Hiking Lighting

When hiking always pack a headlamp (at least 100 lumen output), a small flashlight with a long runtime, and spare batteries (most headlamps use AAA batteries). The headlamp and flashlight should use the same type of batteries. This way you have a main light, a backup light, and spare batteries that work in both lights. This can save you should you have to hike in the dark. A tactical flashlight with strobe can also provide some protection against attackers. Expect to spend at least $25 each for a good headlamp and backup flashlight.

I recommend having at least two light sources in your vehicle and hiking kits. Tactical flashlights are extremely bright and can function as a weapon but they normally have a short (1-3 hour) battery life. For hiking I prefer a lower power flashlight with much longer battery life, such as the Streamlight Stylus Pro. The Stylus generates a 90-lumen beam for 6.5 hours using two AAA batteries. If your headlamp and flashlight use the same batteries then you can pack a single set of spare batteries. If your headlamp uses AA batteries then a complementary flashlight could be the Energizer TUF2AAPE. This flashlight is bright, has a low setting, and can run for up to 5 hours on high-power and 50 hours on low power.

Light Colors

Many headlamps offer multiple colors of light. You should select a headlamp that generates at least white and red light. Some headlamps also generate green and blue light. The light colors are used for:

  • White Light (required) for general visibility such as night hiking
  • Strobe (required) for emergency signaling
  • Red Light (optional but highly recommended) helps preserve your night vision and is excellent for navigating a campsite at night
  • Green Light (optional) is normally used for night hunting since it is less likely to spook game
  • Blue Light (optional) is used for night fishing or for following blood trails

I highly recommend a headlamp that produces both white and red light. When walking around campsites at night the red light preserves your night vision, is less disturbing to others, and produces enough light so that you can see obstacles. Green light also has these characteristics but is less common in headlamps.

Headlamp Recommendations

I tested a limited number of headlamps and found a few that seem well suited to emergency use. My criterial for headlamps includes these requirements:

  • Small size and high light output
  • Waterproof and NOT merely water resistant
  • Standard AAA batteries
  • Dimmable light
  • Red light to preserve night vision
  • At least 200 lumens
  • Strobe mode to serve as an emergency signal

Some excellent lights that meet these requirements are the Black Diamond Cosmo, Spot, and Storm. These range in price from about $30 to $50. The dimmable light is particularly nice. When doing close-in work you may need a minimum of light and the dimmable feature allows you to adjust the light to the level that you need.

Backup Light

I like having an extra light that can be used as backup. The backup light should use the same batteries as the headlamp and should have a very long run time. I prefer the Streamlight Stylus Pro since it is small, uses 2 AA batteries, and lasts for 6.5 hours. The Stylus Pro is about the size of a small highlighter pen and is very lightweight.