Headlamps are one of the most important pieces of camping and hiking gear.
They make it easier for you to get around your camp in low light or total darkness.They’re also great for navigating trails if you happen to be hiking before the sun comes up.
These days there are so many different headlamps available to choose from. How can you tell which are the best headlamps and which you should avoid?
In this post I want to help you find the best hiking headlamp. We’ll also take a look at the features that you should consider as well as some other great hiking accessories.
Instead of rambling on let’s just jump right into the recommendations.
Be sure to scroll to the bottom part of this post for an in-depth buyer’s guide and a closer look at that features you’ll want to keep an eye out for.
The Best Hiking Headlamps
Quick Answer – Best Hiking Headlamps
If you’re busy or don’t have the time to read this 3000 word in-depth review here’s a quick list of some of the top headlamps that I recommend.
Take a look at these to check out the different features, read some shorter reviews, and compare prices.
Here’s the list of the headlamps that I recommend most:
- Black Diamond Spot
- Petzl Tikka+
- Black Diamond Icon
Keep scrolling for a more in-depth look at these different models!
Black Diamond Spot
The Black Diamond Spot would definitely be my top recommendation if you’re looking for the best headlamp for hiking, camping, or any other outdoor activity where you need some extra illumination.
There are a few reasons why I really like the Spot, and why I would personally recommend it as the best choice for most people.
For the price, you get a great level of brightness as well as awesome durability, making it a suitable choice for long-term outdoor use.
The headlamp itself was actually recently updated and you’re able to enjoy 200 lumens of brightness with the LED beam.
Another feature I really love with the newest model is that it has touch sensitive housing so you can quickly adjust the brightness without having to fumble around with any awkward buttons or dials.
It’s really simple, just tap on the side of the headlamp and you can switch from full brightness to dim, depending on the level of brightness you need at any given time.
There are also some other lighting options that you can use when you’re using the Spot, including the ultra bright “QuadPower LED” as well as a red light that you can use if you don’t need as much brightness and you want a softer illumination.
Powering it up is done via three AAA batteries, and there’s even a three-level power meter that lets you keep an eye on the battery life so that you know exactly when to replace the current batteries.
Interestingly enough, the Black Diamond Spot is waterproof up to 3.3ft, so you can use it in the rain without any issues, and even for finding something that you dropped in the river.
The strap system is the single strap that goes around your head, and the Spot comes in at nearly 9 ounces, making it one of the heavier headlamps.
However, despite being a little on the heavy side, the Black Diamond Spot is durable, reliable, and definitely something I would recommend bringing with you out in the backcountry on your next outdoor adventure.
Petzl Tikka +
My second recommendation if you’re looking for a great headlamp to use for your outdoor backcountry adventures is the Petzl Tikka +.
Petzl is well known for manufacturing quality headlamps, so it makes sense to me to recommend them as my second choice.
In its “Boost” mode, the Petzl Tikka + provides 160 lumens of brightness, making it an ideal choice for most hiking and camping needs when you just need a little bit of Illumination.
It comes with a few different lighting modes, including a “boost” mode for maximum brightness, a rapid mode, proximity lighting, and of course the red light when you want to be discreet or you don’t need as much illumination.
One of the features I really like about Petzl Tikka + is that it switches into reserve mode automatically once the batteries start to run low, and once they’re nearly empty the red light will automatically switch on.
This helps to give you the maximum amount of Illumination before the batteries run dry.
Speaking of the batteries, the Petzl Tikka + uses 3 AAAs, so make sure to bring a set of spares whenever you plan on using it.
Controlling the different lighting features is done with a large push-button on the top of the housing, so it’s pretty easy to use whether you’re wearing gloves or you don’t have much illumination around you at all.
As for the total weight, this headlamp comes in at around 10.2 ounces, so definitely not one of the lightest ones available out there, but still a great choice if you’re looking for something rugged and durable.
The strap system is just a single strap that wraps around your head and you add the batteries to the housing right behind the LED.
I would definitely recommend taking a look at the Petzl Tikka + if you’re looking for something reasonably priced that still offers great usability, versatility, and a durable design.
Black Diamond Icon
The Black Diamond Icon is a pretty heavy duty headlamp and one that I would recommend if you need something super bright that comes with a variety of different settings.
For most people going backpacking, hiking, for camping, this is very likely overkill when it comes to what you need outdoors, but if you’re going to be heading out on a serious adventure across rough terrain then you might want to check it out.
The Icon was designed to handle a wide range of different outdoor elements while still being comfortable and durable enough to use regularly.
On its Max setting, the Icon emits 500 lumens of brightness, and this will really help to illuminate your surrounding area and provide you with a significant amount of lighting.
Inside the housing, it comes with two different sets of LEDS, a QuadPower spotlight and a DoublePower white LED.
There is a removable battery pack that’s positioned at the back of the straps to help keep the light balanced when you’re wearing it, and there’s a strap that runs over the top of your head as well to help make the setup more comfortable and secure on your head.
One interesting feature is that it comes with programmable brightness memory, and this allows you to set a specific brightness level to automatically turn on whenever you turn the headlamp on every time.
As for the night vision modes, you can choose from red, green, and blue, and this offers a lot more versatility than having to rely on just a white or red light.
With the other settings, you can choose from a full strength mode, dimming, strobe, night vision, and a lock mode as well, depending on what you need illumination for.
To keep everything up and running, you’re going to need four AA batteries, And this definitely adds a little bit of extra weight to the overall set up.
For those of you spending a lot of time outdoors in extreme conditions where you need a reliable and comfortable light source, I would definitely recommend checking out the Black Diamond Icon.
Headlamp Buying Guide
Consider the Brightness
I mentioned in the introduction, you want to keep an eye out on the total brightness (measured in lumens) of any of the different models that you’re looking at.
Each year it seems that the manufacturers are coming out with better brightness levels over the previous year’s model.
I don’t usually buy a new headlamp every year, only once my current model has gone through the wringer so to speak, but every time I upgrade I always notice a huge difference in the brightness levels of the most current model that I’m using.
When you’re looking at the brightness, or number of lumens, you want to keep in mind that it’s likely that you’re not going to be using the max brightness settings in most of your outdoor scenarios when you need extra light.
The reason for this is because it can run your battery out a lot faster that if you use a more conservative level of brightness, plus the only need the brightest light setting in certain scenarios, you won’t need to use it every time.
With this in mind, I find around 150 lumens is a good choice if you’re looking for something to use around your house and also for hiking, camping, and backpacking when you need a little bit of extra light.
For those of you that are planning on getting some hiking done or spending time outdoors early in the morning or late at night without any natural lighting, I would recommend something with a minimum of 150 lumens, since you will definitely benefit from that extra brightness.
When it comes to 250 lumens or more category, I would headlamps that are this bright if you’re going to be cycling at night, or hiking across rough terrain where you need as much lighting as possible.
Otherwise, I find that some of the higher brightness levels above 250 lumens can really be overkill in most situations.
If you’re not sure about what lumens are, it’s actually a measurement of visible light that a light source can generate.
This doesn’t really give you the best idea of how a specific lumen level is going to illuminate your campsite or the area around you, although it’s still a great indicator of giving you a better idea how bright your headlamp is going to be.
Along with the total lumens, you also want to be considering things like the beam distance, type of beam, and the reputation of the brand of the manufacturer, rather than just focusing on lumens.
The Type of LED (Spot, Flood, Red Light)
Most headlamps come with a few different lighting modes that you can choose from, with a basic spot beam being the default.
Make sure to check the max distance of the beam when you’re looking at the different specifications to see how far in the distance your headlamp can shine.
Having a long-distance beam is better suited for people that are going to be hiking at night or needing to navigate in the dark, but if you’re just going to be setting up your camp at dusk or going on some sunset hikes, you don’t need to worry about this specification as much.
For those of you that need more of a wide angle range of coverage, you’re going to want to consider something that comes with the flood light option.
Having a wide angle is great at a campsite or when you’re spending time outdoors because it’s helps to illuminate your surroundings rather than just having a focused beam of light in front of you.
This specific feature isn’t designed for Illuminating something in the distance.
Once you start looking at better quality headlamps, you’ll begin to find ones that come with a red LED light.
The red light is great if you need some extra illumination at night but you don’t want to disturb those around you or you want to remain stealth without giving away your exact position out in the backcountry.
Another great benefit of having the red light feature is that the brightness of it won’t cause your pupils to automatically readjust, so you can have access to some quick illumination in your tent or at your campsite without waiting for your eyes to catch up.
Many different models also come with a emergency strobe light setting, and this is helpful in emergency situations or when you need to conserve battery life while getting some extra illumination.
Most of the LED headlamps that I’ve used over the years have required AAA or AA batteries as a power source.
These batteries are typically stored inside the main body of the headlamp, snapping in place right behind the LED.
Depending on which model you’re using, it can get pretty heavy having more than just one or two batteries packed inside, and when this happens you have to rely on tightening the elastic headband strap quite tightly to make sure that it stays in place without sliding down over your face.
The other style of battery that I have used is one where there is a separate battery pack that’s actually built into the back of the strap.
This design helps to keep everything balanced when it’s on your head, and in some cases you might even find a strap system with an additional strap that comes right over the top of your head, further helping with a more comfortable, secure, and overall fit.
You most typically find this design with the higher quality headlamps, but keep in mind that the additional strap does make it a little more bulky, so it might not be a good idea if you’re an ultra-light hiker or backpacker.
Over the past few years, I have definitely seen a noticeable rise in the popularity of rechargeable headlamps, and these are great because you never have to worry about replacing any batteries, you just need to make sure that the battery stays charged.
These headlamps typically use a USB charging port, so you can either use a solar panel and battery pack set up to keep everything charged, or just charge it in your car before you head out for the day.
I do find that these tend to cost a little bit more, although the benefit of not having to worry about batteries is a pretty big deal to me.
Most manufacturers list a general battery life that you can expect from the headlamp you’re using.
One thing I want to mention, try not to put too much of your expectations into this stated battery life, as it might not always be the most accurate and it’s hard to truly predict how much battery life you’re going to actually get depending on how much you’re using your light.
One thing I learned that you can take advantage of to get the best possible battery life is that you should only use your light when you really need it and try to pick the best amount of lumens for your outdoor needs.
If you don’t need something super bright, then don’t head out and look for the brightest possible lighting system, stick to something more reasonable and you will be able to enjoy a better battery life.
I also always try to use the lowest setting, as this can also help to increase overall battery life and it’s a good idea to try to have everything set up and ready before it gets too dark so that you don’t always have to rely on your headlamp for illumination.
Of course, if you’re using something battery powered, definitely bring along a spare set of batteries, and if you’re using a rechargeable battery set up then you might want to consider bringing along a dedicated external battery pack.
Depending on your budget and preferences, you can choose something extremely lightweight, coming in at just under 1 ounce, and you can also go with something a lot heavier, coming in at around 10 or more ounces.
The way it goes is that some of the more powerful headlamps that are designed for more heavy-duty use are going to be a lot heavier than something that is better designed for regular use without any extra features.
When it comes to the lightweight designs, they’re typically made with a thin plastic casing and don’t require as many batteries.
The heavier designs are made using aluminum, or thicker plastic materials, and likely also use more than just 2 batteries.
I recommend looking for something lightweight because the lighter headlamps are going to be more comfortable to wear, they’re definitely easier to pack away in your backpack, and they aren’t going to feel as heavy or bulky on your head when you’re wearing it.
Another thing to consider is the actual design of the LED and battery case.
Like I mentioned up above, some models come with the battery pack that’s position at the back of the strap system, and this helps to balance everything out especially if you’re using a heavier lamp.
Take a look at the housing surrounding the LED to get a better idea of whether or not it’s big and bulky or small and portable, and then decide which is the best design for your outdoor preferences.
The strap system also plays a role in how heavy a headlamp is, with the lightweight ones coming with a simple strap that goes around your head, and the heavier ones coming with a strap that goes over the top.
Most of the straps are made from an elastic nylon material, though you can find more durable strap options if you’re looking for something to use for rugged outdoor conditions.
I prefer the secure fit of having the strap that goes over the top of my head, because I don’t have to worry about the balance as much and the strap helps to keep everything positioned in place.
It’s also possible with many different models to remove the top strap whenever you don’t need to use it, so you can also turn a headlamp using this type of strap into something a little bit more lightweight and portable.
However, I see a lot of people are going for the simple design with the single strap that goes around the head, and for most people this generally isn’t going to be an issue at all.