What is the Best Headlamp for Hiking? [Buyers Guide]

Whether you like to explore remote places like caves, or simply want an early start or a late finish to the day, a good hiking headlamp is a practical tool to have on your hike.

In this buyer’s guide, we will help you determine what is the best headlamp for hiking.

When my son, Seth, was young, we took an overnight trip with a group of boys (and dads) from our church. We went to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky where we hiked the area and spent the night in the cave.

It was a great father-son adventure. Late in the night, our guide took us on a spelunking trip to various parts of the cave. It didn’t take long to realize the value of a good headlamp.

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Why You Need A Good Headlamp

Whether you are spelunking a cave or just hiking at night, a good headlamp can be invaluable. It provides the light you need without the hassle of an extra flashlight to carry.

When you are walking in a group, it is also safer not to have an extra flashlight shining in your eyes and blinding other hikers around you.

Types Of Headlamps

There are a few different types of headlamps on the market. The type you are looking for is primarily going to depend on the kind of hiking you plan to do.

There are several different types of hiking headlamps. Each type of headlamp is designed to meet the needs of particular hikers. Hiking headlamps come in three basic categories:

A basic headlamp won’t offer much in the way of features. You will likely be limited to white light, and that isn’t going to get you very far when it comes to illuminating your path in low light conditions.

A headlamp with several different modes and filters will be better suited for hiking. Look for one that has a red light setting. 

If you are hiking at night and are likely to encounter wildlife, the animals are going to be spooked by a bright white light. Red light is more natural and man-made that is less likely to trigger an animal’s flight mode.

You should also look for a headlamp that offers variable brightness settings. That way you can set it to the lowest setting when you don’t need much light and boost it when you do.

Benefits of a Good Headlamp

Hiking headlamps are incredibly useful especially for those who are serious hikers. These headlamps have been created to make hiking in the dark much easier than it has ever been before. Hikers no longer have to worry about tripping over themselves when they are trying to find a trail in the dark.

Headlamps are great for various reasons. 

The biggest reason headlamps are so popular among hikers is because they are incredibly inexpensive. Those who are looking for a new way to hike will be pleased to find out that a headlamp will cost them just a few dollars. 

Headlamps are also very easy to use, and the batteries are very low maintenance. Just strap them on and you are ready to go. Just make sure the batteries are charged or fresh.

How To Choose The Best Headlamp For Hiking

A basic headlamp won’t offer much in the way of features. You will likely be limited to white light, and that isn’t going to get you very far when it comes to illuminating your path in low light conditions.

A quality headlamp is going to offer you multiple light settings, different light colors, and maybe even a diffuser for close-range tasks.

When it comes to choosing the right headlamp for you, there are a few things to consider before heading out on your hike.

The best headlamp will let you see not just the path in front of you, but also offer ample battery life for up to 50 hours on some models.

They’ll also be water-resistant, durable enough to withstand knocks and scrapes while still being lightweight enough that it’s not a burden when your pack is already laden with your camping gear.

What to Consider in a Hiking Headlamp

To start, consider what kind of light you’ll need for your hike. While some basic headlamps will offer white light, this isn’t going to be enough if you plan on hiking at night.

Look for a headlamp that lets you switch up the light setting and choose between different colors if needed. This will let you pick the right brightness for your path and make it easier to find things like your tent or campsite, should you decide to strike out without a flashlight.

Another feature to look for is a headlamp that allows you to adjust the angle of the light. This will allow you to find items in shadier areas without blinding your friends or other hikers. The best headlamps will also have a setting where you can adjust the focus of your beam so that you aren’t wasting battery life on an unnecessarily bright or dim area of your path.

Here is a shortlist of things to consider when buying a hiking headlamp.

  • Battery Life
  • Brightness (Lumens)
  • Distance
  • Comfort-Fit
  • Adjustable
  • Durability
  • Water Resistance
  • Weight
  • Beam Modes

A detailed breakdown of what to look for in a hiking headlamp.

Battery Life

The minimum duration should be 5 hours. Some of the better rechargeable batteries can last up to 10 hours.

Brightness (Lumens)

This infographic from FlashlightFinder.com gives a breakdown of lumens needed for specific tasks and activities.

We recommend 500 lumens or above (depending on your specific activity).

Distance

This is determined primarily by lumens but they are not the same. How far your light needs to shine depends on your personal preference and needs.

In the video below, Rated Red breaks down light distance based on lumens with various lights.

Courtesy of Rated Red

We recommend a distance of around 80 meters.

Comfort-Fit

This is definitely a personal preference. Are you wearing this on a hat or ball cap? Will it be strapped to your bare head? Or on a toboggan? These factors determine the type of lamp you should consider. 

We recommend something with a wide strap. This seems to offer the most comfort because it is less binding (or cutting).

Adjustable

Most headlamps come with adjustable straps. Make sure the lamp you consider is sized to fit the size of your head. Common sense, right?

Durability

This is a key factor. Many less expensive brands will not last over time, and can’t sustain rugged use.

Something you pick up at the Dollar General will not meet your long-term needs. It doesn’t need to be plastic (unless a very strong ABS) but something along the lines of aluminum alloy. 

Water-Resistant

The IPX rating (how water or dust resistant a product is) is another consideration, but this can be a little deceiving. In most headlamps, some water gets into the casing. We haven’t found any lamp that offers 100% protection. 

Another thing to note is weather condition, temperature, and other factors determine the amount of moisture that affects the lamp.

A good IPX rating to shoot for is around IPX4. This protects against splashes of water, not just mist.

If you are looking for something that can be submerged in water (for diving, etc), consider the Goldengulf Rechargeable Cree L2 Headlamp.

Weight

Lighter the better. But what is considered light? 12 ounces would be on the top end. You’ll find heavier duty lights in this range.

On the lower end are single beam lights (less durable) that weigh around 2 ounces.

We consider anything between this acceptable. It really depends on your needs and requirements.

Beam Modes

This not only includes brightness modes but other aspects such as:

  • Dimmer Functionality
  • Red Light Capability
  • Strobe Light Function for Emergency Situations

Why is a red light preferable when hiking at night?

A red light doesn’t disturb wildlife or others when hiking at night or around the camp. The National Park Service has an article explaining the use of red lights at night. Below is a recap of their findings.

It is an interesting trait that deep red lights do not trigger the neutralization of the rhodopsin, so astronomers and safety officials use red lights for night lighting to allow night vision to continue. Since, unless the light is monochromatic like a laser, even red light has elements from other colors, even a bright red light can reduce the rhodopsin so a dim red light is best for maximizing after-dark eye behavior.

Why a Headlamp over a Flashlight

They’re both better than the other because they’re different tools for different jobs! A headlamp has some advantages over a flashlight, but you should use whichever one works best for your needs.

I prefer a headlamp over a flashlight because it frees up my hands. If I’m carrying materials it can be awkward using a flashlight. A headlamp gives me more freedom.

The downside is the lamp follows your head movement. This is not necessarily bad, because we tend to look in the direction our head faces. It can be a problem if you like to scan in front of you as you walk. In this case, a flashlight may be preferred.

But the biggest benefit of headlamps is that they let you do two things at once. If you want to read, or walk around, or just relax with one hand free, then a headlamp makes that easy and comfortable.

Morning Hikers Best Hiking Headlamps

Browse our top picks on the best headlamps for your hiking trip. We’ve broken them down into brief categories to help you find what you are looking for.

These are our top picks in each category.

Disclaimer: We are an affiliate with Amazon. We get a commission on qualified purchases made through our links. This does not affect increase the cost you pay. 


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Best Water-Resistant Headlamp

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Complete list of Hiking Headlamps

For a complete list of all our recommendations visit headlamps in our shop.

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