For experienced hikers, the best headlamps remove the limit imposed by the coming of night. While the world sleeps, you can be out experiencing a whole other side of the outdoors. The sensory experience is totally different, with new sounds, smells and awesome, unexpected sights.
Your hearing sharpens to make up for the lack of visual stimuli, every little noise becomes amplified. Through the forest, you're aware of every crunching leaf, every hooting owl and every burbling stream. Then, as you leave the trees behind and gain the open hillside, you see the huge, hungry moon rising above distant ridge lines. All is silent but for your breath, which mists the light of your headlamp. In a few hours, you've got the enticing prospect of the sunrise from your tent pitched high on the mountainside. If you've never ventured out at night with a headlamp, you should seriously try it.
Of course, the applications of the best headlamps go way beyond night hiking. First of all, it's high on our camping checklist, as it is such an essential tool around the campsite that we wouldn't dream of leaving home without. As well as hiking after dark, running at night is also becoming increasingly popular. Finally, for those of us who love nothing more than a thru hike or a hut to hut route through the mountains, having the best head torch is absolutely crucial.
In our roundup, the best headlamp models are featured on merit, but we especially like the Nitecore HC65 for its remarkable brightness, Black Diamond’s Storm for its rugged capability, the Petzl Actik Core for its functionality and the LED Lenser MH8 for its unique focussing technology. Silva's Trail Runner Free is a brilliant companion to the best trail running shoes for those who want to run at night.
The best headlamps for trail running
A bright, powerful new approach to portable lights
RRP: $65 (US) / £50 (UK) / €60 (EU) / $100 (AU) | Weight with batteries: 90g / 3.17oz | Max Light Output: 400 lumens | Average Run Time: 105 hours (Low) / 5 hours (High) | Max Beam Distance: 100m | Water Resistance: IP67 (dust proof and waterproof to 1m) | Compatibility: Hiking, camping, running
Well known for their popular line of cycling accessories, Knog takes a new approach to headlamps. Powered by a removable Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, the Bilby pushes out an incredible 400-lumen beam. Using 5 LEDs, the headlamp offers a high beam (for long range use) and two elliptical beams for wide-beam illumination around your feet, and mid range illumination.
On top of this the Bilby features six lighting modes (Boost, Mid, Wide, Spot, Red and Reading), each with four brightness settings (you can customize your settings via the Modemaker app). So many options sound complicated to use or adjust in the dark, but the controls are intuitive and easy to operate. Unusually, the USB is integrated into the lighting pod, so there are no wires to tangle or lose. To recharge, you just pop the pod out and plug it straight into a USB-A port, and the Bilby will be fully charged from zero to max in 4 hours.
The light is durable, dustproof, lightweight and carries a 1P67 rating for weather resistance – translated in layman’s terms, this means the Bilby is waterproof up to 1 meter underwater. And the light isn’t the only innovative feature; instead of traditional webbing, the head strap is constructed from medical grade silicone that uses a toggle for fine-tuning fit. The strap is comfortable, durable and stable in use.
Nathan Neutron Fire RX
A feature set that invites you to run all night long
RRP: $55 (US) / £45 (UK) | Weight: 88g / 3.1oz | Max Light Output: 200 lumens | Average Run Time: 25 hours | Water Resistance: IPX4 (weather resistant)** | Compatibility: Running / hiking
Not every runner can get out when lighting conditions are perfect, especially in the winter when dusk comes early. The designers at Nathan have created a lightweight unit that’s filled with run specific needs. Lightweight and low profile, the Neutron Fire features LEDs pushing out 200 lumens, which is more than enough too see the lay of the land on both urban and backcountry trails.
On the run, there are five light modes (low, med, high, boost, and strobe), plus red, green and blue side modes to customize your illumination patterns. The weather resistant strap is highly reflective to warn drivers, cyclists and other runners of your approach and keep you safe. The Lithium-Ion Polymer battery is USB rechargeable and delivers 25 hours of burn time.
A super smart, brilliantly bright light, made with Swiss precision to fulfil all the needs of nightrunner
RRP: $80 (US)/£77 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 117g/ 4oz | Max Light Output: 400 lumens | Average Run Time: Free: 70 hours; Free H: 70 hours (batteries) + 12 hours (recharge pack); Free Ultra: 70 hours (batteries) | Max Beam Distance: 80 metres | Water Resistance: IPX5 | Compatibility: Trail running and more trail running. Also skiing, hiking, climbing
Silva’s brand new head torch is designed specifically for runners – and we’d go so far as to say it’s the best headlamp we’ve ever run with. Extremely well balanced, it’s a low-weight light you almost forget you’re wearing, until you turn towards something reflective and get a blinding blast of the 400-lumen beam back at you. Comfort levels have been prioritised in the design of this super smart piece of kit, which boasts a broad harness band, with a silicone lining strip to keep it in firmly in place and extra textile padding where required to prevent rubbing or hotspots. The wires between the back-of-the-head-mounted power pack and the lamp unit run neatly and invisibly through this headband, keeping them safely away from snagging on tree branches. The rear battery housing features a backward facing safety light (which can be constant or set to pulse), to alert vehicles to your presence on dark lanes.
There are three models within the new range: the standard Trail Runner Free, the Trail Runner Free H and the Trail Runner Free Ultra. The difference lies in the battery pack, with the first only taking AAA batteries, the H working with a 1.15Ah Hybrid Battery, and the Ultra coming with a longlife 4Ah Hybrid Battery, which has a remaining-charge indicator. (The H and the Ultra can also be powered with 3 AAA batteries, so you can carry spares). It also comes with a 0.5-metre extension cord, so if you don’t want to carry the battery pack on the back of your head, you can tuck it in a breast pocket (which will have the added benefit of keeping batteries warm so they’ll last slightly longer) or a backpack/running vest/hydration pack.
All three models have the same maximum output (400 lumens) and, as well as being easy to swivel up and down, they all feature the Silva Intelligent Light system, which utalizes a double beam comprised of a long-reach spotlight to illuminate what awaits on the trail up ahead, and a wide-angle floodlight so you can see what’s going on immediately around your feet. All that’s missing is a colour tint option, which would allow you to check things without shattering your night vision – generally not a priority for trail runners.
Best headlamps for hiking and mountaineering
A high-powered headlamp with the dual ability to pierce the darkness or flood your campsite with light
RRP: $110 (US)/ £80 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 139g / 4.9oz | Max Light Output: 600 lumens | Average Run Time: High: 7 hours / Low: 60 hours | Max Beam Distance: 200 metres | Water Resistance: IP54 (splashproof, but don’t submerge) | Compatibility: Mountaineering, hiking, backpacking, snow sports
If you need a versatile headlamp for a multitude of different uses and activities – say, one that offers proximity lighting for moving around in camp, plus dynamic settings for hiking on the move and a spotlight beam for picking out distant objectives – the LEDLenser MH8 is an ideal option. It features boost, high, medium and low power modes, as well as a strobe setting, plus red, green and blue ambient light modes.
But the MH8 is also equipped with the brand’s patented focusing technology, which employs a rotating LED bezel housing that enables the user to instantly switch from an all-round flood beam to a pinpoint spotlight. Impressively, the flood beam also offers a perfect circle of white light, with virtually no edge drop-off. That makes this a headlamp that really stands out from its rivals.
Though the max output is an impressive 600 lumens, that only applies to boost mode, which provides 30 seconds of illumination and can throw a light up to 200 metres. At high power in energy-saving mode, you get 400 lumens. Still, that’s more than powerful enough to illuminate the trail far in front of you, and the lamp unit swivels smoothly through a 60-degree arc for neat adjustment.
We also liked the fact that the MH8 uses a rechargeable battery pack, which can be charged via the supplied USB cable without needing to remove the battery or disassemble the headlamp in any way. It simply snaps on to the magnetic terminals on the underside of the lamp unit. But for maximum convenience, the MH8 can also be used with two standard AA batteries as well.
Though it isn’t the lightest or most compact headlamp, it is very comfortable to use, thanks to a wide and easily adjustable headband with an additional over-the-top strap. This stops it from bouncing around, even if moving fast over uneven terrain. The rear of the headband also has a handy plastic clip, which means it is easy to hang up in a tent. Overall, this is an impressive unit with a range of practical light modes and excellent all-round illumination.
An ultra-bright headlamp with an impressively tough build, made for demanding users and difficult conditions
RRP: $110 (US)/ £77 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 164g / 5.8oz | Max Light Output: 1000 lumens | Average Run Time: High: 2 hours 45 mins / Low: 16 hours | Max Beam Distance: 110 metres | Water Resistance: IPX8 (fully waterproof) | Compatibility: Mountaineering, hiking, backpacking, snow sports
The Nitecore HC65 headlamp’s headline-grabbing specs include its ultra-bright max output of 1000 lumens and its impressive IPX8-rated waterproofing. But take one look at this beast and you can see it is built for serious outdoor use, with an anodised military-grade aluminium casing that feels extremely rugged.
The headlamp itself boasts multiple light settings, ranging from turbo mode – which throws the 1000 lumen max output up to 110m, with a burn time of about an hour – through to ultralow, which restricts performance to just a single lumen but can keep this up for an impressive 800 hours. There is also auxiliary white and red-light illumination for proximity work, ideal for tent use.
The HC65 is powered by a rechargeable 18650 lithium battery with a 3400mAh capacity, supplied with the headlamp. Handily, this can be charged in situ via a micro-USB port, which is hidden behind a screw-down metal cap at one end of the lamp unit. A similar cap at the other end reveals the battery compartment, which can also take 2 x CR123 batteries – not as easy to find as your standard AAs or AAAs, but still relatively inexpensive and not too tricky to source.
Inevitably, all that power housed in such a rugged casing does come with a slight weight penalty, and this isn’t the lightest headlamp around, but it carries comfortably on your head, helped by a secure three-point headband. The lamp unit swivels smoothly through a full 180 degrees of adjustment. It is also fully waterproof, which makes it a very practical headlamp for wet and wild conditions. And although such a powerful and robust unit might be overkill for many users, for others, those attributes will make it a superb ally on all sorts of outdoor adventures.
Best headlamps for all-rounders
Black Diamond Storm 400
A reliable and robust no-nonsense headlamp for multiple adventures
RRP: $50 (US)/ £50 (UK) | Weight: 120g /4.25oz | Max Light Output: 400 lumens | Average Run Time: High: 5 hours / Low: 200 hours | Max Beam Distance: 100 metres | Water Resistance: IPX67 | Compatibility: Backpacking, hiking, trail running, climbing, kayaking, snow sports
The Storm has been Black Diamond’s workhorse of a headlamp for years (we have an old version that’s at least 12 years old, and it’s still working well – the only thing that’s gone is the elastic on the headstrap). The latest iteration has a much brighter maximum beam of 400 lumens, which will reach 100 metres into the night.
Dustproof and water resistant (it can be submerged to 1 metre for a short period of time, but don’t go daft and take it diving), the new version retains the model’s signature robustness, foregoing too many fancy features and concentrating on what’s important: shedding light on the trail ahead, or the tent you’re trying to put up.
There are seven settings (full strength in proximity, distance, dimming, strobe, red, green and blue modes) and two beam types, flood and spot, which feels more than ample. The Storm will remember the mode it’s in when you turn it off, and return to that setting when you turn it back on.
Somewhat surprisingly, there’s no recharge pack yet, but you could (and should) use rechargeable batteries. The Storm takes four AAAs, which are inserted into the main body of the torch – so all the weight is carried at the front, which isn’t everyone’s favourite distribution model. However, that does mean no annoying cables flapping around your ears, and more volume in the front housing of the torch means it can have a large operating button, and toggling between settings is therefore very easy, even with gloves on.
Black Diamond have more exciting head torch models in their gadget bank, but having gone on many adventures over the years with its great, great grandfather, we have great affection for this torch.
Petzl Actik Core 450
A lightweight beast of a lamp that'll stand you in good stead wherever you take it
RRP: $70 (US)/ £58 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 75g / 2.8oz | Max Light Output: 450 lumens | Average Run Time: High: 2 hours / Low: 130 hours | Max Beam Distance: 90 metres | Water Resistance: IPX4 | Compatibility: Mountaineering, trail running, hiking, backpacking, snow sports
The multi-beam design of the Actik, combined with its muscular 450 lumen punch when it’s on full gas, make this model the standout performer for those in need of a headlamp for activities in more extreme environments, such as on mountainsides in the dark.
Of course, you don’t have to be clinging to the eyebrows of the Eiger at midnight to appreciate this lovely lightweight lamp, which is also ideal for trail runners, cross country skiers and backpackers. Using accessories (sold separately), you can even mount the lamp on helmets and bikes. It boasts three white-light brightness options, two beam patterns (flood or mixed), a red light and strobe option, all of which can be toggled though by clicking a single button large and easily located button.
It has a reflective headband (good for safety on road) and red lighting to preserve night vision. The hybrid concept design enables you to swap between the main rechargeable battery and three AAAs, so you need never run out of juice. It also has a lock function, to stop you turning it on accidently in your bag.
An absolute lightsaber of a headlamp, which scythes through darkness with an incredibly powerful beam
RRP: £33 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 95g / 3.35oz | Max Light Output: 580 lumens | Average Run Time: High: 2.5 hours / Low: 18 hours | Max Beam Distance: 150 metres | Water Resistance: IPX6 | Compatibility: trail running, trekking, climbing
With a maximum beam of 580 lumens (the brightest in our roundup), the little Qark packs an incredible punch for its size (and price), but also has the capacity to extend burn time to an impressive 18 hours if you switch to the lowest setting of 30 lumens. In between the two extremes you have a very functional 270-lumen setting, which offers a 100-metre beam that lasts for five and a half hours. Toggling between the levels is simple, with one easy to locate button.
The Qark also has a red light setting to preserve your night vision, and ‘focus’ control functionality, offering the choice between two beams, ‘flood’ (wide) - perfect for reading a book in your tent or a map on the trail without getting blinded by the bounce back – and ‘spot’ (narrow), ideal for illuminating the trail ahead or zeroing in on something. The lamps can be tilted across 90 degrees.
The power pack is rechargeable via a micro-USB charging port that plugs directly into the battery, but one of the best features of this torch is its belt-and-braces dual battery compatibility, which allows you to use standard AAA batteries while you’re recharging the main power pack (or, on multiday trips when you don’t have the capacity to recharge the power pack, you can pack as many back-up batteries as you think you might require).
It’s water resistant, not waterproof, which means it can withstand very wet weather, but don’t go putting it under water. Unlike the Alpkit Gamma III, it doesn’t have a rear red light for safety on dark roads at night, which is a shame, and all the weight (which is minimal, to be fair) is up front, but it does boast an overhead central strap on the harness (removable if you’re worried about it messing your hair up), which means the Qark sits very securely on your head, no matter what action-packed adventures you’re engaged in.
Low-profile, high-performing headlamp perfect for a range of activities
RRP: $60 (US)/ £55 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 69g/ 2.4oz | Max Light Output: 330 lumens | Average Run Time: High: 3.5 hours/ Low: 40 hours | Max Beam Distance: 75 metres | Water Resistance: IPX4 | Compatibility: Trail running, hiking, backpacking, climbing
The beauty of the lightweight BioLite 330 HeadLamp lies largely in its low-profile design, combined with its high-performance capability. The light itself sits just 9mm (1/3 in) proud of your forehead, and this is coupled with a slimfit minimalist headband (made with a moisture-wicking material) that sits very securely on your head and keeps the beam from bouncing around, no matter what adventure pursuits you’re doing. This headband is highly adjustable, and can fit a range of head sizes, from a child to a climber wearing a helmet. The power pack sits on the back of the head, and the cabling is partially integrated into the headband (enough to avoid it snagging on most branches if you’re running through trees or scrub).
These head torches – available in four colours – are extremely comfortable to wear. The front panel tilts up and down, so you can focus close to your feet, or have it set straight ahead to see what’s coming at you further up the trail or crag. There are two white light brightness settings on this torch, and a brace of beam types – ‘flood’ for close-up work such as navigation with a map, or reading in your tent, and ‘spot’ for picking out details in the distance and negotiating the trail ahead. It also has a red light option, so you can use it on the trail or while stargazing without obliterating your night vision, and there’s a strobe function in both red and white. It can be locked, to prevent it being turned on accidentally in a pack, and will remember the brightness setting you last used it on.
This is a rechargeable lamp (via a micro USB) but there’s no back-up option to insert batteries. It doesn’t have a rear-facing light, either, but there is a reflective strip that will bounce vehicle lights back at drivers. It can handle any amount of rain, but it’s not submersible. With the HolyFit Guarantee you can try this headlamp out for 30 days and then send it back if it doesn’t do what you want it to.
Lifesystems Intensity 235
A chunky but versatile lamp that'll keep you out of trouble (and help if you still manage to get in trouble)
RRP: $ (US)/ £30 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 90g / 3.17oz | Max Light Output: 235 lumens | Average Run Time: Low: 110 hours | Max Beam Distance: 85 metres | Water Resistance: IPX6 | Compatibility: Camping, backpacking, hiking, trail running
The Intensity 235 boasts seven lighting modes, the brightest of which is 235 lumens (clue in the name), with other options including a red night vision setting, so you can illuminate a map or locate something quickly without completely blowing out your night vision, and a programmed S.O.S mode (three short flashes, three long flashes, three short flashes) in case things go south while you’re out and about.
Use this lamp to light your way, however, and you should be safe on the trail even well past the witching hour. Beside the suite of lighting levels, there are two beam settings, wide (for close quarters work, like reading) and narrow (for mid distance path finding), spreading the light across 15 metres and 85 metres respectively. All the bulk is worn at the front, but the relatively chunky lamp unit has one easy to locate button, which makes it easy to toggle between light settings.
This is a rechargeable lamp, with a Lithium-ion battery power pack, and it offers a decent level of water resistance (don’t submerge it completely, but take it in the shower if you really must, and certainly don’t worry about wet weather, no matter how bad it gets).
Choosing the best headlamp for you
The most important thing to consider when looking to invest in the best headlamp for your adventures is how and where you are most likely to use it. If you’re primarily looking for a handsfree torch for use around the campsite, then there’s no need to invest in a super lightweight model with a massive mega-lumen punch and a rock solid head harness. Best save those pennies for other trinkets.
When camping, you might also want more flexibility than a light attached to your head can give you. See our guide to the best flashlights for handheld alternatives to head torches.
But if you’re looking to stay out on the trails well past dark, while running, hiking, climbing or on a backpacking adventure (see: How to plan a backpacking trip), then of course weight, brightness and maintaining a level beam will be much more important factors. Where safety is concerned, particularly in winter, this becomes a big factor.
Oh, and another thing, don’t overlook the head strap. How you use the headlamp will influence how well the straps perform. For a runner, a powerful beam isn’t much use if the light unit is bouncing up and down every time your feet hit the ground.
Obviously at the top of mind when considering the best headlamps is how bright the beam is. Brightness is quoted in lumens, which is a measurement of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source per unit of time. But let’s not get caught up in the science – basically, the bigger the number, the brighter the light. Bright is good, of course, especially if you’re engaged in something like trail running with a headlamp along a technical route with potential drop offs, or negotiating a mountain.
However, the brighter a light burn, the quicker the battery will run out. Having said this, LED (light-emitting diode) lights have completely changed the game in recent years, and headlamps and other torches can shine brightly much longer than they once could. The best thing to look for is a headlamp that offers a good top level lumen level for when you really need it, but has several other settings to choose from too. This way, you can preserve the life of your battery if you're simply going to go night walking, for example. In most use cases, it's fairly rare that you will really need that full-on beam.
Beam and strobe options
Wondering how to read a map at night? The best headlamps will offer at least two beam settings: 'flood' and 'spot'. The flood setting casts the light wide and is ideal for reading things like books or maps. Your adventurous buddies will thank you for the flood setting too, as it allows you to look at them in the tent or on the trail without burning their eyes out – always a bonus. The spot setting projects a concentrated and narrow beam, just like a spotlight on a singer at a concert. It's perfect for illuminating the trail up ahead, or zeroing in on something in the distance.
Besides these settings, you should also look for a lamp with a strobe setting, which is a very visible blink or flash mode that can be sustained for ages by a battery and is useful for road safety and emergency signalling.
Camping and hiking technology have come on leaps and bounds in recent years and the best headlamps are no different. Most of the best headlamps will have at least one colour setting, which is usually red but sometimes green and/or blue too. These allow you to turn the torch on while you’re out on the trail walking in the moonlight, or navigating by the stars, without completely blowing out your natural night vision. After all, your sensory ability to see in the semi dark is better than you might think, improves over time but is easily shattered by unnatural light. Again, this is something your friends will thank you for, as it is also a useful function for getting enough ambient light in a tent to find what you’re looking for in the middle of the night, without waking everyone else up. No one wants grumpy camp mates.
Some of the best headlamps available today have bespoke battery packs – either completely integrated into the lamp, or removable – that can be recharged from a range or power sources, including USB ports. This is great, of course, but even better are the ones that allow you to also use standard AAAs as well, because then you can take back-up batteries and not fret about being left in the dark out on the trail on longer adventures.
If you're out in the wilderness and your headlamp or batteries need to be recharged, the best solar chargers allow you to harvest the sun's rays during the day, in order to charge up your devices ready for the night.
Unsurprisingly, the head band is a crucially important element of a headlamp. No matter how good and bright a lamp is, you’re not going to wear it on your head if it’s brutally uncomfortable. If you find yourself carrying it around in your hand, then you have entirely missed the point of this tool. An easily adjustable head harness is ideal, and the option to have an over-the-top-of-the-head strap as well as one that goes around will allow you to get a more secure and less bouncy fit, which is especially important for trail running.
Another consideration is the headwear you may wear on any given adventure. If you're taking on a spicy scramble at dusk, you might want to don a helmet. If it's brutally cold, you're gonna grab that hiking hat. The best head torch should be able to adjust to all these situations.
As is the case with all the best camping tech, you will want a lamp that doesn’t demand a degree in physics to operate. Myriad setting options are all well and good, but simplicity can be better, with one easily located button that allows you to toggle through the various modes, all of which should have an obvious function.
Look for a lamp that swivels up and down, so you can point the beam at your toes, mid distance, or straight ahead at upcoming trails, depending on your requirements at any given time. Other functions that are handy are a lock out option (to stop the lamp getting accidentally activated in your backpack, draining the battery), a rear red light for safety while walking or running on roads and lanes at night, and a pre-programmed SOS flash option.
While you can keep your headlamp in a dry bag (see our best dry bags) during the day, if rain is still falling when the sun sets, you need to be able to rely on your headlamp to repel the worst of the weather.
Quality headlamps are given an Ingress Protection (IP) rating, awarded by certified, independent companies after substantial testing. The acronym IP is followed by two digits, the first ranges from 0-6 and refers to resilience to solid particles (dust) and the second ranges from 0-9 and shows how water resistant a gadget is. Most head torches score between IPX4 to IPX6, which means they are resistant to water (higher that second number the better), but not waterproof. You'll find more on this in our guide on waterproof vs. water-resistant products.
The Black Diamond Storm, featured here, scores IP67, which means it is fully dust proof, and waterproof, submergible to 1 meter for up to half an hour. While this degree of robustness is reassuring – don’t dismiss lamps that score slightly lower. Unless you’re a caver or a kayaker, you shouldn’t need to submerge any of the best head torch brands, and so long as it can cope with a bit of weather, it’ll be fine.
All the latest inspiration, tips and guides to help you plan your next Advnture!
Thank you for signing up to Advnture. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.