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Nitecore NU31 Headlamp Review

Nitecore NU31 Headlamp Review

The Nitecore NU31 is a 550-lumen LED headlamp with red and white lighting modes and an 1800mAh li-ion battery pack. That’s a huge battery and it is one of the key features I look for in a headlamp because I don’t want to recharge it on a backpacking trip or run out of power in an emergency. But the NU31 is also loaded with other features including a power meter and an electronic lock to prevent accidental drainage. Best of all, it has a simple control sequence that you can figure out on the fly if you only use the headlamp occasionally for an overnight backpacking or camping trip.

Specs at a Glance

  • Lumens: 550 (max)
  • Light Color: White Light + Red Light
  • Weight: 95.5g (3.37 oz) incl. headband and tilting bracket
  • Battery: 1800 mAh Li-ion
  • Power Indicator: Yes
  • Lockout Mode: Yes
  • Charging: USB-C
  • Waterproof: IP66 rated (suitable for use in rain)

The Nitcore NU 31 is just about perfect for my needs. It has a powerful and long-lasting battery so I rarely need to recharge it in the field with my portable power bank (which I’d rather reserve for recharging my Smartphone.)  The resulting run time is also long enough to stay lit in case I have an accident and need to wait for help or I need to help a search and rescue crew evacuate an injured hiker. I also like the fact that it uses USB-C cable for recharging, the same as my Garmin inReach Mini2, both for its fast charging speed and because it reduces the number of cables I need to carry.

The control logic is easy to “figure out” even if you don’t use it everyday.
The control logic is easy to “figure out” even if you don’t use it every day.

The NU31 has an easy-to-use control sequence which I find important because I don’t use it often enough to memorize it. The light comes with two buttons: a power button which is used to turn the light on and off and adjust brightness levels and a mode button, which is used to switch between light sources. In other words, the operational logic is easy enough for me to figure out by pressing the buttons, each time I use it, without having to re-read the directions.

There are three light sources: a primary white light, an auxiliary white light, and an auxiliary red light.

  • The primary white light has three brightness levels: 550 lumens, 200 lumens, and 60 lumens. There are also 550 lumen strobe and beacon settings.
  • The auxiliary white light has two brightness levels: 50 lumens and 6 lumens.
  • The auxiliary red light has two brightness levels: a constant-on 5 lumens and a slow flashing 10 lumens, good for cycling.

While the NU31 has a retina-searing 550 lumens maximum brightness level, I mostly use the 200 lumens or 60 lumens levels because that’s really all I need in camp and to preserve the life of the battery. For example, the light is rated for 38 hours at 60 lumens, which is more than enough for me to use at night on my short trips, which typically last 2-3 days in length.

The NU31 comes with an optional light diffuser for use inside your tent.
The NU31 comes with an optional light diffuser for use inside your tent.
Expected run times by brightness level
  • 550 lumens – 5 hours (primary white)
  • 200 lumens – 8 hours (primary white)
  • 60 lumens – 38 hours (primary white)
  • 50 lumens – 42 hours (auxiliary white)
  • 6 lumens – 147 hours (auxiliary white)
  • 5 lumens – 80 hours (auxiliary red)
  • 10 lumens – 50 hours (auxiliary red in flashing mode)

The headlamp has a titling bracket so you can adjust it to illuminate your path at night, whether hiking or running. There’s also a built-in power meter that illuminates four lights to show you how much power is left and an electronic lock so you can prevent having the light come on inside your backpack and drain. A frosted plastic cover is also included with the headlamp and acts light diffuser, perfect for use inside your tent at night when you want indirect light and not a focused beam.

The built-in power meter shows the battery status.

The comfortable reflective headband is removable and can be easily replaced with some shock cord if you want to shave an ounce of gear weight, but frankly, I find it far more comfortable as is.

Of all the headlamps I own, the ones from Nitecore, including this NU31 rechargeable headlamp, have been my go-to for many years because they’re reliable, fully featured, and a good value for the money. They’re much less expensive than comparable rechargeable headlamp models from Black Diamond or Petzl and just as powerful and well-featured.

Note: If you’ve never watched a Nitecore product overview video. They are hilarious. See below.

View at Amazon

Disclosure: Nitecore donated a headlamp for review.

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  1. I live in Canada and hike in winter, so cold weather performance is important to me. I currently own a Petzl Tikka because I can put in lithium non-rechargeable AAA batteries, which retain 80% capacity at -20C. This compares with alkaline that is 25% at -20C and NiMH which is 20% at -20C. Does Nitecore specify the cold weather performance of their battery? I am no expert, but my experience with rechargeable lithium batteries is that their performance degrades at cold temperatures, and they usually cannot be recharged below about 0C. I can stick camera batteries and a phone in a vest pocket to keep them warm, but a forehead light will drop to ambient temperature as it is used, which can be for longer time periods in winter because the days are so short.

    I do like the other specifications of the Nitecore light.

    • Good question. They don’t specific a lowest operating temperature. If I were yo, I’d get some of their Lithium Ion 18650 batteries instead of the off the shelf ones you’re currently using because they’re rated down to -40F. Any battery with water in it (like alkaline) will freeze at 0C and not operate.

  2. Omg…love the ratcheting system lol but it not being able to “lock” in place is disappointing. I have the orange one and feel like if I run or hit a bump in my MTN bike it will drop into a different angle. Haven’t used it yet so will try to remember to update if I’m wrong. Even if I’m wrong I’d still want the ability for it to “lock” in place, at least while it is in it’s most upright positioning.

  3. Thank you for another excellent review. Until recently, I always felt that this size of headtorch offered the best performace – output/runtimes/weight. However, I have now moved over to the Nitecore NU43 (inbuilt 18650 battery) for winter use – you get significantly improved output/runtimes for an extra 20g. Nitecore have also just released an external battery case for this series.

  4. I love the quality and value of the Nitecore products.

  5. I emailed NiteCore and asked if the NU25UL and NU 31 headlamps would fully charge and operate with full power available below freezing. The answer I received is provided below:
    “ The NU25 UL/NU31 running time is measured under a room temperature of 25C°. The Li-ion battery performance will become unsteady in a low-temperature environment. It is not that the lithium battery is really out of power, but that it has power but cannot be released normally. We suggest you use them above zero and keep them warm before using them in a low-temperature environment. ”
    For cold conditions (below freezing), a better choice from NiteCore might be their UT27 800L headlamp that use either three, AAA batteries or their HLB 1300 lithium battery pack. It is sold with 1300 battery pack and weighs 2.61 oz or about 74 grams.

  6. Note that the NiteCore UT27 UL800 and its sister, the UT27 both can only use Alkaline or Ni-MH AAA batteries. The battery pack that comes with each light is the Li-Ion HLB1300.

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