Best Headlamps for Hiking
Let's review our top headlamp recommendations – covering everything from lightweight to budget-friendly.
Your headlamp is incredibly easy to overlook, but it’s perhaps one of the most important pieces of gear in your hiking kit. From late-night bathroom breaks to longer-than-planned hikes in the evening, your lighting method is absolutely crucial to exploring the best hiking destinations. But what are the best headlamps for hiking on the market, and what makes them so good?
That’s what we’re here to answer. We’ve pooled our expertise as backcountry guides and compiled our top headlamp recommendations along with important points to consider when purchasing.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS for the Best Headlamps
Let’s take a look at some of the most important headlamp characteristics to make sure you find the perfect one for you. Review our more complete, in-depth guide to headlamps for a comprehensive front-to-back look at headlamps.
Battery or Rechargeable
Your new headlamp will be powered by one of two methods: replaceable or rechargeable batteries. Let’s look into the pros and cons and both options.
Replaceable battery headlamps utilize standard AAA or AA batteries. These headlamps make it easy to quickly revive a dim or dead light by simply swapping in new batteries, but keep in mind that you’ll have the regular added waste and cost of these batteries as you go through them.
Meanwhile, rechargeable headlamps come with a cord – usually USB – that allows you to plug in your headlamp and recharge the batteries without needing to replace them. This is a very convenient option as you don’t need to continually purchase new batteries, but it also means that you may need to carry a power bank on extended trips so you can charge your headlamp mid-trip.
While deciding on replaceable or rechargeable headlamps, it’s also worthwhile to look at the stated run-time. This characteristic details how long the headlamp can function on high and low power and is useful for gauging how often you’ll need to recharge your headlamp or replace the batteries.
Light Power – Lumens
Brightness is measured in lumens. The higher the lumen value, the brighter the headlamp’s light. However, there’s a very wide range of lumen values between different headlamps, so let’s take a closer look.
Most ultralight headlamps for emergencies or as your backup will typically provide 50-150 lumens. As we move higher, many hikers and backpackers who often use their headlamp around camp or occasional night hiking will be very happy with 150-250 lumens. Lastly, folks who rely on their headlamps regularly for night adventures, anything from trail running to spelunking, will likely opt for 300+ lumens.
Now that we know the different power levels, it’s important to note that your headlamp’s max lumen value is probably not what you’ll be using most of the time. That max setting will quickly drain the battery, but it’s good to know how bright your lamp can go should you need it.
Additionally, remember that a high lumen value doesn’t automatically equate to a better headlamp or increased light range on the trail. It remains a very handy indicator of the power you have on hand, but the next piece of the puzzle of the lens type using that power.
Lens Types – Spot, Flood, Red, or Strobe
The best headlamps for hiking will often feature three to four lens settings: Spot, Flood, Red, and Strobe.
The spot setting focuses the headlamp’s light into the distance, allowing you to search for far-off items or look down the trail. This is often the most powerful setting for headlamps, and the max beam rating that you’ll often see refers to how far this spot setting can illuminate on maximum power.
The flood setting spreads the headlamp’s light over a very wide area, illuminating your immediate surroundings. This setting is most helpful for looking around your tent, cooking, or hanging out at camp.
The red-light setting will cast a red glow that illuminates the immediate area without causing your pupils to readjust. Therefore, it’s much less harsh than the typical headlamp light and allows you to read, roll out of your tent for a bathroom break, or hang out with friends at camp without disturbing your eyes or your hiking buddies’.
Lastly, the strobe setting causes the headlamp to flash on and off at maximum power. This setting can prove pivotal during an emergency, allowing you to attract attention from a distance.
We always hope we’ll never need to break out our rain gear, but those pesky showers always creep up now and again. With that in mind, it’s worthwhile to keep an eye on your headlamp’s weatherproofing capability.
There are several levels of weatherproofing, ranging from slightly weather-resistant all the way to fully waterproof. To keep track of the different levels, we have the IP (Ingress Protection) rating system. The system ranges from a rating of 0-8 where IPX0 offers no water protection, IPX4 protects from splashing water, and IPX8 protects in immersed water over 3 feet.
For strictly hiking, a rating of IPX4 or better is typically sufficient. But consider the conditions you expect your headlamp to stand up to, especially if you partake in water-based sports (such as kayaking), and narrow down your search based on that criteria.
Like most pieces of outdoor gear, the best headlamps for hiking come with a range of price tags ranging from just $20 up to well over $100. While more expensive options may offer more settings, waterproofing, and battery life, it’s important to remember the cheaper options don’t necessarily mean that they’re a poor choice. Quality budget options offer reliable light minus excessive settings and beam types.
Therefore, weigh the quality and features you’re looking for against your budget to help pick out the best headlamp for your adventures.
Black Diamond Spot 400
Best Overall Headlamp
Batteries: Replaceable AAAs or Rechargeable BD 1500 Battery
Light Settings: Flood, Spot, Red, Strobe
Max Brightness (Lumens): 400 Lumens
Run Time: High: 2.5 hrs. – Medium: 5 hrs. – Low: 200 hrs.
Weight: 2.7 oz.
PROS: Reasonable price – Powerful light – Multiple settings – Completely waterproof
CONS: Multiple buttons take a little getting used to
CLOSE LOOK: Black Diamond struck a perfect balance between weight, power, price, and versatility with their Spot 350, and now they’ve made it even better with the Spot 400. Black Diamond upped this headlamp’s light power to 400 lumens while still skimming 0.3 oz. off the overall weight – a very impressive achievement. The 400 also boasts four light modes – spot, flood, red, and strobe – to give you maximum illumination and a PowerTap button to immediately shift to high power mode or back down to a lower light setting. This headlamp is also waterproof to 1m underwater, perfect for standing up to a sudden downpour or accidental drop in a river. The Spot 400 is also compatible with Black Diamond’s rechargeable BD 1500 battery or regular AAAs. The multiple settings and buttons have a slight learning curve, but the Spot 400 is easily the best headlamp for hiking in our book.
If you’re in the market for a fully rechargeable headlamp without needing to pop out the batteries to recharge them individually (like the BD 1500), look at the Black Diamond Spot 400-R. This headlamp is fully rechargeable via a micro-USB cable.
Petzl Actik Core
Runner up: best Headlamp for Hiking
Batteries: Rechargeable battery pack or AAA compatible
Light Settings: Flood, Spot, Red
Max Brightness (Lumens): 450 Lumens
Run Time:High: 2 hours, medium: 8 hours, low: 130 hours
Weight: 2.8 oz.
PROS: Rechargeable and AAA compatible – Excellent brightness – Lower weight
CONS: More expensive than other options – Not fully waterproof – Slightly lower battery life
CLOSE LOOK: There’s a lot to like about the Actik Core from Petzl. With 450 Lumens at max power presented in a compact 2.6 oz. size, this headlamp offers excellent power. The Actik Core is also rechargeable, eliminating regular battery replacements. Don’t want to invest in a power bank to recharge the headlamp in the field? No problem. The Actik Core is also compatible with standard AAA batteries, making it exceptionally versatile. All these features come with a larger price tag than other options, and the weatherproofing rating could be better. But all in all, this is easily one of the best headlamps for hiking on the market today.
best Budget Headlamp
Batteries: AAA or compatible with Petzl rechargeable battery pack (not included)
Light Settings: Flood
Max Brightness (Lumens): 250 Lumens
Run Time: High: 2 hours / low: 120 hours
Weight: 3.0 oz.
PROS: Very reasonable price – Easy to operate – Compatible with Petzl rechargeable battery pack (additional purchase)
CONS: No red-light capability – Light isn’t as powerful as other options – Less light adjustability
CLOSER LOOK: Petzl contributes another excellent product to our list of the best headlamps with the Tikkina. At 250 lumens, the Tikkina offers decent power that’s sufficient for standard camping operated from a single, easy-to-use button. Unfortunately, we don’t get red-light capability with this headlamp. But as a starter option for beginners or those on a budget, the Petzl Tikkina is the best headlamp available. So, when it comes to making every dollar count, you can’t go wrong with this headlamp.
Biolite Headlamp 330
Most Streamlined Headlamp for Hiking
Batteries: USB Rechargeable 900 mAh lithium-ion
Light Settings: Spot, Red, Flood, and Strobe
Max Brightness (Lumens): 330 Lumens
Run Time: High: 3.5 hrs.; low: 40 hrs.
Weight: 2.43 oz.
PROS: Very slim profile – Comfortable design – Lightweight – Well balanced
CONS: Lower run-time (battery life) – Slightly more expensive than average
CLOSER LOOK: Too many headlamps feel overly bulky or wobbly on the forehead, making them slightly cumbersome for high movement activities – like running or high-intensity hiking. But we have no such problems with the BioLite 330. This headlamp’s profile is incredibly slim and integrated directly into the headband. The result is unparalleled stability, further boosted by having the battery pack in the back to improve balance. It’s slightly more expensive than other options on our list, and the rechargeable batteries don’t quite measure up to the competition, but this is still a fantastic option and one of the best headlamps on the market.
Petzl Bindi Headlamp
Best Ultralight Headlamp
Batteries: USB-rechargeable battery
Light Settings: Spot, Red, and Flood
Max Brightness (Lumens): 200 Lumens
Run Time: [standard] 3 hours, [max power] 2 hours, [red light] 33 hours, [reserve mode] 3 lumens for 1.5 hours
Weight: 1.23 oz. (35 grams)
PROS: Incredibly lightweight – Easily packable
CONS: Lower lumens/brightness – Shorter run time – Fastening cord is less comfortable than a strap
CLOSER LOOK: When every single gram matters, the Bindi Headlamp from Petzl is the clear winner. At only 35 grams, this featherlight headlamp can be stashed anywhere and provides decent light when needed. This headlamp is perfect for ultralight hikers and adventurers or as an emergency backup to your primary light source. Alternatively, the Bindi can also be stashed in a medkit for emergencies. We don’t get the same run-time as other models (only 3 hours with standard use), but in a pinch, the Bindi can be an ideal light source while adding almost zero bulk to your pack.
More Information About Headlamps
Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide to headlamps if you want more information! In this article, we take a close look at specific features, adjustability, lighting colors (blue and green), and lens types.
Why Trust Us?
Choosing the right outdoor gear and apparel can be difficult. But at Wildland Trekking, we live and work with hiking gear every single day. It’s an integral part of what we do, and we understand better than anyone how important it is to have the right equipment. In addition to our vast knowledge of backpacking gear, we also offer:
- Independence – our recommendations are not influenced by partnerships or sponsorships with outdoor gear and apparel manufacturers.
- Experience – as one of America’s top guide companies, we take 8,000-10,000 people on hiking and backpacking tours annually. Since our inception in 2005, we have guided more than 75,000 people into the wilderness.
- Cutting Edge Knowledge – we regularly attend trade shows and pay close attention to the leading edge of new developments.
- Up To Date Recommendations – we update our recommendations regularly as new products are developed and released.
- Dedication to our Readers – we know that the gear we select as our top picks will end up in the field with our readers, and we take that responsibility very seriously. We view our readers as guests on our guided trips, just without the guides. We are committed to helping you be as well-outfitted and prepared as possible for your adventures.
*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links. At no cost to you, we earn a commission on any products purchased through these links. Any proceeds go to supporting our blog and operations. These affiliate links do not influence the products that we include in our gear round-ups. We only recommend products that we 100% support and that we have used in the field.
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