Headlamps are very handy when hiking and for freeing your hands when you need light. Some provide multiple colors of light and most are secured on your forehead or hat using elastic straps. You should always carry a headlamp in your hiking pack. Headlamps are available with a variety of options including external battery pack, rechargeable batteries, variable brightness levels, and multiple colors. Headlamps range in price from about $10 to over $200. Expect to spend about $25-$50 for a good headlamp.
Most headlamps have a white light that is good for illuminating trails and work areas and some have multiple colors. This table shows the purpose of each color.
- White – General illumination: Use the white light to illuminate work areas or trails. White light gives you the most clarity and allows you to see with the most detail. White light will significantly reduce your night vision.
- Red – Night Vision: Use red light to see at night while preserving your night vision. Red light works well when you need less visibility and want to avoid disturbing others. Red light works very well when walking through campsites at night.
- Green – Hunting: Green light gives you the ability to see and it does not generally spook game. Hunters often use the green light when hunting at night.
- Blue – Hunting/Fishing: Use blue light when fishing at night or when hunting and following blood trails.
For a general I highly recommend selecting a headlamp with white and red lights. The white is for general use and red for walking around campgrounds at night.
Headlamps come in a variety of formats. Most use AAA batteries housed in the actual light box. Here are some other headlamp options:
- Dimmable Light: Headlamps can have a very bright light and some models allow you to adjust the brightness of the white light. I highly recommend headlamps with this feature.
- Waterproof: Most headlamps are water resistant (IPX4 rating) and some are waterproof (IPX7 or higher rating). If you are using a headlamp on a trail then you are probably not in the best of situations. If you on a dark trail in the rain then you are probably in a very bad situation. If you find yourself in a bad situation you need to know that your headlamp can survive the elements. I highly recommend selecting a waterproof (NOT water resistant) headlamp.
- Rechargeable Batteries: For general use headlamps I do NOT recommend rechargeable batteries. If your headlamp loses power in a remote location then you need to get the light working again. With normal batteries you can simply install new batteries and have light. If your device uses internal rechargeable batteries then you do not have this option. You can always use individual rechargeable battery cells in place of disposable batteries if you insist upon using rechargeables. Click here for my article on batteries.
- External Battery Pack: Some headlamps use an external battery pack. These headlamps are bulkier and heavier than traditional lamps but they often have a much longer run time. If you need a very long operating time then consider one of these models.
There are many excellent headlamps on the market. I recommend one with these features:
- White and red lights
- Dimmable white light
- Waterproof to IPX7 rating or higher
- Easy to replace batteries
Headlamps that satisfy all of these requirements include:The Black Diamond Spot ($40 retail) is a waterproof headlamp that generates both white and red light. It uses 3 AAA batteries to generate a 300 lumen maximum beam for up to 30 hours. It is shock resistant and IPX8 waterproof. When ordering the Spot be sure that you purchase the 200 lumen version and NOT the older 250 lumen version. The Black Diamond Storm ($50 retail) is a waterproof headlamp that generates both white, red, green, and blue light. It uses 4 AAA batteries to generate a 350 lumen maximum beam for up to 22 hours. It is shock resistant and IP67 water/dust proof. When ordering the Storm be sure that you purchase the 350 lumen version and NOT the older 250 lumen version.
Be sure to carry extra batteries when using a headlamp. Store batteries outside of the light when not in use. If you use the light infrequently do NOT leave the batteries in the light. Batteries can leak and damage or destroy your device. I also HIGHLY recommend having a backup light that uses the same batteries. With AAA headlamps I recommend using the Streamlight Stylus Pro as a secondary light. The Stylus Pro is inexpensive (about $25), lightweight (1.5 oz without batteries), relatively bright (90 lumens), and has a long runtime of 6.5 hours. If one light breaks then you have a backup light that uses the same batteries.