Kevin Brouillard is a contributing writer at Travel + Leisure, specializing in outdoor gear and apparel. He has over five years of experience writing about travel and lifestyle content for digital publications, including TripSavvy, Oyster.com, Jetsetter, and more. Kevin splits his time between two New York State locales: downtown Troy and the historic village of Gilbertsville.
Prior to writing for T+L, Kevin served with the Peace Corps in Battambang, Cambodia. Since then, he has worked in environmental education, community planning, and climate policy for nonprofits and the State of New York. He also writes about personal finance and small business topics for SoFi. Outside his sustainability work, Kevin is an avid traveler who has visited more than 40 countries. A few of his most memorable travel experiences include cycling from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Da Nang, Vietnam, summiting volcanic Mt. Rinjani, and trekking through the Arctic Circle in Sweden.
Kevin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics, and a minor in European and Mediterranean studies from New York University. He also has a Master of Public Administration degree, and a Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities from Binghamton University.
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From the hiking trail to the backyard, a headlamp is a handy tool to find your way in the dark. At first thought, the range of features and specifications that distinguish headlamps may not appear obvious or significant. But between battery options, runtime, brightness, and light settings, headlamps have become increasingly sophisticated gadgets designed for different uses.
There are many headlamps to choose from for hands-free illumination, but our favorite is the Black Diamond Spot 400 Headlamp. It provides a high degree of customization — both in battery type and lighting modes — in a lightweight and durable package. Other headlamps catering to runners, backpackers, kids, and more also made our list of the best on the market.
Read on to find the best headlamp for your next adventure.
Why We Love it: This versatile headlamp offers highly adjustable settings, waterproof protection, and the ability to use different battery types at a competitive price point.
What to Consider: The rechargeable battery must be purchased separately.
The Black Diamond Spot 400 Headlamp is the complete package, with a lengthy runtime, sleek profile, and intuitive design supporting all-around use. With batteries, the Spot 400 weighs in at just 2.7 ounces. Adjustable, stretchy bands help achieve a secure fit to reduce bouncing during active use. The compact headlamp is fitted with just two buttons — an on/off switch and a larger button to toggle between an impressive list of settings: proximity, spot, red, and strobe. Proximity mode emits a softer, wide beam to illuminate one’s immediate surroundings while the spot setting delivers a narrow bright beam to light up the trail ahead. Meanwhile, the red and strobe are well-suited for camp chores and visibility on morning runs, respectively.
The Spot 400’s power-tap technology lets users further customize the level of brightness from 1 to 400 lumens. Simply hold down and release the larger button when the desired light is achieved. Thanks to the brightness memory feature, the light and brightness settings will remain unchanged when you turn the Spot 400 back on. The flexibility to use both rechargeable or alkaline batteries is ideal for longer excursions. Its IPX8 waterproofing, which means the headlamp can be submerged in 3 feet of water for up to half an hour without losing any functionality, is another reason to put the Spot 400 to test on your next outdoor adventure.
Power source: 3 AAA alkaline or BD 1500 mAH rechargeable batteries | Max brightness: 400 lumens | Max beam distance: 100 meters | Runtime: 200 hours (low); 2.5 hours (high)
Why We Love it: It’s a user-friendly headlamp with single-button adjustment and a USB-rechargeable battery.
What to Consider: The battery life only lasts up to two hours on high.
The Petzl Actik Core Headlamp has versatile use and long-lasting performance for venturing out in the elements. It features three LED bulbs that produce a mix of flood and spotlight across three brightness levels as well as red light for night vision. Jeremy Scott Foster, founder at TravelFreak, recommends sporting a headlamp with a red light mode while backpacking. “When climbing into your tent or milling about camp, the red light is much less abrasive and helps your brain wind down after a long day on the trail,” says Foster. At just 2.65 ounces, the Actik Core also won’t weigh down your pack or weary head. Though the USB-rechargeable battery may not last a multi-day trek, it can be switched out for three AAA batteries in a pinch. And a handy lock function helps preserve the battery life by ensuring the headlamp remains off when not in use. After the trek, the detachable headband can be thrown in the wash for a fresh start on the next adventure.
Power source: 1250 mAh CORE rechargeable battery (included); compatible with three AAA alkaline, lithium-ion, or Ni-MH rechargeable | Max brightness: 450 lumens | Max beam distance: 90 meters | Runtime: 130 hours (low)
Why We Love it: This easy-to-use headlamp offers three brightness settings and a solid run time at a price that’s hard to beat.
What to Consider: It doesn’t come with a red light setting or rechargeable battery.
Of the Petzl models, the Tikkina headlamp is the most basic. But it still delivers the quality performance the French brand has come to be known for. The Tikkina is fitted with a single button to easily adjust between low, medium, and high white light settings, putting out 6, 100, and 250 lumens, respectively. Like the Actik Core, the Tikkina’s headband can be removed and washed. Though it lacks a red light setting and other advanced features, it’ll do the job while saving money to boot.
Power source: 3 AAA batteries | Max brightness: 250 lumens | Max beam distance: 60 meters | Runtime: 2 hours (high); 120 hours (low)
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Why We Love it: The incredibly long runtime and versatile features give peace of mind in an emergency situation.
What to Consider: The rechargeable battery is built in, so there’s no options to replace with alkaline batteries.
With a maximum runtime of 330 hours, the Nitecore NU32 is an excellent candidate for any emergency kit. The 3.5-ounce headlamp has four brightness levels (ultralow, mid, high, and turbo) and two special modes (beacon and SOS), ranging from 1 to 550 lumens. To balance battery life and output in a power outage, the mid-setting affords 33 lumens and 50 hours of light. Meanwhile, the turbo, beacon, and SOS options emit 550 lumens, in a range of up to 124 meters in the case of turbo mode. The NU32 is also fitted with red and high CRI auxiliary LEDs to support night vision and up-close tasks. A power indicator and locking function are helpful features to monitor and control battery use. The headlamp design allows 60 degrees of tilt to further enhance visibility.
Power source: Rechargeable battery | Max brightness: 550 lumens | Max beam distance: 124 meters | Runtime: 330 hours (Ultralow); 1 hour (Turbo)
Why We Love it: This durable, functional headlamp was designed with fun and safety in mind.
What to Consider: It doesn’t have a rechargeable battery, so it’s not the most eco-conscious option.
Perfect for family camping trips, the Black Diamond Wiz Headlamp helps little ones navigate the dark while keeping them highly visible to watchful parents. It also packs a host of kid-friendly specs and features that sets it apart from other headlamps. For starters, it employs a breakaway elastic safety strap on the headband to avert a choking hazard. The modest output of 60 lumens provides ample visibility but is dim enough not to shine too bright in others’ eyes. The Wiz comes in multiple colors, and kids can press the headlamp button to alternate between a rainbow of colored light, too. Other perks include a child-proof battery case and an automated setting to turn off after two hours to conserve battery power.
Power source: Two AAA batteries | Max brightness: 30 lumens | Max beam distance: 20 meters | Runtime: 60 (low); 5 (high)
Why We Love it: This ultralight headlamp performs well for any type of adventure.
What to Consider: The maximum output is lower than most headlamps on this list.
Weighing a mere 1.2 ounces, the Petzl Bindi can fit neatly in a pocket and support a variety of uses. The Bindi’s reflective cord offers a sleek alternative to bulkier conventional headbands that are prone to losing their elasticity. The adjustable fit and lamp tilt give the option of wearing it around the neck, too. A single button makes it easy to switch between three lighting levels (proximity, movement, and distance), a red light mode, and a locking feature. Despite its compact size, the rechargeable battery supports a runtime of up to 50 hours.
Power source: 680 mAh rechargeable battery | Max brightness: 200 lumens | Max beam distance: 36 meters | Runtime: 50 hours (max autonomy); 2 hours (max power)
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Why We Love it: The plush headband provides a snug and comfy fit while running.
What to Consider: With an IPX4 waterproof rating, this headlamp only provides moderate water resistance.
The BioLite Headlamp 330 delivers reliable illumination and comfort for running in the wee morning hours. The headlamp emits 330 lumens (hence the name) and up to 75 meters of range on high mode. Runners can easily adjust the lamp’s tilt with one hand without breaking stride. The 330’s USB-rechargeable battery provides up to three and a half hours of battery life on high, which will serve most runners’ needs. Fitted with moisture-wicking fabric, the 330 also helps keep runners cool and dry. Yet, the biggest standout feature is the 330’s integrated design, which incorporates the lamp and battery within the padded headband to reduce rubbing and bouncing. The battery sits on the back of the headband to better distribute the 330’s weight, which totals a miniscule 2.43 ounces.
Power source: USB-rechargeable 900 mAh lithium ion | Max brightness: 330 lumens | Max beam distance: 75 meters | Runtime: 3.5 hours (high); 40 hours (low)
Why We Love it: This rugged headlamp packs more power and durability than the competition.
What to Consider: The cost and bulk well exceed the other headlamps on this list.
The souped-up Fenix HP30R V2.0 is an incredibly powerful headlamp with a wide selection of features to experiment with. With an IP rating of IP68, this headlamp scores the highest mark in water resistance and is well-suited for outdoor activities. Additional versatility is afforded by 11 lighting modes, including four spotlight levels, three floodlight levels, and four combined brightness modes. Running the spot and flood lights simultaneously on max emits 3,000 lumens and illuminates up to 270 meters. The HP30R V2.0’s two 21700 Li-ion batteries deliver between five and 120 hours of power, depending on the lighting mode, and can be used to charge other devices. It’s worth noting that the headlamp and battery pack add up to a considerable 15.41 ounces — just shy of a pound. However, the battery pack includes an extension cable so it can be detached and worn on a belt clip or in a backpack to relieve the neck and head.
Power source: Two 21700 rechargeable li-ion batteries | Max brightness: 3,000 lumens | Max beam distance: 270 meters | Runtime: 120 hours (low)
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Many headlamps have variable settings and modes, whether to increase the light output, alter the beam type, or change color. It’s important to identify the intended uses you have in mind for your headlamp to ensure it has appropriate light settings. For example, a strobe setting may be critical for joggers and cyclists looking for greater visibility. Meanwhile, a red-light feature is ideal for cooking and moving around a campsite without attracting bugs or disturbing others.
Foster suggests going for a headlamp with multiple light modes. “You can use it in all scenarios — running, backpacking, hiking, or just walking the dogs around the block,” he says.
Headlamps can be designed to use rechargeable batteries, disposable batteries, or both. Rechargeable batteries are the more economical and sustainable choice, but they often have less runtime. If you’re using a headlamp for everyday activities or shorter trips, runtime may not be an issue, especially when using lower settings. Climate conditions are a factor, too. In colder weather, lithium-ion batteries or a rechargeable metal hybrid are better performing options.
Don’t let a lost headlamp or dead battery compromise your trip or put you at a safety risk. For Foster, a second headlamp is an essential item for hiking and backpacking trips. “It’s the one thing you don’t want to be caught without, aside from food, water, and shelter, of course,” notes Foster.
Planning for the unexpected with another headlamp is an easy fix. Most models only weigh a few ounces, so it will hardly make a dent in the total weight of a pack.
For routine care, avoid any cleaning agent that will irritate the skin. Using a cotton swab to apply rubbing alcohol is a safe way to sanitize the headlamp without leaving moisture behind. If there’s battery discharge due to rusting or corroding, use a cotton swab to apply white vinegar or lemon juice to neutralize the battery. Afterwards, a swab of rubbing alcohol will take care of any residue left behind. It’s important to wear protective gloves to prevent battery discharge from touching the skin.
Most headlamps have some level of water resistance to handle exposure to rain or snow. Check the IP rating to determine what level of protection you can expect.
Kevin Brouillard is a contributing writer at T+L, specializing in outdoor gear and apparel. His work has been published in TripSavvy, Jetsetter, and Oyster, and he served in the Peace Corps in Cambodia for two years. He used his experience with outdoor adventure as well as thorough research and tips from experts in compiling this list of the best headlamps.
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