Think your flashlight does the trick when camping or backpacking? Try camping or backpacking with a headlamp just once and the experience will be … illuminating. After all, even simple tasks such as lighting a match and chopping wood require two hands. While your precious Maglite may moonlight as a weapon against rampant bears, it’s far too cumbersome when you’re trying to cook a backcountry meal under a banner of stars.
Alas, not all headlamps are created equal. Like most camping gear, they become more durable and functional as their price tags rise. Fret not, however, as we’ve picked the best headlamps which represent what’s available at different price points, whether you’re looking for a low- or high-budget source of light.
However, there are a few things to consider before purchasing. Depending on how you intend to use your headlamp, factors such as weight, comfort, durability, beam distance, and regularity all play a major factor. Though manufacturing specs tend to exaggerate when it comes to said features — ahem, lumen output and battery life — the headlamps below rarely disappoint in either category.
Why you should buy this headlamp? The MH10 is as well-rounded as they get for under $100.
Who it’s for? Individuals looking for a high-lumen output headlamp that won’t break the bank.
How much will it cost? $80
Why we chose the:
The Ledlenser MH10 is the most versatile headlamp we’ve seen and is our pick as the best overall unit. The Adjustable Focus System enables quick single-handed lighting adjustments from spot to flood with a simple twist of the front bezel. Nowadays, most top of the line headlamps are rechargeable, however, unlike some models, the MH10’s 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery can reach an 80 percent charge in just four hours and a full charge in roughly six.
To prevent accidental battery drains during transport, the MH10 has a lock switch to keep it from powering on in a stuffed duffel. A built-in red rear light isn’t necessary for all situations, however, cyclists will enjoy the added luminescence on evening rides. As anyone who’s ever slept overnight in a stuffy tent knows, the last thing you want while setting up a tent and bedding is excess heat coming from your headlamp. Thankfully, the MH10 has a temperature control system to keep the LED headlamp cool on your skull during use — even while emitting up to 600 lumens of light.
The best design
Why you should buy this headlamp? This stylish unit is as comfortable as it is powerful.
Who it’s for? Individuals who want a versatile headlamp that won’t slide out of place — even during strenuous activities.
How much will it cost? $50
Why we chose the Biolite Headlamp:
The Biolite Headlamp is one of the most comfortable and no-fuss headlamps we have tested. At 2.4 ounces, it’s also among the lightest. Biolite’s success comes from an innovative strap system that integrates the light and the wiring into the strap itself. The result of this one-piece design is a light that hugs your head and doesn’t bounce even when you are running. It also means there are no messy wires to contend with when you adjusting the strap or taking it on/off your head.
The headlamp features an array of handy lighting modes (Spot, Flood, Spot + Flood, Red Night Vision, & Strobe) and a maximum brightness of up to 330 lumens. The battery delivers up to 3.5 hours on high and 40 hours on low. When the beam does go out, you can recharge it via an integrated USB connector, allowing you to replenish the battery with an array of portable devices.
The best intuitive lighting
Petzl – REACTIK+
Why you should buy this headlamp? The intuitive lighting technology takes manual lighting adjustments out of the equation.
Who it’s for? Glampers and casual campers.
How much will it cost? $110
Why we chose the:
Headlamp tech is on the rise. Petzl, for instance, now outfits some of its high-end headlamps with a responsive technology that auto-adjusts the brightness of your headlamp based on what you’re looking at. This is particularly convenient when you’d like to leave your headlamp on high for prolonged periods and look at close-range things which may not require as much light — such as a map or nearby sign.
The feature helps save your battery life, too, and can be turned off in situations where other sources of light — i.e. a campfire or reflective snow — might hinder its performance. This intuitive technology, alongside 300 lumens of illumination, enables adventurers to simply activate their headlamp and let it do all the work.
The best budget
Why you should buy this headlamp? For under 20 bones, you’ll be hard-pressed to top Coast’s FL11.
Who it’s for? Anyone looking for a basic headlamp for a casual weekend outing.
How much will it cost? $18
Why we chose the Coast FL11:
We ran the Coast FL11 through the gauntlet earlier this year and this headlamp is our favorite budget option, hands down. While certain conditions and activities demand a more powerful beam, for most outings, the 130 lumens ought to fit the bill. The backside of the headlamp itself uses an adjustable hinge to pivot lighting as needed while on the trailhead or setting up camp. Unlike white light, the red light mode won’t cause your pupils to shrink, minimizing the amount of time it takes for your eyes to adjust to keep you from stumbling around the campsite.
Feel free to check out our roundup of the best camping hacks for your next outdoor adventure.