What single piece of equipment could be the difference between staying safe on the trail after dark and getting lost?
Or finding your way around camp and cooking effectively versus fumbling around camp and losing things?
That’s right – your head torch.
It’s something people don’t give much thought until they’ve been caught out in one of the above scenarios and realize how important a good headlamp is.
This article will review the best 15 headlamps on the market right now and then list a few tips for choosing the best one for your needs.
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- TOP 15 Best Hiking & Backpacking Headlamps Reviewed 2020
- Petzl Reactik Headlamp
- Black Diamond Revolt Headlamp
- Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
- Petzl Tikka Headlamp
- Petzl e+Lite Emergency Headlamp
- Nitecore NU25 Headlamp
- Zebralight H53w Headlamp
- Princeton Tec Remix LED Headlamp
- Coast FL85 Headlamp
- Black Diamond Iota Headlamp
- Nathan Neutron Fire Headlamp
- Shining Buddy LED Headlamp
- Vitchelo V800 Headlamp
- Foxelli Headlamp Flashlight
- Aennon LED Headlamp Flashlight
- How to Choose the Best Hiking Headlamp
- Bottom Line
TOP 15 Best Hiking & Backpacking Headlamps Reviewed 2020
Petzl Reactik Headlamp
Review: Petzl make some of the headlamps available on the market and are a highly popular brand for backpackers.
This headlamp features reactive lighting technology which enables it to adjust brightness automatically to your needs. This attribute makes it energy-efficient and convenient.
It is a rechargeable device so you don’t need to travel with batteries, and it comes with an integrated USB port for charging on the go.
Finally, it includes Bluetooth that integrates with the MyPetzi Light mobile app. You can use your Smartphone to read the remaining battery life and adjust its performance to your activity. The app also allows you to input different light settings.
- Convenient USB charging.
- Interactive Bluetooth app.
- Automatic light adjustments.
- Adjustable headband.
- It is a little heavy.
- It is expensive.
Black Diamond Revolt Headlamp
Review: The Black Diamond features 130 lumens of bright, long-range light for night adventures. Its housing is water resistant to protect the lamp from splashing water. It features a modern, sleek design and can tilt for different uses such as reading.
Its settings comprise full strength in close and distant modes, strobe, lock mode, dimming, and red light vision. High beam covers up to 60 meters while its low beam is 12 meters.
It comes with rechargeable Black Diamond batteries but is compatible with standard AAA batteries that keep it running for up to 300 hours with maximum brightness.
It also includes a power meter that shows battery usage so you are always aware of the remaining battery life and when to recharge.
- Several light modes including red light.
- It is lightweight.
- Adjustable brightness.
- Comes with rechargeable batteries.
- Unfortunately, the included batteries do not hold their charge so most people end up replacing them.
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Review: This is one of the best headlamps on the market for its reliable performance and excellent value for money.
It has an incredible 300 lumens of brightness which is at the higher end of what’s available in the headlamp world, and a beam distance of 80m.
It uses 3 different LED bulbs for the different light settings, white spot, white flood and red flood, each of which can be controlled further by tapping on the touch-sensitive casing to dim or brighten as required.
- 300 lumen output and 80 m beam distance.
- Uses 3 AAA batteries which come included.
- IPX8 Waterproof rating.
- Multiple settings include red light, dimming, spot and strobe.
- Easy to use controls.
- Some people don’t love the yellow spot in the middle of the beam.
- Not rechargeable.
Petzl Tikka Headlamp
Review: This is one of Petzl’s most popular and versatile headlamps. It is surprisingly affordable for its quality, with a 200-lumen output, a throw distance of 60m and a hybrid design which is compatible with Petzl’s Core rechargeable battery (purchased separately).
It weighs just 3 oz. and tilts 90 degrees.
- IPX4 Water resistant rating.
- 200 lumen wide beam light.
- Hybrid design is compatible with regular or rechargeable Core battery.
- Long battery life.
- The rechargeable battery is sold separately and isn’t cheap.
Petzl e+Lite Emergency Headlamp
Review: This headlight is actually designed to be stored away in a grab bag in case of emergency, with batteries that can hold their charge and be light-ready for 10 years.
However, its ultralight build has made it a popular choice for ultralight hikers.
It’s a 50 lumen light with a beam distance of 100m and it can cope with cold temperatures and being submerged under 3 ft. of water for 30 minutes.
- Ultra lightweight (0.9 oz.).
- Easy to use selector dial instead of buttons which are ideal for gloved hands.
- Has a lock to prevent it from being accidentally turned on in your back.
- Has a low lumen red light option, and strobe options for both red and white.
- Includes an emergency whistle.
- Elasticated headband is very thin (to conserve weight) so may not be comfortable without a hat.
- Light may not reach far enough ahead for hiking at a fast speed.
Nitecore NU25 Headlamp
Review: This high performing headlamp is ideal for hiking as it throws a powerful 190-lumen wide beam of light 88m ahead of you. It’s also durable and can cope with being dropped.
However, the highlight is that fact it is rechargeable via a micro USB cable (included) meaning you can charge it up from USB compatible power source and don’t have to worry about batteries.
- Powerful 190 lumen wide beam.
- Lightweight (around 2 oz.) and compact.
- 80m beam distance.
- Rechargeable via micro USB.
- IPX6 waterproof rating.
- 13 lumen red light for night vision.
- Needs to be charged just before use as it can’t hold its charge for long periods of inactivity.
Zebralight H53w Headlamp
Review: Zebralight headlamps have a unique design that is rugged and durable for people who spend a lot of time in the outdoors.
They are small and compact but customizable, as they can be worn in different positions on the head. This model has a more flood style beam while the H52 is more focussed.
The casing is made of hard anodized aluminum that can definitely handle being dropped and has a waterproof rating of IPX8.
Finally, unwanted battery drainage when not in use can be easily prevented by just slightly unscrewing the casing.
- Waterproof to 2m for 30 minutes.
- Multiple brightness settings.
- Includes a Beacon Strobe Mode.
- Uses one AA battery (not included).
- 330-lumen brightness on maximum setting.
- The quality of the light is only as good as the battery you’re using.
Princeton Tec Remix LED Headlamp
Review: Princeton headlamps pride themselves on being simple, lightweight and functional. The Remix is a particularly popular model that comes in a range of brightness options to suit everyone’s needs and budget.
It also comes with different color options with some models offering green or red LEDs as opposed to the regular white.
- Lumen range from 70 to 300.
- Water resistant.
- Comes with 3 AAA batteries.
- Red light option on some models for night vision.
- Not durable when dropped on hard surfaces.
Coast FL85 Headlamp
Review: If you’re looking for brightness, this headlamp offers an incredible 615 lumens on its high setting, 330 on the medium and 96 on the low.
Most people wouldn’t need more than the lowest setting but if you could find yourself in a situation where maximum vision is important, this is the headlamp to go for.
- 615 lumens and 183 beam distance on high.
- IPX4 Waterproof rating.
- Can survive drops of 1m onto hard surfaces.
- Red light setting.
- Not as lightweight as other headlamps (4.5 oz.).
- Battery drains fast on high setting.
Black Diamond Iota Headlamp
Review: This is a simple, effective and very lightweight headlamp that is a reliable option for people who don’t need or want a lot of settings.
It’s really easy to control using the Power tap technology, it has a lock set to keep it from turning on accidentally when you’re not using it, and the power meter displays the remaining battery life every time you turn it on.
You can even pre-program it to turn on to the brightness level that you prefer for minimum fuss.
- Rechargeable lithium ion battery recharges completely in 3 hours via USB.
- IPX4 Waterproof rating.
- 150 lumens and 40m beam distance on max setting.
- Weighs just 1.9 oz.
- 40m beam distance might be a little low for serious hiking.
- Only one light, no red light option.
Nathan Neutron Fire Headlamp
Review: This headlamp is actually built for runners which makes it an excellent option for hiking as well.
It is lightweight (3.1 oz.) compact, and uses just 2 AAA batteries compared to the 3 required by most other headlamps.
Even with 2 batteries it still delivers 115 lumens which is adequate for most hiking situations.
- IPX4 waterproofing.
- 115 lumens.
- 2 side strobes won’t help you see but are a great safety feature for runners, offering red, green or blue strobes.
- Thin strap without an over-head strap may mean its slips a bit.
Shining Buddy LED Headlamp
Review: This is an entry level headlamp that is a great option for kids. It’s waterproof, includes long-lasting 3 AAA batteries that can take you through several hours before replacing, and it features 4 settings which you can switch between with a single button.
This headlight is ultra-lightweight for long-lasting comfort and the strap grips well and won’t slip or fall when jogging.
- It is lightweight.
- Affordable price.
- Water and shock resistant.
- Long life batteries.
- Red light for night time activities.
- It lacks instant turn-off.
Vitchelo V800 Headlamp
Review: The V800 is another entry level but a good quality device for backpacking. It is super bright on its highest setting which makes it safe for hiking and running at night, reaching a distance of 110 m with a focussed beam.
It includes 6 light settings, 2 of which are red, that you can adjust to meet your own needs. Its white and red lights have separate switch buttons for convenient use, and it uses three AAA batteries.
- Very affordable.
- Extended beam distance.
- Very bright light.
- Adjustable light modes.
- It has a light body.
- The brightest setting drains the battery quickly.
Foxelli Headlamp Flashlight
Review: Foxelli integrates all the light functions needed for hiking and backpacking. It is lightweight, includes an adjustable light setting that allows you to alter the brightness and conserve battery life as needed.
The red light option is great for night vision. It uses three AAA batteries and has the highest setting of 165 lumens.
- Very affordable.
- Good button action.
- Adjustable light settings.
- Includes both white and red lights.
- Batteries drain when the torch is off and unused for a period of time so you’ll need to store with the batteries out to avoid this.
Aennon LED Headlamp Flashlight
Review: This is a basic headlamp that does a solid job of illuminating its immediate surroundings for a very affordable price. It produces 30 lumens, covers a distance of 164 feet and can tilt 90 degrees for wide views.
It has 4 adjustable light settings so you can alter your preferred brightness with a single control button and save battery life.
The headband is elastic to fit any head size and is comfortable wearing for long periods
- Very affordable.
- Comes with three AAA batteries.
- 4 settings.
- Comfortable for extended hikes.
- No red light.
- Unlikely to be as durable as better quality headlamps.
How to Choose the Best Hiking Headlamp
The main purpose of a headlamp is hands-free lighting for either hiking in the dark, reading in your tent or doing things around camp.
You could have a tent from one of the best camping brands and yet still be helpless in the dark if your torch isn’t up to the task.
The main factors to consider when choosing the best backpacking headlamp include brightness, battery life, and weight.
Brightness and Beam Distance
The brightness of your headlamp will determine the distance you will be able to see ahead of you while hiking.
Some circumstances require long-range lighting while others may not.
When you intend to hike at night, you will want a headlamp that spans long distances and has a more focussed beam.
But if most of your activities will just be in and around your tent, a short-range headlamp will be fine.
Brightness is measured in lumens and most headlamp specs will also list the beam distance or the maximum distance that the light will reach.
Beam distance is a measure of brightness and how focused the light is (more focussed = longer beam distance).
Look for headlamps with long battery life. Preserving battery life is essential when you’re going to be away from civilization for a few days at a time.
A good hiking headlamp must contain a power saving attribute. Find one that incorporates both white and red lights, and different strength settings to increase battery life.
The red light setting uses less power and is ideal to use for low light activities such as cooking and reading without dazzling your fellow campers or ruining anyone’s sleep.
You’ll appreciate this setting if you’re a fan of stargazing and want to preserve your night vision for looking at the sky too!
If battery life is a really high priority, then opting for a headlamp with fewer lumens of brightness could also be a smart move.
It’s also worth looking for rechargeable headlamps as opposed to the standard 3 x AAA battery formation. It’s more environmentally friendly to recharge your headlamp and you’ll save money too.
Weight is a pretty important factor in the backpacking world these days as more and more people appreciate the benefits of ultralight gear.
This is more of a factor for thru-hikers who have already shaved weight off the bigger gear items like thru-hiking packs. However, a lighter headlamp is still going to be more comfortable to wear.
Most headlamps are light and compact, but it pays to double check the weight just to be sure that you’re not landing yourself with a brick that’s going to be uncomfortable to wear for long periods.
- Water Resistance – This is pretty important for obvious reasons. Weather can change without warning in the backcountry, and if your headlamp isn’t waterproof, you’re going to be pretty vulnerable when it gets dark.
- Tilt – Sometimes you want to position the beam at a specific target. A good headlight should adjust up and down to focus exactly where you want the light. Some models even feature an automatic LED tilt that matches the angle of your eyes.
- Controls – Try out the buttons on the headlamp to find out how they function. Check out how they adjust through various light cycles; high, low, mid, and strobe. Look for headlamps with switches that lock to prevent the device from unintentional lighting when it’s in the pack. The on and off buttons should also be easy to use.
- Durability – Choose a headlamp that is made from high-quality materials. You can also check for impact resistance when choosing a headlamp as that assures durability.
What is the Best Headlamp for Camping?
Headlamps for camping don’t need to be particularly bright as you won’t generally need to be seeing more than a few meters in front of you.
Any of the headlamps on this list are great options for camping but the Petzl Tikka is the best quality for money.
How do I Choose a Headlamp?
Decide on what you’re going to be using your headlamp for (how bright it needs to be) and what your budget is.
Then choose the Petzl headlamp that meets your budget. (Ok, I’m being a bit biased here, I’ll admit).
What is the Best and Brightest Headlamp?
The Petzl Reactik could be the best headlamp on the market right now with its impressive array of intuitive features and reasonable price, 300-lumen brightness and 110m beam distance.
How Many Lumens Should My Headlamp Be?
This depends on how far into the distance you need your light to reach, and how long you want the battery to last for. 30 lumens is a safe minimum for close up camp activities while for hiking you really want to be upwards of 100 lumens.
What is the Red Light on My Headlamp For?
The red light is for night vision. A blue light represents day time and fools your eyes into thinking that there is ample light everywhere (as well as messing with your sleep).
Red light helps you to see while also helping your eyes to adjust to dark conditions so you can see better in areas where the light isn’t reaching (while not messing with your sleep!).
A reliable headlamp is an essential component of your hiking gear. When choosing the best hiking headlamp, make sure you choose one that suits your needs.
The main thing is to look for an appropriate level of brightness and beam distance to suit your activity and battery life requirements and select the most durable option available in your price range.
Oh, and be sure to carry a spare set of batteries with you at all times!
Have you tried any of the headlamps from the list above?
Feel free to share your experiences below and be sure to download my solo travel safety ebook for more essential tips.
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