Do you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors? Whether it is trail running, mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, hiking or simply just camping in the middle of a field somewhere? whatever the activity, it is possible that you have used a headlamp before, and if you haven’t we would have to ask – why not?
Headlamps are incredibly practical and useful pieces of kit that really should not need much in the way of an introduction. After all, how explicit do we have to be with why it would be beneficial for you to have a hands-free lighting solution. The improvements that have been made to the technology behind headlamps over the last decade or so has been remarkable.
The headlamp, and particularly the LED headlamp marketplace is a highly competitive one. With brands trying to outdo one another in terms of batteries, lumens or the maximum light output and other factors.
However, whether you are completely new to the world of LED headlamps or something of a veteran, you could be forgiven for finding the choice a little overwhelming. This is where we come in.
To help you find the best LED headlamp that will meet your needs and available budget, we have put together a list of what we consider the top 10 LED headlamps.
There is a reason why the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp appears atop most of the best-LED headlamp lists – it simply is the best all-rounder out there. While it is definitely not perfect, it may not actually be possible to find a completely perfect headlamp – so that is something of a moot point.
The bottom line is, at what it does, it does it better than all the alternatives. What does it offer you? A long-lasting battery and a supremely bright beam of light, without redundant and useless high spec optics. All that for a very affordable and competitive price.
There is one double power white LED light and one quad power red light that produce a total of 300 Lumens. The red light is there to help you with night vision. along with the ability to dim the beam, this rather nifty headlamp is dust-proof and splash-proof and even has a safety lock that stops the light from switching on (and potentially using up your battery power) while it is inside your pocket or backpack.
While Coast Products, based in Oregon are not as prolific as Petzl or Black Diamond, they do have a line of high quality LED headlamps. One of their models in particular that stands out for us is their FL85. First things first, it packs a rather awesome brightness level of 540 lumens in a single beam of light – which is rather nifty when visibility is poor or it is pitch black.
The fun doesn’t stop there though as it also features a very useful focusing ring that gives you an incredible degree of control when you need to adjust between the different distance and proximity modes. One thing that sets this apart even from the Spot is the 550 ft that the beam can reach when the Spot is only capable of half that.
It’s not just the higher power modes that offer great brightness and beam quality though, as you can still use the FL85 on lower settings for lighting a trail or around camp. However, the downsides of this headlamp are the battery life, its chunky design, and the weight.
Petzl, much like Black Diamond, is an industry leader known for specializing in LED headlamps specifically for caving, biking and climbing, however, the French-based company has reworked their mid-priced lamps, like the Actik for instance.
The model we like particularly is the Actik Core, as this is rechargeable and produces 350 lumens worth of bright light (compared to the standard Core model that produces just 300 lumens) which is distributed from 2 white LED bulbs. It is arguably one of the best rechargeable mid-range headlamps on the market and is very easy to charge via USB and on standard power, settings will have around 7 hours worth of use.
However, when you are nowhere near a power source and run out of charge, the Actik Core doesn’t let you down – as long as you have 3 x AAA batteries. If you do, you can still get use of this great light. Although it does feature the right emergency light mode and similar brightness to others that are non-rechargeable, it is let down by the fact it is only IPX4 level of waterproofing and does not feature a dimmer. However, the fact that it is relatively lightweight and rechargeable are the Petzl Actik Core’s strongest features.
Although the Black Diamond Icon may be more specifically designed for arduous mountain traversing, it is worthy of inclusion here for a number of reasons. For one the fact that it has a best-in-class brightness output of 500 lumens, which makes it the most powerful of its kind.
Furthermore, the battery has a considerably long life, even when you use it on the highest setting. In addition, the waterproofed casing provides protection in 1-meter depths. However, the major negative aspect of this headlamp is the bulk and weight. Another reason why this is best suited to mountain climbers taking on a real challenge that is looking for a headlamp that will withstand a lot.
It’s true that, compared to some of the more robust, meatier models on our list, the Petzl Tikka headlamp is outperformed. However, if you are looking for a well designed LED headlamp, simply for camping trips and using in the attic or basement or any other jobs like that – this may just be all you need.
Without the dimming functionality and the fact that it is not rechargeable if those are deal breakers, you should look elsewhere. If though, you have a strict budget and don’t need the headlamp for anything particularly taxing, this is a great budget model by a great manufacturer.
Focusing by name, focusing by nature. The second entry for Coast on our list is the Coast HL7 Focusing headlamp. Similarly to the FL85, this provides a level of performance that in many ways exceeds its price tag. It is capable of producing a very reasonable 285 lumens, but it’s the focusing functionality that is the most impressive aspect of this light.
To switch from more a wider light beam to a spot it is very easy to switch it to this and when you are using the spotlight functionality, the beam can stretch as far as 350 ft. Compare this to the amazing Black Diamond Spot and it outperforms it, as the Spot is only capable of reaching around 250 ft.
The downsides of this Coast light is the weight and the battery life. All in all, though, the price tag and its high performance are what saves this headlamp.
The Fenix HP25R headlamp has an incredibly high output in terms of brightness, thanks to the two LEDs and even includes a secondary strap to give a more secure and snug fit to the light. Back to the lighting capabilities and one of the lights functions as a spotlight that can achieve 1,000 lumens when in burst mode, but is just at 350 for high. While the other light is used as a floodlight and is also capable of achieving 350 lumens.
When both lights are used in unison though, that is where this headlamp is a winner. The disadvantage of having such powerful lights is the hammering the battery takes when you use them for any length of time. Add to that the fact some customers have commented it doesn’t feel robust enough and that the IPX 6 waterproofing rating is not as high as some other models.
The third Black Diamond headlamp on our list may just be the best one. Save for the bulkier design and heavier weight of this model. The Storm as its name suggests is a force to be reckoned with and is feature-packed. It has 3 different night vision light colors (green, blue and red), proximity lights and a spotlight.
Furthermore, it is sealed tight to protect against water and dust and can be easily dimmed. There is even a lockout mode that you can set the Storm headlamp too, so it doesn’t switch on accidentally while it is in your pack and subsequently drain the battery. As noted this is a heavier model than the Spot, but this may only be an issue if you are looking for a light to wear while you run or something.
We aren’t going to lie here, the Princeton Tec Apex Extreme LED lamp is definitely not going to be for everyone. It has been designed and constructed to endure the harshest and most unforgivably cold environments. It’s quite pricey too, but you are rewarded with reliability and power.
By far the stand out feature of this light is the remote battery pack. This allows you to keep the battery in your warm sleeping bag or even jacket, to prevent the power from running out quickly. Best suited to mountaineering and alpine climbing, this beauty pumps out a total of 350 lumens between the 4 wide beam and central spotlights.
However, it is not all good news, as this is quite a bulky and heavy piece of kit. Something worth considering when any extra weight can make all the difference in your ability to traverse steep and snowy mountains. If you are looking for a headlamp with a decent battery size and can handle the extra weight, this is a supreme choice.
The vast majority of LED headlamps we have highlighted on this list have been chosen for camping and even more rugged outdoor activities in mind. However, not all headlamps are designed for those kinds of situations. Some are simply designed to accompany and accommodate you if you enjoy running at night or early in the morning.
The Black Diamond Sprinter is a case in point. This has an additional strap that goes over the top of your head to keep it secure and produces a beam that stretches enough with 200 lumens. It also has a red light at the back of the strapping to increase your visibility. Even the battery is reasonably lightweight.
Important Considerations to Make when Buying the Best LED Headlamp
We hope that the above list of our pick of the top 10 best LED headlamps helps you find the one that meets all your needs and requirements.
Understandably, you may still feel that hundreds whittled down to 10 solid performers is still an overwhelming amount to choose from. With that in mind then, to help make your decision a little bit easier, we have put together a guide to the important considerations you need to make when choosing an LED headlamp.
How Much is Enough Lumens?
The question surrounding brightness and the headlamp lumen rating you need is a difficult one to answer really. Manufacturers keep improving and increasing the maximum lumens their new headlamps are capable of producing, which can make older models (even if they are only from the last 12 month period) seem dull and inferior.
The Black Diamond Spot is a great example of this. The first edition it was 90 lumens and then subsequent versions increased that to 130, then 200 and finally to the current 300 lumens.
Back to the question at hand. When choosing a headlamp based on its lumen rating, you need to think about the fact that it is unlikely you will be using it at the max setting for prolonged periods of time. Even though a strong beam is important, overusing it will just drain the battery very quickly.
As a general rule of thumb, we feel that headlamps with 25 to 150 lumens are ideal for doing stuff around the house, whether it’s in the attic or basement and can also be a great backup for your backpack when you are camping or hiking. However, if you need something to help you navigate through the dark, you are probably best investing in something with 200 lumens or more.
If though you are aiming to use your LED headlamp for all manner of extreme outdoor activities, such as mountaineering or even spelunking, you need to look for lights that produce 250 lumens at the very least.
N.B. You need to bear in mind when choosing a headlamp that while the lumen rating is a vital piece of information, it doesn’t represent the quality and brightness perfectly. It measures the visible light level they are capable of producing, but that does not always indicate just how well a lamp will light up a campsite, trail or wherever you are wearing it.
Different Types of LEDs – Strobes, Colored, Flood and Spot Lights
You need to also be aware of the different types of lights and lighting modes that headlamps feature. Normally, the default light setting is the spot beam. Although you may not need to use this in all scenarios, if you are caving or even just hiking in the dark or when visibility is poor, a beam that stretches for a long distance is an obvious advantage.
Another feature that many headlamps have is the floodlight option. This is essential for a variety of applications because of its wide coverage. These are designed for maximizing your view as it is right in front of you and aren’t designed for distance, but great for when you are walking around your camp or in your tent.
Additionally, a lot of medium to high-performance headlamps feature night vision red, green and often blue LED lights. For the more casual user, they are great for using at night around the camp or in your tent for reading books without disturbing or blinding your friends.
If you are looking for a headlamp for very particular night uses, green and blue are ideal for trackers and hunters to help you differentiate between animal’s blood and foliage.
Some models even have a strobe light for emergency. These are generally designed to be as visible as possible without eating too much battery power.
Power Options – Batteries
As standard, the majority of LED headlamps are powered by AAA batteries that are either housed at the back of the head strap or in the actual casing of the light. A clamshell-styled door is normally what keeps them packed in tightly and securely.
Battery packs that are built into the back of the strap may feel bulkier but benefit from distributing the additional weight sufficiently. You will find that headlamps with this kind of battery pack will usually have a secondary strap that runs over the top of your head for a more secure fit and extra support.
Other headlamps feature a completely detachable battery pack that means you can carry it in a pocket or your bag to stop it draining when the temperatures are extremely low.
Rechargeable LED headlamps are another great option and obviously a cost-effective alternative to having to constantly replace batteries. These are often charged via a USB plug-in, car charger port or even with a battery pack or solar panel when you are really out in the middle of nowhere.
You will notice from browsing through even the 10 listed above, that the weight of headlamps varies from model to model. While some are incredibly heavy such as the Princeton Tec Apex Extreme at 14.9 oz, others such as the Petzl e+LITE are only 0.95 oz.
Normally, the more serious and powerful headlamp models tend to be heavier. These are often made from thick plastic or even aluminum to help cope with hard impacts, while lighter models are made with a much thinner plastic casing and do not require nearly as many batteries.
A lightweight headlamp is ideal if you are not looking to take part in more extreme activities, as they are more comfortable, restrict your movement less and are compact enough to fit into even the smallest backpack.
Weight distribution is also a key aspect to consider though. Take for example the Black Diamond Storm and Spot. They both have the battery housing in the front. However, the Spot is 3.2 oz compared to the slightly heavier Storm at 3.9 oz and feels significantly lighter even if it really isn’t.
When you are carrying the weight on your head, those extra ounces make all the difference between headgear that stays put for everything and a lamp that joggles up and down when you start to run.
Carrying Comfort and Straps
Connected directly to the headlamp weight is the strapping. The style of strapping used in headlamps varies from the supportive and strong to the more minimalist. There are two basic designs – a 2-part system with an additional strap that runs over the top of the head and a simplistic elasticated nylon strapping that goes around your head.
While it is true that the 2 part system is designed more with extreme activities in mind such as mountaineering rock climbing and caving; because they offer a more comfortable and secure fit, they are also ideal for more casual applications. In many modern headlamps, the extra strap that runs across the top of your head can be removed when it is not needed.
Hopefully, you now feel better equipped to find the best LED headlamp for you. You have had a chance to look at our top picks and also have important food for thought when looking through the options open to you and your budget.
More than anything else, we hope that we have taken the stress out of your search.