An Expert Guide to Buying a HeadlampPublished on 03/09/2023 · 11 min readA headlamp is a must-have for any camper or hiker! Camping and Hiking Expert Hunter Reed breaks down everything you'd need to know when shopping for a headlamp!
Photo courtesy of Hunter Reed
Choosing a headlamp for camping, running, or any other type of adventure is important, as it can greatly affect your safety and enjoyment during your camping trip. There are a lot of considerations when deciding which headlamp to go with, including brightness, beam distance, battery type, and price.
I have tried my fair share of headlamps as an avid lifelong camper. I have tried some that I love for camping but hate for trail running, and I have tried some that I love for trail running but wouldn’t recommend for backpacking. You get the point. With so many feature options, lumen ratings, types of batteries, and more, it can be overwhelming to figure out which headlamp will work for your specific activity.
As important as headlamps are, you don’t want to find out as the sun is setting at your campsite that your headlamp is too complicated, not bright enough, or doesn’t have a feature that you need. So check out the guide below to better understand what you should look for in a headlamp!
What Is a Headlamp?
A headlamp is a sort of flashlight worn around your forehead that provides hands-free lighting so you can navigate your way around your campsite, cook meals, read maps, and even hike in low-light conditions.
What to Consider When Buying a Headlamp
What Activities Will You Be Using the Headlamp?
The first question to ask yourself is what you will use the headlamp for. Different activities require different types of headlamps.
If you are going camping, you may want a headlamp with long battery life and adjustable brightness settings. If you are going trail running, you may want a lightweight headlamp with a strong beam to help you navigate uneven terrain. Finally, if you are doing close-up work like reading or cooking, you may want a headlamp with a dimmer setting or a red light mode to avoid blinding yourself or others.
How Long Do You Need the Battery to Last?
Battery life is another important consideration. Some headlamps have a longer battery life than others, which is especially important if you plan to use the headlamp for extended periods of time. Consider how long you will be using the headlamp, and choose one with a battery that can last for the duration of your trip. You may also want to look for a headlamp with a rechargeable battery, which can be more convenient and cost-effective in the long run. We will talk more about different types of batteries below!
What Is Your Budget?
Finally, it's important to consider your budget when buying a headlamp. Headlamps can range in price from under $20 to over $200, depending on the features and quality. Consider what features are most important to you and how much you are willing to spend. Keep in mind that a higher-priced headlamp may offer more features and better quality, but it may not be necessary for your specific needs.
What Are the Different Types of Headlamps?
There are several types of headlamps on the market, each with its own benefits and downsides.
Standard LED Headlamps
Standard LED headlamps are the most common and basic type of headlamp. They are often used for general camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities that aren't overly technical. Benefits:
- Long-lasting battery life: Standard LED headlamps can have a battery life of up to 200 hours, making them ideal for extended trips.
- Affordable: Standard LED headlamps are often less expensive than other headlamps, making them a great option for those on a budget.
- Limited brightness: Standard LED headlamps can sometimes have limited brightness.
- Bulky: Some standard LED headlamps can be bulky and heavy, making them uncomfortable to wear for extended periods or during an activity like trail running.
High-Powered LED Headlamps
High-powered LED headlamps are designed for activities that require more brightness, such as caving or climbing. They use LED lights, similar to the standard LED headlamps, but they operate at a higher power providing more light. Benefits:
- Strong beam: High-powered LED headlamps can have a beam that reaches up to 200 meters, making them suitable for activities that require long-range visibility.
- Brightness adjustment: Many high-powered LED headlamps come with adjustable brightness settings, allowing you to conserve battery life when you don't need maximum brightness.
- Short battery life: High-powered LED headlamps typically have a shorter battery life than standard LED headlamps due to the increased brightness.
- Expensive: High-powered LED headlamps are often more expensive than standard ones, making them a less accessible option for some people.
Rechargeable headlamps are becoming more popular due to their convenience and eco-friendliness. Benefits:
- Cost-effective: Over time, rechargeable headlamps can be more cost-effective than buying replacement batteries for standard headlamps.
- Eco-friendly: Rechargeable headlamps are better for the environment, as they reduce the number of disposable batteries that end up in landfills.
- Limited battery life: Rechargeable headlamps typically have a shorter battery life than standard LED headlamps, so you may need to recharge them more frequently.
- Longer charging time: Rechargeable headlamps can take longer to charge than replacing the batteries in a standard headlamp.
Hybrid headlamps are designed to give users the best of both worlds—the convenience of rechargeable batteries with the option to use disposable batteries as a backup. Benefits:
- Versatility: Hybrid headlamps offer the convenience of a rechargeable battery with the ability to switch to disposable batteries when necessary.
- Longer battery life: By switching between rechargeable and disposable batteries, hybrid headlamps can offer a longer battery life than rechargeable or standard LED headlamps alone.
- More expensive: Hybrid headlamps are often more expensive than standard LED headlamps due to their hybrid functionality.
- Additional maintenance: Hybrid headlamps require more maintenance than standard LED headlamps, as users need to monitor and switch between rechargeable and disposable batteries.
Features to Look Out for When Buying a Headlamp
The brightness of a headlamp is measured in lumens, and it is an important factor to consider when choosing a headlamp for camping. The number of lumens you need will depend on the activities you plan to do and the conditions you will be camping in. For example, if you plan to hike or navigate in low-light conditions, you will want a headlamp with a higher lumen output.
A lower lumen output may be sufficient if you plan to use your headlamp mainly for tasks around your campsite. Most headlamps range in brightness from 50-1000 lumens, with some models reaching up to 3000 lumens.
The beam distance of a headlamp refers to how far the light will reach, and it is another important factor to consider when choosing a headlamp for your adventures. For example, if you plan to hike or navigate in the dark, you will want a headlamp with a longer beam distance. On the other hand, if you plan to use your headlamp mainly for tasks around your campsite, a shorter beam distance may be sufficient. Most headlamps have a beam distance that ranges from 20-150 meters.
The battery life of a headlamp is also an important consideration, as it affects how long you can use your headlamp without needing to replace or recharge the batteries. Most headlamps use either disposable batteries or are rechargeable via a micro USB or USB-C port, and the battery life will vary depending on the brightness and settings of the headlamp.
A headlamp with a longer battery life will be more convenient, as you won't need to replace or recharge the batteries as frequently. For some activities, such as backpacking, having a headlamp with disposable batteries might be more convenient. Weight-wise, it's more convenient to toss a backup set of disposable AAA batteries in your pack than to bring a battery pack to use on a rechargeable headlamp.
Since your headlamp will be exposed to the elements, durability is something to consider. Look for water-resistant or waterproof headlamps to protect the headlamp from rain or snow. Headlamps with sturdy construction and durable materials will also be more resistant to wear and tear from outdoor activities.
You will likely be wearing your headlamp for extended periods. Therefore, look for lightweight headlamps with comfortable straps or bands. Adjustability in the strap or headband will allow you to customize the fit of the headlamp for maximum comfort.
Headlamps come with a variety of features that can enhance their functionality and convenience. Some popular features to look for include:
- Red light mode: Putting your headlamp in the red-light setting helps to preserve your night vision and is less disruptive to others around you. Most headlamps have this!
- Strobe mode: Strobe mode can help increase your visibility to others in emergencies. The flashing light is more eye-catching and can help signal for help or draw attention to your location. Similarly, strobe mode can be useful for runners or cyclists since their visibility to others can reduce the risk of accidents and increase their overall safety.
- Dimming feature: This allows you to adjust the brightness of the headlamp to conserve battery life or adjust to changing conditions.
- Lock mode: This prevents the headlamp from accidentally turning on and draining the batteries when not in use.
- Tilt function: This allows you to adjust the angle of the headlamp to direct the beam of light where you need it.
- Buttons: Lastly, headlamps all have different designs on their buttons. If you use your headlamp for cold-weather camping, ice climbing, or sunrise ski touring, you'll want to ensure you can easily use the buttons with gloves on.
Price is a consideration when choosing a headlamp for camping, as headlamps can range from under $20 to over $200. Consider your budget and the features you need when choosing a headlamp. Keep in mind that investing in a high-quality headlamp will provide you with a reliable and long-lasting source investing in a high-quality headlamp will provide you with a reliable and long-lasting source of light during your camping trips.
How to Choose the Right Headlamp for You
Danielle: Trail Runner
Danielle is an avid trail runner. She is looking for a compact headlamp to toss in her running vest. She runs at all times of the year, including when she wears gloves in the winter. Features Danielle should look for:
- Bright beam to see obstacles on the trail
- Single button for simplicity and ease of use with gloved hands
A recommended option for Danielle:
- BioLite Headlamp 750: This headlamp is designed for outdoor activities and has a brightness of 750 lumens. It also features a reflective headband for increased visibility and a moisture-wicking fabric that keeps you cool and dry during intense activities. In addition, the BioLite Headlamp 750 is rechargeable and has a battery life of up to 150 hours on low mode.
Ben: Car Camper
Ben typically goes car camping and likes to bring all the high-tech devices with him on camping trips, such as a power bank to charge devices. However, he primarily uses his headlamp to cook meals, walk around camp at night, and read in his tent. Features Ben should look for:
- Different light settings, such as a dimming feature or red light so as not to blind himself or others around camp
- Rechargeable battery to save money in the long run
A recommended option for Ben:
- Fenix HM65R Headlamp: This headlamp has a brightness of up to 1400 lumens and features a rechargeable battery that a USB-C port can power. It also has a waterproof rating of IP68, which means it can be submerged in water up to 2 meters deep for up to 30 minutes. The Fenix HM65R Headlamp also features multiple light modes and a lock mode to prevent accidental battery drainage.
Cooper is a backpacker. He typically likes to pack as light as he can but wants the best quality products so they last for a long time under extreme conditions. Features Cooper should look for:
- Disposable AAA or AA batteries
- Dimmable feature
- Something with good light quality, whether he's using it on bright mode while on the trail or dim mode to cook dinner at night
- Lightweight to carry in his pack when not in use
A recommended option for Cooper:
- Black Diamond Spot Headlamp: This headlamp is lightweight and has a brightness of 300 lumens. It also has a waterproof rating of IPX8, which means it can be submerged in water up to 1.1 meters deep for up to 30 minutes. The Black Diamond Spot also features multiple light modes, a red light mode, and a lock mode to prevent accidental battery drainage.
Ultimately, the best headlamp for you will depend on your individual needs, the types of activities you like, and your preferences. Consider the factors above to narrow down your options, but if you are still unsure about the perfect headlamp, reach out to one of our Camping and Hiking Experts here at Curated, and we would be happy to help!