With the right headlamp, you can safely hike at night, navigate a nighttime campsite, take your dog for an evening walk, or work on that prized ’69 Mustang hands-free.
When shopping for a headlamp, you’ll want a durable option that offers a comfortable fit, variable brightness settings, and enough battery life to avoid going dim after a few hours of use.
Our top pick, the BioLite Headlamp 330, is a balanced and comfortable headlamp featuring a sweat-wicking headband and a light enough weight that we often forget we’re even wearing it.
The first time I went on a major mountaineering trip, I brought all the wrong gear. From head to toe, I made mistake after mistake. From a second-hand pair of boots and heavy army surplus trousers to a bulky skiing parka, I was woefully underprepared. Perhaps the worst choice I made was to bring a single small flashlight instead of a headlamp.
As I soon learned, trying to pick your way over rocks, roots, streams, and snow in the middle of the night is difficult with just a handheld flashlight. My 45-pound pack and ill-fitting boots hardly helped the situation.
The next time I climbed a mountain, I brought a headlamp — but foolishly putting my trust in a ten-dollar lamp from a flea market put me out on yet another figurative limb. It did work well enough for a few hours of nighttime trekking but then its hinge failed and the lamp flopped completely forward, shining directly into my eyes instead of onto the trail. I turned to duct tape for a quick fix but knew right then just how valuable a quality headlamp is.
On my third multi-day hike, you better believe I had a damn good headlamp along for the journey. Through trial-and-error, I went from an ordinary flashlight to a bonafide headlamp but you don’t have to suffer through the same mistakes I did. Before getting into the best headlamps to buy, let’s talk about how to pick one best suited for your lifestyle.
How to choose the right headlamp
First and foremost, a headlamp has to be bright enough for the task at hand. But the type of beam a light creates is every bit as important as its sheer lumen output. While the tendency is often to check the lumen rating of a headlamp and treat that like the most important metric for judging a headlamp, the type of beam is a better deciding factor than the intensity of the light alone. For example:
A cyclist needs a powerful lamp that throws a beam dozens of yards ahead, letting him or her see plenty of the roadway or trail.
A mechanic, on the other hand, benefits from a wider beam pattern that illuminates a broad swath of the area close at hand.
If you’re camping, consider a headlamp with variable light settings, a red light option, and one that offers long battery life (especially for backpackers).
You also have to consider features such as strobe effects, a red light option, battery life, weight, and more. The way those and other secondary attributes assist you in your hobbies or work should help you choose the headlamp best fit for you from the following guide.
Here are the best headlamps:
Best headlamp overall: BioLite Headlamp 330
Best rechargeable headlamp: Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp
Best headlamp for cycling: GRDE Zoomable Headlamp
Best headlamp to use while working: Coast FL75 Focusing Headlamp
Best headlamp on a budget: Vitchelo V800
Updated 6/8/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the information on “how to choose the right headlamp,” checked the availability of each selection, and updated the prices, links, and formatting throughout.
The best headlamp overall
Owen Burke/Business Insider
Headlamps may seem like lightweight, unrestrictive tools (or toys) but having those extra few ounces bobbing up and down on your forehead for several hours at a time takes its tolls. Not only are some of the heavier and more powerful options a literal drag, but they’re also annoying, even if you don’t realize it. I didn’t.
With the BioLite HeadLamp 330, its 330 lumens of output is a good balance between what most of us need to be able to see in the dark and how long the battery life lasts, which is a respectable 40 hours on the low setting and around 3.5 hours on high. It also makes a good reading light and avoids reflecting off the pages of your book or magazine to blind you.
I took the HeadLamp 330 fishing at night, hiking to camp, hiking just to hike, and generally just stumbling about in the dark behind my father’s woodshop, which is, for all intents and purposes, a treacherous deathtrap of wood and metal scraps. Yes, dearest reader, I take my job, and your safety, extremely seriously. I’m glad to report that, throughout the testing process, there was not a single visit to the emergency room.
In all seriousness, the best thing about the HeadLamp 330 is how well balanced it is. With the light in front and the battery pack in back, you don’t feel the strain of a light and a battery pack dragging your forehead down.
The most notable spec about this headlamp is that the light and battery are separate, which puts a lot less weight on your forehead, and the light itself. The whole kit, I might add, weighs only 69 grams, or less than 2.5 ounces.
One common problem we see a lot with headlamps is that the joint where the light meets the base loses its threads or just breaks altogether, especially when the batteries are in the same pivoting unit as the light. BioLite does away with any such worry.
Speaking of pivoting, the light pivots up and down between four positions, which is, in my opinion, just enough. There’s also a red light, which makes it a lot easier for your eyes to readjust after you flick it off.
The small on/off button (gray, left of center) can be a little hard to find at first, but you’ll learn to love it because you’ll find that you won’t accidentally activate the epileptic test strobe in your hiking partner’s face, and it’s actually positioned right where you want to be (at least, if you’re adjusting it with your right hand). — Owen Burke
Pros: Durable, moisture-wicking headband, balanced with light and battery in front and back, respectively
Cons: Doesn’t take AAA or AA batteries as backup, the lithium-ion battery is not removable (you can’t get a spare battery to take with you and swap out, but a power pack would fix that), 330 lumens is bright, but could be brighter (still, it saves on battery)
The best rechargeable headlamp
The Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp offers both a 130-lumen spotlight and a broader proximity light with dual side-mounted LEDs.
I’ve used Black Diamond headlamps for going on a half-decade now and it’s my go-to brand for so many of my outdoor pursuits. Do keep in mind that I use a headlamp almost exclusively for mountain treks and camping, so just because this is the best headlamp for me, the best option for you may well be elsewhere on our list.
To start, the ReVolt weighs just a quarter of a pound. You’ll hardly know you’re even wearing it save for the fact you can see the path or project in front of you. Its primary triple power LED puts out 130 lumens at its maximum brightness, easily lighting up the trail for dozens of yards ahead.
When you’re in camp or you want to light up a broader area of your immediate surroundings, the twin proximity LEDs create a generous pool of light. You can use them to light up a tent or illuminate your work area as you prepare a meal, rig up your belay device, or hang with your camp friends.
My favorite thing about a Black Diamond headlamp is the fact you can dim both the spotlight and proximity lights from full power down to the faintest glow. These headlamps are ideal for preserving night vision as you make your way on the trail or read a book in your sleeping bag. The red light setting further preserves your vision and causes less disturbance to others nearby, too. You can also set the lights to a flashing strobe if you want to attract maximum attention.
This latest edition of the Black Diamond ReVolt features a charging port built right into the unit. When you have its rechargeable batteries installed, you can connect the light to a power source using a USB cord and power it back up anywhere.
With rechargeable batteries, it offers an admirable 80 hours of output at the maximum brightness, and 190 hours on a lower setting. With alkaline batteries, the max brightness run time is the same but at a low setting, you get an impressive 300 hours of light.
Pros: Excellent brightness control options, multiple different lighting settings, lightweight and durable
Cons: Low-powered (which is okay for many of us), poor optical quality (hot spot in middle), expensive, can be hard to operate with gloves on
The best headlamp for cycling
Wearing the GRDE Zoomable headlamp is like strapping a headlight to your head with its maximum brightness setting of 1800 lumens.
The top setting of the GRDE Zoomable headlamp is so bright you won’t even use it in many situations. But when you’re on a bike at night and contending for space with cars and trucks, or while you’re pedaling your way down a mountain trail, you’ll love the awesome output power of this lamp. The 1800-lumen beam fully illuminates the trail or road far ahead of you, and you’ll be almost impossible for an oncoming motorist to miss seeing.
This headlamp is heavier than I’d recommend for use by a climber or distance trekker but for the cyclist or for use on a shorter hike where gear weight isn’t much of an issue, it’s a great choice.
Its beam can be focused and adjusted to best suit the conditions ahead of you, though the limited brightness settings — which are high or low — are a drawback. This is not the light to strap on as you hide out in a hunting blind hoping to stay unnoticed by attentive wildlife, for example.
The GRDE headlamp can be operated using regular batteries but is also plug-in rechargeable, and can be juiced back up using a wall’s AC outlet, a car plug adapter, or a USB cable. It is rated to last for up to 100,000 hours of operating life.
Pros: Amazingly bright light, great price point, long operating life
Cons: Only two output settings and it’s rather heavy
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