The Best Headlamps (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Keep your hands free and your way well-lit with these handy headlamps.
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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON July 6, 2021
Everyone knows the value of a reliable headlamp. Seeing in the dark has been important since people lit torches to find their way around before electricity came into play. When we need both hands to pitch a tent, change a flat tire, steer a bicycle, or just see in the dark, it is a good time to use a hands-free headlamp.
We love headlamps for their practicality and ease of use. With a light strapped to your head or clipped to your hat, you can have light everywhere you look without tying up one of your hands. You will never get upset at someone for not shining the light in the right place again if you opt for one of these reliable headlamps.
This rugged light is IPX-8 rated to be waterproof to 3.3 feet for up to 30 minutes. The headlamp features dimming, strobe, lock, and red night vision operating modes.
- Super durable and waterproof
- A useful brightness memory allows you to store your favorite light settings for quick access
- This model is pricey
- The band could be more substantial for better holding and less loss of elasticity over time
This is a durable lamp that can provide up to 260 lumens of light to a distance of 8 meters to offer you hands-free operation.
- Includes seven operational modes for versatile lighting options
- It’s also IPX-4 rated to be waterproof with shatterproof glass
- The lamp is less powerful and bright than some other models
- Requires three AA batteries to operate
A stylish headlamp that stands out with its unique aqua color and ultra-bright light.
- USB rechargeable
- Charges in four hours
- 40 hours of consistent light
- 300-foot beam of light
- Waterproof and durable
- No battery indicator light
- Light beam can't be focused
- Charging port cover is flimsy
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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Headlamps
- Hands-free operation. One of the greatest benefits of a headlamp is that it allows for bright illumination while keeping both of your hands free to carry objects or to do a job.
- Compact light source. Headlamps are an excellent source of super bright light in a very compact and portable package. They’re small enough to fit in your tool box or purse and weigh next to nothing, making them a highly portable and attractive lighting option.
- Versatile. Headlamps are ideal sources of light for going on night walks, camping, hiking, orienteering, doing intricate mechanical or woodworking jobs, even doing jigsaw puzzles or giving manicures or pedicures in low light.
- Inexpensive. You can get a durable, reliable headlamp that will last you for years without making a significant investment to do so. Advances in technology have made these ultrabright light sources super budget-friendly.
- Waterproof. Most modern headlamps are fully waterproof, allowing you to use them successfully in the rain or shallow water for a limited time without malfunctioning. They’re great options for keeping in your car’s emergency kit in case of rainy night tire changes.
- Good for e.mergencies. In the event of an unplanned power outage or emergency, headlamps can provide a vital light source and are usually equipped with an emergency SOS strobe mode as an added safety feature.
Types of Headlamps
This is the most common type of headlamp. It usually runs on two or three AA batteries as its power source. These are very versatile lamps that can be continuously used as long as you have a steady supply of battery replacements. You can even use rechargeable AA batteries as an environmentally-friendly power source, but be aware that the headlamp's life is usually shorter with rechargeable batteries, so you'll want to have another set of fully charged batteries to swap out.
This type of headlamp is rapidly growing in popularity. This model is fully rechargeable via a convenient fast-charging USB cable that can hook into your AC outlet or your 12-volt DC power supply in your vehicle. You can even recharge it by plugging it into your laptop, generator, or solar charging station, making it one of the most versatile and environmentally-friendly options. The only problem with this model is that you need a way to recharge it, so if you’re in an extended unplanned power outage or hiking far distances away from typical power sources, this might not be your best option.
One of the best and most versatile headlamps is the hybrid option, which can run either on batteries that you can swap out and replace, or be recharged via a USB cable. Hybrid models give you the best of both worlds and allow you to reliably use your headlamp anywhere, anytime. This model is generally more expensive, but the benefits of having such a versatile light source far outweigh the added initial expense.
Since 1957, Black Diamond has been making gear to improve the lives and experiences of skiers and climbers. The company is known for such innovative products as its HiLight 2-person tent and the Storm 400 Headlamp. The company prides itself on the fact that all of its gear is employee tested.
Since 1896, Energizer has been providing innovative battery technology to consumers around the world. It’s the parent company of such well-known brands as Eveready, Rayovac, Armor-All, NuFinish, STP, and others. It’s innovative products, such as the ArmorAll Interior Car Cleaner and Protectant, as well as Energizer AA Batteries, make it a leading brand in the industry.
The PETZL Group was founded back in 1970 by adventurous caver and artisan Fernand Petzl. Now an international enterprise, the first PETZL mountaineering headlamp was invented in 1973, and the company has been an industry leader ever since. The company produces high-quality climbing products, like the Bug backpack for single-day, multi-pitch climbing, and the ACTIK CORE rechargeable compact multi-beam headlamp.
- Under $25: This price range will get you a decent and reliable headlamp from many reputable companies. Most are equipped with super bright LED lights and are battery operated.
- $25-$50: This price range delivers higher-quality, more durable, brighter lights for serious climbers, cavers, and people who do frequent tactical maneuvers and outdoor activities during the night.
- Over $50: This is the upper echelon of ultra-high-tech, lightweight headlamps. This price range will get you the longest-lasting, brightest lights with all the bells and whistles.
This refers to the number of lumens put forth by your headlamp. The more lumens, the brighter the light and illumination. Some headlamps have the same or greater illumination capabilities as a car headlight. This also refers to the ability to alter the amount of light output. Having the light set to the brightest setting isn’t always appropriate or ideal, depending on the situation, so having a light with adjustable output settings is key.
A good and durable headlamp will have a waterproof rating or IPX rating that lets you know how well it will function or stand up in a wet or rainy environment. An IPX rating of one indicates some water-resistant capabilities but is not waterproof. An IPX rating of eight is the highest, meaning this headlamp is fully waterproof and can be fully submerged in water for up to 30 minutes and still function reliably.
Knowing what you’re primarily going to use the headlamp for will help you determine which power source will suit your needs. Are you going to be using it for camping, backpacking, or emergency power outages with an unknown time frame? Then a battery-operated lamp is your best choice. If you have access to electrical sources, like using it at your garage or workshop, then having a rechargeable headlamp is a great option.
- Light Colors. Having a headlamp with red or green light capabilities is easier on not only your eyes at night but also the eyes of anyone in your company. These light colors also draw less power, allowing you maximum battery conservation and your headlamp's longest run time.
- Impact Resistance. If you use your headlamp primarily for climbing and caving—or even hiking and camping—getting a headlamp with a high level of impact resistance and one that is equipped with shatterproof glass is a good idea. This will ensure that you don't accidentally damage or break the lamp if you drop it or bump your head on a rock or tree branch.
- Comfort. When it comes to a good headlamp, comfort is key. If you plan on wearing it for any length of time, you want a comfortable and breathable band. Make sure there aren't any contact points that will cause headaches or skin irritation with continued wear.
- Light Modes. Many headlamps offer several different light modes, anywhere from two to eight. Is it important for you to have many options for other circumstances, such as SOS strobe mode, high, low, side beams, red or green? Or do you require a headlamp that can be put into high or low mode and is more straightforward to operate?
Best Headlamp Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Try before you buy if possible. Seeing the strength of the lamp and wearing it to see if it’s comfortable can make choosing the appropriate one much easier.
- Read online customer reviews of people who have purchased the models you’re considering to see what the biggest pros and cons seem to be.
- Make a list of your must-have options and features to help you quickly narrow down the plethora of choices when shopping for a headlamp online.
- Be sure to buy from a reputed company with a good reputation and one that stands behind the quality and performance of its product.
Q: What is the best headlamp?
The best headlamp is one that is IPX-8 rated for full waterproofing, has a high level of lumens to provide bright light, is both impact- and shatter-resistant, and has long battery life.
Q: What is the brightest headlamp on the market?
The brightest headlamp we could find available boasts a whopping 20,000 lumens: the Ankeca 20000 Lumen Cree Led Headlamp.
Q: How do I choose a good headlamp?
Consumer reports and online reviews from multiple sources will help you choose a good headlamp. You can also see which models are favorites of your friends since very often, you’re using them for the same purpose.
Q: Can a bad battery cause headlamps to flicker?
Yes, a bad battery can definitely cause the headlamp to flicker. However, this can also be caused by a short circuit in the wiring due to a jarring impact or water damage.
If you’re a camper or hiker, or whether you need to keep both hands free to do work or read a good quality, durable headlamp like the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp or the Energizer High-Powered LED Headlamp can be a game-changer. It can also be a lifesaver in emergencies. If you have a favorite headlamp that didn’t make our list, let us know why we should include it.