The Best Headlamp Review

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The ability to leave your hands free, and easily direct light with head movements, have made headlamps increasing popular. In this review, we compare 37 top competitors to find the best.
Credit: Ken Etzel
Which headlamp is the best? To find out, we took 37 top headlamps and put them through a gauntlet of side-by-side tests. Each headlamp 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 pack and hit a rugged trail on a moonless night switching between each of the headlamps as we went to see which performed best on poorly-defined trails. In the end, we learned a lot about each headlamp 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.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Senior Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Headlamps Displaying 1 - 5 of 37 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Black Diamond Icon
Black Diamond Icon
Read the Review
Coast HL7
Coast HL7
Read the Review
Black Diamond Spot
Black Diamond Spot
Read the Review
LED Lenser H7
LED Lenser H7
Read the Review
Black Diamond Storm
Black Diamond Storm
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Top Pick Award  Editors' Choice Award  Editors' Choice Award     
Street Price Varies $65 - $80
Compare at 8 sellers
$35
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $33 - $50
Compare at 10 sellers
$37
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $42 - $50
Compare at 9 sellers
Overall Score 
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User Rating
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100% recommend it (2/2)
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83% recommend it (5/6)
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100% recommend it (3/3)
Pros Bright, wide, spotlight, clear/smooth optics, long battery life, robust designIncredible brightness and beam control. Great valueGood spot light capability, easy to use with gloves, above average in almost every categoryIncredible brightness (especially for its size), tremendous valueGood trail finding and close proximity beam, easy to use, waterproof to 1 meter
Cons Heavy, bulky, and expensiveShort battery lifeLess battery life than competitorsShort battery lifeMore expensive and heavier than the Spot that scored higher
Best Uses Any situation where a bright beam, durability, and long battery life is more important than weightAnything from serious nighttime excursions to hanging out around campGeneral use, camping, hiking, backpacking, climbingSerious nighttime trail findingBad weather lighting
Date Reviewed Jan 13, 2014Jan 13, 2014Jan 13, 2014Jan 14, 2014Jan 14, 2014
Weighted Scores Black Diamond Icon Coast HL7 Black Diamond Spot LED Lenser H7 Black Diamond Storm
Trail Finding - 20%
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Close Proximity - 20%
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8
Battery Life - 20%
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Brightness - 15%
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Weight - 10%
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Ease Of Use - 10%
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Gloved Use - 5%
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Product Specs Black Diamond Icon Coast HL7 Black Diamond Spot LED Lenser H7 Black Diamond Storm
Measured Max Beam Distance 80 m 128 m 70 m 154 m 60 m
Claimed Distance 100 m 109 m 75 m 180 m 70 m
Measured High Mode Run-time (ANSI) 8.2 hrs 3.3 hrs 5.2 hrs 2.9 hrs 6.1 hrs
Claimed High Mode Run-time 80 hrs 5.7 hrs 50 hrs 5.7 hrs 50 hrs
Claimed Low Mode Run-time 175 hrs 76.5 hrs 200 hrs 63 hrs 125 hrs
Weight 230 g, 8.1 oz 124 g, 4.4 oz 93 g, 3.3 oz 125 g, 4.4 oz 112 g, 4 oz
Battery Type 4 AA 3 AAA 3 AAA 3 AAA 4 AAA
Water Resistance IPX 7 (waterproof to 1m) water resistant IPX 4 (splash proof) IPX 4 (splash proof) IPX 7 (waterproof to 1m)
Manuf Claimed Lumens 200 lumens 196 lumens 90 lumens 155 lumens 100 lumens
Beam Type Flood / Spot Flood / Spot Flood / Spot Flood / Spot Flood / Spot
Red Light Yes no yes no yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Coast HL7
$47
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72
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Black Diamond Spot
$40
100
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69
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Energizer 3 LED
$12.50
100
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55
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Black Diamond ReVolt
$60
100
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68
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Black Diamond Sprinter
$70
100
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55
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Black Diamond Icon
$80
100
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73
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Petzl e+LITE
$30
100
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43
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Black Diamond Storm
$50
100
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68
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Petzl MYO RXP
$90
100
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63
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Petzl Tikkina 2
$20
100
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59
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LED Lenser H7
$45
100
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69
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Surefire Saint Minimus
$139
100
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58
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Mammut X-Shot
$90
100
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63
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Princeton Tec Vizz
$50
100
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55
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Princeton Tec Quad
$35
100
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50
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Princeton Tec Apex
$90
100
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58
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Petzl Tikka XP 2
$55
100
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67
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Petzl NAO
$175
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Petzl Tikka RXP
$90
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Petzl Tikka Plus 2
$40
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54
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Mammut S-Flex
$30
100
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44
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Princeton Tec Fuel 4
$30
100
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53
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Petzl Zipka Plus 2
$45
100
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53
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Black Diamond Gizmo
$20
100
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52
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Fenix HP11
$65
100
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62
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Black Diamond Cosmo
$30
100
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53
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Petzl Tactikka XP
$60
100
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49
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Princeton Tec Byte
$20
100
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50
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Petzl Tikka 2
$30
100
0
51
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Princeton Tec Corona
$58
100
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52
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Princeton Tec Remix
$45
100
0
58
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Costco LED
$4
100
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44
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Energizer 6 LED
$22
100
0
50
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Coleman High Power LED
$25
100
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47
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Black Diamond Ion
$20
100
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39
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Petzl Ultra
$430
100
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63

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 headlamp 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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Credit: Tommy Penick

That's where we come in. We tested over 70 headlamps over the course of a year, eventually narrowing it down to 37 finalists which we put through the wringer in an intensive six-month test period. 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, How to Choose the Best Headlamp.

Seeing Is Believing
One of our goals in this review is to help you see for yourself how these headlamps perform. We took beam distance photos of nearly every headlamp 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 HL7Petzl Tikka XP 2

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


SurefireColeman

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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Introducing the OutdoorGearLab Light Coffin
We also built a light-proof box 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 70 headlamps for a year, and putting half those lights through an 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 folks might crack an evil grinch-smile at the prospect of fooling millions of consumers into believing that their claimed beam distance specs are delivered for the claimed run-time, the nerdy 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. And, we hope to help do just that by shedding light on the subject (no pun intended… well, err… ok, we did kind of intend that pun).

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 headlamps, 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 there. Beam distance specs are more useful, but they have their own issues to consider…

Beam Distance Specs 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 few hours to a much shorter distance. Refer to our charts of beam distance versus battery run-time to see more specific measurements for each headlamp.
  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 test 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. The 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 runs time using the ANSI FL-1 standard. This is a huge variance. In one case, the variance was 38x (Princeton Tec Vizz). The most popular Black Diamond and Petzl lamps were about 10x overstated when compared to our measurements. We think that is nasty.

How Good People End Up Becoming Bald-faced Liars…
There is a weird back story here of how a bunch of otherwise earthy and reasonable outdoor gear manufacturers ended up rejecting an industry standard for consumer lighting specs 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 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 manufacturer's wild claims for battery run-time, 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 Tested 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 viewing objects in the distance or a hiker attempting to navigate a vaguely defined trail. Most headlamps with a spot mode also include a separate wide "flood" mode for close proximity use.
  • Close proximity floodlight mode a low-intensity flood light 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 of the light.
  • 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 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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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

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
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Credit: OutdoorGearLab Staff

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.

The top scoring lights in our trail finding tests were the Petzl NAO, the Petzl Ultra, and Fenix HP11. 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 liked being able to see great distances with the Fenix, we much 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 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 just the right light level for hiking when we looked at the trail just steps ahead.

Beam Distance Photos


Petzl NAOFenix HP11

It is important to note that these same high performing lights also suffered from poor battery life in their high output mode. None lasted more than three hours based on the ANSI standard, and the NAO only 1.3 hours.

When you consider battery life and trail finding together, then the best performers were slightly off the top trail lights, but with significantly improved battery run-time: Black Diamond Icon and the Black Diamond Spot. Both can shine an evenly lit beam far down the trail for hours, with the Icon lasting eight hours in high-mode in our tests, and the Spot lasting five hours. In the case of the Spot, you could double the time to 10 hours by carrying three extra AAA batteries, which only adds 1.2 oz of weight (35 grams) and takes very little space.

Beam Distance Photos


Black Diamond IconBlack Diamond Spot


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 out own measurements rather than relying on manufacturer's claims.

We found the two brightest lights to be the Fenix HP11 and the LED Lenser H7, both of which could throw a beam over 150 meters. The LED Lenser is more narrow than we'd prefer, but it is also unique in offering an easily variable beam width, and so you can make it as wide as you'd like. Neither lasted three hours in their highest output mode, which is disappointing, but if you need distance, they are unmatched.

Beam Distance Photos


Fenix HP11LED Lenser H7

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

The top performers for close-proximity floodlight performance were the Petzl NAO, Surefire Saint Minimus, and the Coast HL7. All three scored 10 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.
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The Coleman beam is too narrowly focused for use around the campfire, and also includes optical artifacts, resulting in a 3 of 10 close proximity rating.
Credit: Shellay Glatz


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 Coleman High Power LED and the Black Diamond Ion. 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.

Battery Life
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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
Battery life was 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 manufacturer's 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.

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 longer run-time (as well as much lower cost). For many people, the ReVolt offers a nice balance of good-enough brightness with excellent battery life.

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 relatively 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 (8.2 hours in our ANSI standard test). In its highly regarded low-light mode, the Icon will shine for many days.

The worst performing light on battery run-time was the Petzl NAO, one of the brightest in our test. It's not surprising that the brightest lights batteries gave out the quickest, and to be fair we need to note that the NAO dominated both our trail finding test (10/10 rating) and our close proximity test (10/10 rating) due to its stellar combination of 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 was the clear winner on weight, gracing the scales with an ethereal 0.9 ounces or 26 grams total (batteries included).

The heaviest light was the Petzl Ultra (which has been replaced with the newer Ultra Rush), weighing in at 13 ounces (0.8 lbs or 367 grams).

Ease of Use
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Credit: OutdoorGearLab Staff
In scoring ease of use, we considered the day-to-day operation of the light primarily, with a little bit of consideration on periodic tasks like changing batteries.

The Surefire Saint Minimus was the easiest to use light in our test. It offered a very simple and intuitive rotating dial to first turn it on, and then control the brightness level. Anyone would be able to figure it out and master it immediately.

The worst scoring products were those where operation required reading the manual. The Mammut S-Flex was the very worst, even though it tied for the lowest score of 4 of 10 with five other hard-to-use lights. The S-Flex was unique in being a light that a newbie might never successfully turn on. To get it to light up, you must do a properly timed double-tap. This is not intuitive, and even when you know what to do, it is easy to fail to get it to turn on. Once you know the trick, it is easy enough, but we have to ask, "should reading the manual be required?" Our feeling is no. We do appreciate the fact the the S-Flex is a light which you could safely put in your backpack and be confident it wouldn't get smooshed in a way that accidentally turned it on (leaving you with dead batteries when you arrive at your destination). But even though we get the benefit of the double tap, we still hate needing to read a manual.

Gloved Use
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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
Not every one needs or should care about our gloved use tests. But, we assume that those of you who do often need to wear gloves when using a light will find this rating helpful. We put on medium thickness winter gloves for this test, and assessed how easily we could operate each light without taking our gloves off.

The winner in this case was the Petzl Ultra. We found the rotating dial on the Ultra to be easy to operate with thick gloves on. While other lights like the Petzl NAO and the Coleman LED also had a rotating knob, none were as easy to use with gloves as the Ultra.

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 was just too darn small to easily grab with thick gloves.

Key Accessories

If you are planning to be away from a power source for many days, consider a Solar Charger such as the SolarMonkey Adventurer to recharge your headlamp. Another option would be an External Battery such as the Anker 2nd Gen Astro 3 12000 mAh.

Some headlamps, like the Black Diamond Icon offer rechargeable 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 batteries.

Editors' Choice Award: Coast HL7
Winner of our Editors&#039; Choice award, the Coast HL7 impressed us with a...
Winner of our Editors' Choice award, the Coast HL7 impressed us with a combination of high-power beam, great close-proximity lighting, relatively light weight, and low-price.
Credit: Coast
Selling at an amazingly low street price of $36, the Coast HL7 blew us away with a combination of huge 128 meter beam distance, relatively light 4.4 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-performance value relative to other popular lights selling at a similar or higher price such as the $44 Petzl Tikka XP 2, the $32 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 weighing only 1.2 ounces to double the 3.3 hours high-mode life.

Beam Distance Photos


Coast HL7Petzl Tikka XP 2

Editors' Choice Award: Black Diamond Spot
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Close proximity light turned on
Credit: Shellay Glatz
Light in weight at 3.3 ounces, compact and durable, the Black Diamond Spot is a great value at approximately $32 street price. It shines a very useful spot light 70 meters, and can produce a decent beam distance for most of the night. Compared to the Coast HL7, the Spot is lighter, less expensive, smaller, more durable (IPX4 water resistance) and the batteries last more than 50 percent longer. The Spot also adds a red light mode that is missing from the Coast. We're fans of both the Coast and the Spot, and recommend both as great performing lights.

Best Buy Award: Energizer 3-LED
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Credit: Shellay Glatz
A few years ago, the quality gap between low-end lights sold at outdoor retailers such as the Petzl Tikkina 2 or Black Diamond Gizmo (both about $20), and the entry level lights you'd find at Home Depot was just too big. But, each year competitive offerings at the low-end improve. Today, with the Energizer 3 LED available for just $10, we find it impossible to ignore the great value it offers for those looking for basic utility lighting. We found the Energizer 3 to be fall-off-a-log easy to use, bright enough for campsite use, and offering long battery life similar to other low-cost lights. The Energizer 3 is a strong contender for the light you toss in the glove box of the car, your nightstand drawer, or your toolbox. While we would not take this light backcountry due to lack of water resistance, reduced durability, and the fact that it is too easy to accidentally turn on in your pack and drain the batteries, at $10 it is a great low-cost household or car camping light.

Beam Distance Photos


Energizer 3 LEDPetzl Tikkina 2

Top Pick for Trail Finding: Black Diamond Icon
Black Diamond Icon
Black Diamond Icon
Credit: Black Diamond
Robust, bright, and boasting stellar optics, the Black Diamond Icon is the one light we'd most want to have in our pack when a backcountry venture goes wrong. It offers a unique combination of one of the best lights we tested for trail finding, with battery life that can provide a bright distance beam all night long. In addition, it is waterproof (IPX-7, meaning it can be fully submersed one meter deep for 30 minutes) and built to last. While there are competing products that are lighter and/or brighter, none provide the balance between bright light, long battery life, and robust construction provided by the Icon. 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, and more bulky size. But, if you found yourself caught out after dark, with a storm coming in, and a long way from camp, there is no better choice than the Black Diamond Icon.

Top Pick for Ultralight: Petzl e+LITE
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Credit: Shellay Glatz
If light and fast is your strategy, the Petzl e+LITE fits the bill. It weighs less than one ounce (0.9 oz or 26 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 24 meters (about 80 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 it works well. The e+LITE is robust with solid construction and waterproof 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 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 on size and weight.

Top Pick for Rechargeable: Black Diamond ReVolt
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Black Diamond ReVolt
Credit: Black Diamond
We're convinced that the future of lighting is 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 (3.5 oz), and reasonable price (under $60). While the ReVolt was not the best in any of our tests, it was above average in all categories except brightness. And, even in brightness it's no slouch, casting a very useful 53-meter beam (about 170 feet). Battery life is excellent, especially for a rechargeable. As the batteries drain, we found beam distance in high mode dropped steadily from 53 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 18.3 hours run-time, and that earned it the top rating score in battery life, 8 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. 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 a solution that will pay for itself in reduced battery costs and provide excellent performance.

RJ Spurrier
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