What are the best headlamps for hiking? What is considered the best headlamp overall for your nightly adventures? If you’re on the trail at night, chances are you’re either a seriously committed hiker/backpacker, you’re a trail runner, or you’re hunting – and each of these activities requires a different level of lighting performance. In this article, our outdoor team reviews some of the best suited hiking headlamps under $150.
Our top pick and Editor’s Choice for the best headlamp for running is the Petzl REACTIK+. It’s an excellent trail runners’ headlamp that features adaptive lighting technology, a rechargeable battery pack, and even a smartphone app to track battery life and manage the device remotely.
- 1 Best Headlamps for 2020
- 2 How We Choose
- 3 Why You Should Buy
- 4 #1 Pick Editor’s Choice/Best Headlamp for Running – Petzl REACTIK+
- 5 #2 Pick Best Headlamp for Hunting – Coast HL8
- 6 #3 Pick Best Headlamp for Work – UCO X120R
- 7 Honorable Mention Best Headlamp for Hiking – Black Diamond Storm
- 8 Key Factors We Used
- 9 Features to Look For in a Headlamp
- 10 Mistakes to Avoid
- 11 What Else You Should Think About
Best Headlamps for 2020
|Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now|
|Petzl REACTIK+||Coast HL8||UCO X120R|
|Rank||#1 - Editor’s Choice/Best Headlamp for Running||#2 - Best Headlamp for Hunting||#3 - Best Headlamp for Work|
How We Choose
I’ve personally tested all of the following headlamps in the Ozark Mountains. A party of four spent three nights on the OHT and endured freezing temps, rain, and water soaked gear to test these lamps.
Black Diamond equipment has always been my go-to for this kind of tech as I’ve owned several variants of headlamps from the brand over the past fifteen years and can attest to quality and performance. Minding that, I was surprised with results we had with other brands while in the back country.
Initially, our comparison of hiking headlamps was focused on total light output. Brightness as a function of battery life was compared to see which hiking headlamps within the top ten provided the most illumination for the longest amount of time. Luminosity, measured in lumens, is the measure of light source brightness – but a heamlamp’s total lumen output only tells you a portion of the lighting characteristics. We approached this from a practical perspective, as consumers, we wanted a beam which was brighter than most others, lasted longer without recharge (or new batteries), and illuminated a path farther than similar lamps. Pretty simple.
But what are lumens? How far of a beam distance is ideal? How long should batteries last?
A lumen is the unit of measurement used to describe the brightness of a light source (the total radiance). Lumens don’t tell us anything about how well a lighting device projects and focuses light – and these things matter…big time. Two 500 lumen hiking headlamps might seem comparable in their boxes, but one test outside with both lights will quickly show that lumen rating only goes so far in evaluating headlamp performance. If you’re a stickler for numbers, here’s a good initial go-by for minimum total illumination before considering beam distance:
- Close Work – 30 lumen minimum
- Casual Hiking – 150 lumen minimum
- Trail Running – 250 lumen minimum
- Backcountry Exploring/Hunting – 350 lumen minimum
- Cave Exploring / Mountaineering – 500 lumen minimum
Beam distance tends to tell consumers more about headlamp performance than most other specifications. This is the metric you should pay more attention to than any other when finding the right headlamp for your adventure. Minimum beam distance to look for per our recommendations are as follows:
- Close Work – 10 ft
- Casual Hiking – 150 ft
- Trail Running – 300 ft
- Backcountry Exploring/Hunting – 350 ft
- Cave Exploring / Mountaineering – 400 ft
Minimum beam distance numbers are based on specific task requirements (i.e. casual hiking requires less light than trail running), and our trail running beam distance assumes that a runner will cover eight miles in an hour.
Controls like dimmers, focusing rings, and lighting modes were also considered to ensure that each device was fairly evaluated. Beam distance in individual modes was ranked in order of necessity based on the hiking sub categories we’ve established in our review. Obviously, a trail runner is going to require a lengthier beam than someone that’s leisurely hiking the back country after dusk.
Water resistance also played a critical role in our determination of the best hiking headlamps. As most every hiker and camper knows, gear unsuited for the elements shouldn’t have a place in your pack. Water resistance is rated by an International Protection Rating (often referred to as Ingress Protection, or IP) and classifies housings based on their resistance to ingress of solids and liquids (ratings look like this: IP25).
The first number following the IP stamp is a solid intrusion resistance number, based on a scale from 0 to 6 where 0 offers no protection and 6 is dust tight. The second number represents the enclosures ability to protect against water intrusion, and is based on a scale from 0 to 8, where 0 offers no protection and 8 protects internal components up to a depth of 1 meter (a rating of 8 usually means the enclosure is hermetically sealed). In our testing, the Black Diamond Storm offered the best protection from the elements – rated as IP67.
Larger, often more powerful, hiking headlamps tend to be heavier and may cause discomfort after extended use if adequate padding isn’t integrated into the overall design; the heaviest headlamp we tested was the Coast HL8 (12.8 oz). We wore the unit on a multi-day hike through the Ozark mountains, often for hours at a time, and none of our testers complained about comfort.
Why You Should Buy
Lighting technology and battery efficiency improve year over year. Some hiking headlamps even feature adaptive lighting which detects environmental light and automatically adjusts output to improve nighttime visibility. This is more important for trail runners, especially if you’re running with multiple people all using headlamps – in our testing, we found that frequently blinding each other was a common issue that adaptive lighting helped to mitigate.
Older headlamps can become less and less reliable as they’re exposed to the elements. Light sources like LEDs and conventional bulbs lose efficiency after extended use – and although LEDs typically will typically outlast conventional bulbs 10-1 – poorly manufactured electronics can discharge amperage outside of the ideal range for LEDs, leading to shorter diode life and a faster reduction of light intensity over their lifespan.
Older hiking headlamps tend to use traditional alkaline batteries for power, and while we don’t have anything bad to say about alkaline battery use, there are a few things to consider when it comes to one versus the other: Alkaline batteries are often a little heavier than newer lithium batteries, and usually offer a greater use time (typically 4X than alkaline).
As outdoor enthusiasts, we want to ensure that we’re always prepared for the worst case scenario and being caught in the dark without a light can be a pretty bad situation to find yourself in.
Investing in a new headlamp will ensure that your light’s reliability is as high as it can be, and considering the cost of ownership, it’s really a no-brainer. Stay safe. Light up the darkness with one of the best headlamps under $150.
#1 Pick Editor’s Choice/Best Headlamp for Running – Petzl REACTIK+
Price: $110 | Max Lumens: 300 | Rechargeable: Yes | Max Beam Distance: 110 m
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Smart, adaptive lighting, weather-ready, and it can send Morse code to your friends in the woods. Why would it not be our top pick?
Petzl’s REACTIK+ is a cut above the rest. It’s a 300-lumen headlamp running on an 1800 mAh lithium-ion battery that can be charged via USB, and while that certainly sets it apart from other hiking headlamps, it isn’t what makes it unique. The REACTIK+ is an intelligent light that adapts to its environment and adjusts its output intensity based on the needs of the wearer.
Using a smartphone, Bluetooth-enabled app from Petzl, users can control and monitor light output based on battery life, set preset lighting profiles for specific activities, and even transmit Morse code via a built-in text-to-code function. Exact “burn” times can be selected to control output on the fly so that you know with certainty that you’ll have enough juice for your run, hike, or game of hide and seek.
The unit is weather resistant, features a red lighting mode for preserving night vision, and has an adjustment for beam width if users should need to widen or tighten their lighting path – great for moving between close tasks like putting a tent together and gathering firewood. For just over $100 it’s really difficult to find a comparable headlamp that delivers this much functionality and performance.
Expected battery times to vary based on performance mode. The REACTIK+ offers two hours and thirty minutes burn time in its maximum power mode, five hours in its standard mode, and a generous ten hours in its max autonomy mode.
#2 Pick Best Headlamp for Hunting – Coast HL8
Price: $65 | Max Lumens: 615 | Rechargeable: No | Max Beam Distance: 196 m
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: One seriously powerful headlamp!
Coast hiking headlamps are known for their reliability and power, and the HL8 makes no exception. It delivers a blinding 615 lumens at maximum intensity and can operate (with a full charge) on its lowest setting of 46 lumens for more than two and a half days – the headlamp is powered using four AA batteries.
Coast’s Pure Beam Focusing Optic can be used to widen or focus the headlamp’s beam to an extremely wide area, or very precise spot using a simple twist-style control knob. Even more impressive, the lamp can illuminate objects at more than 600 feet and it comes with a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer. Tested and rated to ANSI/FL1 standards, the HL8 is built tough and meant to take a beating while withstanding the elements. Impact resistant, weather resistant, and “nearly unbreakable,” this is one headlamp that we believe is a solid win.
If you want something with a little less power, but the same amount of durability and craftsmanship, we recommend checking out the Coast HL7 headlamp.
Battery life with the HL8 is pretty phenomenal, coming in at one hour and forty-five minutes on high, and an outstanding sixty-four hours on low.
#3 Pick Best Headlamp for Work – UCO X120R
Price: $59 | Max Lumens: 120 | Rechargeable: Yes | Max Beam Distance: 35 m
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Well made, weather ready, and a classic style all make the UCO X120R a fantastic choice among outdoor enthusiasts, workers, and everyday handymen.
Sometimes simplicity is all you need. A classic style headlamp that out delivers others in its class and redefines what cool is, the UCO X120R is a phenomenal headlight which features 120 lumens and up to 130 hours of battery life.
For just north of $50 this headlamp is a steal. Battery life for the X120R can be maximized up to 130 hours at the hiking headlamps lowest setting, while an adjustable beam width helps wearers keep focused with precision and red night vision mode is only a turn away on the headlamp’s infinite control dial. Super simple control that makes work tasks a breeze both in close proximity and afar. The X120R is outfitted with a lithium-ion battery that can be recharged via USB. It’s water resistant, tough enough for most tasks, and it has a pretty sleek headband to boot.
Honorable Mention Best Headlamp for Hiking – Black Diamond Storm
Price: $50 | Max Lumens: 250 | Rechargeable: No | Max Beam Distance: 80 m
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: If you need something that’s resistant to the elements, this is the headlamp you should be wearing.
Ask any regular hiker, or backpacker, and they’ll have heard of Black Diamond headlamps. It’s no surprise, these guys know how to make a quality headlight. The Storm is built to withstand submersion up to 1 meter for 30 minutes. It delivers up to 250 lumens on its highest setting and is powered by four AAA batteries (a visual battery life indicator is illuminated at the base of the headlamp every time it is powered on). Maximum “burn” time (at full power) is around 80 hours.
Black Diamonds Power Tap Technology allows simple touch control between high and low bean functions, and the primary physical button located on the top of the unit can be depressed to turn on white, green, and red lamps within the headlamp housing. All lamps have dimming and strobe functionality, and battery performance for the Storm doesn’t disappoint with eighty hours on its single-power LED, and 150 on its quad-power LED setting.
Other comparable devices that we recommend are the Black Diamond Revolt headlamp, and the Black Diamond Spot headlamp.
Key Factors We Used
- Wide, Narrow, or Adjustable – that is the question. When it comes to lighting our way in the woods, we like versatility.
- An adjustable beam not only helps us find our way better, but it helps to minimize strain on our eyes. None of our top picks are without an adjustable beam control.
Maximum Light Output
- Light intensity is critical, but the amount of light we need varies on our task and the environment we’re in.
- When comparing top contenders, we looked for the biggest bang for the consumers’ buck and weighed that against design, power source, and cost.
- Again, activity dependent, but beam distance should be considered more heavily if you require a longer field of view.
- If you’re trail running, hunting, and doing anything that requires a greater depth of field in the dark, this is something you need to consider before all else.
- Headlamps are not much use to us if they’re dead right after we put them on. Consider the total amount of time for your excursion and compare advertised burn time to that number. We recommend using a headlamp that can last for 1.5 times what you need to account for variances in battery life due to electrical component inefficiencies, environmental conditions, and headlamp use.
- Every headlamp assembly is constructed differently, with different lighting components, and different features – so electrical demand varies. Battery life is going to be dependent on battery type, size, environmental conditions, and headlamp function. The specs advertised by the manufacturers are run times under ideal conditions with flawless functionality.
Features to Look For in a Headlamp
- Rechargeable batteries are often ideal if you’re planning a thru-hike, or an extended expedition in which replacement batteries would be difficult to attain (although you’ll need a way to recharge on the trail – we recommend a rugged solar pack).
- AA and AAA battery-powered hiking headlamps are often less expensive than rechargeable variants and should suit most adventurers for 1-3 days of use (see battery specifications of our top picks in each section above).
- Hiking the trail and sitting around base camp don’t require the same amount of candle power. Adjustable lamps are a dime a dozen, if you’re considering a headlamp which doesn’t have a lumen adjustment you need to keep looking.
Red Light Mode
- Red light mode is super helpful for maintaining your night vision while out in the dark. It’s what the military uses to ensure they can still see immediately after a midnight meeting, and if you’re a star gazer like myself, it really helps managing that while also keeping up with a pack.
- Don’t fool yourself, the planet is covered in more than 70% of water and do you know what that means? Your headlamp should be able to handle getting a little wet – at the very least. Go for a model that is water resistant even if you don’t expect heavy wet use. If you’re regularly crossing streams and rivers, step up your game and get a lamp that’s meant to get wet.
- If you require a headlamp with a very long beam distance, typically you’ll find products with both conventional and LED lighting technologies.
- LED lighting beam distance is limited currently and can only provide a depth of about 300 ft with the strongest LED lighting clusters.
Mistakes to Avoid
Because electronics and component manufacturing has become so inexpensive in recent years, be cautious of buying a headlamp online that seems too cheap to be true. Chances are that the product you receive will be of a poorer grade than you expected. If you don’t recognize a seller, or a brand, it may be better to steer clear online as many individuals sell sub-par products for extremely low prices.
Don’t overbuy! There’s no need for a headlamp that spits out 1500 lumens if you’re going on a simple hiking trip.
What Else You Should Think About
Have you considered everything you need for your next hiking, or backpacking trip? We recently reviewed the best backpacking backpacks, and best backpacking tents. If you’re so inclined, check them out. Remember, pack in and pack out, leave no trace, stay safe, and go hike something.
Our top pick and Editor’s Choice for the best hiking headlamp for running is the Petzl REACTIK+. It’s one of the smartest best headlamps we’ve reviewed, it’s very bright for its segment, automatically ensures you won’t run out of light before the end of your hike, and it’s extremely affordable considering all it has to offer. If you have experience with the REACTIK+ we would like to hear from you. Please ping us in the comments below if you’ve used our top pick recently.
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