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The 9 Best Headlamps for Any Adventure

By providing hands-free light, headlamps are indispensable for any outdoor activity.

tech roundup

Keeping your hands free while lighting the trail on your next outdoor adventure (camping season is just about here!) is convenient at the least and could actually be lifesaving in certain dire situations (like losing your footing on a steep incline or cliffside). And while that flashlight duct-taped to your head might be a budget-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, a headlamp can become the most important part of your kit. You could have the best backpack or the best hiking boots but, without a headlamp, you might be better off staying 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.

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.

To a further degree, the lumen output refers 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. By contrast and without exception, the maximum runtime of a given headlamp is based on the lowest possible lumen output setting. 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.

Furthermore, our guide also outlines the total weight of a headlamp (which usually does not include the weight of the batteries needed to power them), as well as the power source (or the battery type and quantity) for each included lamp option. Together, these specs should give you a more complete idea of what to expect from these headlamps and will allow you to make the most informed decision regarding which is best for you and your adventures.

How We Tested

tech roundup
Gear Patrol Staff

Our testers took these headlamps to task across a variety of activities ranging from bike riding to overnight camping trips and everything in-between, testing them (in some cases) for months and months. They paid special attention to their output, runtime, comfort, convenience, ease of use and tried to note if any had any special features that helped them stand apart from the rest of the crowd. They even considered how long they take to charge and how packable/easy to store they are for the times between uses.

BioLite HeadLamp 325

Best Overall

BioLite HeadLamp 325


  • Incredibly comfortable and lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Bright and versatile lighting modes

  • Confusing first-time setup
  • Can be frustrating to charge
  • Power Source: USB-Rechargeable 700 mAh Lithium Ion
  • Max Output: 325 lumens
  • Max Runtime: 40 hours
  • Weight: 1.75 ounces

    BioLite was already one of the top names in wearable illumination, but the brand has since solidified itself atop the throne with its new lineup of headlamps. And the star of the show is undoubtedly the 325 you see here. Checking in at under $50, this marvelously versatile headlamp outshines its predecessors (it sits between the older 200 and 330 models) in a number of ways. For instance, it is lighter than the 330 by almost 20 grams but offers only five lumens less of illumination — and it still runs for the same 40 hours, has the same IPX4 waterproofing, and boasts a rechargeable battery (without a batter pack on the back of the headband).

    Our tester found that its quartet of lighting modes (Red Flood + Dimming, Red Strobe, White Flood + Dimming, White Strobe) were plenty bright and incredibly versatile, even on the darkest of nights. And the headlamp is so comfortable, you might actually forget you're wearing it. Our tester's chief concerns were few, really only concerning the confusing first-time setup (you have to hold the power button for a full eight seconds on the first use) and that the rubber door that hides the charging port makes the port somewhat hard to access. Other than those two pain points, however, this headlamp is truly exceptional — enough to top our list as the best overall option.

    BioLite HeadLamp 800 Pro

    Best Upgrade

    BioLite HeadLamp 800 Pro


    • Incredibly bright and versatile lighting modes
    • Absurdly long runtime

    • Somewhat bulky and heavy compared to less powerful models
    • Takes a long time to charge
    • Power Source: USB-Rechargeable 3,000 mAh Lithium Ion
    • Max Output: 800 lumens
    • Max Runtime: 150 hours
    • Weight: 5.3 ounces

      As mentioned, BioLite just recently unveiled its new lineup of headlamps — not quite redesigns and not quite completely new, but somewhere in between. And the new range-topping model is the 800 Pro, replacing the outgoing 750 (which is still for sale, for now). Just as the 325 improved in a number of ways on its predecessor(s), the 800 does the same for the 750 — now offering even more brightness than ever before (800 lumens total, to be exact). Yet it still can run for up to 150 hours, has a whopping eight different lighting modes, is USB rechargeable and boasts IPX4 waterproofing.

      Our tester found that, despite this model's large size and somewhat bulky battery pack/rear light, it still felt comfortable to wear (even over long stretches). Furthermore, they were greatly impressed by the brightness of this headlamp (which is practically a high-powered floodlight you can wear) and its versatile array of lighting modes, which range from a traditional white forward spotlight to a rear red light (perfect for cycling). Though expensive, the BioLite 800 Pro lives up to its name and pedigree and, if you can afford it, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more capable headlamp.

      Knog Quokka

      Best on a Budget

      Knog Quokka Rechargeable Headlamp

      $12.95 (48% off)

      • Extremely inexpensive
      • USB rechargeable (no disposable batteries)

      • Not super bright (80 lumens max)
      • Short runtime
      • Power Source: USB-Rechargeable Lithium Ion
      • Max Output: 80 lumens
      • Max Runtime: 69.5 hours
      • Weight: 1.73 ounces

        Typically, ultra-budget offerings are not something you'd probably want to invest in. They just don't usually stand up to scrutiny. That's not the case for the Knog Quokka headlamp, however, which offers an impressive array of features for an offering that's under $20 brand-new. For starters, it's extremely lightweight and easy to pack away. And while it doesn't have a crazy-bright output — maxing out at 80 — that's still enough for most basic tasks, even out on the trails. It even boasts IP67 waterproofing, meaning it can handle a light drizzle without breaking.

        It isn't without issues, as our tester found. The runtime in spot mode isn't very long — just 25 hours total, according to the brand — and it takes about three to charge. However, for what you pay, our tester thinks this headlamp is more than worth the investment, thanks to its simplicity, durability, reliability and how well it can hold its admittedly limited charge (they found it still turned on after months without being charged). For the price, you're just not going to find another headlamp that stands up to this one. There's also a slightly more expensive 150-lumen version here.

        Petzel Tikkina

        Best for Casual Hikers

        Petzl Tikkina


        • Inexpensive for what you get
        • Large buttons for easy operation

        • No red light mode
        • Power Source: 3 AAA batteries or 1250 mAh Core rechargeable battery (not included)
        • Max Output: 250 lumens
        • Max Runtime: 120 hours
        • Weight: 3 ounces

          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 low, low price.

          BioLite HeadLamp 750

          Best Last-Gen High-Output

          BioLite HeadLamp 750


          • Excellent battery life
          • High output

          • Expensive, even with its discount
          • Power Source: USB rechargeable 3000 mAh li-ion battery
          • Max Output: 750 lumens (Burst Mode only)
          • Max Runtime: 150 hours
          • Weight: 5.3 ounces

            BioLite's HeadLamp 750 used to be the brightest light on this list (before we added the 800 Pro), but lumens aren't the only thing it has going for it; this headlamp is also one of 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 backlight 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.

            Petzel Actik Core

            Best for Survivalists

            Petzl Actik Core Headlamp


            • Big buttons and easy operation
            • Versatile lighting modes

            • Not great waterproofing
            • Power Source: 3 AAA batteries or 1250 mAh Core rechargeable battery (included)
            • Max Output: 450 lumens
            • Max Runtime: 130 hours
            • Weight: 2.8 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 is 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.

              Black Diamond Spot 350

              Best for Casual Campers

              Black Diamond Spot 350


              • Easily swappable modes
              • Fully waterproof

              • Only compatible with one battery chemistry
              • Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
              • Max Output: 350 lumens
              • Max Runtime: 120 hours
              • Weight: 3.9 ounces

                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.

                Black Diamond Sprinter 500

                Best for Runners

                Black Diamond Sprinter 500


                • Front and back lighting for increased visibility
                • Compatible with multiple battery chemistries

                • Cable can bounce, causing annoyance
                • Not the most compatible with running hats
                • Power Source: 3 AAA batteries or rechargeable lithium-ion BD 1800 battery (included)
                • Max Output: 500 lumens
                • Max Runtime: 28 hours
                • Weight: 3.7 ounces

                  Running in the dark poses some unique problems that can't necessarily be solved by just any headlamp. You need one that's bright enough to illuminate your path but not so bulky that it bounces around (or off your head). Luckily, the Black Diamond Sprinter 500 was made specifically with these things in mind. It has a maximum output of 500 lumens, boasts multiple battery chemistry compatibilities (including rechargeable), is lightweight and comfortable even for longer runs and even has a stabilizing top strap to keep it atop your head while you run.

                  Our tester found that this headlamp has quickly become his go-to for night runs, noting that he appreciates how simple it is to use, how much illumination it throws, and they loved how stormproof it is. They did note that it takes a little fumbling to get it to work with a running hat and that the cable is a bit long (it bounces a bit when running). However, apart from those minor points, they love this headlamp and vouch for it fully.

                  Princeton Nilight

                  Best Modular Option

                  Princeton Nilight

                  $29.35 (35% off)

                  • Detachable light module
                  • Good weatherproofing

                  • Only works with AAA batteries
                  • Power Source: 3 AAA batteries
                  • Max Output: 300 lumens
                  • Max Runtime: 155 hours
                  • Weight: 3.5 ounces

                    Princeton Tec is well known for its high-output lights, but the Snap makes its case through 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.

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