Three best headlamps
If you've ever tried to find a convenient surface to rest a flashlight while doing something that requires both hands, you'll appreciate the benefits of a headlamp. Not only does it free you up to tackle those two-handed tasks, it points the light right where you need it--even when you're moving around.
Of course, a good headlamp isn't just for illuminating dark corners while you're working. Headlamps are also great for outdoor activities. They're ideal for nighttime running, camping, cycling, climbing, or taking man's best friend on an evening walk.
Not surprisingly, there are lots of choices when it comes to headlamps, so we've put together this buyer's guide to help you decide on the right model. It illustrates the main features of headlamps and includes our top recommendations for the best products on the market. Black Diamond is known for making some of the most high-quality headlamps, and their ReVolt model took our top place.
Considerations when choosing headlamps
Although headlamp manufacturers often quote lumens (brightness) as the headline feature, the way the light is delivered is just as important. In some situations, 100 lumens is perfectly adequate. Good headlamps offer flexibility by providing a number of lighting options, as you don't always want to blind everyone around you. Beam distance tells you how far the light will travel and still be effective, a factor that is important for some. For others, a few yards is plenty. Top headlamps have switchable modes, from focused to broad beam or even zoom (a short-term boost) to cover all situations.
Multiple lamp arrays look impressive but tend to be both bulky and heavy. Sometimes multiple lamps mean advanced functionality but not always. Single, compact, lightweight headlamps are a good fit for most users. Some headlamps are function-specific--designed to answer the needs of runners or spelunkers, for example--but they are usually more expensive than general-purpose headlamps.
Some headbands are elastic, while some use buckles. If you're going to wear your headlamp on a hardhat, you need plenty of adjustability.
Many headlamps use rechargeable batteries, though AA or AAA batteries can usually be used as an alternative. If your chosen headlamp won't accommodate standard batteries, replacing the original rechargeable battery can be expensive. Additionally, the size and accessibility of the headlamp's power button could be important if you're likely to be wearing gloves.
Many headlamps claim to be waterproof, but the only guarantee is an IP or IPX number. This is the waterproof rating system, starting at zero protection and rising to complete immersion protection.
Good headlamps have several light modes. A red light option allows you to see in the dark and is less likely to disturb fellow campers or others in the vicinity. Green and blue lights have similar characteristics.
With headlamp prices ranging from as little as $5 to around $100, it's important to know what you're getting for your money. We don't recommend the cheapest headlamps because of concerns about durability, but you don't have to spend a fortune. Reliable models from respected brands are available for $20 and up.
Q. How do I compare lumens to watts?
A. Actually, you can't, but it's an understandable question. We're used to buying bulbs based on watts, so when you see a lumens rating, it's natural to wonder how many watts that equals. The problem is, watts measure energy consumed. Lumens measure actual brightness. Some websites do give comparison figures, but they're usually talking about household light bulbs, not low-energy headlamp LEDs. So comparisons are at best inaccurate, and a high lumens output doesn't necessarily mean a super-bright headlamp. You also need to consider how that brightness is reflected and focused.
Q. How long will my headlamp batteries last?
A. It varies from one model to another and depends on the modes you use. It's a good idea to take the manufacturer's claims with a pinch of salt. Their estimates are usually made in "ideal conditions." There is a technical runtime rating, which is how long the headlamp will continue to produce equivalent light to a full moon at a distance of two meters. The problem is that few manufacturers use it. There's only one sure solution: always carry a spare set of batteries.
Headlamps we recommend
Best of the best: Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp
Our take: A powerful, flexible, and feature-packed headlamp from one of the industry's top names.
What we like: Don't be fooled by the low lumens rating. Multiple LEDs and brightness settings give the right light for any task. Has a useful meter-for-battery life. It's compact, light, and comfortable.
What we dislike: Claims to be fully waterproof but not IP-rated.
Best bang for your buck: Wsky LED Headlamp
Our take: An affordable headlamp that's extremely bright for the darkest nights.
What we like: Very bright. Four light modes, including a red light strobe. Boasts an IPX4 waterproof rating. Adjustable headband to fit multiple users.
What we dislike: Not much. Customers are very satisfied, especially considering the low price.
Choice 3: GRDE Zoomable 3 Modes Headlamp
Our take: A remarkably versatile headlamp that can be charged from a car, wall socket, or via USB.
What we like: It doesn't have the features of some, but it's well-priced, delivers plenty of light, and you can charge it just about anywhere. Can also be attached to a waist belt.
What we dislike: No red light. Questions about its durability.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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