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Nitecore NU20 Rechargeable Headlamp Review

The Nitecore NU20 headlamp is rechargeable and 4 different intensity settings ranging from 1 lumen to 360 lumens at full power
The Nitecore NU20 headlamp is rechargeable with 4 different intensity settings ranging from 1 lumen to 360 lumens at full power.

The Nitecore NU20 is a very bright, lightweight rechargeable headlamp that’s ideal for backpacking and hiking. Weighing just 1.66 ounces, including a comfortable head strap, it has 4 brightness levels, ranging from 1 lumen to 360 lumens on full power, in addition to two special modes: a flashing SOS and a Beacon Mode that’s good for guiding people to a location in the dark. The NU20 was recommended by my backpacking friend Martin Rye from the UK and I decided to give it a go. Martin’s recommendations are usually spot on when it comes to backpacking gear, cameras, and electronics.

Nitecore NU20 Headlamp



The Nitecore NU20 is very bright, lightweight rechargeable headlamp that's ideal for backpacking and hiking. Weighing just 1.66 ounces, including a comfortable head strap, it has 4 brightness levels, ranging from 1 lumen to 360 lumens on full power.

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The NU20 is recharged using a micro-USB plug so it’s compatible with the 8000 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery I carry on all my hikes to recharge my smartphone if I use it for GPS navigation.  I’ve also started using a new USB rechargeable camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 (awesome camera), which means I can eliminate a lot of the spare batteries I routinely carry in my pack and recharge on the go if needed. I like the idea of using a rechargeable battery because it’s less wasteful, I don’t need to carry a bunch of different device chargers or batteries on long trips, and it makes resupply a lot less complicated between my frequent trips. I rarely use more than 25% of the charge on my backup battery and feel that I still have plenty of extra capacity to recharge these extra devices if needed.

Nitecore NU20 Specs
Nitecore NU20 Specs

The NU 20 is a very comfortable headlamp to wear, the headband is easy to adjust, and the lamp is super lightweight so you barely notice that you’re wearing it. I’m not a night hiker by habit, so I mainly use the 1 lumen and 40 lumens settings around camp instead of the 200 and 360-lumen settings, although I can see them useful for winter hiking.

The operation of the headlamp is intuitive with button presses to rotate through the different light intensities. The headlamp also has a built-in battery indicator to indicate how much power is remaining and when the light is being recharged.

The bracket that connects the light to the strap has a plastic tab that prevents accidental activation which can drain the battery.
The bracket that connects the light to the strap has a plastic tab that prevents accidental activation which can drain the battery.

The one thing missing from this light is a lock mechanism built into the switch to prevent the light from being turned on accidentally. That function is handled instead by the bracket that attaches the light to the headband and lets you redirect the beam. There’s a small plastic tab on the bracket that prevents the on-off switch from being activated, provided you rotate the light back into the bracket after using it.

This is an easy habit to remember and it’s something I do whenever I stow the headlamp in the tiny stuff sack that I use to store all of my electronics. Of course, the fact that the headlamp is field rechargeable means that I can top off the battery is if I ever forget, the headlamp turns on and drains itself. So far, that’s never been an issue and I am confident that the risk of running completely out of juice is low anyway. You’re never more than a week away from an electric outlet anymore, even when hiking a remote trail.

Comparable Rechargeable Headlamps

Make / ModelLumensWeight
Petzl Actik Core6003.1 oz
COAST Fl1R Micro Headlamp3001.7 oz
Black Diamond SPOT-R Headlamp3252.6 oz
Nitecore NU 337005.3 oz
Fenix HM50R7002.75 oz
Black Diamond Astro 300-R3002.65 oz
Biolite 800 Pro8005.1 oz
Nitecore NU 25 UL4001.59 oz
COAST RL10R7503.8 oz
Petzl Bindi Ultralight 2001.2 oz


I’ve been using the Nitecore NU20 headlamp for over several years now and really like it. I like its lightweight, the adjustability of the strap, the light modes it provides, and that it’s powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a mini-USB connector. Being able to replace all the spare batteries (in different sizes) that I used to carry and replace them with the single rechargeable battery I already carry is also a big win.

Disclosure: The author purchased this product with his own funds. 

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  1. Only torch I use now. Had mine for 5 months. I have used it on all my 2017 walks. Superb kit, and I sold my other torches as a result of getting it.

  2. fyi, It´s Micro-USB, not mini-USB port.

  3. Only works in wide angle mode, I wonder how effective it would be spotting trail markers on a dark night? The light I carry, if I expect to night hike, is the Coast HL7 ($40 at the Home Depot) which can focus a beam up to 120 meters at 285 lumens. It also uses replaceable batteries. On the downside, it’s heavy and lacks a shutoff lock.

    • It’s a great light and the tab that manually prevents accidental turning on in your pack makes it a clear winner for me. Get creative and replace the oem headband with an elastic bungee of so sort and you have an ultralight champ. Best of the bunch.

  4. I keep buying stuff you review while you go on to smaller and better things! Actually, I’m very happy with the Petzl Tikka RXP my wife got me for anniversary after many not so subtle hints. It’s rechargeable thru micro USB, contains a sensor that adjusts light output, has more modes than an MIT grad could figure out, and lightens the wallet more than enough to make up for any mass it possesses.

    For the rest of my family, I bought some $14 orange Energizer headlamps at Walmart–actually, a very nice, multi featured light. They take AAA batteries (I use lithiums for the trail since they are light and high capacity). My grandkids are very responsible. If any expensive headlight was left out on the trail or back at camp, they would be the ones responsible. That’s why they get the Walmart ones!

    • Be aware that Energizer headlamps will die if they get wet. Found this out the hard way on one of my first longer hikes. Down bag got wet, so I had to do 20 miles extra in a torrential downpour, my Energizer headlamp died when it got wet, finished the hike with my Photon micro light.

      Still carry the Photon along with a tiny SAK on a loop of cord, goes with me everywhere. Totally dependable light, ran 48 hours continuously, was super dim, but still usable when I replaced the battery.

      Ditched the down and Energizer. I use the NU20 now, like it so far.

  5. This looks like a great option for my replacement. Price is great! Although I like the size and weight of my Petzl, I don’t like worrying about batteries and was looking for a micro usb rechargeable option, plus I have the retractable elastic band style and once my hair got longer, it started eating my hair. OUCH! This band looks much more hair friendly :) Mine never put out sufficient light for night hiking either. This looks much better. For the price (and supporting you), I’ve placed my order!

    • So light I pack an extra NU20 every backcountry outing.
      I just take the straps off the back up one as no need since
      easily interchangeable.
      Best ever lamp.

  6. I am a fan of the red option on headlamps, which helps preserve night vision for star-gazing. I live in the middle of a large city (there may be 7 total star-like objects visible where I live – this includes Jupiter, Venus, and Mars), and one of the points of camping for me is to be able to pop out of the tent and star-gaze in truly dark skies. Many of my target hikes can be made as day hikes. So, red option is a must for me.

    • Hey, Nancy… Check out this one’s big brother, the NiteCore NU30. It has the red output you are looking for. It does weigh almost twice as much as the NU20, and costs a little more, but has 400 lumen Max output and a larger USB rechargeable battery (1800 mAh).

      This was my first NiteCore product, but after a half dozen trips, it has become my go-to light…

    • I’m with you on the red. I like to preserve night vision and stargaze. Both lights I referenced also have red LEDs, although I wish they were brighter. If they were, I’d use the red most of the time.

    • The NU10 is another option with a red LED. It’s ~.6oz heavier than the NU20 and limited to 160 lumens but has a larger battery, it also has a wider beam spread but less throw – tradeoffs.

  7. The NU20 looks like a nifty little light. Just an FYI: It’s not always an either/or choice between USB charging capability and standard batteries. I have a 3.6-ounce (with batteries) Black Diamond i got about three years ago. Not sure of the model; it has the spot light, 2 smaller areas lights, and two red lights, and looks somewhat like the previous-generation Storm. It takes three AAA batteries, and, if they are NiMH, can be recharged in the unit via a micro USB port. It appears that BD has revamped their entire line, so i don’t see this type available any more from them.

  8. Sigh, and thus the inner turmoil to justify whether to replace the perfectly good but non rechargeable Petzel begins….

  9. Cynthia Langill

    I just bought my first rechargeable via micro USB port light for my bicycle and was hesitant but so far so good. As a belt and suspended type person, I may be persuaded to try one for hiking – like the idea of readily available replacement batteries but not the weight. I have two different battery rechargers I keep in my EDC bags (work and play) already. What recharger have you been using?

  10. I know this is a site about hiking and backpacking, but I recently bought an NU20 for running, and I’m very happy with my purchase. I’ve been running for a long time, and now at the age of 59, I’ve decided to do some pre-dawn runs to beat the heat (it’s now summer in Australia).

  11. I believe the NU25 is .99 ounces with red light as well.

  12. Looks like a good lite. What battery recharger to you use?

  13. I like having the option of a red light, so I use the NU-25. It also has a lock function. I just brought another so I have one in my gear bag and one on my nightstand for daily use.

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