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Published Mar. 12, 2021

Whether you’re navigating cave systems, fixing something in the basement, or just heading out for a midnight jog, you need to clearly see your surroundings. Instead of lugging around a clunky flashlight (and occupying one of your hands when you use it), opting for a headlamp can make a huge difference. Equally as bright as the most powerful flashlight, it attaches to your head with an elastic strap so you don’t run the risk of dropping it when you’re dealing with a serious situation. It could be about resetting your generator in the middle of a rainstorm or dealing with something in the woods. In either case, you need both hands free to help you survive. The best headlamps provide even light, are completely waterproof, and meant to powerfully resist damage.

From construction jobs to hiking (and everything in between), a headlamp is an essential tool to have. Check out this breakdown of the top models so you know you’re getting your money’s worth.

If you aren’t quite sure exactly what you’ll need the headlamp for, then the Vont ‘Spark’ LED Headlamp is a great place to start. For one thing, it is versatile enough to work just as well during a run as it would in a construction setting. The set of two headlamps uses powerful LED bulbs, tilted at 45 degrees to optimize the light quality, providing comfortable wear. Highly durable, the entirely waterproof design makes it equally functional for indoor and outdoor use. With seven light settings, you can use it in an emergency on a strobe setting or in the darkest corners of the woods when it’s set at high. The lamp powers an LED bulb, able to provide up to 90 hours of light on the lowest setting. Both the outer parts and the light bulbs are tough against damage, making it an excellent headlamp to have around in any situation.

Looking to light up your surroundings without breaking the bank? Check out the Energizer LED Headlamp for its high lumens and powerful design. Chances are, you’ve heard of Energizer before, so it’s helpful to envision that cymbal-smashing bunny powering this model — and the metaphor is not that far off either. This LED headlamp is built to last, being entirely waterproof (and submersible up to a meter underwater). The construction is lightweight and comfortable for wearers of any age. With a beam able to cast light up to 35 meters in the distance on high, you can clearly see your surroundings at all times. It incorporates high and low modes, so you can preserve batteries for a long time. At an attractive price point, this headlamp makes a great addition to any tool kit.

Focused mainly on survival? If that’s the case, then you should look into the LHKNL Waterproof Headlamp for its durable construction and powerful lighting abilities. Coming in a set of two, these rechargeable headlamps feature eight lighting modes to facilitate survival in outdoor settings. At its highest setting, you get 1,100 lumens out of the bulbs, easily enough to illuminate the area around you. The user-friendly controls let you switch between lighting intensities with complete ease — simply hold down the button for a few seconds. Simple functions go with the overall straightforward design. It touts a strong, adjustable band to attach firmly to your head. The waterproof design and the tough exterior make the entire headlamp a resilient model. Whether you’re out on a hunting trip or exploring new terrain, this headlamp can help you stay safe and secure.

Plan on getting a headlamp to add to your emergency prep gear? A resilient model like the GearLight LED Headlamp makes a fantastic pick. It runs on three triple-A batteries, with each chargeable to last for up to 45 hours. On its highest setting, you can get up to three hours of light. The set of two is lightweight, making it comfortable to use in an emergency situation. With a pivoting light that incorporates seven modes, it is ideal for all types of survival situations. The waterproof structure makes it well-suited to storm or flood survival, while the SOS and strobe settings lend to outdoor emergencies. Coming with two headbands, you can keep a backup with your gear in case the situation worsens. Designed to fit heads of all sizes, this headlamp set is worth adding to your bug-out bag.

As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm. Since all the good fish are around in the early hours of the morning, having an Energizer High-Powered LED Headlamp in your tackle box can give you an extra edge. Entirely waterproof and highly efficient, wearing this lets you keep your hands on the casting rod and your eyes on the prize. With multiple light settings, you can make adjustments as the sun rises. With a powerful 360-lumen beam that can cast over 80 meters in the distance when set on high, this headlamp is a great go-to. It runs on triple-A batteries; and, while it works best with Energizer batteries, you can use any type. Working for up to 50 hours, this headlamp can drastically enhance your outdoor experience.

Related: Always be prepared with these 7 EDC flashlights

Why should you trust us

With five years of product review experience under my belt, I use my academic background in science and three years as a news reporter to generate reliable, accurate reviews. My focuses range from survival gear to automotive supplies to financial services — wherever consumers need objective advice. My work is featured on Narcity Media, Car Bibles, and The Drive and my most recent projects for Task and Purpose include reviews of emergency blankets, knife sharpeners, and hunting boots

The most common types of headlamps

There’s a big difference between an emergency headlamp and one destined for casual, sporting use. Though the basic concept is the same — hands-free lighting — the way this goal is achieved varies based on the type of headlamp. In order to get the most compatible headlamp for your situation, it’s important to seek out the correct type relative to your purpose. 

Rechargeable

This type of headlamp is relatively common, setting itself apart by using a USB attachment to recharge the flashlight. There are benefits and drawbacks to this type. Some advantages include the lightweight design and improved waterproof abilities. Since the battery component is well-protected, you don’t risk leaked acid or damage from moisture. 

It looks just like any other headlamp and features an LED bulb that, without overheating, can cast light well into the distance. As with most headlamps, models of this type include an adjustable strap for the head. Simple controls pair with durable construction to let you use it in most casual situations. 

Drawbacks to this type of headlamp include the fact that it only charges via a USB cord. As a result, it won’t work as well in an emergency situation. If your power goes out or you are dealing with a natural disaster, there may be no way to recharge it. As a result, this type is better suited to use when jogging, hiking, or camping. 

Battery-operated

The more traditional type of headlamps are similar to the rechargeable type except for the power source. Typically, they feature an LED light setup that incorporates multiple settings. Among them is usually a high and low light beam, letting you choose how quickly to drain the battery. Most are waterproof and impact-resistant; and, since you can always hold on to spare batteries, they are better-geared towards survival situations

However, because they require actual batteries, they have some downsides too. For one thing, the batteries add a lot more weight to the general structure. Plus, since these systems run on chemical batteries, there is always the risk of corrosion from leaked battery acid. Typically, they run out of energy before the other type, though you can always switch out the batteries for new ones.

Features to look for in headlamp

When it comes time to pick out your headlamp, there are a few important things to keep in mind, not the least of which is why you need it in the first place. Is it going to be used as a sort of survival gear like face masks and proper shoes? If so, you need to be on the lookout for comfort and durability. 

Head strap 

Check out the strap and consider whether or not it is adjustable and made of high-quality material. The strap is required to keep it affixed to your head, so finding something that balances the lamp weight with the tensile strength of the strap is important. Most are made out of nylon/polyester with a bit of elastin. Others are a polymer that, while waterproof, is less comfortable and harder to adjust. Consider which will be easiest for you to wear. 

Waterproof

Next, look at whether or not it is waterproof and can be submerged. Many options can fall into the water and still work. Sure, you might not want to toss it into the lake, but if you drop it by accident, it helps to know it will keep kicking despite impact or moisture. A waterproof structure also means that it will be overall more durable. The type of material used to make it invulnerable to moisture also gives it a level of impact resistance, so keep an eye out for these features.

Power source

Once you know that it is physically sturdy, look at the power source itself. There is a big difference between rechargeable and battery-operated models, so think about where you plan to use them. Typically, you can get 50 hours of life on a low setting but only four on high, so be sure you won’t run out of juice at a bad time. 

Light modes

Finally, think about the light itself. Modern headlamps almost always use LED lights for their ability to create a bright light without draining batteries quickly. Though just about all headlamps have a low and high mode, many take it a step further. You can find as many as eight lighting modes, including a strobe (handy for Halloween) and an SOS setting for emergencies. Many also incorporate a red light for use at night. 

Do you need a headlamp?

There’s no shortage of benefits to having a headlamp. Any chance to use a valued tool like a flashlight without occupying one of your hands is a welcome device. The versatility is where headlamps really stand out. They have equally valuable utility whether you are in an emergency situation or jogging at night as a coping mechanism, being able to use your hands helps. 

Headlamps can be found on construction sites, in the tackle boxes of fishermen, and in anyone worth their salt’s bug-out bag. With a unique set of benefits, you can use a headlamp for both survival and recreation. They are lightweight and comfortable to wear; and, despite the compact design, don’t actually create discomfort in the neck of the wearer. 

As an added advantage, this tech is really long-lasting. The use of LED bulbs makes them resistant to damage from heat and means the bulb itself will keep working over the long term. Since there are so many lighting modes, you can preserve the battery for as long as it’s needed. The benefits are virtually endless. 

  • Models are available for replaceable or rechargeable batteries. 
  • Waterproof and durable to best survive outdoor situations. 
  • Give you hands-free access to bright, directed light. 
  • Priced affordably, often coming in sets of two headlamps.
  • Incorporate multiple lighting modes depending on the situation. 
  • Lightweight and easy to wear regardless of the owner’s neck strength.

Pricing ranges for headlamps

  • Under $15: For how useful they are, headlamps are really reasonably priced. You can get either rechargeable or battery-operated models with over 1,000 lumens in this range. 
  • Over $15: Usually, headlamps priced in this category come in a set of two. Most are battery-operated and are designed to last for long periods of time.

How we chose our top picks

To assess the quality of the headlamps on this list, we looked into the history of headlamps themselves. Once relied on by miners, this tech has expanded its reach to the consumer market. We investigated different lighting technologies and looked into the merit of each of the manufacturers. By gaining an understanding of the different uses of headlamps, we were able to curate a list with viable options regardless of how you plan to use them.

Related: Get it done in the dark with these 5 tactical flashlights

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