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 gear team reviews some of the best suited hiking headlamps.
Our top pick and Editor’s Choice for the best headlamp for running is the Lighting EVER LED Headlamp, which gives you brightness, durability and weather resistance, all in a super affordable package. Keep reading to learn more about our top pick and the other four options we found to the be the top headlamps for 2020.
Top 5 Best Headlamps Compared
#1 Lighting EVER LED Headlamp – Top Pick/Best for CampingWHY WE LIKE IT: The Lighting EVER LED headlamp is one of the most affordable headlamps on our list without sacrificing the premium features that make this our top pick. The Lighting EVER offers comfort, brightness and durability, making it the perfect headlamp for campers and outdoors enthusiasts.
With 18 individual LED bulbs, the Lighting EVER headlamp is a powerful option that keeps your way illuminated with minimal effort. The 4 different light settings utilize varying numbers of these individual bulbs to give you a flexible and versatile experience based on the environment in which you find yourself. To cycle through the different modes, you simply press a single button on the side of the lamp. The headlamp even includes a handy red-light mode to preserve your night vision.
You’ll also get an unparalleled level of durability with this headlamp for camping. If features IP44 water and shock resistance. This means it can be splashed with liquids from any angle and protected from objects larger than 1 mm. As such, this lamp is protected against rain and snow, making it a great choice for outdoor usage. And while you can purchase headlamps with more bright light than this one, the 100 lumens are still more than enough to keep things lit up for you. You may also want to read about the best water purifiers for camping.
#2 Shining Buddy LED Headlamp – Honorable Mention/Best for WorkWHY WE LIKE IT: Working in dark conditions can be difficult, especially if you don’t have the proper lighting solutions to help you out. With its adjustability and non-bobbing design, the Shining Buddy LED headlamp is our pick for people who need a head light for working.
Sometimes simplicity is all you need. The Shining Buddy LED headlamp is well made with a classic and durable design, which makes it a fantastic choice among workers who frequently work into the night in dark workshops. With 160 lumens of maximum brightness (on the highest setting), the Shining Buddy is versatile and bright enough for any situation. You get five different light modes with this headlamp: low beam, high beam, white light strobe, red LED beam and red flashing.
The Shining Buddy LED headlamp is also one of the most durable options we tested, even if it isn’t the most comfortable. During our testing, the light took quite a few hits and bumps and still kept running strong with hardly a hiccup. Along these lines, the best feature of the Shining Buddy is its non-bobbing strap design. The strap fits and stays snug enough around your head so that the light remains steady, even during intense activity. This is surprising, considering the fact that the headlamp doesn’t include a top strap, which is traditionally used for added stability. In the end, if you need a headlamp for work, the Shining Buddy is an excellent choice. You can also check out the best tactical flashlight.
#3 Foxelli MX20 – Best Battery LifeWHY WE LIKE IT: Headlamps are often notorious for short battery life, but the Foxelli MX20 defies those odds to provide the best battery life on our list. If you need something that lasts longer than usual, look no further than this.
The Foxelli MX20 headlamp has one purpose in mind for its stand-out feature: long-lasting battery life. Measuring in at a rated 45 hours of use on the highest brightness setting, the MX20 has the best battery life of the products on our list. Like many of the other headlamps on our list, the Foxelli uses 3 AAA batteries, which are included with your purchase. Of course, you will be able to extend this battery life on lower brightness settings.
This headlamp is durable and water resistant, with an IPX5 rating. With an IPX5 rating, the MX20 can withstand low-pressure water sprays without getting ruined. With this water resistance, you’ll be able to use the headlamp in rain, snow and other weather conditions. Overall design and durability on the Foxelli is also good, although we wish the head strap was a little thicker. The lamp also tilts a total of 45 degrees, which isn’t as far as other headlamps, but still good enough to give you more flexibility. Don’t forget to take the best coolers with you.
#4 Vekkia Headlamp – Best Budget/Best WaterproofWHY WE LIKE IT: The Vekkia CREE LED headlamp offers best of class water resistance at an extra-affordable price point. If you’re looking for something that can handle outdoor weather with ease, the Vekkia is a great choice.
This Vekkia headlamp is known for its reliability and overall durability. With an IPX6 rating, this is the most water and shock resistant headlamp on our our list. IPX6 water resistance means the headlamp can resist heavy sprays of high-pressure water. While you may not experience such bursts of water often, it’s nice to know that the Vekkia won’t be harmed in case you do run into any water-based problems.
You get five different light modes with the Vekkia headlamp, including three brightness levels, a red light mode and an SOS mode. To switch between white and red lights, simply press one of the two buttons on the light. This is helpful so you’re not cycling through every single mode to get to the one you want. We were happy with the overall durability and lightweight design of the Vekkia as well. We would have no worries at all taking out camping or hiking for extended periods of time. This is the top budget pick on our list. Also check out the best sleeping bags for your adventures.
#5 Elmchee Rechargeable Headlamp – Best Value/Best BrightnessWHY WE LIKE IT: If you’re looking for max output, USB recharging functionality and flood light quality performance, look no further than the Elmchee rechargeable headlamp. This is the most powerful lamp we tested and you won’t be underwhelmed with it’s performance.
This Elmchee headlamp is known for its reliability and power, sporting a blinding 12,000 lumens of maximum brightness. It’s powered by a 1500 mAh rechargeable battery, which gives you a total run time of around 30 hours during average use. With this recharge option, you will get more battery life on the lowest brightness settings and less on the brightest setting. Unfortunately, the headlamp struggles when it comes to charge time, taking around 4-5 hours to completely charge. If you’re out camping, this can become a problem if you don’t have easy access to a power source.
The Elmchee is also water resistant with an IPX4 waterproof rating that is just right for withstanding light sprays from water and other weather elements. This product is also super versatile, with eight different modes, including red light, SOS and strobe settings. The Elmchee is also durable enough to take some hits. In fact, this is one of the most durable options we’ve tested, but that also makes it heavier and bulkier than other options. If you like night hikes or doing other outdoor activities during the night, you’ll definitely want to consider this option. Also read about the best tents.
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. In this gear guide, we dive deeper into our testing methodology.
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 headlamp’s max lumen output only tells you a portion of the lighting characteristics. We approached this from a practical perspective, as consumers, we wanted a powerful 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 headlamp 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, camping and hiking 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 Elmchee headlamp (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.
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 gear? 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 is the Lighting EVER LED Headlamp. It’s one of the best headlamps we’ve reviewed. It’s a very bright light for its segment and it’s extremely affordable considering all it has to offer.
If none of these fit your needs, we also recommend checking out options like the Princeton Tecs headlamps, Petzl Actik Core, Petzl Nao, Black Diamond Icon and Black Diamond Spot. We took all of these headlamps into consideration during our testing, and they make good alternative options.
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