- Headlamps offer a hands-free way of hiking or camping at night, and can also be used around the house.
- The best headlamps should offer long battery life, fit comfortably, and have variable light modes.
- Our top pick, BioLite’s Headlamp 330, is lightweight and comfortable, and has a sweat-wicking headband.
A headlamp is one of the most important pieces of anyone’s outdoor kit. Unlike an ordinary flashlight, which requires you to physically hold it in your hand, headlamps conveniently affix to your head to illuminate whatever’s in front of you. That could be a hiking trail, a dark campsite, or even under the hood of a car – no matter its use case, that convenience can’t be understated.
But not all headlamps are created equal. Some are designed specifically for, say, trail running, built to be lightweight on a runner’s head, while others are more robust, intended to pump out hundreds of lumens for several hours. And there are plenty more that are just useful enough to get the job done, which are perfect for stashing in a camp tote or in your car’s glove box.
As an avid camper for much of my life, I’ve long respected the value of a proper headlamp – it’s literally a night and day difference navigating a backcountry campsite in the pitch black as opposed to wearing a headlamp. But the same headlamp I use while backpacking differs from what I use while car camping, or what I grab to go biking or running. Needless to say, I’ve worn plenty of headlamps – some good, some awful, and many in between.
Just as my needs vary regarding the types of headlamps I need for the kinds of activities I enjoy, so, too, does the design and innovation native to what’s on the market. To find the best, I decided to field test a variety of headlamps from brands like BioLite and Ledlensder. Below are my six favorites, perfect for everything from camping and cycling to working around the house.
Here are the best headlamps:
- Best overall: BioLite Headlamp 330
- Best on a budget: Vitchelo V800
- Best high-powered: Ledlenser H7R Signature
- Best rechargeable: BioLite Headlamp 750
- Best for cycling: Hleane LED Zoomable Headlamp
- Best for home projects: Coast FL75 Focusing Headlamp
Each of the headlamps featured in this guide went through a number of tests to determine how well they compared across these four categories: Comfort, brightness, battery life, and value. Here’s how each category specifically factored into which headlamps made this guide:
Comfort: Since you’ll be wearing a headlamp on your head for what could be upwards of an hour or more at a time, it’s vital that the one you choose is comfortable. To test for this, we looked at the materials used in the headbands, how it felt to wear the headlamp for an extended period of time, and if it remained comfortable while doing normal tasks like setting up camp or even just walking around.
Brightness: The best headlamps should have a number of variable brightness settings and some even allow for custom control over the size of the beam. What makes brightness settings so important is that you don’t always want a headlamp that’s on full blast the entire time you need to use it. Having the ability to toggle between a range of settings is an important feature.
Battery life: A headlamp is no good if its battery only lasts a couple of hours. Sure, you could buy one that takes batteries but you don’t want to be lugging around a bag of batteries everywhere you go with it (this is especially true for backpackers).
Value: The exact value of a headlamp is dependent on how you intend to use it, but at the very least you should look for one that does well in the three categories above. And while there are decent budget options available (we’ve included one in our guide), buying the cheapest headlamp you find isn’t something we recommend doing. Often, it’s best to spend a little more on a product designed to last.
The best headlamp overall
No headlamp I’ve tested has been near as comfortable as the BioLite HeadLamp 330. With a balanced, comfortable fit and a sweat-wicking headband, it’s our favorite headlamp for any outdoor activity.
Pros: Durable, moisture-wicking headband, balanced with light and battery in front and back, respectively
Cons: Doesn’t take AAA or AA batteries as backup, the lithium-ion battery is not removable (you can’t get a spare battery to take with you and swap out, but a power pack would fix that), 330 lumens is bright, but could be brighter (still, it saves on battery)
Headlamps may seem like lightweight, unrestrictive tools (or toys) but having those extra few ounces bobbing up and down on your forehead for several hours at a time takes its tolls. Not only are some of the heavier and more powerful options a literal drag, but they’re also annoying, even if you don’t realize it. I didn’t.
With the BioLite HeadLamp 330, its 330 lumens of output is a good balance between what most of us need to be able to see in the dark and how long the battery life lasts, which is a respectable 40 hours on the low setting and around 3.5 hours on high. It also makes a good reading light and avoids reflecting off the pages of your book or magazine to blind you.
I took the HeadLamp 330 fishing at night, hiking to camp, hiking just to hike, and generally just stumbling about in the dark behind my father’s woodshop, which is, for all intents and purposes, a treacherous deathtrap of wood and metal scraps. Yes, dearest reader, I take my job, and your safety, extremely seriously. I’m glad to report that, throughout the testing process, there was not a single visit to the emergency room.
In all seriousness, the best thing about the HeadLamp 330 is how well balanced it is. With the light in front and the battery pack in the back, you don’t feel the strain of a light and a battery pack dragging your forehead down.
The most notable spec about this headlamp is that the light and battery are separate, which puts a lot less weight on your forehead, and the light itself. The whole kit, I might add, weighs only 69 grams, or less than 2.5 ounces.
One common problem we see a lot with headlamps is that the joint where the light meets the base loses its threads or just breaks altogether, especially when the batteries are in the same pivoting unit as the light. BioLite does away with any such worry.
Speaking of pivoting, the light pivots up and down between four positions, which is, in my opinion, just enough. There’s also a red light, which makes it a lot easier for your eyes to readjust after you flick it off.
The small on/off button (gray, left of center) can be a little hard to find at first, but you’ll learn to love it because you’ll find that you won’t accidentally activate the epileptic test strobe in your hiking partner’s face, and it’s actually positioned right where you want to be (at least, if you’re adjusting it with your right hand). — Owen Burke
The best budget headlamp
The Vitchelo V800 Headlamp is affordable and reliable, ready to illuminate objects both near and far even in adverse conditions.
Pros: Durable and weather-resistant, affordable price, white and red strobe functions
Cons: Easily turns on by accident, no floodlight setting
The Vitchelo V800 headlamp punches well above its weight. For a light that costs only around sixteen bucks, it has attributes you’d expect from a unit valued at double that price, or more. It has three brightness settings for its white light and a strobe feature, which can be valuable during an emergency when you want to be spotted by responders or when you’re assisting with emergency response and need to stay in touch with your team. The headlamp also has a solid and flashing red light.
Thanks to an IPX6 waterproof rating, this headlamp should be impervious to damage from rainfall or even a quick drop in a puddle or stream — just don’t wear it while you scuba dive. And at its low output setting, the white light can shine for up to 120 hours with fresh batteries, so you’ll have ample time to work, search, travel, or conduct other activities.
One reason I would not recommend this for a backpacker or camper is that the buttons are easily pressed by gear tumbling in your bag. A headlamp shining in a pack all day might mean dead batteries when you need it at night. That’s not much an issue when the unit is stashed in a nightstand or in your emergency prep kit, though — just make sure it’s not on when you close the drawer or the bag and you should be good.
The best high-power headlamp
The H7R Signature from Ledlenser delivers up to 1200 lumens, has seven light settings, including an SOS function, and can even be controlled with Bluetooth via a smartphone.
Pros: Seven different light settings, including an SOS distress signal that blinks in Morse code, offers up to 1200 lumens, rated IP67 against water and dust, has Bluetooth capability with a compatible smartphone for custom light settings
Just about any Ledlenser headlamp could slot into one of the categories in this guide, but the H7R Signature gets the nod thanks to its incredible light output of up to 1200 lumens. Now, of course, you likely won’t need that much power all the time, but when you do, it’s incredibly handy to have it at your disposal.
The H7R Signature impresses across the board, too, not just regarding its power. It comes with an easy-to-adjust head strap that stays comfortable, even after prolonged use (though, it may start to feel a little heavy due to a heavy-ish, rear-mounted battery). It’s clear Ledlenser took the time to properly balance it, as well, so even if that battery is a little heavy, it never feels awkward or like your head has to tilt too far to one side.
One of the best features of the H7R is its 7 different light modes, which include Power, Low Power, Boost, Blink, Position, SOS, and Strobe. The SOS function is particularly interesting, as it flashes a strobed distress signal that sends an SOS in Morse Code when activated. Many of the other light modes, like Position and Strobe, are also designed to alert people of your position.
The H7R features a rechargeable internal battery, so you won’t have to worry about lugging any batteries along with it, and it’s also rated IP67 against dust and water. Bluetooth capability also allows the headlamp to be controlled and customized via a compatible smartphone.
Perhaps its lone downside, however, is the fact it costs $175. Though this isn’t a dealbreaker, it is a lot to spend on a headlamp. The H7R is designed to last for several years (if not upwards of a decade), so the investment is a sound one, especially if you’ll be using it often.
The best rechargeable headlamp
The Headlamp 750 from BioLite is as good as rechargeable headlamps get, offering up to 750 lumens of output, a fit that stays comfortable for hours, and a Run Forever mode that lets it operate as you charge it on-the-go.
Pros: Comfortable headband, 8 different light modes that can all be individually dimmed, Run Forever mode lets you charge it while it operates, low profile design
The BioLite name is synonymous with quality portable lighting and its new Headlamp 750 continues that tradition in an impressive way. Much like our best overall pick, the Headlamp 330, the 750 takes traditional headlamp tech and adds more to it than you ever thought you needed.
Want to charge it while you’re using it on-the-go? The 750 can do it. How about 8 different light modes, each with the ability to dim? It has that, too. The 750’s strength is in its versatility, and it’s the kind of headlamp that you’d want to bring with you on weekend camping trips, multi-day backpacking treks, the occasional nighttime hike, or literally anything — it works as well for getting under the sink or working on your car, too.
As mentioned, the 750 offers up to 8 different light modes to choose from: Red flood, white spot, white flood, spot and flood, white strobe, 30-second burst, rear red flood, and rear red strobe. Not only will you be able to have complete control over what the headlamp illuminates and how it illuminates it, but you’ll also be visible to whoever’s around you.
Then there’s its Run Forever feature that allows you to plug in a portable power bank to keep the headlamp charged even while it’s running. Though the idea of lugging around a power bank only to have it hanging off the back of your head doesn’t sound comfortable, sticking it into a backpack or opting for a lightweight battery pack is recommended.
It’s also extremely comfortable. BioLite’s 3D SlimFit construction means the headlamp’s components are built into the band itself, reducing what can unnecessarily snag (and making it incredibly low profile in the process). The power unit built into the back of the headlamp also distributes its weight evenly to avoid it bobbing up and down on your head — something many headlamps have a hard time actually doing but the 750 seemed to do it well during our tests.
At $100, it’s certainly not a cheap headlamp but if it holds up as well as it did during our time with it, you likely won’t be spending much more on a headlamp for quite some time. It’s highly durable, comfortable wear, and packed with useful features for just about any use case.
The best headlamp for cycling
Wearing the Hleane LED Zoomable Headlamp is like strapping a headlight to your head with its maximum brightness setting of 1800 lumens.
Pros: Amazingly bright light, great price point, long operating life
Cons: Only two output settings and it’s rather heavy
The top setting of the GRDE Zoomable headlamp is so bright you won’t even use it in many situations. But when you’re on a bike at night and contending for space with cars and trucks, or while you’re pedaling your way down a mountain trail, you’ll love the awesome output power of this lamp. The 1800-lumen beam fully illuminates the trail or road far ahead of you, and it’ll be almost impossible for an oncoming motorist to miss seeing you.
This headlamp is heavier than I’d recommend for use by a climber or distance trekker but for the cyclist or for use on a shorter hike where gear weight isn’t much of an issue, it’s a great choice.
Its beam can be focused and adjusted to best suit the conditions ahead of you, though the limited brightness settings — which are high or low — are a drawback. This is not the light to strap on as you hide out in a hunting blind hoping to stay unnoticed by attentive wildlife, for example.
The GRDE headlamp can be operated using regular batteries but is also plug-in rechargeable, and can be juiced back up using a wall’s AC outlet, a car plug adapter, or a USB cable. It is rated to last for up to 100,000 hours of operating life.
The best headlamp for home projects
The Coast FL75 Focusing headlamp can throw 405 lumens of brightness but best of all, you can use its focusing ring to narrow or widen the beam.
Pros: Bright and crisp light quality, easy to change the shape of the beam, clips for securing band to hat or helmet, extremely long beam throw
Cons: Limited brightness settings, short battery life, no strobe option
I own and often use a Coast FL75 and it’s my first choice for any project around the house I work on after dark — like cleaning the grill in the evening, checking on my scarecrow sprinkle set up, or adding some extra air to the tires of my bike.
Like all Coast lights, this headlamp creates a remarkably clear, crisp white light that makes it easy to see what you’re doing. It’s a great choice for illuminating anything that’s close at hand, though most people will likely be more interested in its long-distance throw capacity.
If you need to see objects or terrain more than 400 feet in front of you in a total darkness scenario, the Coast FL75 headlamp is a good choice. In fact, its beam is rated to stretch out 459 feet at its top 405-lumen output. Even the lowest setting of this light is still bright, rated at 53 lumens.
Here’s the thing: That’s a drawback, not an asset. This light’s low setting is far too bright for many uses, such as viewing a map or reading at night when you want to preserve your night vision and avoid disturbing others (or attracting attention to yourself). The Coast FL75 only has three output settings and they could reasonably be called Pretty Bright, Really Bright, and Whoa OK That’s Super Bright.
If you only plan to use a headlamp as you work, during power outages, or as you survey the scene of an accident as a first responder, then you probably don’t have the need for a dim setting but you do have the need for bright, crisp light. This one certainly offers that.
And, if you want something a little beefier, consider the FL85, with 615 Lumens and a 183-meter beam.
How to shop for a headlamp
First and foremost, a headlamp has to be bright enough for the task at hand. But the type of beam a light creates is every bit as important as its sheer lumen output. While the tendency is often to check the lumen rating of a headlamp and treat that like the most important metric for judging a headlamp, the type of beam is a better deciding factor than the intensity of the light alone. For example:
- A cyclist needs a powerful lamp that throws a beam dozens of yards ahead, letting him or her see plenty of the roadway or trail.
- Mechanic benefit from a wider beam pattern that illuminates a broad swath of the area close at hand.
- If you’re camping, consider a headlamp with variable light settings, a red light option, and one that offers long battery life (especially for backpackers).
You also have to consider features such as strobe effects, a red light option, battery life, and weight. The way those and other secondary attributes assist you in your hobbies or work should help you choose the headlamp best fit for you from our guide.