We tested the best headlamps on the market today. Read on to see what we found and which one is best fro you, along with some buying advice.
Note: we are NOT talking about high-powered lanterns designed to brighten up the family campsite nor beam-like spotlights designed to shine on distant wildlife. We are specifically talking about ultralight headlamps designed for long-distance backpacking.
Table of Contents
The best headlamps are:
- Best Overall Headlamp: BLACK DIAMOND SPOT 350
- Best Ultralight Headlamp: NITECORE NU25
- Best Headlamp for Trail Runners: BIOLITE 330
- Best Rechargeable Headlamp: PETZL ACTIK CORE
- Most Versatile Headlamp: PETZL IKO
- Best Budget Headlamp: FOXELLI MX200
- Brightest Headlamp: FENIX HM50R 2.0
- Best Budget Rechargeable Headlamp: MONOPRICE PURE OUTDOOR
|MODEL||Weight||Lumens||Beam Distance||Run Time||PRICE||SCORE|
|1. Black Diamond Spot 350||3 oz||350||86 m||Low = 200 hours, High = 3.7 hours||$39.95||8/10|
|2. Nitecore NU25||1 oz||360||81 m||Low = 160 hours. Standard = 8 hours, High = 5 hours, Turbo = 30 mins||$44.35||8/10|
|3. BioLite 330||2.4 oz||330||75 m||Low = 40 hours, High = 3.5 hours||$59.95||8/10|
|4. Petzl ACTIK CORE||3.1 oz||600||100 m||Low = 100 hours, Average = 7 hours, High = 2 hours||$74.95||8/10|
|5. Petzl IKO||3.2 oz||350||80 m||Low = 100 hours, Average = 8 hours, High = 2 hours||$74.95||8/10|
|6. Petzl BINDI||1.2 oz||200||36 m||Low = 50 hours, Average = 3 hours, High = 2 hours||$44.95||8/10|
|7. Petzl TIKKA||3.3 oz||350||70 m||Low = 110 hours, Average = 12 hours, High = 2 hours||$29.95||8/10|
|8. Foxelli MX200||2.4 oz||180||91 m||Up to 40 hours||$19.97||7/10|
|9. Fenix HM50R V2.0||2.7 oz||700||115 m||Low = 42 hours, Medium = 8 hours, High = 3 hours, Turbo = 1 hour||$80||7/10|
|10. Monoprice Pure Outdoor||2.2 oz||215||150 m||2.5 hours high||$14.99||7/10|
|11. Princeton Tec Axis||2.9 oz||450||35 m||15 hours||$59.99||7/10|
✅ Long battery life
- Weight: 3 oz
- Lumens: 350
- Beam Distance: 86 m
- Run Time: Low = 200 hours, High = 3.7 hours
At just $40 we find the Black Diamond Spot 350 to be a great value. We think this tiny palm-sized light is perfect for trail runners and hikers who are looking for a reliable, basic headlamp without all the extras. It has a remarkably long battery life, the longest on our list, powered by 3 AAAs.
At 350 lumens and an 86m beam distance, the Spot 350 performs as well as more expensive models. At 3 ounces, we find the weight to be a little heavier than we’d like. Because of its strong combination of price and long battery life, the Black Diamond Spot 350 is our pick as the best headlamp for hiking.
✅ Fast charging
❌ Short run time
- Weight: 1 oz
- Lumens: 360
- Beam Distance: 81 m
- Run Time: Low = 160 hours. Standard = 8 hours, High = 5 hours, Turbo = 30 mins
The Nitecore NU25 is a headlamp that charges in a record time of 2 hours, making it one of our best rechargeable headlamps. The most notable feature is its thimble-light 1-ounce weight, the lightest on our list.
We like 360 Lumens of power and beam distance that will reach just about the length of a football field. For such a small package we like that it offers 10 different lighting options including low light, harsh light, on the hunt, or ‘in distress,’ just to name a few.
Our biggest gripe is the short run time. At just 30 minutes on high, this is the lowest on our list. But with 160 hours on the low setting, we would be fine taking this on a longer trip where intense light isn’t needed. For example, using mainly in your tent or around camp. This is our top pick for the best ultralight headlamp.
✅ Long run time
❌ Confusing settings
- Weight: 2.4 oz
- Lumens: 330
- Beam Distance: 75 m
- Run Time: Low = 40 hours, High = 3.5 hours
Upon first glance, you’ll notice this rechargeable headlamp is different from the rest. With its slim-fit construction and light built right into the adjustable strap, this headlamp sits flush against your forehead. We found this minimizes bouncing, making this our best headlamp for trail runners.
We like the lightweight and long run time. We wish it was brighter. The 330 lumens are slightly less than the other models we tested. For us, the light settings (red, spot, strobe, etc) were not intuitive. However, after watching this video, it all made sense ;)
✅ Long beam distance
- Weight: 3.1 oz
- Lumens: 600
- Beam Distance: 100 m
- Run Time: Low = 100 hours, Average = 7 hours, High = 2 hours
The Actik Core from Petzl is a must-have headlamp if you are moving fast through the woods and need maximum brightness and beam distance. We’re voting this our best rechargeable headlamp. We love the multi-beam light (flood and spot) offers a whopping 600 lumens and has a reflective headband that lets you see and be seen. We like that the Actik Core has a USB rechargeable battery pack and can be powered by AAAs as well.
We found it to be simple to use. A single button on the top allows you to switch between different light levels and both red and white modes. It also has regulated battery power which means the light will maintain its brightness and not dim as the battery drains. The biggest downside for us is the price, the second highest on our list. It is also on the heavier side of the models we tested.
✅ Good battery life
- Weight: 3.2 oz
- Lumens: 350
- Beam Distance: 80 m
- Run Time: Low = 100 hours, Average = 8 hours, High = 2 hours
The Petzl IKO looks like no other headlamp out there. We found the weight was evenly distributed on our heads making it comfortable and allowing us to wear it for hours on end. We found it to be the most versatile model we tested. It can be worn around the neck, used as a freestanding lantern, or wrapped around a branch as a mounted spotlight.
You can power it using three AAA batteries or using the compatible CORE rechargeable battery instead. The beam distance, lumens, and run time are slightly better than the average compared to the other models we tested. The price and the weight are both the second highest on our list.
Best Budget Headlamp:
Price: $19.97See on AMAZON
✅ Long runtime
❌ Low lumens
- Weight: 2.4 oz
- Lumens: 180
- Beam Distance: 91 m
- Run Time: Up to 40 hours
Paired with not only one, but two micro USB cables, the Foxelli rechargeable headlamp has 3 different white and 2 LED red light options. What we are most impressed with is what you get for the minimal $20 price tag. We love the long run time and the generous beam distance. The weight also is on the lighter side compared to the other models we tested.
We found the adjustable strap also makes for a comfortable fit and we like that the on/off/light setting button is easily accessible at the top of the headlamp. The main downfall we found with this light was the lumens. With only 180 lumens it is the lowest on our list. We wouldn’t recommend this in situations where lots of bright light is needed. For trips when a headlamp is needed mainly around camp and in the tent, this is our best budget headlamp.
✅ Very bright
✅ Long beam distance
❌ Short battery life
- Weight: 2.7 oz
- Lumens: 700
- Beam Distance: 115 m
- Run Time: Low = 42 hours, Medium = 8 hours, High = 3 hours, Turbo = 1 hour
Lightweight, built with a nearly indestructible body, and the most waterproof option on our list, the Fenix releases a beam that will reach a whopping 115m. We’re more than impressed with the 700-lumen output, more than double the average model we tested.
We found it to be lighter than we’d expect for such a bright light thanks to its construction from aircraft-grade aluminum. The biggest tradeoff for all the power is the run time. At 1 hour on high, this is one of the shortest on our list. It’s also the most expensive. But if you need light, and lots of it, this is our pick for the brightest headlamp.
Best Budget Rechargeable Headlamp:
MONOPRICE PURE OUTDOOR
Price: $14.99See on AMAZON
✅ Long beam distance
❌ Low lumens
❌ Short run time
- Weight: 2.2 oz
- Lumens: 215
- Beam Distance: 150 m
- Run Time: 2.5 hours high
Weighing a meager 2.2 oz and a cost of just $15, this is the least expensive headlamp we tested. We found this rechargeable headlamp puts out the longest distance of light too, a remarkable 150m. While we found the feature set to be minimal, it does include glow-in-the-dark control buttons and a red-light mode for nocturnal quests.
We wish the run time was longer. The 215 lumens isn’t the worst we tested but it’s close. Still, if you’re on a budget, this is our pick for the best rechargeable headlamp.
The Other Noteworthy Models
❌ Low lumens
❌ Short beam distance
- Weight: 1.2 oz
- Lumens: 200
- Beam Distance: 36 m
- Run Time: Low = 50 hours, Average = 3 hours, High = 2 hours
Super compact and ultra-lightweight, the Petzl Bindi entire USB rechargeable headlamp is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It’s held in place by two adjustable elastic cords instead of the traditional headband. Although cords might sound unreliable, we found they make for a comfortable and secure fit.
We like the “reserve” mode, which stores 3 lumens of light for an extra 1.5 hours after the batteries run dry. It also has an emergency red strobe that’s visible for 400 meters and will run for 200 hours.
There are trade-offs for the 1.2-ounce weight. One limitation we noticed was the 200-lumen output, the second lowest on our list. The beam distance of 36m is also the second lowest on our list. We recommend this headlamp for urban running or tamer hikes.
- Weight: 3.3 oz
- Lumens: 350
- Beam Distance: 70 m
- Run Time: Low = 110 hours, Average = 12 hours, High = 2 hours
We found the Petzl Tikka to be a solid, no-frills option for backpackers wanting a reliable headlamp for hiking. It has a standard single elastic headband, average weight, and a top-mounted button to switch between power modes and turn on red or white lighting.
It delivers good battery life and runs right in the middle of our list for beam distance and lumen output. At $30 it performs just as well as the more expensive models, we tested, making this a solid budget buy. What we don’t like about this headlamp is the weight. It’s the heaviest on our list.
Princeton Tec Axis
Price: $59.99See on AMAZON
✅ Long warranty
❌ Short run time
❌ Short beam distance
- Weight: 2.9 oz
- Lumens: 450
- Beam Distance: 35 m
- Run Time: 15 hours
Designed for activities such as hunting, hiking, and caving in mind, the Princeton Tec Axis is a well-designed, power-packed rechargeable headlamp. We love the 450-lumen output, the third brightest on our list. We found the large side push button and dial let you dim or brighten each light setting.
We like that the rechargeable battery guarantees up to 1000 charges and it comes with a 5-year limited warranty. One disappointment for us is the short run time. On high power, it lasts just over an hour. On low only lasts for 15 hours. It also has the shortest beam distance of all the models we tested.
Key Factors To Consider When Choosing
Most headlamps will weigh anywhere between 2-4 oz. Much of this weight is batteries, especially disposable batteries (and potentially the weight of carrying a spare set). Rechargeable batteries tend to weigh less and can charge off a USB cable. Handy if you’re already bringing a battery bank for your phone. We recommend a weight of 3 oz or less (including batteries).
The lightest headlamp:
Headlamps vary widely in price. Often a cheaper headlamp will perform just fine. Especially if you’re hiking during long summer days when you might only need the headlamp for a short time each day. Premium headlamps are durable, more water resistant, and will last a long time. We recommend buying a headlamp that uses rechargeable batteries which can save you money over the long run.
Headlamps that provide the greatest value:
Premium headlamps (most expensive):
Lumens are also used to measure the amount of light a headlamp puts out. One lumen is a standard unit of measurement equivalent to the amount of light a single candle emits during a single second. The higher the lumens, the more light your headlamp emits.
We recommend at least 100 lumens for a headlamp. Keep in mind headlamps with high lumens come with an Achilles heel, their batteries can drain at an alarmingly fast rate.
Headlamps that provide the most lumens:
BATTERY LIFE (RUN TIME)
You want a headlamp that can last your whole trip and still have juice in an emergency situation. Most headlamps let you adjust the intensity of the beam, and thus, adjust the rate at which the battery is drained (aka “run time”). We recommend a minimum of 2 hours on the highest setting and 20 hours on low mode.
Headlamps that provide the longest runtime:
Other Things to Consider
AT LEAST 10M
Beam distance measures how far the light goes. The beam distance of a headlamp can range from as low as 10 meters up to a whopping 200 meters. However, the standard max beam distance offered in both rechargeable and disposable battery headlamps these days is between 50 and 100 meters.
The light from your headlamp can be emitted in any direction. As you can imagine, a 70-lumen light bulb will emit light very differently than a 70-lumen spotlight. This is where beam distance matters. Besides direction, the battery life and lumen count of your headlamp will also affect the overall beam distance.
80% of of the time your headlamp will be used to illuminate small items in close range—gear in the tent or food while cooking, for example. The other 20% of the time your headlamp will be used for short walks at night. Therefore, you want to opt for a headlamp that will light up things nearby and illuminate the trail at night only when need be.
Your headlamp will be used for short walks but not full on hiking at night. A short walk might be going to fill up at the water source, use the bathroom, find firewood, etc. Usually, you will be at camp before nightfall and not hiking for miles in the dark.
Hiking at night can be fun... and totally necessary during an emergency. But, these will not be the main uses for your headlamp and you should not buy one for these less common circumstances. However, what you'll need depends on how much night hiking you plan on doing. If night hiking, having a strong beam can really help cut through dense fog, identify slippery rocks on stream crossings, or assess the slope of the trail.
SPOTLIGHT, FLOODLIGHT, RED LIGHT, AND STROBE
Another great feature of headlamps is their adjustable beam settings. There are many options to fit all your night-time lighting needs. Here are the most common settings and what they were designed for:
Spotlight: The spot setting provides a high-intensity and sharp beam of light—like the spotlight from a theater performance. This setting provides the farthest and most direct beam of light available for a headlamp. This setting is ideal for seeing long distances.
Floodlight: The floodlight setting illuminates the area directly around you. It provides low-intensity and broad light—like the lightbulb from a lamp. It’s less bright overall compared to the spotlight and is best for close-up activities like maneuvering around camp, reading, writing, or working on projects.
Red: This setting is very low-intensity and, therefore, drains a minimal amount of battery. Lots of hikers use the red light instead of the normal white LED for that reason. The dim red light might feel a bit strange at first like you are in a military operation, but you'll soon get used to it. Like the floodlight, is best used in close proximity while also saving on battery life.
Signal Beacon: The signal beacon setting (aka the ‘strobe action’) puts out a red blinking light. This beam setting was designed to be used in case of emergencies, as the flashing red light can be seen from far away and is recognized universally as a distress signal.
COMFORT: 2-BAND VS 3-BAND STRAP
Most headlamps come offered in either a two-band or three-band option. Where a 2-band headlamp wraps directly around your noggin, a three-band option has an extra band that goes over the top of your head.
We vote to keep the straps simple and horizontal without that extra vertical strap commonly seen used on hard hats and helmets.
Some ultralight headlamps come with a thin retractable string to strap around your head. Some come without any straps and only use a small clip for your visor or to attach to your pack’s shoulder strap.
Others come with a 2-inch wide and well-cushioned elastic strap. Admittedly the small strings can be quite constricting and uncomfortable, like a wire.
Most straps today are made from elastic that can be adjusted, removed, and even washed. While adjusting your straps, make sure they’re tight enough to hold your headlamp in place while walking or running, but not too tight that you're giving yourself a headache.
Example of a wide, comfortable 2-band strap (Biolite)
Types of Light
TYPES OF LIGHT: STANDARD, CONSTANT, REACTIVE
Whereas some batteries (single-use and rechargeable alike) can lose power over time and decrease beam distance, others will stay the same no matter what level the batteries are at.
- Standard lighting: brightness decreases because the battery is losing power. This is a common problem with disposable batteries as well as rechargeable headlamps.
- Constant lighting: the headlamp’s brightness and light emitted stay consistent over the entire burn time. Foxelli's MX200 headlamp is one of the few ultralight headlamps on our list that offers constant lighting. In other words, you’re guaranteed to have the same constant light output throughout the entire battery’s life.
- Reactive lighting: a headlamp auto-adjusts its light output level based on its environment.
WATER RESISTANCE: AT LEAST 4+ IP X RATING
The water resistance level in headlamps is measured on an “IP” or “Ingress Protection” rating system. Look for “IPX” followed by a number from 0 to 8 in the product description. As a point of reference:
- IPX0 means no resistance at all to water
- IPX4 means it can handle splashing water
- IPX8 means it is completely submersible.
When buying a headlamp, look for a product that has a rating between IPX4 and IPX8.
What is the highest quality headlamp?
The highest quality headlamp on our list is the Fenix HM50R 2.0.
What headlamp does the military use?
The headlamps the military uses are tactical headlamps like the Petzl Tactikka + Headlamp.
How many lumens is enough for a headlamp?
100 lumens or more is enough for a headlamp according to our tests.
What type of headlamp is best?
The type of headlamp that is best is a rechargeable headlamp (in our opinion). Rechargeable headlamps have several great features compared to their disposable battery counterparts. They’re more cost efficient in the long run, the lighting output is more consistent and they’re better for the environment.
📷 Some of the photos in this post were taken by Jonathan Davis (@meowhikes)