Rugged and robust, the military-grade Nitecore HC65 headlamp will take plenty of punishment, even in the toughest (and wettest) environments, and has a dazzling light output.
Wide range of light modes
Ultra robust build
Waterproof (rated IPX8, submersible to 2m)
A little heavy
Slightly complicated to use
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The Nitecore HC65 headlamp is a compact and solid unit that is clearly built for serious outdoor use, with an anodized military-grade aluminium casing that feels extremely rugged. In fact, it’s the sort of lamp you might expect to see mounted to the helmet of a clandestine special forces soldier, with a low-profile black matte finish.
In terms of construction, the swivelling unit is permanently mounted on a flexible bracket, which rotates through 180º for an excellent range of adjustment. The power button is located at one end of a barrel-type casing. It has a camera shutter-type function, operated by either a full press or a half press, depending on which light modes you want to select. A threaded metal cap unscrews at this end to reveal a micro-USB port for recharging the internal 18650 lithium battery.
A similar cap at the opposite end reveals the battery compartment, which in addition to the rechargeable 3400mAh battery that is supplied with the headlamp, can also take two x CR123 batteries – not as easy to find as your standard AAs or AAAs, but still relatively inexpensive and not too tricky to source.
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The main light output comes from a single centrally positioned high-quality Cree LED, with a secondary offset LED providing auxiliary white light and red-light modes.
It all makes for a neat little unit that isn’t too bulky. Admittedly, this isn’t the lightest headlamp around, but it is comfortable and secure in use, aided by a three-point headband that helps to balance the weight and stop it moving around during dynamic activity.
• RRP: $110 (US) / £77 (UK)
• Weight with batteries: 164g / 5.8oz
• Max light output: 1,000 lumens
• Average run time: High: 2 hours 45 mins Low: 16 hours
• Max beam distance: 110m
• Water resistance: IPX8 (fully waterproof)
• Compatibility: Mountaineering, hiking, backpacking, snow sports
In the field
We were excited to test that 1,000-lumen turbo mode, and we weren’t disappointed. It is incredibly bright, and unlike many other high-powered headlamps, you aren’t restricted to using it just for a short ‘boost’ period – it has a max claimed burn time of up to an hour. In terms of overall max beam projection, the rated distance of 110m seems accurate, and though this isn’t quite class-leading, it’s still competitive and more than adequate for most outdoor scenarios.
For general use you’re more likely to stick with the high and medium settings, which are still suitable for trail-finding and night navigation. In camp, the low beam and auxiliary beam are both good options, with the latter also offering a red-light mode for night vision. There are also SOS, beacon and strobe modes for emergency use, and an ultralow setting, which restricts performance to just a single lumen but can keep this up for an impressive 800 hours. A flashing blue position indicator can also be activated, which has minimal battery drain (it’ll stay on for up to six months with a fully charged battery) and should make the HC65 pretty much impossible to lose. Handily, all of the standard light modes have a memory function, so if you turn the lamp off and on again it will return to your last-used setting.
The HC65’s other stand-out feature is the fact that it is also fully waterproof, with an impressive IPX8 rating, which makes it a very practical headlamp for wet and wild weather. This is definitely a headlamp we’d trust even in sustained downpours. Since it’s also impact resistant, it could even take on caving and canyoning adventures. It’s probably a little too heavy for the ultralight brigade, or for trail and road runners – particularly since it lacks a rear red light – but it really comes into its own for all-season hiking, mountaineering and backpacking, as well as any sort of nights out camping or bivvying.
In terms of drawbacks, other than the inevitable extra weight that comes with such high performance and a bombproof build, our only complaints are the slightly complicated sequences of presses and half-presses required to cycle through the different functions. Even after a test period of a few weeks, with regular nightly use, we struggled a little to remember exactly how to get to, say, the red-light mode straight away. But that minor niggle aside, there was little to fault. It was impossible not to be impressed with the build quality and performance of this tough and reliable headlamp.
An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.