Unless you’re in the arctic circle during the zenith of summertime, each day is comprised of a period of light and dark. If you’re only going out for excursions during the day, you’re missing out on hours of potential activity. You’re also not seeing the oddities that go bump in the night. Furthermore, even if you’ve traveled the globe, there’s still untold miles of subterranean excitement to be had, so long as you have a light to take into the inky black; where few dare tread. For night owls and spelunkers alike, if you’re looking to execute a voyage in the dark, you need a quality headlamp.
There’s several facets that go into a headlamp, with the actual light itself being only a small portion. The more active you are, the more you need a light that stays in place when you strap it to your skull; and is easy to operate when you have to use it blind, by feel alone. Emergency settings, and the ability to hold a charge are also required for any item you’re planning on taking on an excursion into the deep dark. For lighting up your life, here’s the 8 best headlamps.
Pro: Pure white spot mode
Con: Focus apparatus is difficult to operate
Best Buy: Somehow the people at Coast didn’t get the memo about quality and cost going hand-in-hand. They have managed to make a headlamp that has a very exact focus when needed, and can throw 285 lumens worth of light for meters, all for a price that’s incredibly low. This would have been enough for us, but Coast wasn’t quite done. They also created a whole HL line that is equally impressive for different uses, with each one offering the same daunting quality at a price that barely seems profitable. With a pair of settings that alter the runtime between a generous hour-and-a-half and 70 full hours, we’d advise getting two, just in case someone steals the first one.
Snow Peak SnowMiner
Pro: Excellent for reading maps at night
Con: Neither an exceptional headlamp nor lantern
Oddball: Every hiker has a headlamp, but only those with a SnowMiner have one that can double as a lantern. The white silicone diffuser probably isn’t going to win you any style points, but with just a press of your finger it changes the beam from focused to ambient glow without fiddling with knobs or dials. You’ll need 3 AAA batteries to run it, but at the lowest 8 lumen settings, they’ll give you 80 lumens for 55 hours, or a scant 8 lumens that can go for 140 hours. While in lantern mode there’s a tiny hook for hanging the light which is ideal for a tent, but never gives you a moment’s trouble when you’re wearing it.
NiteCore Cree XM-L2 HC50
Pro: Rechargeable batteries
Con: Red light doesn’t throw very far
Metal Head: To keep weight down, most headlamp manufacturers shun metals, but the HC50 embraces them wholeheartedly, along with a mineral crystal, for a light that is durable enough to hit the dirt and be trod upon without losing its luster. At the maximum setting you’ll have 565 lumens worth of power at your disposal; more than enough for illuminating deep into a cave to search for hibernating bears. When sitting in the housing, the lamp can be rotated 90-degrees so that dead spots and strange shadows are quickly chased away. Carrying ten modes that are easy to access along with a red setting for preserving your night vision, there’s power and utility to spare.
Princeton Tec Apex
Pro: Wide peripheral illumination
Con: Floodlight brightness is painfully low
Underground Scene: Waterproofing is one of the features that tends to elude headlamp manufacturers, leaving any caver worried about dripping stalactites or subterranean pools. With the Apex, those woes can be quickly quelled since it resists sweat as well as whatever foul fluids happen to fly into your face. The build uses a Maxbright LED that’s paired up with a quad set of ultra bright LEDs for a blazing bright 275 lumens, which goes deep when heading underground, allowing for easier navigation of difficult terrain. You can choose the color of your lights when ordering, which is helpful for those who are planning on using this in a particular way, or just want to crown themselves in ruby or emerald.
Black Diamond ReVolt
Pro: 4 light settings with two fully adjustable
Con: Unremarkable in all but battery life
Go Again: The ReVolt is proof positive that rechargeable headlamps can and should be better than most manufacturers make them out to be. The ReVolt runs for ages, giving off 10+ hours in high mode and 180+ in low. In addition to going forever, it’s simple to recharge the on-board battery using just about any charger with a USB interface. From wall sockets to solar panels, if you can get power, ReVolt can typically use it. If you so wish, you’re able to amp it up to 100% each time you head out. It is capable of using standard AAA batteries as well, so even if you get lost, it’s simple to keep moving. As far as throw goes, this is decent at close to medium ranges, but outside of 50 feet, it’s DOA.
Petzl Tikka RXP
Pro: Highly comfortable for all head-sizes
Con: No lighting mode memory
Smart Start: The RXP is built to be an intuitive piece of technology, actually guessing whether you are seeking a high or low mode based on ambient lighting. While this feature sounds obnoxious, it’s actually far more intelligent than anticipated. This reactive lighting feature goes further to automatically adjust as conditions change so as to avoid wasting power on brightness you don’t need, or wasting time cycling through modes as you fumble in the dying light. The on-board battery has 1800 mAh worth of power complete with indicator so you’re never accidentally left in the dark.
Pro: Individualized lighting controls
Con: Eats batteries and is very heavy
Pure Power: The HP25 is all about distance. Able to put light more than 150 meters out in front of you, it can outshine some car headlights, making it possible to read the lay of the land at the other endzone. Mounted onto it are a pair of dedicated light sources that can churn out 360 lumens worth of blinding power the moment you need them. Though it bears a lot of muscle, the HP25 does suffer from refinement issues, often leaving odd dark spots along the sides while hitting the center of your vision. This can make trail-finding downright dangerous. Besides this flaw, we found the IPX 6 rating reassuring and were pleased at how difficult it is to break.
Petzl Ultra Rush
Pro: Long throw facilitates fast activities in extremely low light
Con: Petzl batteries die within a year (~$60 replacement)
Ra, God of the Sun: Switch this on in a dark room and the 760 lumens will ensure that everyone around you will be reading Braille for the rest of their lives. It has four separate lighting modes that are operated by a knob on the side that you’ll have figured out in seconds. The entire body has a rubberized feel to it, which is why it bears an IP67 rating that allows it to be fully submerged for up to 30 minutes before it begins to die. So long as the battery has enough juice, you’ll get consistent light right up until it swaps over to reserve lighting, letting you know it’s time to get to safety at speed. Big, heavy, and costly, it’s more power than most normal, sane people need; making it perfect.
Check out last year’s picks on the next page.