The 10 Best Rechargeable Headlamps
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in February of 2017. For the modern camper, runner, or cyclist, there aren't many items in your gear bag more essential than a high-quality headlamp, which can help light the way while freeing up your hands for more important tasks. These rechargeable units are gaining in popularity for their convenience and effectiveness, and they incorporate the latest technology to ensure your next outing is "illuminating" (groan). When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 27, 2020:
The market for rechargeable headlamps changes quickly, especially as lithium-ion batteries continue to improve. To keep up, we've updated our list to replace obsolete models like the Petzl Reactik+ and Black Diamond Sprinter with their newer counterparts. Older products like the Streamlight Double Clutch are no longer a good value, but they've been supplanted by budget-friendly performers like the Nitecore Nu25. The best headlamp for you may depend on your needs. If brightness is a priority, look to models with high maximum outputs, like the Zebralight H600w or the adaptive Petzl Swift RL. Runners, through-hikers, and ounce-counters will enjoy lightweight options like the BioLite 200. Recharging is cheaper than replacing batteries over the long term, but some of our picks (including the Petzl Actik Core and Black Diamond ReVolt 350) can also use AAA batteries for extra flexibility. If you'd rather not have to worry about charging at all, a conventional headlamp will get the job done just as well.
June 07, 2019:
Buying a rechargeable headlamp is like investing in any other outdoor gear -- you want something that is reliable, easy to use, and that won't break when you need it most. Fortunately, this category is filled with brands that have earned reputations for making products with just those qualities. The Streamlight Double Clutch, for example, features two lighting modes and a circular faces that makes switching from one to the other fantastically simple, even with gloved hands. At #1, the Black Diamond ReVolt offers the kind of all-purpose utility that recreational outdoors people will love. And the Petzl Nao+, the brand's most advanced model, incorporates several cutting-edge features that are sure to satisfy the most serious campers and backpackers.
Of course, there are other, less-known brands in the headlamp business that are worth checking out, and we've included several of those, too.
Petzl Duo Designed for sustained use in demanding industrial environments, these professional headlamps are as adaptable as they are durable. Although they're more expensive and more powerful than most buyers need, they come with large batteries and anti-glare technology that sets them apart from consumer models. petzl.com
Hands-Free Illumination For Any Task
But realizing how liberating a headlamp can be, and making the initial choice to invest in one, is just the start.
Whether you're a hiker, biker, camper, spelunker, or simply an around-the-house handyperson with a taste for modern tech, chances are your gear bag includes a headlamp or two. It's an essential piece of equipment for anyone wanting to find their way in the dark, but especially anyone who needs to do so while also keeping their hands free in the process. To illustrate, just imagine having to scale a rock wall, feel your way through a damp cave, or go rummaging through your bag in the middle of the night while also clutching a bulky flashlight in one hand. The utility is pretty obvious.
But realizing how liberating a headlamp can be, and making the initial choice to invest in one, is just the start. Next comes deciding which specific model headlamp to buy, which can be as daunting a task as ascending that next fourteener on your bucket list. As portable lighting technology has advanced over the last century, and as the uses for that technology have proliferated, so too has the headlamp advanced in form and function.
Though there were more primitive iterations before it — such as the gas-powered carbide lamp — the first electric headlamp appeared on the scene in the early 1900s, when it was put to use in coal mines across the US. Workers would head into the pitch-black mining shafts with a reflector and incandescent bulb affixed to their helmet, and a separate wet-cell storage battery attached to their belt. The light emitted by such devices was pathetically weak compared to today's standards — a 1917-era miner's lamp produced just two to five total lumens over a 12-hour work day, compared with upwards of 200 now — but it helped get the job done.
Eventually, incandescent or combustion lighting gave way to LED technology, which lies at the heart of the modern headlamp. Today's devices are smaller, more powerful, more efficient, and more durable than ever before, thanks directly to advancements in LED lighting. And that advancement has showed no signs of letting up — in terms of lumens, a headlamp from 2018 blows one from just two years ago out of the water, so if you're still hanging on to that old Petzl from your Boy Scouting years, it may be time for an upgrade.
Finding The Right Lamp For Your Needs
When most people think of headlamps, they probably imagine them strapped to the heads of extreme sportspeople and outdoorsmen in various stages of physical exertion, such as the backcountry camper stooping low over a pile of sticks to start a fire or the adventurous spelunker boldly exploring some subterranean space. And while that may be accurate — headlamps are commonly found in those situations — it wouldn't be the whole picture. The fact is that a headlamp can be a useful tool for almost any activity undertaken in the darkness, from responding to a midnight emergency call to reading in bed.
Runners, for instance, will probably want something lightweight and low-profile, with a comfortable and secure strap to keep the unit from bouncing up and down on their head.
Which headlamp is right for you will depend largely, then, on how you're using it. Design is an important consideration, since headlamps today come in a whole range of sizes and styles. Runners, for instance, will probably want something lightweight and low-profile, with a comfortable and secure strap to keep the unit from bouncing up and down on their head. Weekend campers who won't be moving around a lot but need to illuminate a sprawling site, on the other hand, may be willing to sacrifice size and weight in order to accommodate more LEDs, and thus more light output.
In that same vein, which type of light your headlamp incorporates is also important. If you're looking for wide-angle coverage, choosing a headlamp that has a flood light — capable of throwing light on a large swath of ground — is vital. Alternatively, if you're a hiker or mountain biker who needs keep an eye on the trail ahead, a spot light — able to direct a long, penetrating beam into the darkness — may be preferable. Most mutli-purpose headlamps will also include one or two colored LEDs, which can help preserve you eyes' natural night vision, as well as strobe functions for emergencies.
The number of lumens a headlamp boasts is another concern — though, as previously noted, most models today offer more than most people are likely to need. As a general rule, a headlamp with 25-150 lumens should produce enough brightness to complete most basic tasks, such as pitching a tent in the dark or looking for a tool in your unlit utility shed. For more extreme activities, you might want to go with something more powerful — closer to 200-250 lumens.
The Benefits Of Rechargeability
We hinted earlier that the first electric headlamps were rechargeable: after a long day wearing them underground, miners would return their electric lamps to a maintenance house, where they would be re-powered and readied for the next day's work. In that sense, many of today's headlamps — more and more of which are utilizing rechargeable technology in place of traditional disposable batteries — represent a return to form.
It's not hard to see the benefits that a rechargable headlamp can offer over its AAA-powered counterpart. For one thing, it can feel a whole lot more convenient — having to fumble through your pack to find those spare batteries, if you even remembered to bring them, can feel like an unneeded frustration when you're out on the trail. With a rechargeable headlamp, all you have to do is plug in a USB cord before you head out, either in your car on the way to the trailhead, or with your external charger or solar panel while on the trail itself (and while needing to bring that extra device along may sound like an inconvenience, it's really not — most forward-thinking campers today will have packed one anyway to power their smartphone).
For another thing, rechargeable headlamps are a lot more cost-effective — while you may have to invest a little more upfront, since rechargable models can fall on the pricier end of the spectrum, you'll recoup it by saving yourself from spending all that cash on batteries in the future.