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I always bring a headlamp with me, whether I'm going on a day hike or a multi-night trek. However, finding the best hiking headlamp may require some trial and error. There are numerous low-cost options available, but these can fall short when the stakes are high.
The good news is that there are high-quality headlamps available that will meet your hiking requirements. In my opinion, the best headlamps are those that provide enough light to see in a variety of situations, have a long battery life, and have extra features for extended applications.
Check out my top picks for the best headlamp for hiking. But first, read through our purchasing considerations. If you don't find one that meets your requirements on our list, you'll have the information you need to make an informed purchasing decision.
Choosing the best headlamp for hiking for you requires understanding what features and functionality are most important to you.
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a headlamp is its brightness. Lumens are a metric for determining how bright your headlamp is; the higher the number, the brighter the headlamp. Lumens in headlamps typically range from 100 for dim headlamps to 1,000 for super-bright headlamps.
A maximum brightness of 450 lumens is considered bright enough for nearly all hiking situations, and going above 450 lumens begins to have diminishing returns on function versus weight and price. A headlamp with 600+ lumens is unlikely to be necessary for most hiking scenarios, but it may be useful for dawn patrol skiing, rock climbing, nighttime wildlife watching, or finding a trail marker in an unknown or rugged area. I usually stick with 450 lumens, but higher-lumen headlamps have given me more confidence when I hear a twig snap in the dark while night hiking (let's face it, we've all been scared of the dark at some point).
A headlamp is only as good as the batteries that power it, of course. When choosing a headlamp, you must choose between a USB-rechargeable headlamp and a disposable AAA battery. Although USB-rechargeable headlamps are convenient because they can be charged at home or on the trail, they are more expensive. One advantage of a headlamp with disposable batteries is that you don't have to wait for it to recharge; simply replace the batteries and keep going.
Always keep an extra set of batteries on hand as a backup so you don't get stuck in the dark if your batteries die. Carry an extra headlamp as a backup instead — because the majority of the weight of a headlamp is in the batteries, packing an extra headlamp doesn't take up much more room or weight and provides peace of mind if your primary headlamp breaks.
While testing these headlamps earlier this winter at Curecanti National Wildlife Refuge, I ironically forgot to bring extra batteries. When my headlamp died in the darkness of a new moon a few hundred yards from my camp, I was grateful to have an extra headlamp to light the way back in an unfamiliar area.
You've heard the old adage, "pay attention to the ounces, and the pounds will take care of themselves." It's critical to keep your headlamp as light as possible, and there's a clear trade-off between weight and features.
Most camping headlamps are only a few ounces in weight, but you'll notice the difference once it's strapped to your head. Heavier headlamps bounce more when you move, which is inconvenient on the trail. Furthermore, many hikers try to reduce bounce by tightening the headlamp strap, which can cause headaches over time. That ain't no fun! I personally have no tolerance for bouncing headlamps, so I'm always eager to try one on before purchasing.
Most hiking headlamps are lightweight, but it's important to think about whether you can get by with a lighter headlamp when you can. A blue daypack is adorned with three headlamps. A lightweight headlamp is essential for comfort.
Backpacking headlamps have progressed far beyond a simple on/off switch with a single brightness setting. Here are some additional features to consider when choosing the best headlamp.
Lock Mode: Most modern headlamps have a lock mode that prevents the headlamp from turning on in your pack and draining the battery. Speaking from personal experience, this is a significant selling point when selecting a headlamp. This is useful not only for longer trips, but also for storing at home so you don't end up with a dead battery after driving to a nearby trailhead. When you don't need much brightness, headlamps with a low red light can help keep your night vision intact. This is especially useful for not waking up my tent partner when nature calls in the middle of the night.
Strobe Mode: This is typically used to draw someone's attention during an emergency. To increase their visibility to passing cars, some bikers will wear a strobing headlamp backward (in addition to a front-facing headlamp). Some campers will also use them for a quick dance party at the campsite.
Reserve Mode: When your battery runs low, the reserve mode will automatically activate a dim, low-light setting to assist you in returning to the trailhead. This is far safer and more convenient than your headlamp suddenly dying and leaving you in the dark.
How many lumens does a hiking headlamp require?
The number of lumens required for a headlamp is determined by its intended use. For most day-to-day applications, 100-150 lumens will suffice. A headlamp with at least 200 lumens is recommended if you are looking for one for hiking, scrambling, or route finding.
What should the brightness of a hiking headlamp be?
The brightness of a headlamp should be determined by the company's design and intended use. Headlamps can range in brightness from 25 to 15,000 lumens or more. For many people, 100-150 lumens will suffice. However, for hiking, 200 lumens or more will provide sufficient illumination to see the trail at night. A higher lumen headlamp will provide a brighter beam at a lower level, resulting in longer battery life.
How useful is a headlamp when hiking?
The importance of a headlamp when hiking is determined by the type of hike, the length of the hike, and the time of year. Even on a day hike, we recommend carrying a headlamp as a backup. If you go on overnight or night hikes, headlamps become increasingly important.
The best headlamps for hiking will have a long-lasting battery, be durable for outdoor use, have quality features, and be water resistant. There are numerous options available. Even if you didn't find one that appealed to you on my list, we hope the buying considerations section points you in the right direction.