There are plenty of good reasons to own a quality headlamp—for taking an early morning jog, pitching a tent under the stars, or fixing a leaky pipe under the sink, to name a few.
Headlamps consist of a small battery-powered LED light that rests against your forehead, held in place by an adjustable strap. These head-mounted flashlights free up your hands for other tasks while directing a strong and steady beam of light in front of you.
Though tiny, the best headlamps have powerful LED lamps capable of casting beams of light hundreds of feet away. These headlamps often have more controls than a standard on/off button. The best headlamp allows you to adjust the brightness, beam size, and even the color of the light. Read on for additional information about headlamps, including tips on the best headlamps to buy.
- BEST OVERALL: PETZL, ACTIK CORE Headlamp
- RUNNER-UP: Fenix HM50R 500 Lumens Multi-Purpose LED Headlamp
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: PETZL TIKKINA Headlamp, 250 Lumens
- BEST FOR WORK SITE: Princeton Tec Remix LED Headlamp
- BEST FOR RUNNING: BioLite Headlamp 330
- BEST HIGH PERFORMANCE: Cobiz Headlamp Flashlight USB Rechargeable
- BEST RECHARGEABLE: Nitecore NU25 360 Lumen Triple Output Headlamp
- BEST WATERPROOF: ThruNite TH20 520 Lumen CREE XP-L LED Headlamp
- BEST FOR BRIGHTNESS: SLONIK 1000 Rechargeable 2x CREE LED Headlamp
- BEST FOR CAMPING: Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Types of Headlamps
Before deciding which headlamp is best for you, take a moment to consider how you’ll be using it. Do you plan to break it out when camping, jogging at night, or working? The best headlamps accommodate different activities.
Built to withstand the everyday abuse of the work site, many industrial headlamps are made of durable aluminum. They typically have neoprene straps and clips designed to fit around and attach to a hard hat or helmet. Industrial headlamps produce a light output that ranges from 200 to 500 lumens, enough to cast a beam up to 700 feet away. Most have multiple brightness modes to optimize lighting levels for various types of tasks.
You can use a general purpose headlamp for a range of activities, from camping to hobbies to jogging. Usually less expensive than other types of headlamps, they use disposable or rechargeable batteries. General purpose headlamps don’t offer the powerful output of some other headlamps, but their brightness output ranges between 200 lumens to 350 lumens, capable of sending light up to 600 feet away.
Quality general purpose headlamps have multiple settings, so you can adjust their brightness levels and beam shape. They’re lightweight, typically weighing around 3 ounces with batteries, which makes them comfortable for long use and a wide variety of activities. Their plastic construction provides a moderate level of weather resistance.
Tactical headlamps are designed to meet first responders’ needs as well as members of law enforcement, hunters, and military personnel. Their powerful lamps produce 1,000 lumens or more, which enables them to cast beams of light up to 900 feet.
Like general purpose headlamps, tactical headlamps have multiple brightness settings. You’ll also find color options to optimize your night vision: red, blue, and green. Tactical headlamps come in a variety of shapes and sizes designed to mount onto different parts of a helmet. While general purpose headlamps are made of plastic, tactical headlamps are constructed with aluminum, which improves their durability and allows them to endure extreme wet, cold, and heat.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Headlamp
To find the best headlamp to light up your life, consider several factors: lumens, adjustable brightness levels, power, and beam type.
Lumens are a measure of a lamp’s light output. Put simply, the more lumens, the brighter the headlamp. For most purposes, a headlamp that can emit 300 lumens provides plenty of light. That’s enough to light up a small room or spot something at 50 yards—half a football field away!
That said, on some occasions, you’ll need more power. Headlamps capable of radiating 300 to 600 lumens are ideal for camping and industrial use. Those that eclipse 1,000 lumens produce a tremendous amount of light, which means they’re used primarily by emergency services personnel and the military.
While lumens are important, keep in mind that headlamps with a higher lumen output will go through batteries more quickly or have to be charged more frequently.
The ability to adjust the brightness on the headlamp to fit the situation is a critical feature. Although an ultra-bright 600-lumen headlamp may allow you to spot nocturnal wildlife from hundreds of yards away, your campmates probably won’t appreciate being blinded every time you turn toward them. Quality headlamps offer different brightness settings that allow you to fine-tune the amount of light that the headlamp emits at any given time.
Many headlamps include a red light mode, which helps preserve your eyes’ natural night vision while still providing light. Red lights also provide visibility without attracting every insect in the forest or blinding your companions.
Some tactical headlamps also include blue and green modes. Like red light, blue light adds visibility at night while preserving your night vision. If you’re hunting at night, blue light causes blood to glow, allowing you to more easily track a wounded animal. Since our eyes are most sensitive to green light, headlamps that use a green LED improve visual acuity at night.
Some headlamps include a strobe mode, ideal for making you visible to traffic when you’re jogging at night or in low light environments.
Beam Type and Distance
Most headlamps offer two beam types: spotlight and floodlight. A spotlight creates a narrow beam that allows you to spot objects at great distances, making it ideal for running or hiking. A floodlight beam diffuses the light into a wider area, providing ample light for such tasks as cooking or pitching a tent.
Standard disposable or rechargeable batteries provide power for headlamps.
- Disposable batteries: Many headlamps use AA or AAA batteries, which are available in both alkaline and lithium. Lithium batteries have a clear advantage: They’re about 30 percent lighter and last up to eight times longer than standard alkaline batteries. In addition, they perform better in extreme heat and cold. The downside is the cost, which is significantly more than alkaline batteries.
- Rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries: Since they can be charged and reused repeatedly, rechargeable batteries have more value. They also release their energy at a constant rate. While a battery-powered headlamp will begin to dim as its disposable batteries wear out, the light from a headlamp with rechargeable batteries remains stable through the life of the charge. However, rechargeable batteries have downsides: They lose their charge more rapidly than disposable batteries during idle periods, and they initially cost more. Eventually, after a certain number of recharges, rechargeable batteries will hold less charge.
If you plan to use your headlamp outside, weather resistance is an important consideration. If a manufacturer claims a product is waterproof, it must be assigned an IPX code, an international standard that specifies the product’s resistance to dust and water.
Headlamp IPX ratings begin with 4; a 4 rating means the headlamp can repel water well enough to endure light rain and humid conditions. With an IPX rating of 8, you can submerge the headlamp for up to 30 minutes in water, and it will emerge unscathed. While IPX4 is sufficient for most users, when you’re deciding which headlamp to purchase, consider the weather conditions and environment in the areas where you plan to use it.
Strapped to your head, a headlamp can feel bulky and uncomfortable, so its weight is another important consideration. While all headlamps are generally lightweight, some are lighter than others. Most headlamps weigh around 3 or 4 ounces including the weight of the battery. However, high-powered models with external battery packs, multiple lamps, and extra straps can weigh well over 4 ounces. Headlamps designed for jogging and other activities that require a lot of movement can weigh less than 3 ounces, but they aren’t as powerful.
Comfort and Fit
A headlamp can have all the lumens and fancy light modes in the world, but that won’t amount to much if it’s uncomfortable to wear. A quality headlamp includes a strap that allows you to adjust it to your head size. Look for a strap made of durable moisture-wicking material that will remain dry and not slip as you move. If you plan to wear the headlamp while jogging, its weight should be balanced to prevent it from bouncing or shifting as you run. Heavier headlamps intended for tactical use incorporate top straps into their design to add stability.
Many headlamps offer additional useful features, such as regulated output, tilt options, and lockable on–off switches. Regulated output enables the batteries to deliver a steady amount of light throughout the life of the battery rather than slowly fading as the battery loses power. While this is a nice feature, keep in mind that once the batteries are exhausted, you may experience a total black-out with no advanced warning.
Some headlamps feature a tilt option that allows the user to adjust the headlamp up and down 90 degrees. Other options include lockable switches that prevent, for example, the headlamp from accidentally getting turned on in your backpack.
Our Top Picks
Our list of top-rated products includes headlamps that offer exceptional durability, brightness, and comfort for a variety of purposes.
With its lightweight, durable construction, versatile beams, and powerful lamp, this headlamp from trusted outdoor gear manufacturer Petzl won’t leave you in the dark. Powered by Petzl’s CORE battery, this lamp produces 450 lumens. The battery, which offers up to 160 hours of run time, recharges via a micro USB port.
The Actik features two beam patterns, wide and mixed, and the red light option provides light to preserve your night vision. The durable strap fits snugly but allows for adjustments. At 2.65 ounces, this lightweight headlamp is ideal for a host of activities, including camping, running, and cycling.
A bright headlamp with rechargeable batteries and plenty of light modes and options makes this an excellent headlamp choice, whether you’re camping deep in the backwoods or fixing a leaky pipe under your bathroom sink. Fenix outfits this headlamp with a mighty 500-lumen LED, which can project a beam up to 87 yards.
A large button on the headlamp’s side allows you to cycle quickly through its four light settings: turbo, high, medium, and low. A rechargeable battery, which charges via a USB cable, provides up to 28 hours of light on the medium setting. With a total weight under 3 ounces, this headlamp is extremely lightweight. Its durable aluminum construction means this headlamp earns an IPX8 water-resistance rating.
This headlamp may not have the high power or bells and whistles of some of the higher-priced headlamps, but it will get the job done. Sometimes, all you need is a reliable headlamp to put some light on the subject without costing a lot, and that’s exactly what you get with the Petzl Tikkina.
While its 250-lumen lamp may not offer the power of more expensive headlamps, it provides plenty of light for early morning jogs and nighttime navigation of the campsite. A durable, easily adjustable headband fits snugly to the head. The Tikkina runs on three AAA batteries, or you can use it with Petzl’s Core rechargeable battery.
Range, durability, and versatility are all requirements when using a headlamp at a work site. You must be able to see what you’re doing, whether that means working at close range or spotting something at a distance. This headlamp from Princeton fulfills those requirements and more. It features a bright 300-lumen lamp with both wide- and narrow-beam capabilities.
The three AAA batteries it runs on are included, and they’ll last up to 150 hours. The lamp also features three additional colors—red, blue, and green. With an IPX4 rating, this headlamp is also water-resistant. An adjustable durable strap allows you to wear the headlamp directly on your head or expand it to fit a hard hat or helmet
For those early morning and late evening jogs, you need a headlamp that will remain stable on your forehead, allowing you to see and be seen. Many headlamps bounce with each stride, but the BioLite has integrated features and technology specifically designed to combat this problem. Its lightweight design—at less than 2.5 ounces, it’s one of the lightest headlamps on the market—small profile and balanced weight distribution keep it positioned just where you need it.
The band’s moisture-wicking composition keeps you dry and comfortable during your run, while adjustable clips allow for a correct fit. On low power, this rechargeable lamp provides up to 40 hours of battery life and 3.5 hours on high.
With three separate LEDs that produce a staggering 6,000 lumens, this headlamp from Cobiz offers maximum visibility for a variety of nighttime activities. This versatile headlamp is loaded with options and features. Adjust the light to four different settings: low, medium, high, and strobe.
The lamp tilts up to 90 degrees with a zoom feature that allows you to adjust the light for wide coverage or a narrower, more focused beam. An adjustable band ensures correct fit and comfort while the headlamp’s IPX4 waterproof design keeps it going through the rain. Recharge your Cobiz headlamp with a micro-USB connector.
This powerful rechargeable headlamp from Nitecore features an impressive 360-lumen headlamp and three light types: white, red, and high color rendering index (CRI). The 20-lumen CRI setting enhances the color and details on objects, so they appear more natural.
Weighing just 2 ounces including the battery, this headlamp is lightweight and compact. A convenient battery power indicator light lets you know how much charge remains on the unit. Its IPX6 water-resistance rating means it can withstand heavy rainstorms.
Its waterproof metal construction makes this one of the most durable headlamps on the market. While most headlamps are made of plastic, the ThruNite TH20 520 is fabricated from high-grade aluminum, which means it’s exceptionally durable. With an IPX8 rating, this headlamp will withstand full submersion in water for up to 30 minutes.
The TH20 operates off of a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or a AA battery. It features five light settings: low, medium, high, turbo, and “firefly,” which produces low-level light for preserving night vision. For emergency situations, the TH20’s settings also include an SOS signaling mode. The wide elastic band is easily adjustable, which allows you to wear it comfortably on your head or expand it to fit a hard hat or helmet.
When you’re wearing the Slonik 1000, you may feel as if the power of the sun is on your forehead. The headlamp boasts a powerful 1,000-lumen LED that’s capable of producing a 600-foot beam. Its impact-resistant IPX8-rated waterproof aluminum shell provides durability and reliability.
An adjustable headband offers a snug, comfortable fit, while you can fine-tune the swivel lamp up and down by 90 degrees. Two separate LEDs offer spot and broad light modes, and simply pressing a button allows you to cycle through six different brightness levels, ranging from 5 percent to 100 percent. This headlamp includes a charging cable as well as clips for mounting the band to a hard hat or helmet.
Featuring 350 lumens of lighting power and multiple lighting modes, this is an excellent headlamp for overnight outdoor adventures. The Black Diamond includes red, green, and blue LEDs for a variety of night-vision activities. It also features multiple dimming settings as well as a strobe setting for emergency situations or for those times when you need to be visible to traffic.
One-touch controls allow you to switch between full and dim power without having to cycle through to full power, which can be hard on the eyes. The headlamp is IPX8 rated, which means it will survive in up to a meter of water for at least 30 minutes. The Black Diamond uses four AAA batteries.
FAQ About Your New Headlamp
If you still have lingering questions, in this section, we’ll enlighten you by covering the most common concerns when you’re shopping for the best headlamp for your needs.
Q. What is a headlamp used for?
With their ability to light up a workspace while allowing you to keep your hands free, headlamps are useful in a variety of different situations. Recreational uses include camping, hiking, cycling, and jogging. Headlamps also are a valuable tool on many work sites. A plumber or electrician may use a headlamp to provide light while working in dark places, and emergency workers and military personnel use headlamps for nighttime operations.
Q. How many lumens are emitted by a good headlamp?
For general use, a headlamp with a maximum brightness of 300 lumens provides plenty of light. This is enough lumens to project a beam up to 50 yards away, which is sufficient to light a small room.
Q. How many lumens do I need for night hiking?
About 100 to 200 lumens provides adequate lighting on a normal hike at an average pace. While you’ll likely only need about 50 lumens for most of the hike, extra light comes in handy when locating a trail.
Q. Why do headlamps have red lights?
Red lights allow you to maintain your night vision, but they still provide enough light that you can perform brief, simple tasks in the dark. While bright white light allows for better visibility, it causes your pupils to shrink, significantly impairing your natural night vision. Red light also won’t blind other people in your group.