How to choose the Best Headlamp

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man camping headlamp

Headlamps are fantastic at providing hands-free light. But before you race out and buy a headlamp, there are many types of headlamps for different purposes. Do you need a headlamp for pitching a tent in the dark, caving, trail running or night hiking?

Maybe just so you can see at night around your campsite.  We have performed a review to help you choose the best headlamp to suit your outdoor needs.

I have put together another article on the best headlamps for outdoor adventures.

So what sets a headlamp apart from another headlamp? 

Headlamp light output (lumens)

When talking headlamp, lumens are always discussed. Lumens are a measure of the total “amount” of visible light in some defined beam or angle or emitted from some source. 

In most cases but not always, the higher the Lumens the brighter light. If you are wanting the brightest light buy a lamp with high Lumens 

Headlamps generally vary in brightness from between about 12 lumens, to 200 lumens, with some specialist models outputting over 500 lumens (but you pay for it). 

Naturally the brighter the light, the better you can see around you at night, but don’t make the mistake of just buying the brightest lamp you can find if you don’t need it. 

For caving, you would require between 10 to 35 lumens.

After trying many different types of lamps, Lumens is not a reliable way to compare the emitted amount of light. We suggest using Beam Distance as a more reliable measure. Manufacturers will display beam distance on the headlamp. So use both Lumens and Beam distance as the measurement of light. 

how to choose a headlamp

Trail running

Comfort and lightweight are important considerations when selecting headlamps for trail running.  We recommend a minimum of 100 to 120 lumens for a trailrunning headlamp.

A headlight around the campsite

A headlamp around the campsite can be very helpful when preparing food or setting up a campsite. For this purpose, not wanting to blind fellow campers or yourself through reflective light. suggest buying a headlamp with soft light. 

how to choose the best headlamp

Headlamp brightness levels/modes

Some headlamps offer a series of modes or at least a high and low mode. Others may offer more modes.

Flood or wide-angle is good for providing a wide amount of light, lighting up the immediate surrounding good for hiking, bike riding or setting up a campsite. 

Strobe (or Flash) mode acts as an emergency blinker. A few models even offer a choice of flash rates: slow and fast.

Low is the standard model used for most tasks such as camp chores or walking along an easy trail at night. A good option for not blinding other campers.

Mid is provided on some models simply to give people more choices.

High (or Max) is a good option for situations where you are wanting to focus on an object or animal in the distance. Not suitable around the campsite unless you are wanting to blind your fellow campers. Note; high/max beam will reduce the battery life. 

Boost or Zoom  Some lights offer a Boost or Zoom option that sends out 20-30 seconds of light. Useful for trying to see what animal is rustling in bushes. 

how to choose a headlamp

Batteries

Manufacturers do like to quote the maximum amount of battery life. Generally found the battery life is half of the maximum amount. 

Rechargeable nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries work well with headlamps and perform well in cold conditions. Rechargeables are more eco-friendly and reduce battery waste, however, do tend to have shorter battery life.

Headlamps designed to work with lithium batteries are a good choice for cold-weather usage since lithium batteries outperform alkaline batteries in cold conditions.

Always good to carry spare batteries, they don’t take up much room in your backpack (especially if exploring caves)

how to choose a headlamp

Tilt

A headlamp that offers tilt option is handy when wanting to adjust the light to a particular place. 

Coloured Lamps 

Many lamps come with different types of coloured light.  Coloured light can be useful. 

Red light is useful for low power that won’t ruin your night vision. Great for not blinding other camper, hikers or when sharing a tent. Good for detailed work, including cooking dinner. 

Greenlight is useful for reading maps and won’t ruin your night vision.

Comfort 

Headlamp should be comfortable, not being too light especially around your forehead.  You don’t want a headlamp which is too lose otherwise will bounce around especially if trail running at night. The headlamp strap should be soft and adjustable. 

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of headlamps to choose from at different price points. When choosing a lamp, consider your needs and price point you are willing to pay.

We hope you have enjoyed our article on how to choose the best headlamp. If you have any thoughts or comments please leave a comment below.

If you have enjoyed this article, we have another article to help you choose the best headlamp for outdoor adventures.

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