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Headlamps are essential parts of any outdoor gear list as they provide us with the light we need to continue our activities well beyond sunset. With hundreds of headlamps to choose from, however, it’s not easy to find the one that’s best for your needs.

To help you get the perfect outdoor lighting system for your adventures, we’ve reviewed 5 of the top options on the market today. We’ve also answered some common questions about headlamps and created a list of our top tips for selecting the best model for your needs.

How many lumens do you need for trail running?

For trail running, you’ll want at least 200 lumens, though the more the better. While 200 lumens can be considered a minimum at dawn or dusk, for more technical terrain or highly forested areas where there’s minimal moonlight, we’d recommend increasing to at least 250 lumens.

What kind of batteries do headlamps use?

Headlamps either use disposable alkaline batteries or rechargeable batteries, depending on the model. Disposable AA and AAA batteries used to be the most popular option, but as rechargeable batteries have gotten more sophisticated, most top companies now offer rechargeable headlamps.

The 5 Best Headlamps 

Featuring 300 lumens of light in a compact package, the Petzl REACTIK+ is a fully customizable headlamp for outdoor adventure.

It is Bluetooth compatible with a smartphone app, which allows you to change the headlamp’s light settings with the push of a button. Additionally, this headlamp has constant lighting technology to help ensure a steady output of light, even as battery life wanes.

For added convenience, this headlamp has a lock function, which prevents it from accidentally turning on in your pack. It comes standard with a rechargeable battery but can also be powered by 3 AAA batteries for extra versatility.

The Petzl REACTIK+ is also IPX4 rated for water-resistance, making it a nice choice for wet conditions.

pros
  • Bluetooth compatible for complete control over light settings
  • Can be used with AAA or rechargeable batteries
  • Does not reduce light output as battery life dwindles
  • Lock function prevents accidental illumination
cons
  • Expensive

When maximum light output is your top priority, the Black Diamond Icon 700 is a solid option. 

Boasting an impressive 700 lumens of light output, this model is among the brightest options available that doesn’t cost your entire life’s savings. While it certainly isn’t cheap, this headlamp is fully waterproof with an IP67 rating, which means it can survive being submerged briefly in water.

It comes with red, green, blue, and white LEDs for added versatility on the trail. The battery pack can also be removed and placed in your pocket to help ensure a longer battery life in particularly cold conditions.

Plus, the Black Diamond Icon 700 has Brightness Memory, so it will automatically turn on and off at your last brightness level instead of reverting to full power every time.

pros
  • One of the brightest options available
  • Fully waterproof
  • Red, green, and blue LEDs
  • Battery pack can be removed
cons
  • Heavy and bulky

A budget-friendly option that still packs in a lot of light power, the Petzl TIKKINA is a great back-up lighting solution for outdoor trips.

With 250 lumens, this headlamp offers enough light to read, do camp chores, and go on the occasional nighttime walk or run in the woods. It is highly compact and lightweight, so it’s easy to throw in a pack, even on a longer backcountry trip.

It offers three lighting levels with a maximum battery life of 120 hours. While it doesn’t have a red light, this headlamp does offer a flood beam for ample illumination of your surroundings.

Finally, the Petzl TIKKINA works with AAA batteries and Petzl’s optional CORE rechargeable battery pack so you can choose the power option that works best for your needs.

pros
  • Budget-friendly
  • Lightweight and highly compact
  • Maximum 120 hour battery life on low power
  • Compatible with AAA or rechargeable batteries
cons
  • No red light option

For rugged mountain adventures that require extra burly gear, the Black Diamond Storm 400 is a great all-around choice. 

It boasts a fully-sealed dustproof and waterproof construction that’s rated to IPX67 for maximum durability. Thanks to its compact body, this headlamp is highly portable, yet is still powerful enough to emit 400 lumens of light.

With 4 different light colors, including white, red, blue, and green, this headlamp packs a lot of functionality into a small size. It also has PowerTap technology, which allows you to quickly adjust the brightness of the headlamp with the tap of a finger.

Capping off the Black Diamond Storm 400’s list of features is its affordable price point. Although there are certainly cheaper models out there, this headlamp offers exceptional value in a  compact package.

pros
  • Fully waterproof and dustproof
  • Quick brightness adjustment system
  • Great value for the money
  • 400 lumens of light
  • Compact and lightweight
cons
  • Not compatible with rechargeable batteries

Designed by runners, for runners, the Black Diamond Sprinter 275 is a fully featured headlamp that’s designed for performance on nighttime outings.

This headlamp has a harness-style elastic headband strap, which provides a better fit as you run. On the back of the headlamp, there’s also a red tail light strobe light so you’re more visible to cars and other runners on the trail or the road.

To make it easier for you to adjust the settings while running, Black Diamond designed this headlamp with PowerTap technology. This allows you to quickly increase or decrease the brightness setting with the tap of a finger.

The Black Diamond Sprinter 275 can also be used with a rechargeable lithium ion battery pack or with standard AAA batteries without the need for costly accessories.

pros
  • Enhanced fit harness strap system for running
  • Red tail light for added visibility
  • Easy brightness adjustment system 
  • Can be used with AAA or rechargeable batteries
cons
  • Not waterproof

What to look for in a headlamp

Headlamps are packed full of high-end technology. While this is great from a performance point of view, it does make buying a headlamp pretty tricky. So, here are some key things to look out for as you shop:

Lumens

A lumen is a measure of light output. While the technical definition is a bit too nitpicky for us to get into here, the important thing to remember is that more lumens means a brighter light.

Back in the day, anything over 200 lumens was considered “really bright” and was also really expensive. Nowadays, you can get 300 lumen headlamps without spending your life’s savings.

Since most headlamps have adjustable brightness settings, it’s generally best to opt for the brightest model you can afford. That way, your headlamp is more versatile and can be used from anything from reading in your tent to a nighttime rock climbing adventure.

Weight

Since you wear a headlamp, well, on your head, a lightweight option is ideal. Heavy headlamps can cause neck fatigue and they’re just all-around uncomfortable to wear.

However, weight is often a tradeoff with brightness, so it’s a good idea to find a model that strikes a nice balance between these two factors. Many of the brightest headlamps also have separate battery packs, which greatly increase the overall weight of the headlamp.

Light Options

The vast majority of headlamps will have about 4 different light options: high beam, low beam, strobe, and red light. These can be seen as a minimum for a quality headlamp, unless you’re looking for a very small, compact option to toss into your pack for emergencies.

Many headlamps now come with other light options, like green LEDs, which some hunters say is better for attracting wildlife. Blue LEDs are also nice for cutting through fog.

However, green and red lights are generally only found on the priciest of headlamps, so many hikers find that they’re not worth the added expense.

Battery Life

A headlamp is useless if it runs out of battery, so a model with a long battery life is ideal. Although you should always carry spare batteries, a 5 hour battery life should be considered an absolute minimum. 

Of course, actual battery life will depend on the outdoor temperature and whether or not you spend a lot of time with your light on high beam, among other factors, but 5 hours is a good minimum to strive for.

What is the purpose of a red light on a headlamp?

Most headlamps come with red lights because red light is a good option for preserving your natural night vision abilities. That way, you can still see the world around you without feeling completely blinded as soon as you turn off your headlamp in the dark.

While white light is brighter, it is more blinding to humans and animals that get exposed to it. Using a red light helps reduce this blinding effect and creates less light pollution around you. This is helpful if you’re keen to stare at the stars or have a lively conversation around the campfire.

Night Running Tips

If you’re new to running at night, particularly on trails, here are some top tips to keep in mind:

  • Know The Terrain. With more experience, it’s easier to read nighttime terrain. But, during your first forays into night running, stick with trails, paths, and roads that you know well to avoid making a wrong turn.
  • Don’t Listen To Music. While listening to music or podcasts might be an enjoyable part of running, it’s a no-no at night. Running at night is taxing to the senses, so there’s no reason to eliminate your hearing and lower your situational awareness.
  • Go Slow. It’s harder to see those small roots and rocks that easily trip us up when running at night. So, go slower than you might normally run to help avoid injuries.
  • Bring A Friend. Especially if you’re planning on a nighttime road run, there’s power in numbers when it comes to feeling safe outside in the dark. Plus, who doesn’t love friends?
  • Have A Communication Device. Pack your phone, a Garmin inReach, a SPOT, or something else you can use to communicate if you get into a sticky situation during your run.
  • Tell Someone About Your Plans. No one wants their quick nighttime run to turn into a new version of 127 Hours, so tell a friend or family member where you’re going. Also, don’t forget to tell them what time you will be back so they know when to call for help.

Final Thoughts

A headlamp is a critical piece of gear. The key is knowing precisely what to look for as you shop so you can get the perfect model for your outdoor adventurous.

John Zahra