The best headlamp incorporates the newest technology in long battery life, LED features, and lightweight materials. Headlamps are staples for cavers, climbers, hunters, and hikers and for those taking part in nearly any outdoor activity. But campers increasingly use headlamps, even for car camping and glamping, because they up the convenience factor.
How you use your headlamp is what determines how much you want to invest, but the best headlamps today are light-years ahead of even one generation earlier in LED technology. The best headlamps also have some surprising features, and we review the top ten below.
Best Headlamp FAQ
1. What Is a Headlamp?
The headlamp is a light worn on the head so the person is hands-free and can deal with darkness. A common use is for camping since complete darkness makes even the simplest tasks, such as finding the nearest water bottle, difficult. Headlamps are also used in some professions and are favored by those in extreme or multi-day wilderness conditions as a basic piece of equipment.
2. What Does a Headlamp Do That a Flashlight Doesn't?
Headlamps trump flashlights in most respects because they are hands-free. They also come in lightweight materials, pack easily, and use bright LED lighting. The best headlamp models also have red, flashing, and high-low settings that are user-friendly. Some headlamps come with rear lights, and many of them are so lightweight that it feels as though the user is wearing a headband and it's easy to forget about it.
3. How Have Headlamps Evolved?
Headlamps were produced for individuals in underground conditions, like mining. They were first used recreationally by cavers, who used chemical means (carbide) to create light inside a sturdy but finicky lamp housing. The first battery-powered headlamps were bulky, heavy, and required carrying belt packs to keep them powered. The carbide versions required water and weren't always reliable due to wind snuffing their flame. Improvements to the durability of light casings and batteries have changed the game. Today's headlamps use rechargeable batteries and the options for light color and quality are impressive.
4. Where Can You Buy the Best Headlamp Brands?
Headlamps are available online, but they can be tried out at big box outdoors stores like REI and sometimes at electronics stores like Best Buy. Since the fit varies little, most consumers buy them based on battery life and features.
5. How Reliable Are Headlamps?
Headlamps manufactured today are as or more reliable as the best flashlights, use smaller batteries, and rarely quit working. The newer materials are tougher and design flaws in the best headlamp brands have been corrected. Some of the best headlamp products also include light meters to show when the battery is getting low.
6. How Much Should I Pay for an All-Around Headlamp to Replace My Flashlight?
Most decent headlamps that provide enough luminosity shouldn't cost more than $40. Extra features and super lightweight packages are for extreme conditions, long hikes, or specialized wear. Most users who want a headlamp around the house can get away with a rechargeable version that has at least 100 lumens and a red light feature.
How We Reviewed
We picked ten of the best headlamp options available on the market today and compared price, features, and warranty.
Overall Price Range of Headlamps
Headlamps run in the range of $40 to $50, but some with a larger array of features will cost up to $100.
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What We Reviewed
[amazon link="B06XQFZCPX" title="Black Diamond Spot Headlamp" /]
The Spot isn't the most sophisticated but is extremely long lasting and affordable. Most users will get nearly 100 hours of use with a mix of high and low settings.
This nifty little headlamp is minimalist and powerful, with 300 lumens and a waterproof casing. Three AAA batteries are included with purchase and can easily be replaced. With 30 hours of light on high and 175 on low, this little headlamp is far more powerful than it appears.
[amazon link="B07P54N8KR" title="LED Lenser MH10" /]
This is a powerful light for seeing far ahead. Because it lasts for ten hours, cavers like it for extra illumination.
This head cannon blasts through the darkness to illuminate 500 feet ahead, so it is great for situations like climbing outdoors or dealing with any obstacle in total darkness with speed involved (skiing or cycling, for example). On high, the batteries only last 10 hours but will keep up for 120 hours on low.
[amazon link="B01AYDU2IW" title="VITCHELO V800 Headlamp" /]
The Vitchelo is one of the best headlamp choices for all-around use. It comes with everything a non-specialized user likes: adjustability, long life, easy replacement of AAA batteries, six modes of lighting, and a durable housing and strap.
This lightweight lamp makes the list because it offers what most users need: a simple, versatile lamp to replace a flashlight and throw in the car for camping. Used on low setting, the batteries last 120 hours.
[amazon link="B077NNNSZ9" title="UCO Air 150" /]
The AIR is the lightest on our list and feels like you are wearing nothing. It's the anti-flashlight, packs easily and for most trips like camping or day hiking that could devolve into a night trek, it gives plenty of hours of basic illumination. This is the best choice for any hiker's daypack, as insurance against a few hours of unplanned night hiking.
You may forget you are wearing the AIR with its featherweight profile. It makes the best headlamp list because it also functions well and illuminates several hundred feet.
[amazon link="B00AFDEJ9A" title="Black Diamond Revolt" /]
It recharges but also takes AAA batteries. This means daily use can rely on recharging which costs less, but batteries can be tucked inside or bought last minute if the charge runs out. This ReVolt churns out a bright light, is waterproof, and helps users keep track of battery power remaining.
Recharging batteries means planning ahead, but it's less expensive and better for the planet. The ReVolt brings recharging in a nicely packaged, usable headlamp.
[amazon link="B07CRVQSS4" title="PETZL - ACTIK CORE" /]
Petzl has been a leader in headlamps and a go-to for several generations of cavers. This versatile light provides a strong, clear view that is one of the brightest on this list with 350 lumens and offers battery or recharge powering. Its lightweight and durable construction are a bonus.
With 160 hours on low and 2 hours on the full light setting, this lightweight rechargeable from one of the best names in headlamps is a good value and reliable choice.
[amazon link="B01BD4HE6E" title="COAST FL75 435" /]
The COAST offers the best quality light for over 300 feet and is an affordable and highly adjustable headlamp.
High-quality light in a durable package puts this COAST on the list of best headlamp models. On low, users get 15 hours and the high setting will give 2.5 hours of intense, high-quality red or white light.
[amazon link="B00IZHKL5Y" title="Black Diamond Ion" /]
Another contender in the featherwieght class, the Ion is bright enough and endures for an incredible 180 hours if used conservatively.
This lightweight headlamp is long-lasting and a surefire hit for long trips in dark conditions.
[amazon link="B07K5HWV1S" title="Black Diamond Spot325" /]
For runners and cyclists who need to be seen, this lamp offers front and rear lights, a bright rear blinker, and recharges with zero batteries needed.
This light is billed as a "sprinter" because it works well to illuminate the wearer and is a favorite of runners and cyclists who need to stand out on dark streets. This best headlamp combines a number of nice features, such as lightweight and adjustable switches, red and white light, and a bright light for a good distance. The Sprinter is expensive, but a good overall value.
[amazon link="B07BJ6QP8C" title="Shining Buddy" /]
The headlamp for kids that holds up, doesn't cost much, and is perfect for hiking or camping.
The Buddy is made for kids and young teens but doesn't skimp on features or brightness. A good value for kids who do not need a super long lasting, specialized headlamp.
Headlamps offer several options, but we like the brands that include decent battery life or a rechargeable option, at least 100 lumens for distance, and a lightweight package. Beyond that, switches and adjustable light options should be intuitive. The added feature of a rear headlamp is terrific for those who need to be visible. We recommend the Black Diamond Sprinter for runners and cyclists, the Ledlenser MH10 for power, brightness, and decent battery life, and the Petzl ACTIC for all-around use.