“3 Flashlight Brad!” That’s my husband’s nickname in our family.
Because he can always produce multiple flashlights out of his car, from deep in his pack or buried in the camping gear.
You laugh… but wait until you find yourself unexpectedly in the dark and he’s by your side with the brightest headlamp ever! The same is true for headlamps when we’re out camping and hiking. I can always count on him to have an extra high power headlamp for me. That has been a lifesaver so many times when trying to set up camp in the dark or getting caught out late on a trail. So I decided it’s time to act like a grown up and get my own small headlamp.
Brad says the best ultralight headlamp for hiking is his powerful GRDE Rechargeable Led Headlamp. He loves it because it’s super bright, rechargeable via car or wall charger, and holds a charge “forever”. And at under $25 it’s a steal. I honestly don’t think he’ll ever give it up for another make.
Buying the same powerful headlamp as Brad would have solved my problems in a flash (pun intended)! But what I don’t like so much about it is the weight. It’s a full 13.6 oz that I don’t want to add to my pack or to my head. Plus, it doesn’t have a red light for star gazing, which is a really vital feature to me.
Hence began my search for the best headlamp for hiking, and here’s what I found out.
Choosing the Best Ultralight Headlamp for your needs
You’d think buying an ultralight headlamp would be a straightforward process; just browse a few online stores, make a pick and you’re done.
But I learned that there’s a lot to think about while picking your hiking headlamp. For example
- Do you want to use headlamp batteries or a USB rechargeable headlamp.
- Do you want to buy the strongest headlamp or the brightest headlamp? (And who knew they were totally different things?)
- Are you looking for the longest lasting headlamp or the best budget headlamp?
Then you will want to also factor in durability, waterproofing, red stargazing lights, and more to make an informed decision about the best backpacking headlamp for you.
Backpacks tend to get heavier the longer you carry them. And even if you’re okay with a 14 oz camping headlamp when you just start off hiking, you might regret it a few miles down the trail. Thankfully, you can get a lightweight headlamp that weighs just a few ounces. I even found a 1 ounce ultralight backpacking headlamp that I’m thinking could replace the tiny flashlight I currently carry on even the shortest hike: the PETZL e+Lite Headlamp. More about this in the comparison. But yes, there has to be a trade off (in terms of weight) between the most powerful headlamp and the best lightweight headlamp.
How long will your headlamp last in bad weather or rough conditions? How many falls can it survive? Most good headlamps are made of durable metal housing and also have detachable straps that can be washed.
If you compare the most powerful headlamp with a flashlight, you’ll find that flashlights are created to be tougher than headlamps. Which is a plus for flashlights, because they are more prone to being dropped and damaged. In comparison though, being able to use both your hands instead of holding a flashlight in one hand is a big plus in my eyes.
Simple example, you’ve wandered off trail while hiking alone in the dark and cut yourself against some brush or rocks. Will it be easier for you to bandage yourself with one hand while holding a flashlight in the other, or will you be thankful you have that ultralight headlamp to help you?
Will your backpacking headlamp stand up to a rainstorm or being dropped in a river?
Most quality headlamps will have an IPX rating to indicate their level of waterproofing. What’s and IPX rating you ask? It’s a number between 1 and 9 that indicates the level of water resistance. The higher the number the better. Look for a waterproof headlamp with a high IPX rating, preferably something above IPX4. The best waterproof headlamp will have a rating of IPX7 or IPX8. Here’s a chart that I think makes this easier to understand:
|IPX Rating||Water Resistance|
|8||Survive Immersion 3 plus feet|
Look for a rechargeable led headlamp since it reduces battery waste and is a bit more environmentally friendly that normal batteries. If you purchase a headlamp with battery pack, you can also check with the manufacturer if its possible to replace the AA or AAA batteries with rechargeable batteries.
If you must use a normal AAA or AA battery headlamp, the best rechargeable headlamp choice would be something that uses lithium batteries instead of alkaline batteries since lithium is 30% lighter and lasts longer.
Other essential charging options to look for in a rechargeable headlamp are charging via car or wall chargers, or charging via a USB socket in solar packs or power banks as these might come in handy for longer treks and thru-hikes.
Burn Time or Runtime
This is how long your led headlamp can hold a charge and how long your batteries will last. It’s good to remember that even the brightest led headlamp runs out quickly in high-power mode. So make sure you carry those extra batteries or a good portable power source.
Cost is not too much of a factor here. You’ll find some of the best backpacking headlamps can be found in the $25-$40 range. Of course there are cheaper ones too. But if you’re looking for value for money, the Zebralight H600w Mk IV 18650 XHP35 Neutral White Headlamp and the PETZL ACTIK Core Headlamp are totally worth it!
Lumens and Beam Distance
The brightness of a backpacking headlamp is measured in lumens which is the sum of light emitted in any direction. Lumen counts range from 2 to 2000 and more; and the higher the number, the brighter the lamp. But headlamp lumens do not measure the quality of the beams of light and hence having a high lumen headlamp does not necessarily mean you’ll have the brightest headlamp.
For example, you’re trying to choose the brightest led headlamp. Both your choices are of 250 lumens, but one has a beam distance of 90-feet and the other of 120-feet. The lamp beam of 90-feet will provide better quality light because it’s more concentrated.
Beam distance is a more accurate measure of the light the best hiking headlamp gives you. The manufacturers of top headlamps will give you a maximum and minimum beam distance. Hiking headlamp reviews have shown that the maximum distance only happens in perfect scenarios, and more often than not you’ll use your headlamp at a medium setting to conserve battery.
Plus, if you’re only hiking in the daytime and camping at night, choose the best camping headlamp with a wider beam. If you’re hiking or climbing at night opt for a longer beam distance.
Red Light for Stargazing
If you’re like me and love looking at the stars in the night sky, you have to get the best red light headlamp possible. Why do you need a red light headlamp? Because a red led headlamp will preserve night vision. The rhodopsin chemical in the rods in your eyes isn’t as sensitive to red light as it is to white light. But I don’t want to start a science class now, so all we need to take away here is that red light is better to see with at night. Plus it allows you to see starlight which falls in the blue-green spectrum better.
With a red headlamp, you can look at your map or star chart and go right back to looking at your surroundings without needing to blink to adjust your eyes. If you use a regular light, it can take up to 10 minutes for your eyes to adjust back gazing into the dark. Another benefit of red light is that it doesn’t spook animals, so you can quietly leave your tent without disturbing your partner and go off into the woods to pee safely.
Another awesome plus for headlamp hats that have red lights is that they don’t attract insects like white light, which is a big problem for some of us folk with sensitive skin. What more can I say?
Other modes and features
The best headlamp for hiking will also offer different modes that are useful in different circumstances.
- Zoom or boost mode will turn it into a super bright headlamp for a short period of time. This is especially useful if you are looking for someone or something.
- Strobe or flash mode can be used to conserve batteries in times of emergency.
- The best headlamp flashlight will also have bigger buttons to make gloved use easier.
- Many top rated headlamps have a tilt feature so that the light focuses on the ground in front of you and saves you from getting a crick in your neck.
- Also look for light locking features so that the light doesn’t turn on in your backpack.
Take a look at some of the winner’s in my eyes and pick the best ultralight headlamp for your needs.
Here’s our top choices for the Best Ultralight Headlamp for Backpacking
Black Diamond Storm – May be the Best Multipurpose Headlamp
Foxelli MX20 Headlamp Flashlight – Incredibly Lightweight
Note with the super low price on the Foxelli, it’s a perfect choice to grab a couple extra and keep tucked in your car, camper, etc for emergencies. (Remember 3 flashlight Brad!)
Zebralight H600W Mk IV – Best Brightest Headlamp
GRDE Zoomable Rechargeable Headlamp – Sturdiest Headlamp
Petzl e+LITE – Hands Down is the Lightest Headlamp
Best Kids Headlamp
We have 6 grandchildren, all boys! That should give you a vague idea of the number of kids flashlight and children’s headlamps that we’ve been through. But it is so important that our children and grandchildren get a sense of holding their own while hiking or camping that we always get them their own kids headlamp or kids headlight. Of course, to go a little easier on our pockets, we’ve done a fair bit of research about the best headlamps for kids in terms of weight, durability and power. Click here to read about the best headlamp for kids.
Best Dog Headlamp
Hiking out in the wild is the best place to let your dog run free, isn’t it? But if you’re worried about them going too far ahead or being difficult to spot, the idea of getting a dog headlamp may have crossed your mind. Truth be told, they don’t exist. But what does exist is utterly perfect, a light up dog harness or lighted dog collars. Although the reflective dog harness is handy for walking in dark areas of the city or ‘burbs, the led dog collar is more suited to the outdoors. For example, this Illumiseen Dog Collar has a charge that lasts for 5 hours, is USB rechargeable, durable and comes in different sizes. Using a light up dog collar will keep you free from worrying so you can enjoy your time in nature to it’s fullest. Click here to find out more about the lighted dog collar.
Opinions on the best ultralight headlamp may vary depending on use; but the few I’ve listed above are the top choices for best rated headlamp anywhere. Do you own one of these? Comment and tell me what your favorite feature is!