The 10 Best Headlamps

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This wiki has been updated 35 times since it was first published in March of 2015. If the sun has gone down and you still have miles to cover, hands-free illumination could be the difference between a warm campsite and a frigid, trail-side slumber. For those times when a simple flashlight won't cut it, take a look at these highly rated headlamps. One of our selections is sure to fit the needs of most users, whether you're out in the woods or tinkering in the workshop. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Black Diamond Spot 325

2. Black Diamond Storm 400

3. Petzl ACTIK

Editor's Notes

April 21, 2021:

Two items were removed this time around, the Vitchelo V800 and Coast FL75, because the Vitchelo isn't from a notable or very reputable manufacturer, and the Coast is somewhat overpriced for the performance. In their places are a couple high performers from an extremely well-respected company. The Black Diamond Sprinter 275 is widely regarded as one of the most stable options out there, and its modular battery system is particularly notable for its convenience. On the other end of the spectrum, the Black Diamond Iota is lightweight, compact, and just bright enough to work as a primary hiking light, although its battery doesn't last as long as the competition.

January 22, 2020:

We replaced the Black Diamond Spot with its updated model, the Black Diamond Spot 325, as our number one pick. This new model is smaller and is also 25 lumens stronger. Black Diamond is a great company that has been making quality headlamps for over 30 years, which is why we have so many on our list.

That being said, we did remove the heavy and expensive Black Diamond Icon and added several new options like the Nitecore NU25 and Black Diamond Storm. These are both almost half the price and have smaller, less bulky designs.

It's important to pay attention to the IPX rating on whichever model you end up choosing. These ratings will tell you precisely how much moisture and /or dust your headlamp can tolerate without getting damaged. Figuring out what exactly you're using your headlamp for, and cross-checking that with the IPX rating can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

For example, if you're looking for something to have around the house in case of a power outage or emergency, you can probably choose a more affordable option that doesn't need to be particularly waterproof. On the other hand, if you plan on getting into serious hiking or caving, you should definitely spring for an option with a higher IPX rating that can handle being submerged or prolonged contact with heavy rain.

4. Nitecore NU25

5. Black Diamond Sprinter 275

6. BioLite 330

7. Zebralight XHP35

8. Black Diamond Iota

9. Petzl e+LITE

10. Petzl Tikkina

The Surprisingly Versatile Headlamp

Now imagine changing a tire in the dark, and doing so with only one hand available.

If you have ever tried to change a tire, you know that it can be a thankless difficult task. Now imagine changing a tire in the dark, and doing so with only one hand available. If you ever have to illuminate a tire change process using a flashlight, that may well be the scenario you face. Next consider the annoyance of trying to hold a flashlight steady while you jog down a sidewalk or trail at night. Or think about trying to set up a tent at your campsite using one hand for the tarp, poles, and anchors, the other to aim your light.

The list of activities made more complicated by the need to illuminate them goes on and on, but the solution for all these situations and countless more is simple: just get yourself a great headlamp.

When many people think of headlamps, they think of adventurous spelunkers boldly exploring deep subterranean caves, or of robust miners working to bring coal, ore, and precious stones to the surface. The fact is that a headlamp can be a useful tool for almost any activity undertaken in the darkness. A headlamp is as useful an accessory for the cook trying to grill in the dark as it is for the caver, and they are as convenient for the person who wants to read in bed as for the first responder keeping her hands free while she works to perform CPR on or prepare a field dressing for an injured victim.

Whether you are a hiker or camper, you are preparing a roadside emergency preparedness kit, or if you are simply looking for a way to make those household projects like connecting wires to the TV or fixing the leaking sink easier, a headlamp can help you do it by putting light were you need it most. And while the most expensive, top of the line headlamps can be prohibitively expensive, there are perfectly suitable options that don't cost much at all. When it comes to putting light before your very eyes, the prospect is very much affordable.

Choosing A Headlamp For Recreation

If you are considering getting a headlamp for use during a recreational activity, then the type of activity will inform which options are right for you. If you are a hiker, mountaineer, or distance runner, then you will want to go with one of the lightest headlamps available. Every ounce counts when you are carrying your gear on your back and/or you are logging long miles with your legs, so spend the extra money and get a lightweight lamp.

If you are a hiker, mountaineer, or distance runner, then you will want to go with one of the lightest headlamps available.

You might also need a lamp with a strap that goes around and over your head if you will use it while running so the up and down motion does not shake the light out of place. If you will be climbing, caving, or biking, make sure the headlamp you choose can fit securely over your helmet, or that the strap can be woven through your head gear.

Just keep in mind that if you're using your headlamp while riding a bicycle, it's still a good idea to have a fixed light on the front of your bike as well. It can take a moment to reorient your headlamp on the path ahead after you have turned your head to one side or the other, and that second can be all it takes to hit an unseen obstacle or pothole. The combination of a bike headlight and a headlamp allows for ideal nighttime cycling safety, especially as many headlamps feature flashing modes that can help you be easily seen even when you don't need the extra light for your own vision.

If you need a headlamp for less active purposes, such as for helping you chop wood at night, spot the path or sidewalk as you take your dog for a walk, or for making your way around a campsite, then weight is less of an issue, as even the heaviest headlight of good enough quality to be worth considering will weight half a pound at most.

Make sure to also weigh variables such as beam type and distance, battery life, and brightness adjustment.

Choosing A Headlamp For Professional Applications

Whether you need a light to let you do your job on a worksite at night or you are a first responder who needs to make sure you can see the person you are trying to help after an accident or during a disaster scenario, a headlamp is the ideal tool to help you out. Headlamps direct light exactly where your gaze naturally falls, and most good models offer a diverse array of beam and fill options with variable brightness settings.

As with the climber or biker wearing a light with his or her helmet, just make sure the band of the headlamp you consider can fit over your hardhat if applicable.

When choosing a headlamp to help you get your work done, first consider if it's more important for you to be able to see for long distances, such as can be achieved with a "long throw" beam of light, or if you need to see the area right around you, as broader fill light will provide. For disaster response, for example, a beam that reaches out many dozens of feet can help the paramedic or law enforcement official take stock of the situation from a distance.

For a worker installing hardware, cutting pipes or lumber, or working with wiring, to name a few examples, it is more important to be able to see all of the work surface and surrounding area than it is to see far off into the distance. As with the climber or biker wearing a light with his or her helmet, just make sure the band of the headlamp you consider can fit over your hardhat if applicable.

Christopher Thomas
Last updated by Christopher Thomas

Building PCs, remodeling, and cooking since he was young, quasi-renowned trumpeter Christopher Thomas traveled the USA performing at and organizing shows from an early age. His work experiences led him to open a catering company, eventually becoming a sous chef in several fine LA restaurants. He enjoys all sorts of barely necessary gadgets, specialty computing, cutting-edge video games, and modern social policy. He has given talks on debunking pseudoscience, the Dunning-Kruger effect, culinary technique, and traveling. After two decades of product and market research, Chris has a keen sense of what people want to know and how to explain it clearly. He delights in parsing complex subjects for anyone who will listen -- because teaching is the best way to ensure that you understand things yourself.

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