The best headlamps are a must-have on campsites these days. From dusk till dawn, a good head torch is invaluable for even the simplest after dark tasks. After going hands-free, an old fashioned flashlight can feel incredibly cumbersome
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the technology behind the best headlamps getting better and better, with more powerful LED lights, rechargeable power packs, better head harnesses, and even lamps with programmable settings that automatically sense light levels and adjust their output accordingly.
You don’t have to go reach for the ultra-modern, super-tech models, of course. There are head torches out there for every kind of outdoor type. While more specialist sports enthusiasts such as cavers and climbers also use head torches, for our list we’ve concentrated more on head torches catering for campers, backpackers, hikers and trail runners.
Our roundup of the best headlamp models are featured on merit, but we especially like the Black Diamond Storm for its rugged capability, the Petzl Actik Core for its functionality, and Alpkit's Qark for its impressive beam range and light weight. Silva's Trail Runner Free is brilliant for trail runners.
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The best headlamps available right now
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.
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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.
Silva Trail Runner 4 Ultra
A tiny lamp face with a beam bigger than an ecstatic Cheshire cat
RRP: $130 (US)/ £105 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 121g / 2.96oz | Max Light Output: 350 lumens | Average Run Time: High: 25 hours / Low: 90 hours (with AAA batteries) / High: 5 hours / Low: 18 hours (on USB-charged power unit) | Max Beam Distance: 75 metres | Water Resistance: IPX5 | Compatibility: Trail running, hiking, skiing
Aside from its svelte size, the most impressive feature of this Swedish beauty is Silva’s intelligent light tech, which uses a double bulb system to send a long beam off into the distance, while spreading a wider light right in front of you, which is excellent for running across technical ground in the depth of night (especially when you’re tired and the roots and rocks are all out to get you).
Other features include a battery strength indicator that works even when the torch is off. It comes with a USB charger for juicing up the main rechargeable power pack, but there’s also a secondary pack that takes three AAA batteries, so you can carry a spare waiting and ready to be plugged in. Note, however, this headlamp lasts longer when used with AAAs than it does with the rechargeable power pack. The power pack is housed on the back of the head strap, which more evenly distributes weight - although the lamp itself is featherlight (49g) - but that does mean there are external cables running around the side of your head, which some people find annoying and which could conceivably snag on bushes and trees as you run. (Although cables are well clipped to the band.)
If you really hate having weight on your head, you can carry the battery pack in your backpack or hydration pack, and use a longer cable (supplied) to reach the torch. The light can be angled up or down with ease, and the single button used to switch between settings is large, logically located and a cinch to use (even with gloves on).
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 bonce, no matter what action-packed adventures you’re engaged in.
BioLite HeadLamp 330
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.
Coleman BatteryGuard 250L
A functional and affordable headlamp, handy for hiking and camping
RRP: £23 (UK) | Weight with batteries: 100g / 3.5oz | Max Light Output: 250 lumens | Average Run Time: High: 4 hours/ Low: 200 hours | Max Beam Distance: 125 metres | Water Resistance: IPX4 | Compatibility: Camping, hiking
Frankly, we didn’t believe that this addition to our list of the best headlamps would throw a beam 125 metres, but we measured it, and it lives up to its on-package promise. With far less bells and whistles than some of the other lights on test, the simplicity of this model, combined with its surprisingly good performance on full beam, is a major selling point. It’s perfect for camping, and is a headlamp you’re going to be more than happy for the kids to mess about with. And they will figure out how to use it in seconds.
The on-off switch is easy to locate and operate, a rotating bezel allows you to switch between brightness modes (of which there are two), and the head pivots so you can adjust the angle of the beam when you’re walking, to highlight the ground by your feet or path ahead. The low setting is too dim for constant use on the trails, which means you will almost always have it set to high if you’re night hiking or running, which will burn through the batteries pretty quick. However, although weak, the low beam will allow you to quickly find something in a dark tent or check a map, and there’s also a red setting, which will also allow you to do these sorts of things without blowing your night vision.
The headband is pretty basic, although it claims to be breathable, and all the weight is carried at the front, because the batteries sit within the lamp unit. On the upside, the in-built BatteryGuard function (a feature integrated with the light switch, which disengages the batteries) will extend the battery life by protecting against accidental activation, corrosion and battery drain.
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).
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. Out on the trails, this translates into less head movement (you don’t need to look up or down to see what’s happening, you can just run like you do during daylight hours), which means lower levels of fatigue, less trips and slips, and better performance. There are three brightness settings – max (400 lumens), medium (200 lumens) and minimum (50 lumens) – all of which are actually useful. There’s also a flashing mode, and an innovative short-burst rapid-flash indicator lets you know when you’re on full beam. The on-off button, also used to toggle between modes, is large and easy to operate, even if you’re wearing gloves.
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.
Choosing the best headlamp for you
As always, the most important thing you need to consider when investing in a headlamp 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 rocksolid head harness. But if you’re looking to stay out on the hills, trails, mountainsides and crags well past dark, while running, hiking and climbing, then of course weight, brightness and maintaining a level beam will be much more important factors in making your choice.
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This is likely to be the first thing you look at when considering a headlamp. 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 along a technical trail with potential drop offs, or negotiating a mountain.
However, the brighter a light burn, the quicker the battery will run out – although 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, so you can preserve the life of your battery.
Beam and strobe options
All decent headlamps will offer at least two beam settings: typically called ‘flood’ – which casts the light wide and is ideal for reading (books or maps) and looking at adventure and camping buddies in the tent or on the trail without burning their eyes out – and ‘spot’ which project a concentrated and narrow beam for, 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 signaling.
Most headlamps will have at least one colour settings, usually red (sometimes green and/or blue too) which allow you to turn the torch on while you’re out on the trail walking in the moonlight, or gazing up at the stars, without completely blowing out your natural night vision (your sensory ability to see in the semi dark, which is better than you might think, but improves over time and is easily shattered by unnatural light). This 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.
Many modern headlamps 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.
Head harness and weight
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 (and 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 your scone will allow you to get a more secure and less bouncy fit (especially good for trail running).
Generally, the lighter the lamp is the better, and some people prefer designs that split the battery pack (always the heaviest element) and the lamp, with the battery being positioned at the back of the harness (or even in a backpack). This does involve cabling, however, which can be annoying (and might even become a snagging issue on trees on bushes). Others are happy to carry all the weight and bulk up front, because larger profile lamps with one big button can be easier to use, especially with gloves on.
Ideally 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 S.O.S. flash option.
No matter if you’re camping or taking part in outdoor activities, you’re bound to encounter some wet weather while wearing your headlamp, so it’s important to know it can survive getting wet.
Quality headlamps (like other good pieces of tech) are given a 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.
The Black Diamond Storm, featured here, scores IP67, which means it is fully dust proof, and waterproof, submergible to 1 metre 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.
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