Of all the moments that have stayed with me from my many trips into the wilderness, few are fixed as perfectly in my mind as a sight I beheld at 2 a.m. in the morning at about 11,100 feet up Mt. Rainier. As my climbing team and I groggily emerged from our tents prior to the coming summit push, I looked out across the Ingraham Flats glacier toward the distant peak looming dark gray against the black sky. Far away across the glacier and winding up the several routes leading to the crest, I could see the glistening headlamps of climbers who had set off before us. Where those twinkling lights ceased near a ridge line, the stars took over. For a fleeting moment, before it came time to strap on my crampons and helmet, top off water bottles, and check the ropes, it looked like a handful of stars had fallen from the sky and settled on Mt. Rainier.
Less beautiful than that ethereal sight was the fact that I was using a $10 piece of junk headlamp that had no business whatsoever on a serious expedition. The damn thing’s latch broke halfway through the trek, causing the lamp to flop forward and beam light directly into my eyes, which was the diametric opposite of what I wanted. Fortunately, I had some duct tape with me and that solved the issue well enough, but I learned my lesson well on that climb: When it comes to headlamps, you don’t skimp on the price. The same goes for climbing ropes, it should be said. And base layers. And so forth.
However, not everyone needs a headlamp they can rely on during a glacier crossing. Some people just need some convenient extra light for car camping. Some want a light they can use hands-free while jogging. Others use headlamps for hobbies or work around the house. Whatever your needs might be, they should be covered in today’s roundup. And if you have any question? Spend the extra cash.
Black Diamond headlamps are not all that expensive and are a tremendous value given that moderate price. I’ve used lighting products that cost nearly twice as much as the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp, yet I return to my Black Diamond every time I’m headed out into the woods for a hike or a camping trip. The Storm is fully waterproof, so you can use in a downpour or while paddling a kayak, and its 350 lumen LEDs throw a beam that will illuminate dozens of yards of trail. It also has a wide, bright indirect beam that’s great for cooking, reading, or hanging out by the fire. If you’re tired of red light being your only reduced brightness nighttime light choice, no problem: This headlamp features red, green, and blue light options.
Best Budget Headlamp
Learn from my mistakes and don’t bring a cheap headlamp on a trek up a glaciated summit. But for car camping, dog walking, and other such lower impact, lower risk activities, there’s no reason not to save a few bucks. When you buy the VARTA Outdoor Sports Head Light, you’ll get a basic, easy-to-use, decently bright headlamp that’s a great unit to keep in the nightstand for power outages or by the door for when you need to take the trash out or walk Lassie (dude … you didn’t actually name the dog Lassie, did you?) after sunset. I also trust mine as a backup, because even pricier devices have been known to fail.
Best Running Headlamp
You know those Frog Lights that you can attach to your bike and use as headlights, taillights, or strobes? Yeah, the Bandicoot headlamp looks similar because it’s made by the same guys: Knog. I’ve had Frog Lights on my bike for the better part of a decade now and they have never once shifted position save for when I replaced the batteries. That’s much the same experience you’ll have with the Knog Bandicoot Headlamp on your head: This slender, sturdy band of silicone creates a snug but comfortable fit that will hold the LED bank in place even as you bounce up and down along the street or trail and even once the sweat is flowing. It has a decent 100-lumen output and features a built-in rechargeable battery that provides about two hours of light at full brightness. The headlamp technically still in development, but the Knog team received over 14 times its asking price during a successful Kickstarter campaign, which wraps up June 8. Product shipment is slated for November.
Best Climbing Headlamp
When you’re hiking, every pound of gear weight matters. You’re going to feel that extra change of clothes or the bulky DSLR camera you chose to bring along with every uphill step. When you’re climbing, every ounce of gear weight matters. Pulling yourself up ropes and rock faces is one of the finest things you can do, so long as you planned your kit properly. If you included the UCO Air Lightweight Headlamp as your choice for lighting, you’re on the right track. This headlamp features an easy to operate LED that has a small red bulb and a large main white light that can shine as brightly as 150 lumens. But the real number to focus on here is 1.6. That’s how many ounces the thing weighs. Just note that it’s built-in rechargeable battery life isn’t great, so don’t rely on it lasting all throughout a night of climbing.
Best Headlamp for Work
Coast is known, above all else, for the quality of the light their devices emit. I’ve owned and used a Coast headlamp for years, at times I get frustrated by the unclear button placement (you sort of push down on the top corner of the unit), and this headlamp is a bit heavier than I’d bring on a trek, but for work around the house or use during a power outage, I always reach for my Coast FL75R. And that’s for two reasons. The first is that, on the high setting, it puts out an amazing 530 lumens, which is enough light for basically any activity. The second is that, on the low setting, it beams out 65 lumens — which isn’t even that low, really— for an impressive 11 hours per battery change or charge.