When you choose one of the best hiking headlamps you can hit the trails in confidence early in the morning knowing you can find your way before everyone else has their first sip of coffee.
Plus you never know when you might be a little too adventurous and the daylight is slowly fading away.
You’re glad you brought along your headlamp, remembering that you had almost left it in the car, certain you would finish your day hike hours before darkness set in.
There is no reason to go without a light source — and hands free illumination is especially ideal for hiking.
A headlamp should be considered an essential part of your emergency supplies and depending on which one you choose, might even cost less than your dinner.
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp
Three Trees USB Rechargeable Headlamp
Foxelli MX20 Headlamp
Foxelli MX500 USB Rechargeable Headlamp
Brightness is measured in lumens, usually ranging from 50 to more than 500.
Lumens refer to the brightness the bulb emits in all directions but doesn’t necessarily indicate the distance that a beam actually reaches, so it’s important to look at all of the lamp’s optics.
A lumen measures the amount of visible light a headlamp can generate — not necessarily how well it will light up a dark trail.
As a general rule, for navigating a trail in complete darkness you’re going to want a headlamp with a minimum of 200 lumens.
For more extreme outdoor sports including spelunking, it would be ideal to have an upwards of 250 lumens.
It’s important to take into consideration the battery life of the headlamp — keeping a headlamp on its brightest setting will quickly drain the batteries and decrease its brightness over time.
Most headlamps are capable of producing multiple forms of light, including spot, flood, colored, and strobe settings.
You need to think about which types of light you’d prefer to have in different situations so you can pick out a headlamp that meets your specific needs.
The LED spot beam is the default setting for most headlamps.
The spot setting enables long-distance viewing, and will be the best for navigating a trail in the dark.
If you plan on spending a lot of time around a campsite, you’re going to want a headlamp with a flood light setting, which provides for wide-angle coverage, meant to maximize the view of your immediate surroundings.
Many headlamps have a red light setting, which preserves your night vision and can be a great asset when you’re spending time in a tent with tentmates.
These red (but sometimes blue or green) LEDS are useful for hanging out at night without disturbing others around you.
Lastly, many headlamps have an emergency strobe light function, which can be helpful for preserving battery life.
While lumens will tell you how brightly the headlamp glows, beam distance will tell you how far the light goes.
Manufacturers typically test and provide both pieces of information to consumers.
Beam distance is especially important if you’re going to be navigating trails at night through the wilderness, as it will provide for enhanced navigational capacity.
Beam distance can range from thirty to hundreds of feet.
This can be a tricky topic because the battery life listed by manufacturers may not accurately reflect how long the headlamp can last at full brightness.
Unless the light is regulated, take battery life with a grain of salt.
Over time, the light’s maximum brightness capacity will fade.
While we’re on the subject of battery life, let’s talk about batteries.
Most headlamps use AA or AAA batteries, although there are some options on the market with rechargeable batteries — and some you can use with either rechargeable or disposable batteries.
It’s important to research how long a headlamp will last on a single charge or a single set of batteries — so that you can bring along extra batteries or a portable battery pack if needed.
A helpful tip: only use the amount of light you need for a certain activity.
If you’re digging through your pack for a rain shell, you probably don’t need your headlamp set on its brightest setting and by dimming the light, you could save a lot of battery life.
Most headlamps are not completely waterproof but offer a level of water resistance — ideal for hiking in wet, rainy conditions.
Waterproof ratings are provided by the letters “IPX” followed by a number.
The higher the number, the more water resistant the headlamp.
Most headlamps have a minimum IPX4 rating, which means they’re protected from splashes and rain.
If you’re hiking in wet climates, an IPX rating of 7 or 8 is preferable as it will provide for a higher degree of waterproofing.
While weight might seem like an insignificant factor when considering a small headlamp that fits into the palm of your hand, you might be surprised at the substantial variation between models.
Some lightweight models weigh under an ounce while beefier versions can tip the scales at nearly a pound.
Typically, the more powerful the headlamp, the heavier the lamp, but with advances in technology this doesn’t necessarily hold true for every product.
There are some powerful, lightweight headlamps on the market designed for alpine climbing and mountaineering — a sport in which every ounce you carry makes a difference.
Lighter options are typically crafted with a thin plastic casing and require fewer batteries while heavier options utilize heavy plastic or aluminum and are more durable in the event of an impact.
Also consider weight distribution: where are the batteries located?
Most products have adjustable headbands made of elastic nylon that fit around the back of the head.
The two-strap design is ideal for use in conjunction with a helmet, such as when you’re rock climbing.
Some have an additional strap that runs over the top of your head, making for added stability.
These styles are more suitable for extreme adventure sports or when you’re trail running, preventing the headlamp from bouncing up and down.
On some styles, you can remove the additional overhead strap, making for added utility.
Black Diamond is a brand known for its high quality hiking, climbing, and mountaineering gear — and a trusted name in the industry.
The Black Diamond Spot headlamp is a go-to product in a lightweight package — comprising the essentials complimented by helpful accessories.
The Spot provides for 300 lumens of brightness in a nearly completely waterproof package assured by an IPX8 rating.
It is coveted for its precise, powerful beam that is ideal for seeking out navigational markers in the dark, powered by three AAA batteries in a sleek, compact design.
The Spot features power tap technology which allows for instant transitioning between full and dimmed power.
It also has a brightness memory feature.
The Black Diamond ReVolt is the best of both battery worlds — providing the option to use a USB rechargeable battery or standard AAA batteries.
Offering 300 lumens of light, the ReVolt is ideal for any kind of outdoor excursion whether you’re doing a nighttime section hike on the Appalachian Trail or rappelling lines on El Capitan.
Bonus feature? A three-level power meter ensures you’re never surprised by dead batteries.
The ReVolt offers plenty of light modes and a unique brightness memory, which allows you to turn your headlamp off and back on the same setting you left it.
Need more incentive? An IPX8 rating means this headlamp is pretty much completely waterproof.
This is the ideal rechargeable headlamp in an unbelievably affordable package.
Small but mighty, this little lamp offers 220 lumens of brightness and tips the scales at just 2.5 ounces.
The batteries provide for 30 hours of light on a single charge and will recharge from any USB port in 4-6 hours — ideal for day hikes, overnighters, and even weekend backpacking trips.
With an IPX4 waterproof rating, it’s okay to use this product during light rain, but is not ideal for extremely wet climates.
This product offers a 60 degree tilt so you can adjust the brightness in the direction you need most, in addition to four different light modes.
The Foxelli MX20 headlamp is designed for everyday household use — complimented by the power to take you down the trail in total darkness.
The compact design allows for easy packing so that you can take it with you anywhere — tipping the scales at just 3.2 ounces.
The Foxelli MX20 provides for 165 lumens of brightness up to a distance of 50 meters and includes a wide beam for lighting your campsite or immediate surroundings.
In addition, this model offers red light and SOS modes for comprehensive utility.
This headlamp has an IPX5 rating, which makes for decent protection from rain or snow.
With a listed 45 hours of run time, you won’t even need to bring along an extra pair of batteries when setting out on a day hike or overnighter.
If you’re tired of changing batteries, the rechargeable route is the way to go.
Eliminate the hassle with the Foxelli USB rechargeable headlamp MX500 — which is just as powerful as it is convenient, boasting a brightness rating of 280 lumens up to a distance of 120 meters.
This model includes an assortment of light modes ranging from ultra bright to emergency flashing.
The product is powered by a lithium-ion battery that provides for a life time up to 100 hours.
It takes only two hours to fully charge the battery.
This model includes an over-the-head elastic band for added stability and weighs in at just 4.4 ounces.
With a water resistance rating of IPX7, you’ll find everything you need in a compact, easy-to-carry package.
If you’ve ever been hiking in total darkness, you can easily understand that having a quality headlamp is essential for a memorable experience.
If you haven’t, you don’t need to find out — the experience of fumbling around in the wilderness at night could turn you off hiking forever.
Bottom line? Bring a headlamp and be prepared especially if you are hiking solo for the first time.
We’ve listed some pretty affordable options, so there’s really no reason not to.
Adopt the mindset that it’s a necessary part of your emergency kit and you’ll never leave it behind.
Happy (well-lit) trails!
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Andrew's love for the outdoors began at an early age growing up in the midwest farmland and taking family vacations out west. Being a dreamer with his head in the clouds most moments make the mountains the perfect location for him. He hasn't met a false summit he doesn't like yet!
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