A headlamp has two uses on the Camino de Santiago. If you need to get up during the night, it is great as it keeps your hands free, and the red light has less chance of waking up other pilgrims and will enable you to get back to sleep quicker. The second use is for those who wake early and start walking in the dark – something I have never done on the Camino – I like to take it easy.
A good headlamp is an integral part of my hiking kit, up there with walking boots and a waterproof jacket. This simple yet incredibly convenient device allows me to do virtually anything with my hands during the night, such as pitching a tent after a long day of walking.
In this post, I’ve taken a look at the market’s most popular models, many of which I’ve already used in the past.
If you’re on a budget, Petzl Tikkina is the best option. It’s a model that delivers well beyond its modest price, featuring an 1883-hour low mode runtime and providing the user with an impressive 62-meter beam. However, if you want the best of the best, I recommend going with Ledlenser MH10 – its industry-leading 600-lumen output makes it a genuinely worthwhile purchase.
Best Headlamp for Hiking Reviews
Here are my top picks – the best headlamps for hiking, camping, and backpacking:
1. Black Diamond LED Spot 400 Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 400
- Maximum Distance: 60m
- IPX Rating: 8
- Batteries: 3 AAA (included) or rechargeable Li-Ion
- Weight: 3.1 Oz
The Black Diamond Spot headlamp delivers quality optics and durability at a reasonable price point – it is immensely popular for a good reason. Its 3.1-oz weight supports all-around utility, from backpacking to simple home use. I was thoroughly impressed by its 60-meter beam distance, which stems from an optimized flood/spot mix. The model’s color rendition allows easy trail analysis, too.
I’ve used the headlamp’s single button to manipulate a wide feature set, including red night lighting, lockout, and dimming. However, toggling between the advanced capabilities was a bit confusing – I had to do a lot of different clicks and holds. I also found that the battery life failed to match claims. Manufacturer ratings cite 30 hours on high, but I recorded less than 3 hours.
Similarly, while technically IPX8 is waterproof, the lack of sealing allowed leakage into the battery case during the testing period. This reduces the device’s practical wet-weather viability over other models – its “waterproof” branding proves dubious at best. Still, thoughtful engineering perks like the PowerTap touch flow control deliver convenience, and the Spot’s affordable price should please most hobbyists.
- Quality optics with a 60-meter beam distance
- Just 3.1 ounces with a rugged build
- PowerTap touch flow control
- Battery life misses claims
- Overly complex UI
- Dubious “waterproof” rating
2. BioLite No-Bounce Rechargeable Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 330
- Maximum Distance: 75m
- IPX Rating: 4
- Battery: Rechargeable, via Micro USB
- Weight: 2.4 Oz
The BioLite No-Bounce Rechargeable Headlamp offers versatile and comfortable illumination for night hiking thanks to innovative fabric construction that avoids rigid plastic contact. I like how light and comfortable it is – the model sports a rear-weighted and very balanced design, weighing only 2.4 ounces. An IPX4 water resistance rating handles splashing, while the model’s Li-ion battery enables up to 40 hours of 5-lumen low mode or 3.5 hours of 330-lumen high mode – with this headlamp, I never had to worry about the runtime.
Aside from a brightness range spanning 16 to 250 feet, another thing I liked about this tilt-able lamp is that it provides full dimming and features diverse settings like flood lights, white/red spotlights, strobes, and colorized modes. However, I found that holding the separated light felt a bit awkward, and the small buttons were difficult to use with gloves. While it’s true that most devices of this type have just one button, having to press the one on BioLite multiple times to access each setting was a bit frustrating.
Overall though, the luminance flexibility and the fantastic long-term comfort provided by the model’s moisture-wicking, forehead-cradling fabric make the HeadLamp 330 a top choice for thru-hiking and lengthy night travel.
- Supreme comfort wearing for extended periods
- Tilt-able with dimmable, wide-range brightness
- Lightweight at 2.4 ounces
- Awkward to handhold
- Small buttons challenge glove use
- Confusing controls when accessing settings
3. Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 700
- Maximum Distance: 90m
- IP Rating: 67
- Batteries: Removable 4xAA pack
- Weight: 8.2 Oz
The Black Diamond Icon provides best-in-class optics and battery life at the cost of bulk and weight. Its hefty weight of 8.2 ounces stems from a removable battery pack. But there’s a payoff: I really liked the 90 meters of even beam distance and smooth flood coverage – the model is ideal for trail finding and campsite visibility alike.
Variable dimming across the spotlight and proximity modes allowed me to find that perfect level of brightness every time I was using the headlamp. However, toggling between the advanced features requires multiple clicks and holds, which I found to be a bit too complicated. Still, I liked the headband’s dual design, which does a great job of stabilizing the device even during vigorous activity.
While the latest LED and lithium battery models now exceed the Icon’s brightness and beam distance, its specialized red/green/blue night vision retains niche popularity. But it’s worth mentioning that some competitors match the Icon’s output at over 3 ounces lighter. It all boils down to personal preferences – if you’ve got the money and care more about the specialized modes than the weight, this headlamp is an excellent option.
- Best-in-class optics and beam distance
- Strong battery life from 4xAA case
- Comfortable and stable during activity
- Heavy at over 8 ounces
- Overly complex UI
- High price given the competition
4. Petzl Tikkina Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 120
- Maximum Distance: 62m
- IPX Rating: 4
- Batteries: 3 AAA (included) or rechargeable CORE battery pack
- Weight: 2.9 Oz
The Petzl Tikkina Headlamp packs impressive versatility into a genuinely affordable package. While the model’s output reaches just 120 lumens, its strategic optics deliver a 62-meter beam visibility that easily rivals those offered by much more expensive headlamps. To my surprise, there’s one more thing that actually exceeds the manufacturer’s claims – the model’s 1883-hour battery life on low mode. If you’re looking for a long-term lighting solution for your hikes, the Petzl Tikkina is certainly a fantastic option.
I had no trouble using this headlamp – its three modes are toggled via one button, which allowed me to operate the device even mid-activity or with gloves. At 2.9 ounces, the Tikkina even touts reasonable weight for such affordability. Still, its flood beam coverage is not as even as that offered by the competitors – an acceptable tradeoff.
Overall, smooth brightness transitions and a surprising throw distance cement this headlamp’s standalone value or multi-unit potential across the home, auto and travel. The USB-rechargeable battery add-on, which you can buy separately, also boosts the model’s practicality for frequent users. If I’ve ever used a headlamp that punches far above its petite price, it’s this one – a worthwhile purchase in every sense of that term.
- Impressive 62-meter beam for a low price
- 1883-hour low mode runtime
- Simple & reliable 1-button operation
- Flood beam optics could be more even
- Lacks high-end features or output
- Rechargeable battery sells separately
5. Nitecore NU25 UL Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 400
- Maximum Distance: 64m
- IP Rating: 66
- Battery: Rechargeable, via USB-C
- Weight: 1.65 Oz
The 1.65-ounce Nitecore NU25 UL headlamp packs 400 lumens and a 64-metre beam distance into one of the lightest packages I’ve ever seen. Redesigned in 2021, the updates brought USB-C charging, enabling swift, 1-hour full battery replenishment along with output and runtime boosts. An IP66 rating ensures its dustproof and water jet resilience, while the front lamp pivots smoothly across 110 degrees of tilt.
One thing I particularly liked is the twin-cord headband design – it cleverly splits weight across the rear panel for all-night comfort. On the other hand, the model’s glow-in-the-dark silicon traction minimizes slipping. I also liked how simple the buttons are, allowing me to toggle through white flood, white spot, red flood, and strobe modes with runtimes reaching 45 hours on the 6-lumen ultra-low setting.
And while the stretch-fit straps proved quite comfortable for me, there’s no guarantee that you will like the model’s bungee design. Moreover, the headlamp’s resealing battery cap resists smooth post-charging closure, which I found to be somewhat annoying. Still, excellent lighting versatility and featherweight portability confirm the NU25 UL as a leading solution for ounce-counting thru-hikers.
- Incredibly light at 1.65 ounces
- USB-C charging for fast refueling
- Simple operation
- Non-traditional strap design
- Resealing battery cap is fussy
- Lost 0.9 lumen red mode
6. Petzl Actik Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 450
- Maximum Distance: 90m
- IPX Rating: 4
- Batteries: 3 AAA (included) or rechargeable CORE battery pack
- Weight: 3 Oz
The Petzl Actik packs versatile lighting and power options into a thoughtfully designed headlamp. Its three main modes scale up to 450 lumens, ensuring sufficient output for everything from predawn starts to late-night returns. A simple interface allowed me to quickly switch between the modes – even mid-activity – while the model’s lockout mode prevented me from experiencing accidental battery drain.
At the core lies a removable, rechargeable battery with hybrid compatibility for AAA cells when you’re off-grid. I particularly like the presence of a Micro USB port, which allows convenient on-site charging, whether via a wall outlet or a power bank. Moreover, thanks to the integrated indicator, I never had to guess the charge level.
In my experience, the brightness of LEDs is more than sufficient for a range of activities, ranging from winter climbing to campsite cooking. However, I found the initial headband removal a bit tricky, and the lamp’s beam isn’t that easy to focus on. Still, at just 3 ounces, the USB-rechargeable Petzl Actik brings valuable flexibility. Add the optional bike light attachment, and it transitions into an agile commuter companion.
- Hybrid battery enables lithium AAA backup
- Micro USB charging with an indicator
- Ample 450 lumen max output
- Beam focus is not the best
- Initial headband removal is tricky
- Flood focus rather than spot
7. Princeton Tec Quad Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 78
- Maximum Distance: 34m
- IPX Rating: 7
- Batteries: 3 AAA, included
- Weight: 2.9 Oz
The Princeton Tec Quad Headlamp provides easy usage and admirable close-range lighting but otherwise fails to stand out among competitors. Its rugged waterproof design seems a bit overkill to me, since most devices of this type have been proven to be sufficiently durable. And at the price it comes at, the model’s shorter battery life and lower brightness than cheaper alternatives undermine its overall value.
Weighing in at a middling 2.9 ounces, its max beam only reaches 34 meters, which is pretty basic compared to some of the market’s most popular offerings. I’ve also noticed how the model’s focused proximity beam reduces the field of vision compared to the wider spread of its rivals. Battery life clocked 5.5 hours on high, and the claimed low-mode runtime stands at 97 hours (which is, once again, not that impressive compared to competitors, some of which have a low-mode runtime of ~200 hours).
On the bright (pun intended!) side, the Quad uses sophisticated lithium batteries that boost the runtime in cold weather, earning redemption. I also like its button – it’s easy to use, even with gloves.
- Easy to operate single button
- Lithium batteries extend cold-weather runtime
- Durable waterproof construction
- Short battery life for the price
- Lower brightness than cheaper models
- Smaller proximity field of vision
8. Fenix HM50R v2.0 Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 700
- Maximum Distance: 115m
- IP Rating: 68
- Batteries: Li-Ion, rechargeable
- Weight: 2.75 Oz
The Fenix HM50R V2 packs 700 max lumens of lighting power into an ultra-portable 2.75-ounce package, together with a headband. Thanks to its right-angle shape, I was able to mount it to my hiking hat – efficient lighting positioning is always a big plus in my book. An IP68 ingress rating ensures waterproofing to a depth 2 meters while a limited lifetime warranty provides sufficient peace of mind.
An XP-G3 LED drives the model’s output, supported by a smooth TIR optic that does a pretty good job at avoiding typical flood artifacts that I always find quite irritating. The device’s Aux red LEDs supply secondary lighting modes, including flashing signals. I found that the single button is very easy to use, triggering main modes that span 30 to 700 white lumens. Shortcuts gave me rapid access to red settings, although mode memory only applied to white levels.
I found that the outputs align pretty closely with claims, while runtime ranged from 1.5 hours turbo to 38+ hours low. Although turbo exhibited characteristic zigzagging, transitions proved unnoticeable over minutes. I also appreciated built-in micro-USB charging and the presence of a battery indicator.
- Featherweight, chargeable headlamp
- TIR optic smooths flood beam
- Quick-access red lighting modes
- Typical Fenix zigzag turbo output
- Tiny included battery capacity
- No shortcut to moonlight mode
9. Black Diamond ReVolt 350 Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 350
- Maximum Distance: 80m
- IPX Rating: 4
- Batteries: Rechargeable Li-Ion battery (included) or AAA batteries
- Weight: 3.6 Oz
The third Black Diamond headlamp in my roundup brings versatile USB charging to a quality, 350-lumen package. An integrated micro-USB port enables power-up from banks, solar panels, laptops, and more – a feature I have always valued while camping and hiking. The model accepts regular AAA batteries, too. As for the sheer performance, decent optics and an IPX4 rating deliver 80 meters of visibility and weather resilience.
I appreciated the presence of an LED indicator, which reports the charging status and remaining runtime. There’s only one button, which allows me to access brightness levels plus colored LED modes. However, an overly complicated series of clicks made toggling through the settings a bit annoying. What’s more, I noticed the rapid deterioration of max mode output over barely 60 minutes – the model is definitely lagging behind top-tier competitors.
Still, thoughtful touches like a battery power meter and the ability to charge via nearly any USB made me appreciate ReVolt more than I expected. And its bright, wide flood beam focuses easily on close-up tasks. So, while the model certainly won’t break records on output or distance, its well-rounded utility and charging flexibility make it a trusty companion in the wild.
- Convenient charging from ubiquitous USB sources
- Battery indicator reports runtime
- Quality optics and flood beam
- Overly complicated settings navigation
- Max mode runtime lacks length
- A bit expensive
10. Ledlenser MH10 Headlamp
- Maximum Lumens: 600
- Maximum Distance: 150m
- IPX Rating: 4
- Batteries: 1 AAA battery (included), can also be used with rechargeable batteries.
- Weight: 5.5 Oz
The Ledlenser MH10 packages best-in-class 600-lumen brightness into an IPX4-rated, USB-rechargeable frame reaching just 5.5 ounces. I was pleasantly surprised by its wide and focused beam modes, stretching visibility from 20 to 150 meters, as well as its integrated red rear light that makes the wearer visible from behind. Thanks to its simple single-button operation, I was able to quickly cycle between low, medium and max settings, while the built-in battery indicator allowed me to always stay aware of the remaining runtime.
During the testing period, I recorded excellent runtimes, matching 10 and 120-hour manufacturer claims for max and min settings, respectively. I also appreciated the easy in-vehicle charging, which allows rapid refresh between outings. However, you won’t get much use out of this model if you don’t achieve a snug fit every time you put it on – doing so is the only way to prevent the awkward dropping of the hefty frontal lamp.
For its price, the MH10 competes solidly with rivals, justifying cost through class-topping output. Still, it’s worth mentioning that it omits the multi-color LED modes of pricier models. For applications benefiting from extreme lighting versatility, this compact powerhouse banishes darkness in a variety of conditions – it’s among the market’s best hiking headlamps for a reason.
- Class-leading 600-lumen maximum output
- 120 hour claimed runtime on low
- In-car charging & adaptability
- No built-in red/green LED modes
- The beam could be wider
Headlamp for Hiking Buying Guide
Certain features make certain headlamps better for specific situations, so choosing the right one starts with determining what you plan to use it for. Pitching a tent at night will require a very different headlamp than the one you’d use for illuminating the trail while you’re running in the dark, and both of these could be quite different from the torch you keep at home as a back-up for power failures.
The differences in the following categories are what determine the effectiveness of a headlamp for your particular needs:
A headlamp’s brightness is measured in lumens, with models in my roundup ranging from 78 to 700 lumens. Most also enable dimming to prolong battery life. While maximum outputs quickly drain batteries, temporary access proves useful in emergencies.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that 100-300 lumens work well for basic outdoor activities like hiking and camping. If, during your outdoor pursuits, you find yourself in complete darkness very often, I recommend jumping up to 300-plus. Extreme pursuits like climbing or mountain biking demand 600+ lumens. However, lumens don’t perfectly indicate usable light on trails. They simply quantify total visible light output.
More important is judging beam distance, width, and optics quality. I’ve found that an evenly lit, far-reaching beam better illuminates obstacles than a splotchy, short-throw flood, regardless of lumen count. So, while a useful rule of thumb, also evaluating beam performance paints a fuller picture.
Consider typical activities and lighting needs before fixation on max lumens alone. A 200-lumen headlamp with smooth optics can outperform a dim, artifacts-ridden 500-lumen light in real-world use. And remember, most quality models enable dimming to conserve battery if brightness proves excessive. So let both output numbers and beam characteristics guide your selection towards models matching runtime to required visibility.
The average headlamp provides spot, flood, colored, and strobe lighting modes. Spot beams focus light at a distance, something I’ve found to be very useful for seeing far ahead on trails or identifying distant objects. The maximum range depends on the model, although I’ve listed beam distances in the roundup above. Floodlights spread illumination widely around you, ideal for in-camp tasks. Some lamps feature separate flood and spot LEDs, while others have just one LED. Some models utilize smart LED grids for adaptive proximity and distance lighting.
Red, blue, and green night vision LEDs also prove handy for reading or chatting without compromising visibility. And unlike bright white light, colored LEDs don’t force pupil readjustment when activated. The blue light can be particularly useful for hunters tracking animals as it differentiates green landscapes from red blood trails. Most models also offer emergency strobes visible over distances without quickly draining batteries.
When selecting a headlamp, factoring in intended use and lighting requirements helps determine ideal beam types. Consider flood versatility for camping, colored LEDs for after-dark optics preservation, plus focused spotlights that throw a maximum reach required for trail running and climbing.
While testing headlamps, I’ve found that most run on either AAA batteries or built-in rechargeable lithium-ion cells. Rechargeable models bring convenience, streamlined size, and environmental friendliness. However, they require supplementary charging methods when depleted in the wilderness. AAA battery headlamps provide backup battery swapping capability at the cost of increased expense and waste over time. Still, disposables better suit occasional users or budget buyers.
Some manufacturers have pioneered versatile hybrid designs accepting both AAA cells and a detachable rechargeable battery – the Petzl Tikkina, which I reviewed above, is a great example. This allows switching between refresh methods to balance cost, sustainability, and reliability. However, the rechargeable batteries use either a proprietary, accessories-requiring dock or convenient direct USB-C charging. For multi-day trips, I prefer the fully integrated plug-and-play recharging for versatility and simplicity.
Higher-capacity headlamps frequently separate the battery and lamp, positioning batteries on the rear headband area to evenly distribute weight. This floating battery design requires an additional strap running over the head for stability during dynamic activities. In extreme cold, some models make the battery pack detachable for warming in pockets during use. This helps maintain runtimes as low temperatures rapidly drain output.
After testing several headlamps, I’ve come to realize that the runtime claims aren’t that reliable – after all, they’re affected by temperature, age, and recovery time. Still, I can safely say that higher lumens rapidly drain batteries, which is why you’ll want to increase the brightness only when needed. Moreover, keep in mind that lithium-ion batteries have a longer lifespan than AAA cells.
Output consistency also varies: some headlamps use regulation circuitry to maintain steady illumination before abruptly dying when depleted. Unregulated models slowly dim over time as batteries wane. My advice is to examine runtime charts listing lumens durations or beam distance over battery life. This better indicates real-world longevity across both regulated and unregulated models.
In testing, I’ve found that the weight of these devices spans barely noticeable 2-ounce models to bulky 8-ounce varieties. More powerful lighting and durable housing materials increase heft. If high output isn’t really something you care about, go with lightweight builds – they’re more more comfortable to wear on the head.
The comfort is definitely an important consideration. Front-mounted batteries better balance during jogging, especially when compared to heavier rear battery packs, which typically bounce up and down as you’re walking. I’ve also come to realize that the perceived weight differs from measured ounces: an officially heavier lamp can feel lighter and more stable in practice.
When it comes to headlamp straps, two dominant designs emerge: a straightforward elastic nylon that encircles your head’s periphery and a dual-component system featuring an extra strap traversing the summit of your skull.
The latter, a two-strap marvel, gains favor in the realms of weightier headlamps and ambitious exploits, such as donning a helmet for rock climbing, mountaineering, or spelunking. Yet, the majority still leans towards the simplicity of the around-the-sides approach. These options tend to harmonize with helmets, offer effortless adjustments, and provide ample support – whether you’re illuminating your shelter or navigating the wilderness.
Evaluating water and dust resistance proves critical for frequent outdoor use. The IP ratings system indicates protection levels on a scale from IPX0 (none) to IPX8 (prolonged immersion). I favor models with at least IPX4 for handling rain and snow during typical 3-season activity.
One of the headlamps I reviewed above – the Fenix HM50R v2.0 – sports an impressive IP68 score, denoting dust-proofing and 30-minute submersion capacity. This ensures full functionality despite saturation from storms amid remote travel. If you’re anticipating extensive precipitation or water contact, remember that an elevated IP rating can bring you essential insurance. But more casual users can overlook waterproof qualities and their associated price premiums if remaining dry proves likely during average excursions. Why pay extra for unused protection?
Electronics perform poorly in cold conditions, batteries included. Alkaline cells particularly struggle, so I recommend lithium or rechargeable NiMH batteries instead, especially if you’re someone who often hikes in cold temperatures.
Still, all batteries drain faster from exposure, regardless of raw material. Some models combat this through detachable battery packs that you can keep warm in your pockets while in use. Additional tips for any headlamp include storing them in hats/gloves when inactive and sleeping with them in your sleeping bag like I do. The warmer the lamp and batteries stay between uses, the better output they will provide during the hike.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time to use a headlamp?
Headlamps work well for hands-free visibility during tasks in low light, like cooking, night trail running, search and rescue, early trekking starts, and home repairs.
What should I look for when choosing a headlamp?
Consider lighting needs, battery life, features like colored LEDs if hunting/fishing, comfort over time from adjustment capabilities and straps, and recharging abilities or backup battery supply.
Which headlamp has the brightest light?
The brightest models in this guide reach 700 lumens, but models offer over 1,000, and these are usually heavier units with separate battery packs. Brighter lamps can sacrifice comfort.
What is the recommended lumen output for my headlamp?
Under 200 lumens works for most household tasks. Hiking requires 250-300 lumens. And 400+ enables maximum visibility and distance targeting, ideal for technical navigation.
Is it worth it to buy expensive headlamps?
Higher prices bring more LEDs, runtime, durability, features, and brightness. If you avoid specialty use cases, you can find models that meet most needs for less than $100.
Does my headlamp need to have a red light setting?
Red light enables visibility without compromising night vision or distracting company. Additionally, it doesn’t attract insects on the trail. Hence, most modern headlamps include colored LED modes.
Lengthy beam, lumens, expandable headband, battery life. Choosing the best headlamp for hiking requires focusing on comfort, run time, and brightness that is suitable for the activity you will undertake in the dark.
Hopefully, my reviews of the market’s most popular models will assist you in finding a headlamp that will keep the darkness at bay and, in that way, make your multi-day hikes more enjoyable.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.