A headlamp is one of the most important 10 essentials for backpacking, hiking, and any kind of outdoor adventure sport. Using your smartphone as a flashlight doesn’t cut it. But the days of old-school AA and AAA battery-powered headlamps are history. USB rechargeable headlamps have become ubiquitous and are less wasteful because you don’t need to throw out dead batteries or wonder if the ones you have already have any power left in them.
|Make / Model||Lumens||Lock||Red Mode||Weight|
|Biolite 330 Headlamp||330||Yes||Yes||2.4 oz|
|Petzl Actik Core||450||Yes||Yes||2.8 oz|
|LEDLenser MH5||400||Yes||Yes||3.3 oz|
|Fenix HM50R||500||No||No||2.8 oz|
|Nitecore NU 32||550||Yes||Yes||3.5 oz|
|Nitecore NU 25||360||Yes||Yes||1.85 oz|
|Biolite 750 Headlamp||750||Yes||Yes||5.3 oz|
|Petzl Tactikka||450||Yes||Yes||2.8 oz|
|Nite Ize Radiant 300||300||Yes||Yes||3.2 oz|
|Princeton Tec Axis Recharegable||450||Yes||Yes||2.9 oz|
|Nite Ize Radiant 170 Hat Clip Light||170||No||Yes||1.62 oz|
Here are our top 10 picks for the best rechargeable headlamps for backpacking and hiking. While there are some familiar company names listed below, the companies that used to dominate the headlamp market like Black Diamond have been eclipsed by smaller more innovative companies offering less expensive and higher functioning products. You simply don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get a great headlamp anymore. Be sure to check out our advice below about what to look for when buying a rechargeable headlamp for backpacking, hiking, and trail running
1. Biolite Headlamp 330 Rechargeable Headlamp
2. Petzl Actik Core Rechargeable Headlamp
3. LEDLenser MH5 Rechargeable Headlamp
4. Fenix HM 50R LED Rechargeable Headlamp
4. Petzl Tactikka Core 450 Rechargeable Headlamp
5. Nitecore NU32 Rechargeable Headlamp
6. Nitecore NU25 Rechargeable Headlamp
7. Biolite Headlamp 750
8. Nite Ize Radiant 300 Rechargeable Headlamp
9. Princeton Tec Axis Rechargeable Headlamp
10. Nite Ize Radiant 170 Rechargeable Hat Clip Light
The Nite Ize Radiant 170 Rechargeable Hat Clip Light combines the convenience of rechargeability, red and white LEDs, and four modes all in a compact design that clips securely onto hats. With four LED modes and an easy push-button operation, the Radiant 170 is impact and water-resistant (IPX4) and features a body that can be tilted for easy beam adjustment. It is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that charges using a micro USB cable.
How to Choose a Rechargeable Headlamp
Here are the most important features and considerations to evaluate when comparing different rechargeable headlamps.
Check the capacity of the headlamps you’re interested in to see how much power, measured in mAh, they can hold. If you plan on using a headlamp on a multi-day trip, it’s useful to bring one with a large battery capacity so you don’t have to recharge it from a portable power pack. Smaller capacity batteries are fine for short runs, but you will also have to recharge them more frequently, which can be a hassle if you use them a lot.
Dual Power Headlamps
Most rechargeable headlamps bundle in a cold-resistant lithium-ion battery, although there are also dual-power headlamps that can also be powered by old school alkaline or lithium-ion batteries. If you already carry a USB-enabled power pack to charge your other electronic devices, then the latter is probably unnecessary, although it might be useful if your power pack runs out of juice and you can’t recharge it. This isn’t a priority for me, but some people prefer having the ability to switch to regular batteries as a contingency.
All of the headlamps listed above have battery packs that are integrated with their light sources, so a single headband strap is all that is needed to wear them. Multi-strap headlamp headbands are only necessary for very heavy headlamps or ones with remote battery packs that are carried separate from the light source and linked by an external wire.
If you plan to trail run or hike at night, it’s important to get a headlamp that tilts in its strap bracket so you can direct the spot or floodlight onto the ground and out front, ahead of you.
The latest generation of LED lights available in headlamps are very powerful and the lumen outputs often exceed what’s required for nighttime use in camp or even for nighttime running. Anything headlamp with 150 lumens or more should be sufficient for general purpose backpacking and hiking. When purchasing a headlamp, the maximum light output is much less important than the length of time the headlamp can burn on low power, since that’s the setting you’ll use most often in camp or in your tent.
Red Light Mode
Headlamps with a red light mode are good for preserving your night vision if you want to read in your tent or star gaze. They also help you avoid blinding your companions in camp or around the campfire. The red light mode also uses far less energy than white light modes and is a good way to converse your battery power between charges.
While gear weight is important, it’s often less important than a headlamp’s features, efficiency, or battery life. For example, if you need to carry a heavier power pack to recharge a lighter weight headlamp more frequently, you probably haven’t saved as much weight overall as you might like. Focus on your needs, if you know them, and let that guide your decision as to which headlamp you select.
Headlamps with manual or digital on-off locks are useful to prevent the accidental activation of a headlamp when it’s packed. I won’t buy a headlamp without one, but that’s just my personal preference.
Some sort of battery indicator is useful on a rechargeable headlamp so you know when to recharge the battery and when it’s finished recharging. Without it, you’re more likely to try to use a headlamp that is out of power when you need it.
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