shining in your camping partner’s eyes due to its wide beam pattern. Still, there are a lot of excellent features packed into this ultralight headlamp. For shorter backpacking trips or home use, the NU 25 is an excellent, budget-friendly, ultralight option.


MSRP: $80

WEGHT: 2.8 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 500 lm./ 860 ft. (262 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 128 hrs./ 14 hrs.

PROS: Performs well in cold conditions, rechargeable option, very bright, durable metal housing, waterproof (IP68), battery life reader

CONS: Expensive, uses uncommon batteries, no red mode or strobe, slight learning curve, no locking feature

BOTTOM LINE: If mountaineering or alpine climbing are your game, you’ll probably appreciate the features of the Fenix HM50R. This headlamp has a large side-button that’s easy to press while wearing gloves, which makes it a great choice for chilly trips. The HM50R comes with a rechargeable battery for everyday use, but accepts CR123A batteries (not included) that perform in extremely low temperatures. While we feel that this headlamp’s specs are slightly misleading (it can only output its max lumens for a few seconds before leveling down), we are still impressed by it’s far-throwing bright beam, even at lower outputs. For most people, the Fenix HM50R would be overkill, but this torch has a quality build that will withstand hardcore, foul weather adventures.


MSRP: $42.99

WEIGHT: 3.5 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 200 lm./ 118 ft. (36 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 130 hrs./ 40 hrs.

PROS: Versatile use options, long burn time, easy to use, slightly dimmer max output, multi-purpose mounts

CONS: Slightly dimmer max output, Not fully waterproof, no red mode, no locking feature, bulky on forehead

BOTTOM LINE: The Princeton Tec SNAP is a great choice for those who want one light to cover many different adventure activities. It comes with a headband, a 2-way carabiner housing for hanging it like a lantern, and a bike handlebar mount. We like the idea that the mounts can be left where they belong (on your bike, in your tent, in your pack), and the light can easily be popped into place when you need it. Another handy feature of the Snap is that it can be stuck on metal surfaces with its magnetic end, which we found particularly useful when working on household projects. While its a little bulky and heavy on the forehead when used as a headlamp, we still think the Snap is a fun hands-free light that can move with you from activity to activity. It might work especially well on bike-packing trips.


MSRP: $89

WEIGHT:4.5 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 1400 lm./397 ft. (121 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 232 hrs./3 hrs.

PROS: Very bright beam, durable metal housing, waterproof (IPX8), rechargeable battery, performance lighting, locks by unscrewing end cap, easy to use

CONS: Expensive, bulky, heavy, battery and charger sold separately, no red mode, gets hot on high settings.

BOTTOM LINE: The heavy-duty Zebralight H600w Mk IV is a solid option for bikers, skiers, search & rescue members, or anyone who needs a long, strong beam that reaches far and can keep up with them at high speeds. The price of the H600w is quite high and it doesn’t include the battery or charger, but for those looking to invest in a high-lumen headlamp that will provide extremely powerful light, this might be your jam. The light quality of the H600w is an appealing neutral-white color and the wide, 2-strap headband keeps the light from sliding down with activity. Also, make sure to purchase the 18650 battery as an accessory on Zebralight’s website. And you’ll also need a charger like the XTAR VC2 Plus Charger (which is not available on their site). The Zebralight H600w is awesome for extreme adventures, but it’s definitely on the heavy/bulky/expensive side for normal use.


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MSRP: $80

WEIGHT: 5.6 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 600 lm./ 492 ft. (150 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 120 hrs./ 10 hrs.

PROS: Very bright, rechargeable, easy to use, long burn time for rechargeable battery

CONS: Expensive, heavy, bulky, not fully waterproof, no red mode or strobe, no locking feature

BOTTOM LINE: The Ledlenser MH10 is the bulkiest of all the headlamps we tested with a large battery at the back of the head, but for activities like caving or winter sports where beam distance matters, it’s a powerful choice. We like that is has a ring adjustment to narrow or widen the beam without the need to cycle through different modes with a button. Its functions are simple and straightforward, the beam is one of the brightest we tested, and among rechargeable headlamps it has a long burn time. We think the Ledlenser would be great for spelunking, or tradesman who need to see from a distance, but it wouldn’t be our go-to for typical backpacking trips because it’s too heavy, bulky, and expensive.

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Honorable Mentions

The following headlamps didn’t make our final list, but they’ve still got a lot of good things going for them. In this section we’ll briefly highlight each headlamp's main strength and explain why it didn’t make the cut. And you never know, maybe one of these headlamps will be the right fit for you.


MSRP: $29.95

WEIGHT: 1 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 50 lm./ 32 ft. (10 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 12 hrs./ 9 hrs.

PROS: Ultralight, compact, waterproof (IPX8), locking feature, easy to use

CONS: Dim, short burn time, batteries tough to find, not rechargeable

BOTTOM LINE: The Petzl e+LITE is a fine choice as a backup or emergency light source, but it's too dim for use as a primary headlamp in our opinion. For UL backpackers who rarely use headlamps, this could work, but don’t expect to feel confident doing any nighttime activities with the e+LITE. For most users, it’d be well worth carrying the extra .9 oz for a more substantial light like the Black Diamond Spot Lite 160.


MSRP: $29.99

WEIGHT: 2.9 oz.

MAX LUMENS/BEAM DISTANCE: 150 lm./ 125 ft. (38 m.)

BURN TIME LOW/HIGH: 144 hrs./ 72 hrs.

PROS: Long burn time, inexpensive, locking feature, easy to use

CONS: Dimmer max output, 2-handed adjustment, flimsy battery door, not rechargeable, not fully waterproof

BOTTOM LINE: The Princeton Tec Sync is a decent headlamp for those who want more features than the Petzl Tikkina and are on a tight budget. The rotating mode selector is simple and straightforward to use, but requires two hands to adjust since the the entire lamp wants to twist as your turn the selector knob. Though it does have a spot mode, it’s beam doesn’t reach very far for night hiking. The softer flood mode and dimmer levels are best for illuminating objects within close reach. The small plastic hinge that supports the end-cap battery door seems fragile and concerns us about the Sync’s durability. We’ve been impressed with the Sync’s relatively long burn time and consider it a good value for the money, but at the end of the day, we prefer the Petzl Tikkina for it’s slimmer design and simple top button. Or for $10-20 more you could upgrade to one of our favorite headlamps.


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Critical Headlamp Considerations


BATTERIES -

  • Rechargeables: Using a headlamp with rechargeable batteries is more environmentally-friendly and reduces battery waste. They’re great for saving money on batteries too, however, they tend to have shorter burn times. Rechargeables are great for everyday use, running, and short trips when you can charge them easily and often. For extended backcountry trips, you may have to carry a charger/cords, power bank, or solar charger.

    Note: Most headlamps that take regular batteries can be made rechargeable by using rechargeable batteries like the Eneloop AAAs. However, this may reduce the overall burn time significantly. We put Eneloop rechargeables and Li-ion AAA’s head-to-head and tested them in 2 Petzl Actik headlamps. The Eneloops kept up surprisingly well for the first few hours, but, in the end, the non-rechargeables lasted many hours longer.

  • Availability: For thru hikes, it’s a good idea to choose a headlamp that uses batteries that are easily accessible. Coin batteries are lightweight, but uncommon in stores.

  • Alkaline vs. Lithium: If your headlamp uses traditional AA or AAAs, you may be able to upgrade to Lithium for longer burn time, better efficiency in extreme temps, and less weight, which are all beneficial for backpacking. Lithium, a particularly light metal, has the highest energy density of all battery cells and is approximately 30% lighter than alkaline batteries of the same size. Lithium batteries are best for high or moderate-drain headlamps, but can be too powerful for some low-drain models. We suggest reading the manufacturer instructions for battery recommendations for your specific headlamp to see if you can take advantage of the benefits of lithium.

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LUMENS - In essence, lumens are a unit of brightness emitted from a light source. While it’s a somewhat helpful descriptor, the lumens measurement does not factor in the quality of the beam pattern, but only the total sum of light in any direction.

Two lights with the exact same lumens can have tremendously different light quality depending on the beam width and the optical quality of the lens system. After testing many headlamps, we have concluded that lumens are not a reliable way to compare performance and that beam distance is a better indicator.

BEAM DISTANCE - You'll find a beam distance specification for every headlamp. This describes both the brightness of the light output and the ability of the lens to focus it into a shaft of light.

Typically, the manufacturer will list the highest possible output in spot mode and one for the low-light close-proximity mode. Look for both numbers, as you will likely be able to use the headlamp at a medium or low setting for a much longer battery life. Unless you are frequently hiking at night, the max lumens/beam distance are mostly there to impress you or for extreme instances.

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BURN TIME (BATTERY LIFE) - The amount of time the battery will be able to sustain the light without recharging or changing batteries. Often, the burn time is far greater when you switch to your low setting, whenever possible.

WEIGHT - Get the lightest headlamp with the features and power that you want. If you just need a basic light and don’t care about anything fancy or super bright, a minimalist headlamp will do the trick. For those who need that extra bright light, it’s worth carrying a lamp that weighs a couple more ounces. We try to keep our headlamps as light as possible (usually 3 oz. or less) without sacrificing a good 100-lumen mode with a long burn time.

RUGGEDNESS & WEATHER RESISTANCE - We look for headlamps that are made of quality materials that can stand some abuse. To denote this, manufacturers use an IPX rating system to identify how weather resistance. Essentially, any product that claims to be waterproof, must denote an IP Code, which tells us more specifically how protected electrical components are from water and dust. By using this international standard, consumers are protected from vague marketing terms like waterproof and water resistant and can make more informed decisions.

For normal hiking and backpacking we’re only concerned that our headlamp is weather resistant enough to deal with some rain and ambient humidity (IPX4), however, extra water, dust, and shock-proofing are always good. If you need a completely waterproof headlamp look for a model with an IPX8 or IPX7 rating. IPX7 will be waterproof in one meter for 30 minutes, while the IPX8 can be submerged longer.

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LIGHT MODES - Depending on your chosen activity, certain light modes will suit the situation best.

  • Red Light: Uses very little energy and does not cause your pupils to dilate at night. Great for camp chores and does not attract flying insects like white light. Less irritating for groups or couples. Great for stealthy midnight peeing without disturbing your tentmate.

  • Strobe: Makes you visible when hiking, biking, or running along roadsides. Could be used as a signal in emergency situations.

  • High (Spotlight): Condensed, focused, bright light usually directed towards a distant object. Good for night hiking, looking for trail signs, spotting climbing anchors, or using as a bike headlight.

  • Low (Floodlight): Also called ‘proximity mode.’ Conserves battery power and produces a wider swathe of softer, dimmer light usually directed downwards to see nearby (or proximal) objects. Great for cooking in camp, setting up tents, familiar night hikes, etc.

PRICE - You don’t have to spend a lot to get a headlamp that will get the job done. If you’re on a tight budget, choose a simple headlamp with lower lumens and a longer burn time. Remember that buying a quality piece of equipment will cost more initially but will last longer and will likely be more efficient.

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COMFORT - A well-designed lamp should have the strap adjustments necessary to secure the light snuggly without putting too much pressure on your forehead. Some headlamps distribute the weight between the front and the back for better balance and less bouncing. This is especially important for runners or for those who choose a lamp with a larger battery pack. The band should be made of a durable, but soft, wicking fabric and adjusters should not slip or loosen on their own.

SIMPLICITY - Choose a headlamp that matches your style. If you love techy features and versatility, you might opt for a lamp with more features like the Black Diamond Spot 325. But for those who dislike having to remember patterns to cycle through functions, the simple Petzl Tikkina or Actik might be best. For winter sports where gloves are required, choose a headlamp with a large, single button.

HAVE BACKUP - Always top up your charge or replace your batteries before you leave home. For long trips, it’s very wise to think about what you’ll use as a backup light if your headlamp should fail in the field. There’s nothing more dangerous or uncomfortable than being without a light when you need one. Most of us will have a cell phone that is equipped with a flashlight and that will cover your butt. But if you don’t, consider carrying a small, ultralight backup like the Photon Micro Light or Petzl e+Lite.

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MORE INFORMATION

We hope this guide was helpful for finding the best headlamp to fit your needs. If you want to provide feedback or recommend an item we missed, feel free to contact us!

 

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