Choosing the Best Headlamp for Backpacking
The Best Headlamps for Backpacking
Whether you are at home, backpacking, hiking, or camping, being able to provide light in a dark place is incredibly useful, and something we perhaps take for granted in the comforts of your own home. Backpacking headlamps are designed for personal use in any outdoor situation where you can’t just flick on the lights. Unlike a regular torch, headlamps keep your hands free and at the same time provide light wherever you turn your head.
There are many different factors to consider when comparing the best headlamps for backpacking. Brightness, weight, size, battery type, battery life, waterproofing, and controls should all be involved in your decision making, Some features may be more important to you than others so don’t just head for number 1 because we ranked it highest, look through them all. Use the links below to jump straight to the product page or keep reading for more details.
Top 7 Best Backpacking Headlamps
Choosing a Headlamp for Backpacking
If you are looking for the best headlamps for backpacking or any other task that requires working in the dark then the first thing you need to do is think about what you really need it for. Do you need a super high power spotlight beam for trail finding at night or would something smaller and more lightweight be better suited to your needs?
For backpacking, I have found that you don’t always need a super bright headlamp to see off into the distance. Most of the time you will be using it in close quarters and so a variety of lighting modes might be far more useful than a dazzling beam. Whatever you are looking for, I hope you can find something you like on this list of the 7 best headlamps for backpacking.
What Kind of Headlamp is Best for Backpacking?
As mentioned before, having the brightest headlamp is not the best option for most backpacking trips and is unnecessary if you are just using it inside your 1-man tent. Unless you plan on using the headlamp for things like caving, mountain biking or bouldering in the dark, then there really is no need for a 500-lumen output headlamp that will burn the batteries in under 2 hours.
Things I look for in a backpacking headlamp are weight, size, battery life, light modes, and then beam distance. And the reason for this is to keep my backpack as light as possible and also because I rarely use the high beam setting. Every gram counts when you are hiking long distances and while beam distance is still important, I find the more compact models more than meet and surpass my everyday needs.
When comparing the weights of headlamps to take backpacking, remember that the batteries play a significant role in the total weight. Unless your torch comes with a rechargeable USB battery, try if you can to get a weight of their product with batteries included. This gives you a true idea of what you will be carrying. Bear in mind that some heavier lamps will feel better on your head if they have a second strap at the top or divide the weight to both the front and back of the headlamp using a separate battery house.
Compact headlamps, where the batteries are enclosed at the front in one complete torch unit, are highly practical for lightweight backpacking. Bigger headlamps may feel bulky on your head and require you to tighten the headband to prevent slippage which in turn can be less comfortable. If you need any kind of high output beam then a split battery pack and lamp will offer better balance on your head as well as higher maximum capacities but are less pocket-friendly.
Things such as waterproofing, spot light, flood light, red light, brightness settings and low battery warnings are all great features that add to the overall usability of each headlamp. I have found that most backpackers will use their head torches for every day close proximity tasks and rarely use the maximum beam distance unless hiking at night. A variety of settings is the best way to preserve battery life and you don’t need much light to route around in your backpack or read a book at night.
Beam distance is a crucial factor for activities that require a large field of vision at night like biking, caving, and climbing. Being able to see further into the distance enables you more time to prepare or react to your surroundings which is important if you are traveling downhill at speed or planning a route up a cliff. But unless you can think of a credible reason you need to see more than 100 meters into the distance then I would not worry too much about getting a headlamp with high lumen outputs or crazy high beam settings that drain the battery.
Walking around camp with high beam on your headlamp is just like not flicking them off in your car as another car approaches – just plain rude. Not only can dazzling beams in your eyes be offensive but is completely unnecessary. You increase your battery life dramatically by using low power modes and still have plenty of light to see around your close vicinity. Red lights are perfect for staying covert and provide enough light to see where you are going without disturbing a thing. A good battery life on the lowest settings is something I look for when choosing a headlamp to take backpacking because it tells me how much I can get out of it if I have to be thrifty.
What you will typically find with headlamps designed for backpacking is that they are powered by 3-4 AAA batteries or 1 – 3 AA batteries. Most of the lamps on this list require 1 x AA or 3 x AAA batteries with some being designed to use with specialist power cells as well. AA and AAA batteries are great for a couple of reasons but mainly because they are small, lightweight, affordable and accessible. In terms of power to weight ratio, AAA battery powered headlamps are ideal for backpacking but the single AA powered headlamps are very efficient for their size.
When you are looking for a headlamp with good battery life, the type of battery you put in is not the determining factor. Instead, it is how well the lamp can efficiently make use of the power it receives. Look for the maximum and minimum lumen output as well as the measured run times of high and low settings on the torch. For example the Zebralight H52W will run for 3 months on the lowest setting but is practically useless at that at level (0.01 lm).
If you are using a rechargeable battery then you can carry a power bank (which you will probably already have) to extend battery life. Disposable batteries can obviously be carried as spares and are widely available around the world, but you can’t always rely on finding a shop in the remote places.
For more information on batteries and an explanation of Lumens, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Top 7 Best Headlamps for Backpackers
Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp
Black Diamond Revolt Specifications
LUMENS: 130 lm
BEAM DISTANCE: low 9 m (30 ft) / max 70 m (230 ft)
WEIGHT WITH BATTERIES: 97 g / 3.4 oz
BATTERY TYPE: 3 x AAA or 3 x rechargeable NiMH (both included)
RUN TIME: Single Power 80 hours / Triple Power 300 hours
Black Diamond Revolt Features
The Black Diamond ReVolt is everything you could want from a backpacking headlamp and more. Running on 3 x AAA batteries and weighing less than 100 grams, you get up to 130 lumens with a max distance of 70 meters and up to 300 hours of illumination on low settings. The variety of light modes as well as the clear white light gives you excellent vision at a distance and at close proximity. The features which really stand out and make the ReVolt the best headlamp for backpacking are the battery life and the light quality. Just get one!
- 1 x Triple Power LED, 2 x Single Power White LED, 2 x Single Power Red LED
- Full strength available in both proximity and distance modes
- Dimming, strobe, and lock modes
- Proximity and strobe settings can be adjusted on red LED’s without cycling through all other settings
- Three-level power meter shows remaining battery for 3 seconds when turned on
- Water resistant (IPX 4)
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Coast HL7 Headlamp
Coast HL7 Specifications
LUMENS: low 4 lm / max 285 lm
BEAM DISTANCE: low 13 m (42 ft) / max 119 m (390 ft)
WEIGHT: 124 g / 4.4 oz
RUN TIME: low 70 hours / max 1 hour 30 minutes
BATTERY TYPE: 3 x AAA (included)
Coast HL7 Features
The Coast HL7 headlamp has a Pure Beam Focusing System which means you can change from a close proximity to a long reaching spot beam in a single twist. The HL7 is one of the brightest headlamps you can get for the money and is only a little heavier than most others on this list. The run time is nothing to shout about but the clarity of light and beam distance outshines its more expensive competitors.
- Single adjustable bulb
- Pure Beam Focusing System – quickly adjust from low to full beam with easy twist operation
- Ultra wide flood beam
- Long reaching spot beam
- Hinged adjustment to tilt lamp up and down
- Hard hat compatible
- Weather resistant – tested and rated to ANSI/FL1 standards and covered by 5-year warranty against defects
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Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Black Diamond Storm Specifications
LUMENS: 250 lm
BEAM DISTANCE: low 10 m (33 ft) / high 80 m (262 ft)
WEIGHT WITH BATTERIES: 110 g / 3.9 oz
RUN TIME: Single Power 80 hours / Quad Power 150 hours
BATTERY TYPE: 4 x AAA (included)
Black Diamond Storm Features
The Black Diamond Storm Headlamp is built to keep out the weather and regulate consistent performance in cold weather. Ideal for rugged adventures and outdoor pursuits, the tough outer casing is completely sealed and has an IP67 rating against dust and water. The green and red lights are a really cool feature as well as the PowerTap technology which gives you nice control. The Black Diamond Storm looks and works great so if you are on the fence about getting one – just do it, you won’t be disappointed.
- 1 x QuadPower LED, 1 x DoublePower white LED, 1 x Red and 1 x Green Single Power LED’s
- PowerTap Technology allows you to increase illumination in distance and proximity modes by pressing and holding down
- Red and Green LEDs have dimming and strobe settings which can be activated without cycling through white mode to preserve night vision
- Red and Green LED’s have brightness memory so the next time you turn them on it is already on your preferred setting
- Heatsink defuses excess heat created by the lamp into the battery housing which helps boost battery life efficiency
- Regulated output for consistent lighting and 3 level power meter showing battery life for 3 seconds when turned on
- Full strength, dimming, strobe, night vision and lock mode available in distance and proximity modes
- IP67: Waterproof, dustproof, shock resistant- tested up to 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes
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Fenix HL50 Headlamp
Fenix HL50 Specifications
LUMENS: (Using 1 x AA Battery) burst: 285 lm / high: 150 lm (2 hrs) / mid: 55 lm (6 hrs 20 min) / low: 3 lm (110 hrs)
(Using 1 x CR123A Lithium Battery) burst: 365 lm / high: 170 lm (3 hrs) / mid: 60 lm (9 hrs 45 min) / low: 4 lm (150 hrs)
BEAM DISTANCE: 77 m (253 ft)
WEIGHT: 57 g / 1.8 oz
RUN TIME: low 150 hours / mid 9 hours 45 minutes / high 3 hours
BATTERY TYPE: 1 x 3V CR123A Lithium or 1 x AA
Fenix HL50 Features
The Fenix HL50 is a great little backpacking headlamp that can also be unclipped and used as a pocket keyring torch. Using only 1 x AA battery you can achieve up to 150 hours on the lowest setting and a max beam distance of 365 lumens on burst mode. Extremely tough and durable the HL50 is rated as IPX 8 and tested to withstand at least 30 minutes at 2 meters underwater.
- Utilizes Cree XM-L2 T6 neutral white LED with a lifespan of 50,000 hours
- Uses one 3V CR123ALithium battery or AA (Ni-MH, Alkaline) battery
- Digitally regulated output maintains constant brightness
- All-function switch in the head for easy single handed operation
- High output burst modes and super low output modes
- Made of quality aluminum alloy and stainless steel with premium type III hard anodized anti-abrasive finish
- Toughened ultra-clear glass lens with anti-reflective coating
- Waterproof to IPX-8 standards (under water 6.5 feet/2 meters for 30 minutes)
- Can be used as a pocket hand torch by unclipping from the headband
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Petzl TacTikka Headlamp
Petzl TacTikka Specifications
LUMENS: low 5 lm / mid 100 lm / high 200 lm
BEAM DISTANCE: low 10 m (33 ft) / mid 40 m (131 ft) / high 60 m (197 ft)
WEIGHT WITH BATTERIES: 85 g / 3 oz
RUN TIME: low 240 hours / high 60 hours / strobe visible at 700 m for 400 hours
BATTERY TYPE: 3 x AAA or LR03 rechargeable (included)
Petzl TacTikka Features
The Petzl TacTikka is minimal headlamp which will serve most backpackers needs for many years. The single button operation makes the TacTikka easy to use even with gloves on and provides three basic modes of lighting. As one of the cheapest headlamps for backpacking, what you get is actually pretty impressive and the battery life makes the TacTikka from Petzl a neat addition to any backpack.
- Red lighting preserves night vision and stealth
- Long burn time even on the highest setting
- Three lighting modes: proximity, movement and distance vision
- Single button for ease of use
- TACTIKKA is a HYBRID headlamp: it comes with three standard batteries and is also compatible with the CORE rechargeable battery
- (IP X4) weather resistant
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Zebralight H52w Headlamp
Zebralight H52W Specifications
LUMENS: low 0.01 lm / high 280 lm
BEAM DISTANCE: 60 – 70 m (200 – 230 ft)
WEIGHT WITH BATTERIES: 80 g / 2.9 oz
RUN TIME: Low: L1 2.7 lm (4 days) / L2 0.34 lm (3 weeks) / 0.06 lm (2 months) / 0.01 Lm (3 months)
Mid: M1 50 lm (7.5 hrs) / M2 25 lm (12 hrs) / M3 12 lm (27 hrs)
High: H1 280 lm (0.9 hrs) / H2 172 lm (1.7 hrs) / H 3 108 lm (3 hrs)
BATTERY TYPE: 1 x AA or 3.7V 14500 li-ion rechargeable (not included)
Zebralight H52W Features
The Zebralight H52W headlamp is another pocket size headlamp that can be used as a torch and provides one of the widest spectrums of output controls seen from any top contender. While the battery life is somewhat disappointing overall, you can achieve some massive run times when tweaked to just a fraction of a lumen (what good this amount of light would do you I cannot say). Compact and very tough, the H52W is rated as IPX7 and tested to 2 meters underwater for 30 seconds so you don’t have to worry about being gentle with it.
Battery capacity indicator and low battery alert when the light is switched off
Consistent current on all levels and automatic stepping down to lower output when battery is low
Precision machined unibody casing from premium grade aluminum bar stocks
Proprietary heat sinking design bonds the LED board directly to the unibody aluminum casing
Durable natural hard anodized finish (Type III Class I)
Sealed and potted LED driver circuitry with tempered optical grade glass
Battery power can be disconnected by slightly unscrewing the tail cap to prevent unwanted activations
- Waterproof to IPX7 tested to 2 meters for 30 minutes
- Can be used as a detachable pocket torch
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Princeton Tec Remix Headlamp
Princeton Tec Remix Specifications
LUMENS: 150 lm
BEAM DISTANCE: 73 m (240 ft)
WEIGHT WITH BATTERIES: 83 g / 2.9 oz
RUN TIME: low 150 hours / mid 61 hours / high 28 hours
BATTERY TYPE: 3 x AAA (included)
Princeton Tec Remix Features
The Princeton Tec Remix is s compact and lightweight headlamp which is great for use around camp and not bad for trail finding either. A Maxibright LED will kick out an impressive beam up to 73 meters and the three Ultrabright LED’s work great in close proximity. The Remix headlamp is reasonably priced, small, and reliable – which might be everything you are looking for in a travel headlamp.
- 1 x Maxibright LED / 3 x ultra bright LED’s for an efficient wide beam
- Single arm bracket with easy access to battery door
- Single push button for use with gloves on
- Focused spotlight beam for both distance and close proximity settings
- Focused wide beam for both distance and close proximity settings
- (IPX 4) Level 1 is designed for splashing and quick dunking but always inspect the batteries if submerged
What are Lumens?
Lumens (symbol: lm) are a unit of measurement used to gauge the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source, also known as luminous flux. Lumens are related to another unit of measurement, lux, which measures luminous flux per unit area and is equal to one lumen per square meter. This sounds quite complicated but really it’s quite simple. Here’s a table I made to show some examples of light sources and their lux.
In general, headlamps with higher lumen outputs will be brighter and provide a larger volume of light than a source with fewer lumens. The problem with using the brightest headlamps with the highest lumen count is that batteries typically don’t last very long when compared to more conservative headlamps. Luckily, most backpackers don’t need to know all the fine details and scientific terms because we have included a ‘max beam distance’ in all the product descriptions below.
Different types of Headlamp Battery
If you have already done some initial research into the many headlamps out there, you will have seen that some of them have a battery pack at the back instead of inside the lamp casing on the front. This can allow you to use more batteries than would fit in the actual lamp unit itself, but adding more power will always add more weight. That being said, even with the extra weight, a headlamp with separate battery pack will feel more balanced on your head because the weight is more evenly distributed to the front and back.
Backpacking headlamps are commonly powered by multiple AAA or AA batteries, which will come in either Alkaline, Lithium, or rechargeable NiMH varieties. However, USB rechargeable headlamps are becoming more and more popular thanks to the recent advancements in battery life technology.
AA batteries are about twice the size and weight of AAA batteries but do increase the capacity by a good amount. Most headlamps use AAA batteries because they are so much smaller and lighter, but don’t forget to check how many batteries your headlamp needs.
Rechargeable AA or AAA NiMH batteries are heavy and also require carrying the means to charge them. Recharging them has become less of an issue since the introduction of USB charging which means you now ony have to carry a short cable instead of a charging dock and plug. Not ideal for backpacking but better for things like jogging headlamps where you are returning home after every use. Check out the Black Diamond Sprinter if you are looking for a jogging head torch.
Alkaline batteries are the cheapest but do not last very long and can reduce efficiency in cold temperatures – again, not the best headlamp for backpacking but will do the trick if you are on a budget.
Lithium batteries can cost up to twice as much as the Alkaline equivalent but weigh less (significantly less if carrying in bulk) and last much longer. Lithium batteries also cope better in cold weather. Perfect for backpacking headlamps because you don’t have to carry as many spares (because they last longer) and they are the most lightweight option. I will happily pay the extra $1 or whatever to get better performance and carry less weight, however fractional it may seem.
The mAh Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries used in USB rechargeable headlamps are similar to the batteries used in power banks and so are capable of lasting a very long time. The downside is the weight and being able to find a charging point. You can use things like solar chargers and external power banks to recharge but this again adds more weight. All that being said, if you are traveling through remote places without any shops then a rechargeable battery can be of great advantage.
Hand Torch Vs. Headlamp – which is best for backpacking?
When you are putting together a list of gear for backpacking, a torch or headlamp will no doubt be on there somewhere. Headlamps have the benefit of keeping your hands free for tasks that require full mobility without loss of light. Headlamps effortlessly provide light in the direction you turn your head which provides consistent illumination wherever you look.
If you are still not sold on the idea of a head torch, then consider the fact that headlamps do not need to be worn on the head! You can easily attach them to your bag, wrist, sticks, and tripod as well as removing the band completely for a compact pocket torch. The 7 best headlamps for backpacking I have recommended in this article are way better than your average hand torch making getting one for your travel gear a no brainer.