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Updated Feb 22, 2022 4:33 PM

Being an MRE master chef requires resourcefulness, attention to detail, patience—and a digestive tract made of steel. I’ve cooked up plenty of masterpieces in the field, fueled by my refusal to sneak Chick-Fil-A sandwiches into my ILBE and my ability to trade cheese pouches for marble cake. All those meals were prepared after dark, and they required my trusty headlamp to get the job done.

Of course, I suppose you could use headlamps for other important things. You could read a map, follow a hiking trail, or change a tire on the side of the road. If I had one when some friends and I camped in Big Sur one Fourth of July, I wouldn’t have used poison ivy as a handhold to get me up a steep embankment.

It stands to reason that having your hands free is a big advantage, no matter what you’re trying to do. That’s why we rounded up some of the best buys in headlamps today. Dive into this list to learn what separates the good from the great, and pick the one that’s right for you.

Best Overall

If power is what you seek, the Fenix HM65R-T is the headlamp you need. It makes up for the woefully uninspiring name with a 1,300-lumen output.

Beyond raw power, Fenix delivers with an aluminum body that’s tough enough to handle whatever life throws at it. It only weighs 3.2 ounces and makes a great companion for hiking, backpacking, or trail running. The spotlight has high, medium, and low output settings of 1,300, 400, and 130 lumens. The floodlight offers outputs of 400, 70, and five lumens. The battery can last as long as 24 hours and uses an LED indicator to let you know when it’s time to recharge.

The clever headband design provides a more secure fit than other headlamps, although it’s too small for larger heads and definitely isn’t meant to be worn over any kind of helmet.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 1,300 lumens
  • Power source: One rechargeable 18650 battery
  • Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, medium, high
  • Color modes: White
PROS

Aluminum construction is very durable

Selectable flood or spot settings

Recharge via USB-C or keep an extra 18650 battery handy

Innovative headband provides a very secure fit

CONS

Only produces white light

Only available in bright orange

Headband tends to run small

The Energizer LED headlamp has been a crowd favorite for years, thanks to its accessible price and must-have features. As long as you know what you’re getting into, it’s a viable contender for a wide range of uses.

This headlamp keeps things affordable with a plastic body, conventional AAA batteries, and basic controls. Even after the cost-savings, it ends up being a solid choice. Take advantage of the low power setting for indoor projects or use the red light to protect your night vision. Engage the high setting for outdoor use, and switch between the spotlight and floodlight functions to suit your needs.

At this price, don’t expect the pinnacle of outdoor gear. While this headlamp punches above its weight, we wouldn’t recommend it for extended backpacking trips due to its plastic components, lack of water resistance, and old-school batteries. For working around the house, though, it’s tough to beat.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 315 lumens
  • Power source: Three disposable AAA batteries
  • Weight: 3.1 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, high
  • Color modes: White, red
PROS

Features defy the bargain-basement price

Digital focus allows spot and flood functions

Variable power makes this appropriate for indoor and outdoor use

Strikes a balance between lightness and toughness

CONS

Not as rugged or water-resistant as the competition

Disposable batteries are a noticeable cost-cutting measure

Controls aren’t the most intuitive

Editor’s Choice

Judging by the price, Petzl is awfully proud of the Duo S headlamp. We can’t blame them, though, because this light is packed with professional-grade features that exceed expectations.

The Duo S is designed for people who work in dark environments and need a tough headlamp they can count on. It features six output levels ranging from 80 to 1,100 lumens in a variety of beam patterns. The battery charges fully in just four hours and includes a power gauge. Reserve mode provides 20 lumens of light for 45 minutes. We’re big fans of Petzl’s Face2Face technology, which automatically dims the light when it faces another headlamp. Hopefully, your friends are so considerate.

For even more hardcore buyers, Petzl makes the Duo RL with 2,800 lumens. That’s too extreme for most people, but it’s nice to know the option is out there.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 1,100 lumens
  • Power source: One rechargeable ACCU 2 battery
  • Weight: 13.1 ounces
  • Output modes: Close-range work, proximity, movement, rapid movement, distance vision, boost
  • Color modes: White
PROS

Wide selection of power outputs and beam patterns

Built to be compatible with a helmet and gloves

Detects other headlamps and dims light automatically

Power reserve and battery life indicator have your back

CONS

Get a neck workout with this 13.1-ounce headlamp

No light colors other than white

Too expensive for many consumers

Best Headlamp for Hunting

If you hunt, there’s a good chance you either own or lust after something Browning makes. Maybe you don’t have three grand to spend on a Citori 725 over/under, but there are more affordable ways to get that pretty deer-head logo, like this headlamp.

Browning turned to TrueTimber for this headlamp’s camouflage. At 260 lumens, there are certainly more powerful options out there, but that’s enough to get you to and from the blind. A green light is good for staying out of sight. The power selector dial indicates the battery life of each setting––two, four, and 10 hours––rather than less helpful low, medium, and high.

This light can be powered with a traditional AA battery or a rechargeable AA battery that uses a provided USB cord to power up in less than three hours. Both batteries are included.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 260 lumens
  • Power source: One rechargeable AA battery
  • Weight: 3.8 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, medium, high
  • Color modes: White, green
PROS

Effective Kanati camouflage by TrueTimber

Power outputs labeled by their battery life

Green light is perfect for keeping a low profile

Water-resistant housing lends peace of mind during rainy hunts

CONS

Battery only lasts two hours on the high setting

Camouflage is great until you drop it

Weight and power output are nothing to write home about

Best Headlamp for Hiking

The Nitecore HC65 earned our pick for the best hiking headlamp with a bunch of features that make it stand out from the crowd. When battery life and reliability directly translate to safety on the trail, this is what you want.

Visibility is key, and the Nitecore HC65 punches a 120-meter hole in the night with its maximum power setting of 1,000 lumens. It also excels in terms of battery life, which is critical during long nighttime hikes. The 26-lumen auxiliary white light has a battery life of 25 hours. If you just want to mark yourself or your tent, use the one-lumen glow setting for up to 800 hours. It’s also water- and shock-resistant.

Power comes from one rechargeable 18650 battery or two disposable CR123A batteries. Both are included, as well as a USB charging cord. For best results, stick to the 18650 battery.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 1,000 lumens
  • Power source: One rechargeable 18650 battery or two CR123A batteries
  • Weight: 2.2 ounces
  • Output modes: Ultralow, low, medium, high, turbo
  • Color modes: White, red
PROS

Strobe, SOS, and beacon modes included

Battery life is practically unbeatable

Can be powered by two types of batteries

USB charging extends functionality on the trail

CONS

Performance drops off significantly with CR123A batteries

Turbo setting drains power in just one hour

Micro USB doesn’t charge as fast as USB-C

Best Headlamp for Running

If there’s one thing runners can agree on, it’s that less weight is better than more weight. Petzl cut every ounce they could from the IKO Core to make it a heavyweight contender on our list, then made it extra comfortable.

This headlamp gets off to the races with a total weight of just 2.7 ounces. To compare it with other headlamps, that means it only weighs 1.8 ounces on its own. It also gets points for being extra comfortable. Running with a headlamp can be a pain because elastic headbands rub your scalp with every step. This design is more balanced and better supported than front-heavy alternatives, so you might even forget you’re wearing it.

The 500-lumen light is powered by Petzl’s rechargeable battery, or you can use three disposable AAA batteries. The Core battery lasts 100 hours and can be recharged in three hours.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 500 lumens
  • Power source: One rechargeable Core battery or three disposable AAA batteries
  • Weight: 1.8 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, medium, high
  • Color modes: White
PROS

Just about as light as it gets

Use the Petzl battery or disposable backups

Powerful enough for running and cycling

Carrying sack doubles as a lantern

CONS

Big jump from low (6 lumens) to medium (100 lumens)

Rigid design isn’t easy to store

Light isn’t as easy to aim as others

Best Headlamp for Camping

Finding good camping gear can be tricky. It needs to be light in the pack, but tough enough for life outdoors. Lights need to be powerful enough to follow trail markings after dark, but efficient enough to last a whole trip on one battery. One brand that performs this balancing act extremely well is BioLite.

The HeadLamp 750 puts a premium on comfort. Weight is distributed evenly to prevent bouncing so all you’ll feel is the sweat-wicking headband against your skin. The light itself provides 750 lumens and can be used in low, high, strobe, and burst modes. The rear-facing red light is handy when hiking in a group. The battery lasts seven hours on high and 150 hours on low, and it can be recharged while in use.

BioLite clearly did its homework before building this headlamp, and you get to reap the rewards.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 750 lumens
  • Power source: Rechargeable battery pack
  • Weight: 5.3 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, medium, high, strobe, burst
  • Color modes: White, red
PROS

Packed with eight lighting modes

Can be charged and used simultaneously

Build quality is top-notch

Comfortable and low-profile enough for extended use

CONS

Learning all the features will take some practice

Casual campers might prefer the HeadLamp 200 or HeadLamp 330

One of the heavier camping headlamps available

Best Headlamp for Night Fishing

If you’re like us, you assume that anything you take fishing could get dropped in the water at any given moment. That’s why we went straight to a waterproof headlamp for this selection. The people at Black Diamond have us covered with the Storm 400.

Black Diamond’s Storm series of headlights are rated as waterproof at a depth of three feet for 30 minutes. That’s good enough for us. The Storm 400 offers six power settings and the option to switch to red, green, and blue light. High mode activates all 400 lumens. The headlamp’s memory function means it turns on using the last mode you used, which is a really nice touch.

This isn’t a high-powered light, but it’s more than adequate for most activities and you can trust the build quality that’s made Black Diamond a legend in the backcountry.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 400 lumens
  • Power source: Four disposable AAA batteries
  • Weight: 4.2 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, medium, high
  • Color modes: White, red, green, blue
PROS

Four light colors at your disposal

Batteries last up to 150 hours on the low setting

Remembers the last brightness setting you used

Regulated light output doesn’t fade with battery drain

CONS

Requires four disposable batteries

We wish the Storm series went beyond 400 lumens

May lead to telemark skiing and brewing your own beer

Best Headlamp for Skiing

If you use a headlamp for skiing, we can safely assume you earn your tracks. That means you need a headlamp that lasts long enough to get you up the mountain, and shines bright enough to get you down when you try to squeeze in one more run as the sun sets. In both cases, the Nebo Transcend delivers.

This powerhouse packs a 1,000-lumen punch to illuminate 105 meters ahead. This comes courtesy of turbo mode that’s limited to short bursts to prevent overheating. Low mode stretches battery life to more than 27 hours, which is enough to make long ascents with plenty of high-beam left over. Power comes from a battery pack that’s recharged using a micro USB cord.

What makes this light stand out is a 180-degree vertical range of motion that’s ideal for steep ascents and descents when the path ahead isn’t at eye level.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 1,000 lumens
  • Power source: Rechargeable battery pack
  • Weight: 5 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, medium, high, turbo, strobe
  • Color modes: White
PROS

180-degree range of motion is great for backcountry skiers

Aluminum housing is crash-ready

Recharge the battery while you ski

Oversized button is usable with gloves

CONS

1,000-lumen turbo mode only lasts 40 seconds

We’d prefer a fast-charging USB-C over micro USB

A top strap would be helpful

Best Headlamp for Backpacking

When we think of backpacking, one thing that comes to mind is long hours on the trail. Backpackers need gear that can go the distance, especially if they’re through-hiking without an opportunity to stop for supplies. If that sounds like a familiar challenge, check out this workhorse from Black Diamond.

The Icon goes beyond other headlamps in Black Diamond’s capable lineup to deliver hours of light in a rugged package that’s unfazed by dirt, water, and salt. On the high setting, this light can last 50 hours. Switch to low, and that increases to 200 hours. You can keep tabs on battery life with the power meter so you’re never caught off guard.

The Icon runs on four AA batteries. Red and blue lights are great for those times when you don’t want to ruin your night vision.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 500 lumens
  • Power source: Four disposable AA batteries
  • Weight: 4.9 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, medium, high
  • Color modes: White, red, blue
PROS

Waterproof and built to take a beating

Top strap helps distribute weight evenly

Long battery life is perfect for extended backpacking trips

Memory brightness turns the light on using your last settings

CONS

Relatively heavy, especially for a 500-lumen light

Carrying a spare set of four batteries seems excessive

One of the more bulky headlamps out there

Best Tactical Headlamp

If the Streamlight Sidewinder Compact II looks familiar, it’s because this light was used with a vertical grip as standard-issue military gear for years. Now you can clip your very own to a headband or helmet.

In addition to the usual white light, the Sidewinder Compact II has red and blue LEDs. It’s also the only headlamp on our list that features an infrared light for use with night vision optics. The main drawback is its extremely low output––only 55 lumens using the white light. Since this light is intended for tactical use, it’s not intended to reach far and places more of a priority on lightness, toughness, and IR capability.

The Sidewinder comes with a headband, hamlet mount, and clamshell carrying case. Power it up with a CR123A or AA battery.

Product Specs
  • Power output: 55 lumens
  • Power source: One disposable CR123A or AA battery
  • Weight: 1.8 ounces
  • Output modes: Low, medium one, medium two, high, strobe
  • Color modes: White, red, blue, infrared
PROS

Proven tough over years of military use

Only IR-capable light on this list

Headband, helmet, and MOLLE mounts included

Incredibly light and compact

CONS

Weakest output of any light here

Military-grade isn’t always superior to consumer-grade

Tough sell if you don’t use night vision optics

Why you should trust us

We’re here to help you find the best gear available, whether it’s the hot new item or something you already own. Everything on this gear guide earned its place by providing genuine value. To sort out the best from the rest, we brought our cumulative expertise from testing and reviewing other kinds of flashlights, including rechargeable survival lights, high-powered tactical lights, and the kind of flashlight you’d want as part of your everyday carry. We factored into our decision a range of different uses, so you can find something that’s built with you in mind. Rest assured that we’d be happy to pull any one of these headlamps out of our pack as the sun goes down.

Types of headlamps

If you think all headlamps are the same, think again. There are plenty of options out there for all kinds of uses and budgets. We found headlamps designed for everyday practicality, tactical operations, and extreme sports. Before you add one to your cart, make sure you know the basics and can make an informed decision on what’s right for you.

Everyday

Basic headlamps are designed to get the job done without spending a lot of money. They’re affordable, reasonably capable, and use common batteries that you can find at any gas station or convenience store in a pinch.

This is a great way to replace whichever tired, old flashlight you’re using now. Everyday headlamps are nice to have when you need to do chores after dark or DIY projects around the house. They can also save you from cussing out an unsuspecting child for not shining the flashlight at the right place when you’re fixing your car. This kind of headlamp isn’t the most advanced, but it’s an upgrade over holding a normal flashlight.

Camping

A good headlamp is one of the best pieces of gear you can add to your camping pack. For starters, it’s a lot safer to move around in the dark if your hands are free to move branches and catch yourself if you fall. Once you start putting your tent together and cooking dinner, a headlamp will make a world of difference.

Camping headlamps typically have multiple output settings so you can choose the right amount of light for the task at hand. Low settings are good for referencing a map or finding something in your pack, and high settings are great for moving safely after the sun goes down. They’re usually lightweight and compact, which is important when you’re moving on foot. You can also expect some degree of protection against water and impacts.

Action sports

Extreme sports require extreme gear. You wouldn’t bomb down a dusky trail on your mountain bike with one hand holding a flashlight, and you shouldn’t strap a substandard headlamp to your helmet either.

Extreme sports (and I consider tactical operations the most extreme sport) demand the best gear. Headlamps designed for this world come with various color and power settings, rechargeable batteries, and heavy-duty construction. They can burn brighter and longer in harsher environments than other headlamps. As a result, you can expect to pay top-dollar for one of these. That shouldn’t dissuade you, though, because these are tools rather than gadgets. 

Key features of headlamps

Lumens

The first factor you’ll need to consider when shopping for a headlamp is how much light it produces. This is measured in lumens, and more isn’t always better. Even a basic, sub-200-lumen headlamp can be adequate for reading a map. In fact, less light translates to better night vision when you turn it off.

As you add distance and speed, more lumens become necessary. Military, police, and rescue work typically calls for powerful lights capable of breaking the 1,000- and even 2,000-lumen barrier. A 1,000-lumen light should be more than enough for most flavors of outdoor adventure. For everything in between, there’s a huge selection of decent lights available.

Color options 

Yes, color plays a part in the gear we buy, whether we like to admit it or not. In a tactical environment, you’ll certainly want something black, tan, or green, depending on your environment. If you’re camping recreationally, it’s still nice to color-coordinate your gear. At the very least, it helps you keep track of what’s yours.

Of course, the exterior color isn’t all that matters. The color of light your headlamp produces also matters. White light is a given. It’s what our eyes are used to, and it provides us with the most visual information possible. Other colors, specifically red and green, are used to preserve night vision. The more colors your headlamp has, the more options you have to find something that you like. You can also use different colors to communicate with members of your group.

Battery life

Having good battery life is key because nobody likes to watch their light flicker and die in the middle of the night––presumably right after you hear something moving in the bushes. Carrying spare batteries is good practice, but getting the most out of them to begin with always helps.

Energy-efficient LEDs are just about all you’ll see in headlamps because they use incredibly small amounts of energy, produce virtually no heat, and are incredibly small and light. Powering a few LEDs can be accomplished with a variety of small batteries that are readily available. Some headlamps use rechargeable batteries, which is definitely an advantage. Add a small solar bank to your pack, and you can keep your headlamp charged up every night.

Benefits of headlamps

Hands-free light

The obvious advantage to using a headlamp is the ability to free up your hands for more important tasks. If you’ve ever tried to use a camp stove, unlock a gate, read a map with one hand while holding a flashlight in the other, you know how valuable an extra hand can be.

Once you experience a good headlamp, it’ll be hard to go back to using any other flashlight for most tasks. The one downside is that the light always points where you’re looking. A hat brim can restrict this even more. That isn’t always ideal, especially when you’re navigating on the go or talking to people who’d rather not have a light blasted in their face, but we think the pros outweigh the cons. 

Built for the outdoors

Unlike other kinds of flashlights, almost all headlamps were built with some degree of outdoor usability in mind. They’re not all high-powered spotlights or waterproof survivalist equipment, but most of them can handle light rain without missing a beat.

Some headlamps are purpose-built gear that’s intended to take a beating and still exceed your performance expectations. Outdoor enthusiasts need to be able to count on their gear whether it’s wet, freezing cold, or being dropped out of a pack onto rocky ground. This kind of headlamp tends to be on the higher end of the price range, but the capability you’ll gain will make you glad you spent the extra money.

Versatility

Like all quality gear, a good headlamp will pay you back the more you use it. Once you get used to having hands-free light at the touch of a button, you’ll probably find yourself reaching for your headlamp more often than not.

Even the most powerful options can be used for mundane household tasks because they have adjustable power settings. The same light can guide you down a wilderness trail or light a page for you to read before bed. Most modern headlamps are so light and compact that you can toss one in your glove box or backpack and not even notice it until you need it.

Pricing Considerations

Less than $50

Entry-level headlamps check all the boxes for most people but cut costs by opting out of the bells and whistles. These are great for walking the dog, taking the trash to the curb, and DIY projects that might lead you into the attic or basement. We’d probably advise against them for activities like camping and field exercises.

Manufacturers pack a lot of value into headlamps in this price range. Expect to get an adjustable elastic headband, tilting light, and maybe a few different brightness levels. Some even have a red light for preserving your night vision, but check product descriptions carefully if that’s something you care about.

Between $50 and $100

Right in the middle of the headlamp market are some of the best options money can buy. We found solid choices for all kinds of recreational activities, including extended camping trips, action sports, and military use.

Multiple output modes, at least two colors of light, and quality construction are standard fare in this price range. You’ll be able to choose from plenty of headlamps that have extended battery life, higher power, and some degree of water resistance. Many are rechargeable, which is great for long-term use away from civilization. If you plan on using your headlamp in unforgiving conditions, this is where you should begin your search.

More than $100

Premium headlamps can easily fetch more than $100. These lights are built by the most reputable brands and offer top-of-the-line features. If you want to leave society far behind, this is what you need.

First and foremost, high-end headlamps offer a huge power advantage over the competition. We found plenty approaching the 1,000-lumen milestone and a few beyond it. That makes a big difference as you add speed with activities like biking, kayaking, and skiing in low-light situations. Many use rechargeable batteries. In some cases, you can remove a depleted battery for recharging and replace it with a spare so your headlamp is never out of commission. These are definitely more expensive than the alternatives, but they’re worth it.

How we chose our top picks

As always, we only recommend gear that we’d personally be pumped to use. We know how much of a difference quality gear makes, and we want you to have the right equipment for the job. For this gear guide, we rounded up a range of headlamps intended for all kinds of uses. Most of you need something you can rely on for camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking. We’ve got you covered. Some of you need to see further, so we dug up a few high-powered options that will turn night into day. Maybe you just need to cook Jetboil Ramen without breaking the bank––we included some budget-friendly options, too.

FAQs on headlamps

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: How many lumens should a good headlamp have?

A: If you need to read a map or move around a campsite, a basic headlamp with around 200 lumens is sufficient. Action sports require you to see further ahead as you increase speed, so a headlamp with 750 to 1,000 lumens might be a better option.

Q: What headlamps do the military use?

A: Although some units may issue headlamps, most service members buy their own for use in the field. Headlamps designed for camping are the most popular because they’re durable, long-lasting, and can be easily switched from white light to other colors like red and green.

Q: Why do some headlamps have different color lenses?

A: White lights are by far the most common because they produce true-to-life colors. Other hues––usually red or green––are used to preserve our night vision. They also don’t carry as far, which is more discreet in a tactical environment.

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Scott Murdock is a Marine Corps veteran and contributor to Task & Purpose. He’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.

Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Learn more about our product review process.

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