The Hunt for the Best Headlamp

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A headlamp is a vital piece of gear for any camper, hiker, backpacker, climber, or outdoors enthusiast who may end up outside when the sun goes down. Our review compares 28 top products and wades through misleading claims by manufacturers in order to find the very best.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Which headlamp, of many, is the best? To find out we took 28 top headlamps and put them through a gauntlet of side-by-side tests. Each product was both lab-tested and extensively field-tested. We used industrial light meters to measure brightness. We built an automated "light coffin" rigged up with a data-logging light meter to measure battery life. We measured weight, rated ease of use, and photographed beam output. We compared performance around the campsite and reading in the tent, blinding our camp-mates countless times. Then, we loaded our packs and hit a rugged trail on many a moonless night regularly switching between each of the lights as we went to see which performed best on poorly-defined trails. In the end, we learned a lot about each product we tested, scored them all, and picked winners.

Find out which headlamps we loved, which to stuff in your rucksack for an epic backcountry trip, and which are best left on the store shelf.

You may also be interested in The Best Lantern Review for more campsite oriented lighting.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and RJ Spurrier

Top Ranked Headlamps

Displaying 1 - 5 of 28 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Coast HL7
Coast HL7
Read the Review
Black Diamond ReVolt
Black Diamond ReVolt
Read the Review
Black Diamond Icon
Black Diamond Icon
Read the Review
Black Diamond Storm
Black Diamond Storm
Read the Review
Black Diamond Spot
Black Diamond Spot
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Editors' Choice Award       
Street Price $30
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $42 - $60
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $71 - $90
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $36 - $50
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $32 - $40
Compare at 8 sellers
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Incredible brightness and beam control, great valueRechargeable, good spot light capability, above average in almost every category, works with regular AAA tooBright, wide spotlight, clear/smooth optics, long battery life, robust designGood trail finding and close proximity beam, easy to use, waterproofGood spot light capability, above average in almost every category
Cons Short battery lifeMedium length distance beamHeavy, bulky, and expensiveMore expensive and heavier than the higher scoring SpotLess battery life than competitors
Best Uses Anything from serious nighttime excursions to hanging out around campGeneral use, camping, hiking, backpacking, climbingAny situation where a bright beam, durability, and long battery life is more important than weightBad weather lightingGeneral use, camping, hiking, backpacking, climbing
Date Reviewed May 10, 2015May 10, 2015May 10, 2015May 10, 2015May 10, 2015
Weighted Scores Coast HL7 Black Diamond ReVolt Black Diamond Icon Black Diamond Storm Black Diamond Spot
Trail Finding - 20%
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Close Proximity - 15%
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Battery Life - 15%
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Brightness - 25%
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Weight - 15%
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Ease Of Use - 10%
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Product Specs Coast HL7 Black Diamond ReVolt Black Diamond Icon Black Diamond Storm Black Diamond Spot
Measured Max Beam Distance 131 m 56 m 82 m 78 m 71 m
Claimed Distance 152 m 70 m 100 m 70 m 75 m
Measured High Mode Run-time (ANSI) 3.4 hrs 10.6 hrs 9.4 hrs 7.8 hrs 3.7 hrs
Claimed High Mode Run-time 3.8 hrs 80 hrs 75 hrs 125 hrs 50 hrs
Claimed Low Mode Run-time 80 hrs 190 hrs 175 hrs 200 hrs 200 hrs
Weight 128 g, 4.5 oz 104 g, 3.7 oz 232 g, 8.2 oz 120 g, 4.2 oz 96 g, 3.4 oz
Battery Type 3 AAA 3 AAA, rechargeable or non 4 AA 4 AAA 3 AAA
Water Resistance Water-resistant IPX 4 (splash proof) IPX 7 (waterproof to 1m) IPX 7 (waterproof to 1m) IPX 4 (splash proof)
Manuf Claimed Lumens 214 lumens 130 lumens 320 lumens 160 lumens 130 lumens
Beam Type Flood Flood/Spot Flood/Spot Flood/Spot Flood/Spot
Red Light no Yes Yes Yes Yes
On/Off Switch Lock No Yes Yes Yes Yes

  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Selecting the Right Product


As headlamps have grown in popularity, the number and range of choices have increased to a mind-numbing level. What begins as a simple exercise along the lines of, "Hey, let's pick up a light for our trip," ends at your local outdoor retail store with you facing an intimidating wall filled with dozens of products, scratching your head and pondering questions such as, "Umm, what's a lumen?"

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The ability to leave your hands free, and easily direct light with head movements, have made headlamps increasingly popular. In this review, we compare 28 top competitors to find the best.
Credit: Ken Etzel

That's where we come in. We tested over 70 headlamps over the course of a year, eventually narrowing it down to 28 finalists which we put through the wringer in at least one intensive six-month test period. Over half the products we have reviewed here we have used for multiple years. The results of our hands-on review follow.

If you want to get more complete background info before you make a purchase decision, please take a look at our buying guide.

Seeing Is Believing


One of our goals in this review is to help you see for yourself how these products perform. We took beam distance photos of nearly every light we tested and included them in our beam comparison widget so that you can see for yourself the actual output of each headlamp, side-by-side.


Beam Distance Photos


Coast HL7Black Diamond ReVolt

An Evenly Lit Beam is Ideal
We also took photos of the diameter of each beam in both spotlight mode and in close-proximity mode. The best lens optics produce an evenly lit spotlight for distance viewing and a wider, but still evenly-lit, floodlight beam for close proximity situations such as around the campsite.


Spot-mode Beam Pattern


Zebralight H602Petzl e+LITE

These photos give you a sense of the quality of those optics. Does the beam have hot spots, rings, or anomalies in the light pattern? We found that lighting artifacts make the light less effective, tricking your eye into seeing things that are really just bright or dark spots. In our trail finding tests, the beams with light artifacts made it harder to see the trail accurately, and surprisingly, it made us tired (we think because the eye and brain were having to do more work to interpret the trail through the light artifacts).

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A long exposure lights up the base of a cliff at Indian Creek, Utah.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Introducing the OutdoorGearLab Light Coffin
We also built a light-proof box that we call "the coffin" which is rigged up to a data logging light meter and a laptop. With it, we can collect data which enables us to graph the beam distance of any light as the battery life degrades.

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The OutdoorGearLab "light coffin" records brightness levels once a minute as battery power degrades. With a little bit of light physics mathematics, we can convert this data into a graph showing how beam distance degrades over time.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab Staff

Don't Believe the Hype


After studying more than 90 products over multiple years, and putting half of those lights through at least one intensive six-month test, we are left with more than a little bit of skepticism about the marketing ethics of manufacturers. Our first rule for buying is this: manufacturers' specs are misleading, most especially with regard to battery life. You can read more details on this topic in our article, Why Headlamp Claims Are Deceptive.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Marketing
Here's what you should know before you get all giddy reading the manufacturer's specs and say something naive like: "Hey Skippy, this shines a 50-meter beam for over 150 hours!" Umm, how can we break this to you? It's a lie.

While the manufacturers' marketing department might crack an evil smile at the prospect of fooling millions of consumers into believing that their claimed brightness is maintained throughout the claimed run-time, the engineers designing these lights know that idea is wildly disconnected from the reality of beam distance performance. We think misleading consumers in this way is wrong and it needs to be stopped. We hope to help do just that by literally and figuratively shedding light on the subject.

Most manufacturers report three major specifications. They will describe the lumens in their lights, the distance a beam will go in high mode, and the amount of time the batteries will burn in that high mode. They may report other stats, but these three predominate.

Lumens Are for Light Bulbs
Pretty much every headlamp includes a spec for lumens, but we recommend ignoring this spec. Why? Because lumens are a measure of light energy in any direction. This is a good way to spec a light bulb, but often misleading for estimating the quality of a focused beam. In the case of headlights, it is important to consider the quality of the optical lens system which focuses the light into a beam, and ideally creates an evenly lit beam of light. Lumens don't get you that information. Beam distance specs are more useful, but they have their own issues to consider…

Beam Distance Specs From Manufacturers Can Be Misleading
Beam distance claims on packaging cannot be trusted because:
  1. The cited beam distance is a maximum amount that only applies to the initial minutes of use with fresh batteries. Beam distance rapidly degrades within a remarkably short time. Refer to our charts of beam distance versus battery run-time to see more specific measurements for each light.
  1. If the beam is too narrow, it may shine a great distance but be practically worthless in the field. A narrow beam is frustrating in practice; it's like looking down a tunnel.
  1. The specs on packaging are based on manufacturer claims, not independent lab test results. We concluded that most manufacturers over-estimate their beam distance, but generally not disturbingly so. On average, our measurement was 9 percent less than the claimed distance.

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Both of the above lights claim run-time longer than 50 hours. But, you can see that beam distance degrades to a tiny fraction of the claimed distance within 5 hours. The claimed run-time is misleading because it counts this long tail of very dim light in violation of the ANSI FL-1 specification.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Battery Run-time Specs Are Misleading
Battery run-time specs are not to be trusted because:
  1. The high-output battery run-time is given alongside a beam distance spec (e.g. High: 100 meters beam distance, 80 hours run-time). Most consumers logically conclude that they will be able to see that beam distance for the specified run-time (i.e. "In High mode I will be able to shine a beam distance of 100 meters for 80 hours"). The truth is far from that since beam distance degrades rapidly as batteries drain.
  1. Most manufacturers have shunned the ANSI standard for battery run-time measurement and instead allow the "battery run-time" clock to keep going until the light gets to the dim light of a candle placed two meters away (0.25 lux). This results in huge, and misleading, battery run-time specs that aren't anywhere close to what most consumers would consider high-output light levels.
  1. The variance between our measurements and manufacturers' claims on high-mode battery run-times were nothing less than appalling. On average, manufacturers' claimed high mode battery run-times were 4x higher than our actual measurements of high mode battery run times using the ANSI FL-1 standard. This is a huge variance. In one case, the variance was 38x (this was the 2013 version of the Princeton Tec Vizz, which the manufacturer has now in 2015 changed their specs*). The most popular Black Diamond and Petzl lamps were about 10x overstated when compared to our measurements. We think that is nasty.

*Editors Note. In a refreshing move, since publishing our first complete review and expose on truth in advertising, Princeton Tec has modified their claimed high mode run times on the Vizz and other lights. The new numbers now much better align with our battery life tests.

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Headlamp testing and dinner cooking. Road trip camp life is a beautifully simple thing. Good equipment enhances the experience.
Credit: Jediah Porter

How Good People End Up Becoming Bald-faced Liars…
There is a weird back story here. Let us show you how a bunch of otherwise reasonable manufacturers ended up rejecting an industry standard they helped create, only to embrace a disturbingly deceptive and misleading alternative. We detail that back story in our companion article, Why Headlamp Claims Are Deceptive, but we'll summarize it here for convenience.

Umm, Guys, There Is an ANSI Standard Here…
In 2009, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed an industry standard specification called the FL1 Flashlight basic performance standard. It provides standards for measurements of light output, beam distance, battery run-time, water resistance, and other claims and was developed with input from about a dozen top manufacturers of flashlights, head lights, and major retailers, including REI.

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The three beam images shown above can help you get a feeling for difference between the ANSI FL1 battery run-time standard (which we use and feel is reasonable), and the manufacturers' own renegade "standard" for run-time specs. From left to right the images above show:
  1. The beam image on the left is a high output spotlight with a brightness level of 660 lux (measured at 2 meters)
  1. The middle image is approximately 66 lux, which is 10 percent of the left image's brightness. The ANSI FL1 standard says to stop the clock on high output run-time when the left image degrades to the dimness level of this middle image. That seems to us to be a pretty fair place to say "high output" run-time is over.
  1. The beam image on the far right is 10 lux, or 1.5 percent the brightness of the high output beam at left. You'll notice it is really dim. We think that no reasonable consumer would consider the right image as "high" output light. But, the manufacturers embraced a lax standard that considers the image on the right to still qualify for "high output" run-time. In fact, under the manufacturer's spec, the run-time for high output would continue until the right image was 40x dimmer, about the level of a single candle placed two meters away.

As reported by REI, who was on the ANSI FL1 committee, the manufacturers decided to reject the ANSI standard for battery run-time they had just taken part in the developing, and created yet another way of calculating battery run-time that we consider to be self-serving and very deceptive to consumers.

We Did Our Own Measurements


Exasperated with manufacturers' wild claims for battery run-times, we measured battery run-time ourselves using a data logging light meter and the ANSI standard as our guide. We believe our measurements, based on the ANSI FL1 standard, provide a much more realistic estimate of effective "high mode" run-time, and better fits consumer expectations of high-output performance. You can read the full details of our testing methodology in the How We Test section of this review.

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We performed our own measurements of High mode battery run time based on the ANSI FL-1 standard. The variance with claimed run-time is shocking. We consider the manufacturer's claims to intentionally misleading consumers.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Types of Lights


There was a time not long ago when there were a lot of different types of lights, many using different bulbs to achieve brighter light (incandescent, halogen, LED). In today's market, every lamp we tested uses LED lights due to their extraordinary brightness and low-energy requirements. Today, there are really only four major feature varieties:
  • Spotlight mode many products include specific bright LEDs and optics that focus the light in a beam best suited for looking at a distance. These spotlight beams shine brighter, but narrower. This is the perfect light setting for viewing objects in the distance or for a hiker attempting to navigate a vaguely defined trail. Most lamps with a spot mode also include a separate wide flood mode for close proximity use.
  • Close proximity floodlight mode a low-intensity floodlight casting a wide beam with even lighting is ideal for working around the campsite, in the tent, or in most household situations. The lower light level means the battery run-time is dramatically extended, and the reduced brightness means you won't be blinding your campsite mates every time you look at them.
  • Red light coveted by star-gazers and hunters, a red LED is also the most efficient in terms of battery life. Star gazers love a red light because it allows you to see reasonably well, but it doesn't screw up your night vision. Hunters love a red light (or blue or green too) because animals eyes don't see it, and thus you retain your camouflage. A red light can also be valuable in a search-and-rescue situation since a flashing red strobe is visible at great distances, yet it will last longer in terms of battery run-time than any other mode.
  • Rechargeable battery rechargeable lights are clearly the future, as batteries are expensive and the cost of rechargeables continues to decline. Today, the return-on-investment is questionable for most of us (at $1 per alkaline battery), since we don't churn through enough batteries to justify the approximately $20-$50 higher initial cost of rechargeable models (i.e. you'd need to buy 20-50 replacement batteries to break even). But, for those who use a light at least weekly, a rechargeable light is a smart investment that should pay for itself within a year or two.

Criteria for Evaluation


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Merry Christmas from the OutdoorGearLab headlamp test team.
Credit: Jediah Porter

We used a combination of testing techniques, both hands-on field tests and lab tests using industrial light meters, to rate each product on six different performance metrics. Below we'll summarize each rating metric and the products which performed best and worst.

Trail Finding


In our trail finding test, we took each light to a vaguely defined trail section where we could look out hundreds of meters in the distance, and also hike along sections of trail. Not surprisingly, beam distance was a key feature of the top performers, but the optical quality of the light also made a bigger difference than we might have guessed. Those lights that had rings, dark spots, or anomalies would trick your eye into thinking there might be a dip or hole in the trail ahead. Over time, we found the poor lights made our eyes feel tired, and required much greater attention than an evenly lit beam. We also found that narrow beams were OK at distance because the focused light could see well ahead, but when night hiking with too narrow a beam, it felt like you were looking down a tunnel and required too much head turning to see the trail ahead.

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Trail finding testing in Utah.
Credit: Jediah Porter

The top scoring lights in our trail finding tests were the Petzl NAO, the Black Diamond Icon, and Fenix HP25. Of these, the NAO was a standout, offering nearly perfect optical clarity and a bright, evenly lit beam that was comfortably wide. The Fenix could shine the furthest of any light we tested, but the beam is more narrow. While we like being able to see incredibly great distances with the Fenix, some prefer the NAO's wider beam when walking down most sections of trail. Trail walking also highlighted the NAO's unique Reactive mode, in which the beam automatically gets brighter when you look into the distance, and dims to save batteries when you look at objects closer. Reactive is a innovative feature Petzl is starting to roll out on other lights such as the recently released Petzl Tikka RXP, and we found it worked perfectly on the trail, getting bright when we peered into the distance, and adjusting to just the right light level for hiking when we looked at the trail just steps ahead.


Beam Distance Photos


Petzl NAOBlack Diamond Icon

It is important to note that these same high performing lights also suffered from poor battery life in their high output mode. Only the Icon lasted more than 9 hours based on the ANSI standard, and the NAO only 2 hours.

When you consider battery life and trail finding together, then the best performer was slightly less bright than the top trail lights, but with significantly improved battery run-time: the Black Diamond ReVolt. The ReVolt can shine an evenly lit beam far down the trail for over 10 hours. Additionally, you can recharge it and do it all again the next night.


Beam Distance Photos


Black Diamond IconBlack Diamond ReVolt


Brightness


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This is the industrial light meter we used for our brightness tests
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
We used an industrial light meter for our brightness tests, making our own measurements rather than relying on manufacturers' claims.

We found the absolute brightest light to be the Fenix HP25. The Fenix throws a long, narrow beam more than 22% farther than the next strongest light. With such an authoritative victory in brightness, the Fenix won our Top Pick award. The next in line, the Coast HL7, throws a wider beam 131 meters. Neither lasted four hours in their highest output mode, which is disappointing, but if you need distance, they are unmatched.


Beam Distance Photos


Fenix HP25Coast HL7

Close Proximity


Among the top performers for close-proximity floodlight performance were the Zebralight H52, Nitecore HC50, and the Coast HL7. All three scored 8 or 9 of 10 in this category and offered what we consider to be near-perfect close-proximity lighting around the campsite with a wide, evenly lit beam.

Further adding utility, all three offer variable brightness so you easily can set the level just where you want it.

The worst performers around the campsite were the Energizer 3 LED and the Black Diamond Cosmo. Both produced a light that was too narrowly focused, which reduces peripheral vision, and left us moving our head too much around the campsite for comfortable use.

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The ability to use both hands is one of the key benefits over flashlights

Additionally, especially around other users and light sources (like a campfire), the Reactive Lighting technology in the Petzl Tikka RXP and NAO gave us trouble. The light is adjusted based on what the sensors deem necessary. The sensors are confused by other light sources and the light flickers annoyingly. The Reactive technology can be turned off, but it contributes to a pretty expensive initial purchase price.

Battery Life


Battery life could have been one of the toughest categories to score because of the various modes of each light, the huge range of maximum brightness, and the fact that manufacturers' claims for battery life were so ludicrously exaggerated when compared to our actual measurements. For high-mode lighting, our "light coffin" data gave us a quantitative guide for how performance faired. We then granted an overall battery life score based on the light coffin performance, the availability of a locking switch, and high-mode brightness. (Brighter lights burn batteries faster than dimmer ones, all things equal. Brighter lights also usually have lower modes, so using a light at a lower percentage of its max will result in longer burn times than our coffin test suggests.) If the light comes on inadvertently, it can burn all your batteries before you even get a chance to use it.

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OGL tester Denise Park wraps up a day of rock climbing in Utah, using a headlight to facilitate her way back to the car.
Credit: Jediah Porter

The top performing light on battery life was the Black Diamond ReVolt which was unique in offering a rechargeable solution with excellent battery life. As you can see in this comparison of the Petzl Tikka RXP and the Black Diamond ReVolt, the ReVolt offers reduced brightness, but with the benefit of much much longer run-time (as well as much lower initial cost). For many people, the ReVolt offers a nice balance of good-enough brightness with excellent battery life. It is for this balance of performance that we gave it our Editors' Choice award.

The Black Diamond Icon also deserves honorable mention for battery run-time because it had the best battery life of any light we tested offering greater than 75-meter beam distance (about 250 feet). While a handful of lights could shine a beam further, they died out much more quickly, as can be seen in this comparison of the Icon versus the Editors' Choice Coast HL7. The Icon was unique in being able to provide a reasonable distance beam all night (9.4 hours in our ANSI standard test). In its highly regarded low-light mode, the Icon will shine for many days.

One of the worst performing lights in terms of battery run-time was the Petzl NAO. It is not surprising that the brightest lights gave out the quickest, and to be fair, we need to note that the NAO dominated our trail finding test (9/10 rating) due to its stellar combination of a super-bright light, wide and evenly lit beam, and nearly perfect optics. While the battery held up, we loved the NAO. But, that love-affair lasted only about 75 minutes.

Weight


Weight is the simplest metric for us to score, since the answer is on the scale in front of us.

The Petzl e+LITE is the clear winner on weight, gracing the scales with an ethereal 1.1 ounces, or 30 grams total (batteries included).

The heaviest light was the Fenix HP25, weighing in at 9.9 ounces (282 grams).

Ease of Use


In scoring ease of use, we considered the day-to-day operation of the light primarily, with a little bit of consideration of periodic tasks like changing batteries.

The Black Diamond Gizmo is the easiest to use light in our test. It offers a very simple and intuitive single button to turn it on and off. Anyone would be able to figure it out and master it immediately.

The worst scoring products were those whose operation required reading the manual. The Nitecore HC50 is the very worst with the lowest score of 3 of 10. Initially, we were delivered a product that wouldn't turn on at all. We never got that one to work. We purchased a new one and, while it did indeed work, we never did feel we figured out all the nuances and features of this beefy product.

Gloved Use
Not everyone needs or should care about our gloved use tests, which is why we do not give it its own separate score but instead incorporate it into our ease of use score. We assume that those of you who do often need to wear gloves when using a light will find this information helpful, so it is worth mentioning. We put on medium thickness winter gloves for this test, and assessed how easily we could operate each light without taking our gloves off. Additionally, whether you use gloves often or not, a light that is difficult to operate with gloves on will be difficult without gloves too.

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Chris McNamara performing a gloved ease-of-use test. The black box in the foreground is our "light coffin," a light-proof box rigged up with a data logging light meter that allows us to precisely record brightness decay over time.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab Staff

The winner in this case was any light with one big, simple button to push. The Black Diamond models, though overall easy to use, have stiff buttons that are more difficult to push than others.

The worst performer with gloves was the Petzl e+LITE. While the e+LITE is really quite simple to control and operate bare handed, the little control knob is just too darn small to easily grab with thick gloves.

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Gloved-use tests involved trying to operate the light one handed using a winter glove. Bigger buttons with tactile feedback and dial controls were generally the easiest in gloves.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab Staff

Key Accessories


If you are planning to be away from a power source for many days, consider a Solar Charger such as the Instapark Mercury 10 or Poweradd Apollo 2 to recharge your headlamp. Another option would be an External Battery such as the Anker 2nd Gen Astro2 9000mAh.

Some headlamps, like the Black Diamond Icon offer rechargeable kit options. The Black Diamond NRG Rechargeable Battery Kit is a great battery pack that allows for extensive use without the need for buying a lot of extra batteries.

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Meagan Buck Porter lights up and lights up, as the sun fades. Indian Creek, Utah.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Editors' Choice Award: Coast HL7


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The Editors' Choice winning Coast HL7 throws an incredibly strong and bright light for the price.
Credit: Micah James
Selling at an amazingly low street price of $58, the Coast HL7 blew us away with a combination of a huge 131 meter beam distance, relatively light 4.5 ounce weight, and best-in-class floodlight optics. The Coast's beam distance and high scores in trail finding and close proximity make it a compelling price-per-performance value relative to other popular lights selling at a similar or higher price, such as the $55 Petzl Tikka XP, the $40 Black Diamond Spot, or the $50 Princeton Tec Vizz. While battery life is not great if you run it at full power, you can either turn the brightness down when you don't need full beam and/or carry an extra 3 AAA batteries, which weighs only 1.2 ounces, to double the 3.4 hours high-mode life.

Beam Distance Photos


Coast HL7Black Diamond Spot

Editors' Choice Award: Black Diamond ReVolt


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The ReVolt, our Editors' Choice winning headlamp, has a powerful beam, long battery life, and can run off of regular batteries or rechargeables.
Credit: Micah James
We're convinced that the future of lighting lies in rechargeables, and we are excited to see the growing lineup of products that shun the traditional AA or AAA alkaline batteries for USB rechargeable alternatives. The Black Diamond ReVolt is our favorite of these state-of-the-art lights due to its unique combination of strong performance, light weight (3.7 oz), and reasonable price (under $60). While the ReVolt was not the best in any of our tests, it is above average in all categories except brightness. And, even in brightness it's no slouch, casting a very useful 56-meter beam (about 180 feet). Battery life is where this light really excels, especially for a rechargeable. As the batteries drain, we found beam distance in high mode dropped steadily from 56 meters to about 20 meters over the first five hours (not bad compared to competing lights), and then maintained a pretty constant 20-meter beam distance for the next 12 hours. Based on the ANSI standard, the ReVolt scored an impressive 10.6 hours run-time, and that earned it the top rating score in battery life, 9 of 10. Buyers should be aware that rechargeable batteries often perform better when new than old, but even with predictable declining performance, the ReVolt can be expected to remain impressive. We successfully tested USB recharging of the ReVolt from wall adapters, laptops, and from portable solar panels. In addition, the ReVolt is unique in also being able to accept regular alkaline AAA batteries, providing added flexibility and an excellent back-up option. If you hate buying (and throwing away) batteries, travel to remote regions where battery replacement is impractical, or use your light at least weekly, you'll find the ReVolt to be a solution that will pay for itself in reduced battery costs and will provide excellent performance at the same time.

Best Buy Award: Petzl Tikkina


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The Petzl Tikkina is an extremely inexpensive headlamp that scores highly for ease of use and battery life. It presents the best deal in our test.
Credit: Micah James
For now, the quality gap between low-end lights sold at outdoor retailers, such as the Petzl Tikkina or the Black Diamond Gizmo, and the entry level lights you'd find at Home Depot is just too big. But, each year competitive offerings at the low-end improve. Today, with the Energizer 3 LED available for just $12, we find it impossible to ignore the great value it offers for those looking for basic utility lighting, though it still could not match the inexpensive offering from Petzl. In 2015, with the Tikkina being widely available for less than $17, and its batteries lasting longer than most other lights we tested, our choice for Best Buy was an easy one. In the future, we expect technology to trickle down and construction quality to only improve. It will not surprise us when excellent LED lights are widely available for less than $10.

Top Pick for Trail Finding: Fenix HP25


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The Fenix HP25 wins a Top Pick award for being the brightest headlamp in our entire test, a notable honor.
Credit: Micah James
Robust, incredibly bright, and boasting good-enough optics, the Fenix HP25 is the one light we'd most want to have in our pack when a backcountry venture goes wrong. It absolutely dominates the other lights in brightness. While there are competing products that are lighter weight and almost as bright with better battery performance, none provide the sheer power provided by the Fenix. It also provides one of the top performing floodlight modes, with an evenly lit low-beam that will run for days. The downside is fairly evident in terms of a relatively high price tag, heavy weight, poor high-mode battery life, and a more bulky size. But, if you found yourself caught out after dark, a long way from camp, with a storm coming in, there is no better choice than the HP25.

Top Pick for Ultralight: Petzl e+LITE


Click to enlarge
Weighing only 30 grams, this tiny light can be stashed anywhere and always brought along in case of emergency.
Credit: Micah James
If light and fast is your strategy, the Petzl e+LITE fits the bill. It weighs only one ounce (30 g) and fits in the palm of your hand. It provides adequate light for work around the campsite and in the tent, and in its brightest mode will shine a reasonable beam distance of 28 meters (about 90 feet). If you keep it in low-mode, the battery holds up a long time. And, if you end up in an emergency situation, flip it to the flashing red LED for an emergency beacon that lasts for days. You might think the retractable zip-line headband would be uncomfortable, but due to the e+LITE's featherweight, we found that it works well. The e+LITE is robust with solid construction and is waterproof up to one meter. It's perfect for ultralight backpackers, or anyone who values small size and/or light weight. At $30, the e+LITE is a bit more expensive than other small low-end lights, and you'll want to pick up some extra packs of the Energizer 2032 Battery before you head out of town (you may not find them easily in the mountains), but nothing comes close to this one on size and weight.

Top Pick for Runners: Black Diamond Sprinter


Click to enlarge
The Sprinter comes with a sealed lithium battery that includes a flashing red safety taillight (shown on the right in the photo above), providing a well balanced fit on the head, and a perfect set up for running in the dark.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab Staff
The Black Diamond Sprinter is perhaps the most purpose-built light in our test. While others we reviewed serve one of various specific purposes but also claim general appeal, the Sprinter makes no apologies for its niche service. One tester pointed out that it sure seems as though someone at Black Diamond wanted this light for his or her own use, and went about designing it. It is that specific. It isn't the brightest, nor does the battery last too long. But the battery is fully integrated and rechargeable. The construction evenly balances the weight on a bouncing runner's head, and the light is constructed such that you can point a white light forward for illuminating your way and point a red light backwards for safety visibility. In short, this light is purpose built for road running in the dark. As such, it excels.

Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier
Helpful Buying Tips
How to Choose the Best Headlamp - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Headlamp

by Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier
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