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A Second Headlamp for Winter Hiking

Sunset over the Carter Range, White Mountains
Sunset over the Carter Range, White Mountains

I do a lot of winter day hiking in some pretty remote and mountainous locations, but I’ve only ever carried one head lamp, a Black Diamond Spot, which I’ve owned now for several years. That changed over the weekend when I bought a second one, a Black Diamond Icon, to bring along on winter trips.

I got the Icon (100 max lumens) because I wanted a brighter headlamp for winter hiking. I’ve already been on a couple of hikes this winter where we needed to keep hiking after nightfall and it’s not that easy to see at night on a snow covered trail. For example, I had to hike down the steep north face of 4,000 footer Wildcat A in the dark last month (photo taken from the summit of Wildcat A at sunset) and my BD Spot wasn’t bright enough for the job. My older model Spot also chews through Lithium AAA batteries, which retain their charge despite cold temperatures.

But why a second headlamp, instead of just one? What about the extra weight? That is a consideration, but if your first headlamp conks out, you really want a second one readily available that already has batteries in it.

Think about it this way: if you don’t have any light, it is going to be a daunting task to change the batteries if you only have one headlamp. Of course, you could rely on the light from a companion, if they’re around, or you could light a match to open the headlamp to see which way to point the batteries in the battery pack. But that assumes you’re not alone – groups do get separated – and that you’re someplace out of the wind where you can light a match. Both of those are pretty big IFS in my experience.

Buying a second headlamp seemed like a prudent step, especially since I plan on doing longer day hikes this winter that require nighttime hiking. I should probably upgrade my old headlamp as well but it’s still good enough and lightweight enough for three-season use and I’d rather not spend the money.

In addition, I also purchased a rechargeable Lithium battery for the BD Icon, which should save me some money on buying AAA lithium batteries. They are very expensive and I’ve been plowing through them this winter.

I hate adding more weight to my winter pack, but I feel that this is a prudent safety precaution.

Do you carry a backup headlamp for winter hiking?



  1. I have been thinking about this too – what my hiking buddy uses is a standard tac-tikka and a Surefire tactical light. It is a nice combo b/c the headlamp works well up close and the tactical light throws light down the trail. If one light fails, then you still have the other for backup. The problem is that the Surefire uses CR123 batteries (vs AAA in the Tikka) and the surefire only has one output level (High!).

    I have been considering one of the newer AAA powered LED lights like the ITP A3 (80 Lumens) or the 4Sevens Quark series (up to 180 lumens). They are nice b/c you can pick your battery type (cr123, aa or AAA) and the LED usually has different output levels and run times.

    Thanks for all the posts,


  2. I agree.

    I was almost caught out on my last trip. Fortunately I was able to use the light from the screen of my gps device. This gave me just enough light to reload my headlamp batteries.

    I was separated from my companions in deep forest at the time.

    I had a quick look and found this (see link) that I think I could use as an emergency back up light. I'm thinking of purchasing it and keeping it in the top of my pack.

  3. No, I haven't carried an extra headlamp, but the idea makes sense. In winter, the rechargeable lithium battery also makes sense. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. I don't typically carry an extra headlamp, but I do usually like to carry a high-powered flashlight in addition to my headlamp for emergencies. That way I've got something in the pack to outshine my headlamp if I need to signal someone or need significantly better light with longer throw.

  5. good idea, even with a group, so you can loan someone if theirs dies or fails. Walking either in front of or behind someone without a light can be dangerous as the shadows can get you hurt.

  6. Hadn't thought about two. Definitely makes sense. You also reminded me to replace the alkalines with lithiums.

  7. I use a Surefire Saint which allows the use of AA's in an optional battery box which goes on the back of the head strap (it normally runs in CR123 lithiums). It's not the lightest headlamp but it's bullet proof, variable from 1 – 100 lumens and the lamp can be rotated up and down through 180 degrees. My backup light is a cheap unit put out by the bunny loaded with lithiums.

    A good discussion on batttery performance:

  8. For a day hike, why bother with a back-up? Actually, I don't even bother with spare batteries (despite having only around six hours of good "twilight" a day this time of year) if I know my rechargable batteries are full when leaving. This might be because I rarely/never do demanding hikes alone but have a partner and that way I also have a spare light. For a longer trip (two nights or more) during the dark time of the year I'd take a spare headlamp (again one spare for two or more people is enough).

    I don't think that the weight would actually matter at all in most cases. But at least I can change the batteries of my headlamp in dark and if you just need light for that you could use cellphone (I often/always carry mine with me) or GPS display to provide light. Actually, after a while in the dark the Tritium in my whatch provides enough light to read few letters at a time or see how batteries should go into a headlamp. Or you could just carry a small key ring light as a backup for changing batteries. But if you think that you might brake or loose your headlamp on a trip were one is really needed, then carrying a spare would make a lot of sense.

  9. I've been carrying the Petzl E Lite Torch with me for the past season and love having it with me. It's small enough that the extra weight is hardly noticed and yet bright enough to make an emergency battery switch.

    I wouldn't plan on using it to actually hike with, but it's fine for reading or camp chores and cuts down on the use of my main headlamp.

  10. I almost never go out with a shell/jacket and a headlamp. I've been using the BlackDiamond Storm (100 lumens) for about the last year. Love it! Having the super bright spot light and flood light option really helps for hiking a night.

    My first aid kit also has a 1 led key ring light, and depending on the trip, I might also throw in my old BlackDiamond Moonlight as backup.

  11. I always carry two with me. It started because a friend that I regularly hike with never brought one. It just became habit. This past season though I found several occasions to use two at the same time. In the desert, it's helpful to get a longer view sometimes. We spend less time on groomed trails which makes for interesting navigational challenges in the dark. Sometimes you need to be able to see further into the distance ahead.

    I feel like weight is really not even a concern. It is well worth the extra weight.

  12. Yes! 2 headlamps and try to carry extra batteries. I bet you turn your headlamp on and off as your packing it, and see the light, but is it fully charged?

    I was on a "moonlight" hike that the moon never came out on and it was a real learning experience. Hiking down a rocky trail in the dark is a challenge. Your natural instinct is to park and wait for morning, but that wasn't possible so lets stay focused.

    Besides for the 2nd lamp being a backup, descending was easier if you strap another lamp to your belt or arm so you have one light shining in the distance and one for your footing. I don't know about you, but I wont step into the unknown. The spot light proved to be better than the LED for distance.

    As a slower hiker, I'm also aware that my lamps need to have enough power for the time I'm in the dark. Your pace will slow just hiking in the dark. Any delays and your one headlamp may not be enough for the trip. Ever changed batteries in the dark, or try to get a new blister pack of batteries open? The more you prepare, the better prepared you will be.

  13. I have started to carry 2 headlamps these days. I feel that it would be almost impossible to change out batteries in the winter if I carried one lamp. I have also had instances where hiking partner's lamps broke and my backup lamp was able to help them out. Overall the value of a backup lamp definitely justifies the weight.

  14. The thing that convinced me to carry a second headlamp in winter was a talk by an AMC leader who works for the hikeSafe program sponsored by NH Fish and Game. He also convinced me to carry a stove in winter. The gist of his message is that you need to be able to save yourself in winter if you get in trouble because search and rescue may take a while to get to you (in the Whites at night.) You may be lucky and never need any of this extra gear, but I've had enough close calls personally that adding it back into my pack made a lot of sense.

  15. I carry a second light at all times. It's one of those tiny LED lights and hangs around my neck along with my compass and whistle. I probably couldn't hike with it, although some do. It works fine for changing batteries or finding things.

    Even in summer, I take the tiny second light. There have been several times that I knocked my headlamp (my summer headlamp is a Petzl e+ light, which of course is pretty small) off into a corner (I toss and turn a lot) and couldn't find it by groping! About the autumnal equinox, I switch to a much beefier Princeton Tec headlamp that can use lithium batteries. It's harder to lose, too.

  16. There are a few items that I have always have a quite a bit of redundancy.

    fire – 2 small bic lighters, fire steel

    light – headlamp, mini mag light, tea candle

    navigation – 2 copies of the map & a compass, GPS

    shelter – tarp, ponch, space blanket

    food – always have at least one extra "no cook" meal

  17. What made you decide on the Icon rather than the newer (and more powerful) version of the Spot (90 max lumens)? Or, for that matter, the BD Storm (100 max lumens)? It looks like the Icon gets a little more beam distance, but I am impressed by the power and small design and lightweight (for the power) nature of the Spot and Storm. Oh — sounds like the rechargeable battery pack was a major consideration. Maybe BD will eventually do for the Spot and Storm what Petzl did for their smaller AAA-using LED lamps with the "Core" rechargeable pack. That would be nice.

  18. I have a Petzl e+ Light that I use in conjunction with a PrincetonTec Apex Pro. I first bought the Apex for nighttime navigation (I enjoy hiking at night at all times of the year) and it does the job superbly. But it is far to powerful for camp and close quarter situations.

    After buying the e+, I have found I take it out more and more on the trail. On a well established or familiar trail often the red LED is all I need to continue up or down; the main white light it produces illjminates the trails wonderfully as well; around camp it works great too. When navigating new terrain or finding a route in the snow, the Apex Pro is still my go to light. The safety features and minimal weight of the e+ make it quite easy for me to always have it with me.

  19. don't carry two headlamps but I do carry a microlight. This combination has worked for me for several years.

  20. The Petzl e+ Light is my main light. But, I also carry an Impulse backup. Both are water/snow resistant and use "coin" cells. For big or open areas, I like the Tikka. Because of the $&^)*& diabetes, I rarely go out in winter anymore. But I found the glare and splashback from snow and ice, or, leaves was more blinding than I had previosly thought. A less strong light actually lets you travel without some degree of this blindness.

    Two lights? I thought everyone brought two. The weight of the light is often less than the weight of the batteries.

  21. I carry spare batteries and a small single AAA LED flashlight. It's actually quite bright, weighs 1oz and has a twist-on mechanism that makes it easy to turn on with gloves on. Then I can change the batteries in my Spot (excellent headlamp, though I wish I had one of the newer ones with *red* LED's…).

  22. Not to be a nit picker …. but the Black Diamond Icon/Apollo NRG Rechargeable Battery Kit is a NiMH battery kit. Source: (BD's website) … much shorter battery life than Li-ion

    But the backup light idea is a very good one.

  23. I'm very glad you did catch that. Any idea how long NiMh lasts in very cold weather compared to Li-ion. I can use regular batteries with it, but I'd rather not.

  24. I found a CAPACITY vs temperature graph here: … about 1/3 the way down the page.

    Have not found voltage vs temp graphs

  25. Interesting discussion. I spoke with a Garmin rep once who told me that lithium batteries were a nono in their devices because they were often over their voltage rating. He said this also applied to headlamps. I've never let that worry me, but it's an interesting side thought. Lithium seems to be the choice for winter.

    I know it's insufferably geeky, but I've practiced reloading batteries in the dark, so I didn't have to carry a second light. Insert "get a life" here, but knowing your gear can be a life saver. My worst habit is forgetting which hand has the used batteries and which has the new ones… Sigh.

    By the way, I always carry a stove on winter day hikes. It just makes sense.

  26. I usally carry a 2nd headlamp, even day-hiking in the summer. New headlamps are so light & powerful that it just makes sense. Had an old Petzl die on me in Madison Hut a few years ago. Iwas up doing trailwork on my section of the Osgood trail & was sick as a dog. Up all nite finding my way to the bathroom by the lite of my Timex Indiglo watch. Love my Icon but a little heavy. Just prodealed a new Tikka XP with the core battery for my AT trip in March. Probably will use it with Lithium batteries.

  27. This is something to consider, so far I have only used extra lithium batteries as a backup. I went with the Black Diamond Icon Polar edition as I tend to only get time off in the winter. On hikes with friends the polar edition seems to last quite a bit longer than the headlamps with the battery pack exposed to the cold. Only downside is the added complication of having the battery pack hanging from your shoulder.

  28. Ever since reading Pam W’s account of her “group” hike in the Mahoosucs, I always carry two with plenty of batteries. You never know when one will fail or your companion can’t find theirs.

  29. Second? I carry three, plus spare batteries. I’ve had to bail on hikes in the past because someone in the group forgot their headlamp, so I’m prepared with my own backup as well as the possibility that someone else’s headlamp dies or is forgotten.

  30. I hiked the Grand Canyon in the rain. Clouds were beneath the rim. ZERO light from stars or moon or anything else. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. If I had not had a flashlight, I would have had to just sit down and wait until dawn. In the rain.

    Ever since then I have carried two lights, just in case:
    One headlamp.
    One handheld with zoom focus for spotting trail markers at a distance.

    I use the same flashlight for both; a dual-voltage single cell water resistant light from Amazon (Kootek: $3 each when you buy 5). The dual voltage means that I can use cheap AA cells or rechargeable 16850 lithium cells depending on the trip. (As you say, lithium beats alkaline).

    The second flashlight weighs little more than a spare battery, and adds redundancy for loss/breakage/partner-who-forgot-their-light.

    I use a headband to make a headlamp. Liston Concepts made great headbands years ago. I have only been able to find Nite Ize recently. They are not as great as the old Liston Concepts bands, but they are good enough.

    I also made red lenses for the lights to cut down on bugs and preserve night vision: Cut a disk from a red Hillshire Farms lunch meat “tupperware” lid; insert between lens and LED.

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