Best Headlamps of 2021
Black Diamond Icon
Petzl Actik Core
Energizer Rust Red Headlamp
Adventure does not end with the setting of the sun. The real adventure starts in the dark. In which case, you will need a reliable source of light.
A headlamp is a must-have tool for adventure in the dark. Or even to easily access the not-so-well-lit parts of your home. Whether you are an avid camper, an outdoor runner, or a mountaineering enthusiast, finding the right headlamp is paramount.
This article provides you with all the necessary information to help you find the right headlamp. It starts with a review of the best headlamps, expounds on the features of a good headlamp, and then proceeds to offer you tips for choosing the right headlamp.
Best Headlamps: Our top 10 picks
With so many headlamps available in the market, it can be difficult to decide on one. Here is a review of the 10 best headlamps for your consideration.
Buying Guide for Headlamps
To choose the right headlamp, you must have a clear understanding of the various headlamp features and specifications. You also need to know which factors to consider when choosing. This explores the various headlamp features and then provides the factors to consider when choosing a headlamp.
Understanding Headlamp Features and Specifications
When shopping for a headlamp, you will come across specifications such as lumen, battery type, battery life, beam pattern, lighting mode, and weight. These specifications are used to describe some of the key features in most headlamps. Understanding these features is paramount in choosing the right headlamp. Below is a detailed look at the key headlamps distinguishing features:
Lumen is the amount of light that a source emits. A headlamp with a higher lumen is brighter and reaches a longer distance than one with a lower lumen. Note that, while a higher lumen is an indicator of more light, it is not the only factor to consider when determining the amount and quality of light in a headlamp.
The beam width, beam pattern, and type of LED are key contributing factors. The number of lumens has a direct impact on battery life. When you operate the headlamp in the highest mode, it uses up all its lumen capacity, and the battery drains faster.
Headlamp brightness is a factor of beam distance and lumens. The higher the lumen and the longer the beam distance, the brighter the headlamp. Most headlamps offer different lighting levels, including high, middle, and low. The high mode is most suitable in extremely dark settings as the headlamp is the brightest it can be.
While some headlamp models have a middle setting, others do not. This mode is most ideal in not so dark settings. Finally, the low mode is the dimmest and most energy-efficient. You can use it at dusk or dawn.
While most headlamps have a translucent beam color, some have additional beam color options, including red, green, or blue.
Blue light is most ideal in foggy weather as it sees through the fog well or reading maps in low light conditions or darkness. Law enforcement officers use tactical flashlights with blue beams to trace bloodstains in the dark, while hunters use it to trail animals. Similar to blue light, a green light can be used to read contour lines on a map.
On the other hand, a red light is ideal for illuminating things within your immediate environment without putting a strain on your eyesight or blinding a companion. It does not attract flies or insects. Besides, red light uses little energy; therefore, it saves you battery life. It can also be used for reading in the dark.
Lighting Modes/ Beam Pattern
Most headlamps on the market have LED lights that can be operated in different lighting modes as follows:
- Strobe. Headlamps with strobe light patterns can be used to signal during emergencies. They also make you visible to other people or motorists when you are hiking, running, or cycling.
- Spotlight. The spotlight beam pattern is a bright, condensed, and focused light that points towards a distant object. It is most appropriate when hiking at night to look for trail signs or spot climbing anchors. It can also be used as a headlight on a bike when cycling at night. It is indicated as a high setting on some headlights. In most headlights, the spotlight mode is the default settings and often labeled as high mode.
- Floodlight. The floodlight is indicated as either low or proximity mode on most headlamps. The floodlight beam is wide, soft, and dim. It is usually directed downwards towards nearby objects. Since it is not extremely bright, it conserves the battery. It is ideal for use when setting up tents or cooking during camping.
Headlamp batteries fall under the following categories:
Rechargeable vs. Non-Rechargeable
While rechargeable batteries are environmentally friendly because they reduce battery waste, they usually have a shorter running time. On the other hand, non-rechargeable batteries tend to burn for longer, but they are more expensive and contribute to overall environmental waste.
Rechargeable batteries are ideal for everyday use, such as running, short-distance cycling, or walking the dog, while non-rechargeable batteries are the best option for activities such as camping and long-distance hiking.
Alkaline vs. Lithium Batteries
There are two main types of alkaline batteries, including AAs and AAAs. Lithium batteries offer a longer burn time and energy efficiency, even in the most extreme weather conditions. Besides, they are lightweight and offer the highest energy density. Lithium batteries are up to 30% brighter than Alkaline batteries of the same size.
While lithium batteries are ideal for high or moderate drain headlamps, they are too powerful for low-drain headlamps.
Extreme weather conditions can lead to battery life draining faster. Lithium batteries perform better in cold weather conditions. When you are not using the headlamp during the cold season, ensure to store its battery in a warm place to prevent draining.
Some headlamps offer the versatility of both rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries, while others offer you the option to use either alkaline or lithium batteries. For instance, most Petzl headlamps come with a USB rechargeable core park, which can also use with any of the Petzl headlamps that use AAA batteries. With that said, ensure to adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended battery type for your headlamp.
The battery life is also known as battery burn time. The amount of time that the battery last when emitting light without needing to recharge or change it. While most batteries have a definite burn time, factors such as the headlamp’s set mode determine how fast it drains. For instance, when operating on a lower power mode, the battery may last longer than when the headlamp operates on a higher power mode.
To optimize your headlamp’s battery life, adjust the mode as need be. Whenever you can use a dimmer light, switch to the low mode, and only adjust to the high mode when it is absolutely necessary. For most headlamps, as the battery life diminishes, the light becomes dimmer.
Generally, headlamps are built to be lightweight. However, some are lighter than others, weighing less than 10z and others up to 15oz. The lightweight headlamps are made from light plastic while their heavier counterparts are made of wither thick plastic or aluminum. You want to go for the lightest headlamp that has most of your preferred features.
The size and weight of the batteries also significantly contributes to the overall weight of the headlamp. Generally, more powerful headlamps are bigger in size and require bigger or more batteries making them heavier. Conversely, lighter weight headlamps are smaller and use fewer or lighter batteries.
Straps and Comfort
A well-designed headlamp should fit snugly and comfortably around your head without putting too much pressure on the skull. It should also have adjustable straps. The straps should be made from a durable yet soft material.
There are two basic strap styles: a single elastic strap or a two-piece strap. A single strap is sufficient for most lightweight headlamps. A two-piece strap style is recommended for heavier headlamps. Two-piece straps are also most ideal for activities such as rock-climbing, caving, or mountaineering as they offer adequate support, whether you are indoor or outdoor. Most two-piece straps are helmet-compatible.
Most manufacturers use the IPX rating system to indicate how weather resistant their headlamps are. For instance, if a manufacturer says that their headlamp is waterproof, an IP code indicates that the headlamp’s electrical components are protected against water.
For instance, a headlamp that is rain and humidity proof is rated as IPX4. IPX0 rating indicates that the headlamp is not weather or water protected. An IPX7 rated headlamp can last in 1-meter deep water for 30 minutes, while an IPX8 rated headlamp can be submerged in deep water for a longer time. Watch out for headlamp companies that vaguely use the terms waterproof or weather-resistant in their marketing.
Over the years, headlamps technology has evolved to incorporate smart features such as a built-in sensor that adjust the headlamp’s brightness depending on the lighting conditions in the immediate environment. You can change the beam pattern with a simple rotation or pulling the headlamp’s lens casing in some headlamps.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Headlamp
While one headlamp may be perfect for use within your home in case of a blackout, it may not be ideal for running. Below are some pointers on what to look for in a headlamp, depending on its primary intended purpose.
Running, paddling, kayaking, and cycling: Ensure the headlamp is lightweight and fits snugly and comfortably on your head. It should offer both long and short beam distance to enable you clearly see your immediate steps and a few meters ahead. In addition, the headlamp should have a red taillight to increase your visibility in the dark.
Backpacking, hiking, traveling, and camping. The most critical features to look out for in a headlamp for use in this category of activities are long battery life, wide beamwidth, and 300 or more lumens. The last thing you want is the headlamp dying on you in the middle of the night when you need it most.
Suppose you can get one that has a variety of modes, the better. It means you would be able to adjust the brightness depending on your needs. Also, ensure that the headlamp fits comfortably on your head. Another key feature to consider is weather resistance. You want a headlamp that will survive extreme conditions, including fog, rain, very high or low temperatures.
The best camping headlamp produces a wide beam to enable you to see a wider area. If you are a hiker, you should go for a headlamp with high lumen, at least 12 hours of battery life, and long beam distance.
Headlamps for kids. If you are buying a headlamp for kids, ensure that it is light, has the right fit, and that it is easy to operate. Its brightness and number of lumens will depend on the purpose you will be using it for.
There is a wide variety of headlamps at different price points in the market for you to choose from. You don’t have to break the bank to get a high-quality headlamp. With a little due diligence, you can find an affordable headlamp with your preferred key features. Check the reviews of the headlamps you consider to ensure that previous customers have had a great experience with them.
You want to go for an easy to use headlamp whose settings and modes are intuitive. A headlamp with complicated settings can be frustrating to use, and you could end up operating in the dark if you can’t figure out how to use it. For instance, if you want a headlamp to use during winter, consider one with a single and large operating button.
Availability of Accessories
A key component of a headlamp is its battery. It is best to buy a headlamp with batteries that are readily available. For instance, while coin batteries are light, they may not be readily available in stores. On the other hand, AAAs and lithium batteries are available in most stores.
We hope that this review and buying guide for headlamps has made it a little easier for you to find the right headlamp. Take time to do your due diligence to ensure that the headlamp you settle for has g