If you’re thinking of heading out for the adventure of a lifetime, you’ve got to be cognizant of all the different fates that might befall you, including, but not limited to, getting stranded after nightfall without a light source. It might not seem like the most pressing of matters, but preparing for any outcome, however slight, has been proven time and time again as a staple characteristic of history’s most prolific adventurers. Fortunately, not everything is a life-or-death situation. Sometimes, you just want to be able to sift through some firewood to find the perfect piece, head into the forest for a quick kindling search, or illuminate a book for better late-night reading while sitting around your newly-stoked campfire.
Whether you’re an avid adventurer who’s used to going all-out while off-grid or a casual camper who enjoys a weekend away from the city to reset and reevaluate, you’re going to need a headlamp to illuminate your path. Luckily, both the EDC and outdoor gear industries are filled to the brim with flashlight providers, including those that have found a way to make the traditional handheld device even more ergonomic through the use of head-bound elastics. Below, we’ll dive into the wide world of illustrious lumen output, paying extra attention to the performance-focused variants that have been built with additional durability in mind.
The Best Headlamps On The Market
Black Diamond Spot 400-R
BioLite HeadLamp 800 Pro
Best for Trail Running
Best for Wearing Gloves
Best for Backpacking
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What To Look For
Know These Ahead Of Time
Weight/Comfort: Since the main point of a headlamp is to provide illumination without you needing to use your hands, it’s important to find a device that can stay out of mind, even though it’s literally on your head. Meaning, the lighter the better — within reason. The brighter the bulb, the heavier the headlamp is going to be due to the extra weight of the batteries required to power it. Strike a good balance between the two.
Max Output: One thing that every headlamp will tell you right away is how many lumens it puts out. Measuring the amount of visible light from your source, this number is less of a right to brag than it is to ensure the consumer gets what they want. That said, not everyone needs a searchlight beaming from their craniums. While 1,000+ lumens sounds impressive (and is), the average camper won’t require something this bright. However, if you’re planning on doing some sort of nighttime activity that requires you to move quickly in one direction (such as running), then you might want to go a little higher since that also means a farther beam range.
This is also a good place to mention: Make good use of your lower brightness settings. Although the max output may be tempting, you’ll save yourself from having to replace or charge the batteries as often at even half-power. That said, if you find yourself on “low” more often than “high,” consider getting yourself a cheaper, lighter option.
Rechargeable: In theory, a rechargeable headlamp should be preferred. However, there are advantages to battery-operated devices as well. For one, a rechargeable headlamp means that you have to wait until it’s powered up to use it (i.e., it stays plugged in until fully charged). On the other hand, if your headlamp requires batteries instead, you can simply carry backups for replacement so you don’t have to miss much usage if/when it dies. Likewise, most battery-powered headlamps allow for the use of rechargeable AA or AAA batteries — the best of both worlds!
Waterproofness: Most headlamps will also provide their IP dustproof and waterproof ratings. If you’re planning on camping in the rain or doing any night fishing, you may want to consider something with higher resilience to moisture.
Black Diamond Spot 400-R
- Recharges via micro USB rather than USB-C cable
Best Overall: When balancing performance, features, and price, Black Diamond’s classic Spot 400-R is the best around. It’s comfortable, lightweight, waterproof, and incredibly user-friendly. Plus, it can still toss out 400 lumens up to 328ft, which is more than enough for most of your nighttime activities. On its lowest setting (6 lumens at 40ft), it could theoretically be left on for over a week straight before you’d even need to think about recharging. There’s also a useful “brightness memory” feature that retains your last-used setting upon turning the headlamp back on again.
Max Output: 400 lumens
Max Range: 328ft
BioLite HeadLamp 800 Pro
- Comfortable due to balanced construction
- Long lifespan on high
- Has the option to stop dimming with Constant Mode
- Battery pack is a little bulky
Best Runner-Up: BioLite’s headlamps are known to be some of the most comfortable out there, but that’s just a bonus when it comes to the 800 Pro which came out last year. Whether you’re rummaging through your trunk or stranded near dusk, the company’s most capable headlamp yet will do the trick. Unlike a lot of the competition, this light will last you a whopping 7 hours on the highest 800-lumen setting. With eight different lighting modes, including red flood, white flood, burst, strobe, and several rear visibility options, the 800 Pro also features Constant Mode to avoid dimming after being on for too long (other headlamps will get dimmer to preserve battery). When it comes to the higher-lumen range, this headlamp is the best you’ll find.
Max Output: 800 lumens
Max Range: 443ft
- Extremely affordable and often on sale
- Great for kids
- Low max output
- Some light spill onto your eyes when tilted
Best Budget: Whether you’re buying several of these for the family (lower-lumen headlamps are great for kids too) or it’s your first time trying out a headlamp and aren’t sure if you want to commit to a more capable option, the MX20 from Foxelli is simply the best budget pick you can find (and it’s often on sale). With 165 lumens and weighing just 3.2oz, this device boasts a whopping 8 light modes, including strobe, red light, and SOS. For wetter conditions, the AAA battery-powered headlamp has an IPX5 waterproof rating as well, which some pricier options don’t even include. There’s also the option to tilt the LED unit down to a 45-degree angle for reading and hiking.
Max Output: 165 lumens
Max Range: 164ft
- 1,000+ feet of reach
- Has an automatic brightness option
- Connects to smartphone to control light and personalize settings
- Carrying case is too small
Best High-End: If you’re serious about your outdoor nighttime activities, then opt for Ledlenser’s MH11 model, a tactical-focused unit with 1,000 lumens of max brightness and over 1,000ft of reach. This headlamp is also great for off-the-grid adventures where there’s much less ambient light available and far more obstacles in your surroundings. Aside from the standard three-tier brightness, SOS, red light, and strobe settings, this device also has blink and boost modes. What’s more, there’s an automatic brightness option that adjusts to your surroundings as well as Bluetooth connectivity that lets you adjust the brightness right from your phone and even personalize your settings.
Max Output: 1,000 lumens
Max Range: 1,050ft
- Floodlight mode gives a wider beam angle
- Has a twist knob for adjusting the fit
- Impact resistant at 2m
- No reverse light
Best for Trail Running: When covering a lot of distance in a short amount of time, you’ll want a headlamp that can illuminate your surroundings adequately. Likewise, if you’re going for a run the trails around sunset (or end up farther from base camp than planned), you’ll want a device that can help you make the transition safely. A couple of years ago, Fenix updated its HM65R with the HM65R-T, a 1,300-lumen headlamp specifically designed for trail running with an innovative headband fit system. Featuring magnesium construction, it can throw its beam up to 558ft for up to 4 hours, is water-submersible up to 2m for rainier nights, and boasts 2m of impact resistance. You can also activate the floodlight mode for a wider beam angle in more complex conditions.
Max Output: 1,300 lumens
Max Range: 558ft
- Large buttons for operating
- Consistent beam when adjusting between spotlight and floodlight modes
- Low runtime
- Button size requires a harder push
Best for Wearing Gloves: If you’re collecting firewood or engaging in some other chore that requires you to wear gloves, the Coast FL78R is a great option thanks to its large toggle buttons and is a quintessential headlamp for those who are looking to bridge the gap between great-looking design and adequate performance. Capable of 530 lumens up to 511ft, the headlamp allows you to switch between spot and flood focusing beams with a simple twist of the beam dial. The runtime is a bit on the lower end, but you can switch to AAA batteries for extra longevity. Aside from enhancing your effective viewing area, the FL78R also boasts an IPX4-rated design to help it stand up to inclement weather, general shock, and even 1m drops.
Max Output: 530 lumens
Max Range: 511ft
- Extremely lightweight
- Very affordable
- Can double as a backpack or hat attachment
- Elasticized cords aren’t as comfortable as a traditional strap
Best for Backpacking: While there are certainly some lighter options available, the HA11 from Nitecore is a better bet when traversing the outdoors for long periods on end. The IP66-rating ensures that it’s dustproof and waterproof, and the PC plastic makes it resistant to 1m drops. Despite the fact that you can’t exactly recharge it directly (it uses AA batteries that can be recharged), the lamp lasts up to 40 hours on its lowest setting which still illuminates up to 33ft in front of you. If you need to see up to 295ft at 240 lumens, it will still give you 4 hours of performance. The main selling points here are the unbelievable 1.27-ounce weight and its versatility, which allows you to convert it to a light clip for 90-degree attachment to your backpack or hat.
Max Output: 240 lumens
Max Range: 295ft
- Let’s you switch between wide or regular beams
- A little too tight for larger heads
Honorable Mention: Petzl’s athletically-focused headlamps are recognized as some of the finest examples for use while running, but if you ask us, they’re just as formidable for casual trail and conventional home use. A really solid budget-plus option, the brand’s flagship Actik model recently upped the output to 450 lumens to illuminate your path, allowing you to switch between wide or regular beams to navigate to your heart’s content. You’ll even be able to tap into five different lighting modes — low, regular, bright, red, and red strobe — to cover a wide breadth of different uses and applications. If you prefer not to go with the headlamp’s AAA-battery power supply, you’re able to upgrade the device with Petzl’s proprietary Core rechargeable battery (sold separately).
Max Output: 450 lumens
Max Range: 328ft
The Best Lanterns for Camping
If you you’re looking for a secondary light source for your outdoor adventures, check out our guide to the best lanterns for camping.