Keeping your hands free while lighting the trail on your next outdoor adventure is a must. And while that flashlight duct-taped to your head might be a wallet-friendly solution, there are much more elegant and functional products out there. When you’re out on the trail at night, whether you planned to be or not, your headlamp becomes the most important part of your kit. You could have the best backpack, or the best hiking boots, but without a headlamp you might as well stay at home. Whether you’re a backcountry skier gearing up for your next heli-skiing trip or just looking to walk the dog at night, these headlamps will light the way.
More Great Headlamps
- Best High-Power Headlamp: BioLite HeadLamp 750, $100
- Best Headlamp for Running: BioLite HeadLamp 200, $45
- Best Modular Headlamp: Princeton Tec Snap, $40
- Best Headlamp Alternative: BioLite TraveLight 135, $40
Understanding Headlamp Specs
We’ve outlined the key specs for each headlamp in this guide, but it’s important to know how to read them correctly. In a store, a headlamp will typically be displayed with its lumens front-and-center on its packaging. This is slightly deceiving, and you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that the number of lumens a headlamp is capable of emitting is equivalent to its overall power. This is true, to an extent.
These specs refer to light emitted by the headlamp at its most powerful setting. The catch is that many headlamps have a burst mode, which may only be operational for a short period. So, a headlamp claiming 500 lumens may only emit that much light for a period as short as 10 seconds.
The good news is, headlamp manufacturers are generally very transparent with this information, providing detailed charts and graphs on how long a light will last at a given strength. In this guide, we detail each headlamp’s maximum light output as a measurement of lumens in its most powerful setting. Similarly, maximum runtime refers to how long each light will last on its lowest setting.
Now, on to the list.
Black Diamond has intermittently updated its crowd-pleasing Spot headlamp over recent years, but its core attribute, simplicity, remains. The newest version, the Spot 350 uses three AAA batteries (which you'll be able to find pretty much anywhere on the planet), and it's fully waterproof to just over a meter. The main light now has 350 lumens, emitting a beam to a claimed range of 86 meters (about 282 feet) and is easily dimmable. There's also a red night vision setting.
Black Diamond equipped the Spot with its PowerTap Technology, which lets you swap between two modes quickly by tapping the side of the lamp housing. It's a feature that strays toward gimmicky but is actually very useful for reading and cooking, among other things, particularly when the alternative is pressing a button multiple times to cycle through all the modes. Another brilliant feature is a lock mode that prevents the light from turning on in your backpack and killing the batteries (you only forget to use that function once). But the great part about the Spot is that for all this functionality, plus Black Diamond's recent updates, it's only $40.
Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
Max Output: 350 lumens
Max Runtime: 120 hours
Weight: 3.9 ounces
Petzl's Actik Core headlamp features an easy-to-locate, large push button that toggles the lamp off and on and allows access to a flood or mixed beam (distance) light modes, both of which are dimmable, plus a red LED that can operate in solid or strobe mode. The headband reflective, which is great for running, and it can be washed easily after use. Petzl also gave the Actik Core the ability to get its power from either three AAA batteries or the company's rechargeable Core unit, which is a nice bit of versatility. It's not as waterproof as our top pick — this one is only splashproof, not submersible — but it is a bit brighter and just as versatile.
Power Source: 3 AAA batteries or 1250 mAh Core rechargeable battery (included)
Max Output: 450 lumens
Max Runtime: 130 hours
Weight: 2.8 ounces
Best Affordable Headlamp
You can't expect much of a headlamp for $20, but you get quite a bit from Petzl's Tikkina. The headlamp has a max brightness of 250 lumens and can function for 120 hours on its lowest setting (though that's only six lumens, just enough to see a little bit). It has three white light modes but no red light. It's also splashproof and can run on Petzl's USB-rechargeable Core battery — all great features given the price.
Power Source: 3 AAA batteries or 1250 mAh Core rechargeable battery (not included)
Max Output: 250 lumens
Max Runtime: 120 hours
Weight: 3 ounces
Best High-Power Headlamp
BioLite's HeadLamp 750 is the brightest light on this list, but lumens aren't the only thing it has going for it; this headlamp is the most feature-rich we've tested. It has eight light modes: spot, flood, mixed, strobe, burst, red flood, rear red, rear red strobe (yes, this headlamp has a back light mounted to its battery pack). It's splashproof, charges via USB and locks off to protect against accidental power-on.
But those are its more standard features. Unique to the HeadLamp 750 is Constant Mode, which lets you override the gradual dimming that most headlamps use to maintain brightness and battery life over time so that you can operate at higher lumen outputs — it can run at 500 lumens for two hours, for instance, or 250 for four. Then there's Run Forever Mode, which lets you attach the headlamp to an external battery pack for continuous operation. None of this is to mention the integrated design of its lamp and strap, which is the most comfortable on this list.
Power Source: USB rechargeable 3000 mAh li-ion battery
Max Output: 750 lumens (Burst Mode only)
Max Runtime: 150 hours
Weight: 5.3 ounces
Best Headlamp for Running
Most of these headlamps work well enough for the occasional run, and BioLite's higher-output HeadLamp 750 has the ideal feature set for ultra running thanks to its Run Forever Mode. But for general-purpose running, we like its dimmer HeadLamp 200. The primary reason? Comfort. This headlamp is super lightweight at 1.75 ounces, and its primary component is integrated into its fabric strap and nearly flat, which gives it a no-bounce edge over other options we tested. It'd be even better with a rear light, but most running apparel comes with reflective detailing, so we're comfortable with the tradeoff.
Power Source: USB rechargeable 700 mAh li-ion battery
Max Output: 200 lumens
Max Runtime: 40 hours
Weight: 1.75 ounces
Best Modular Headlamp
Princeton Tec is well known for its high-output lights, but the Snap makes its case through an innovative modular construction. The light unit connects to the strap with a magnet, which allows you to quickly disengage the Snap to use it as a standalone lantern or a bike light (with its included mount accessories). The modular construction doesn’t diminish the Snap’s stats either – it has three modes, dimming capability and an IPX4 waterproof rating.
Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
Max Output: 300 lumens
Max Runtime: 155 hours
Weight: 3.5 ounces
Best Headlamp Alternative
Camp lighting usually boils down to two options: headlamp or lantern. BioLite's PowerLight Mini is a little bit of both. Unlike the cylindrical form of most lanterns, it's a rectangle. It has a pivoting metal clip that can act as both a hanger or kickstand. You can also use that clip to attach the TraveLight 135 to a shirt or pocket, though, which is why we're pointing it out on this list. No, it's not a headlamp, but you can use it similarly. Like some of the great lights on this list, it's affordable, offers various brightness settings, and can even be used as a backup battery to charge the tech accessories you might bring with you camping.
Power Source: USB Rechargeable 1350 mAh Li-on
Max Output: 135 lumens
Max Runtime: 52 hours
Weight: 2.82 ounces