10 Best Rechargeable Headlamps

10 Best Rechargeable Headlamps for Backpacking and Hiking

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.

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, Petzl, and Princeton Tec 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

Make / ModelLumensLockRed ModeWeightPrice
Biolite 330330YesYes2.4 oz$50
Knog Bilby400YesYes3.2 oz$60
Fenix HM50R500NoNo2.8 oz$60
Petzl Bindi200YesYes1.2 oz$60
Nitecore NU 32550YesYes3.5 oz$40
Nitecore NU 25360YesYes1.85 oz$37
Nitecore NU 20360YesNo1.82 oz$30
LEDLenser SEO7R200YesYes3.3 oz$40
Claymore Heady600YesNo3.7 oz$80
UCO Air150YesYes1.6 oz$30

1. Biolite Headlamp 330

Biolite Headlamp 330
The Biolite 330 is a USB rechargeable LED headlamp with a remote battery pack that’s good for hiking, trail running, and camping. Weighing 2.4 oz, it has white and red modes, flood and spot modes, a dimmer, battery meter, and digital lock to prevent accidental discharge when carried in a backpack or waist pack. With a maximum brightness of 330 lumens, its 900 mAh Lithium-ion battery can power the headlamp for 3.5 hours on high and up to 40 hours on low.  But what sets the Biolite apart from most other headlamps is the tight integration of the light into the head strap, so that the light has a very thin profile that sits nearly flush with your forehead. This makes it feel a lot less top-heavy and helps minimize bouncing as you run or walk. Read our Biolite 330 Rechargeable Headlamp Review.

Check for the latest price at:
Biolite| Amazon

2. Knog Bilby Rechargeable Headlamp

Knog Bilby Headlamp
Weighing in at 3.2 oz, the Knog Bilby rechargeable headlamp is a streamlined but powerful rechargeable 400 lumens LED headlamp with 5 high-performance LEDs.  It has 6 light modes to choose from with 4 levels of brightness for each including Wide, Spot, Boost, Min, Red, and Reading with the ability to electronically tilt the beam up, down, to the right, or left. The controls are simple to remember and the headlamp has a battery indicator and lock mode to prevent accidental discharge. While it looks weird, the medical-grade silicone head strap is amazingly comfortable, secure, and easily adjustable. The light also has a built-in USB adapter which eliminates the need for recharging wires (Yay!) and is rated waterproof (IP67) for all-weather use. You can even reprogram the buttons to personalize the light using an app.

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon

3. Fenix HM 50R LED Rechargeable Headlamp

Fenix HM50R Rechargeable Headlamp
The Fenix HM50R is a high powered LED headlamp that puts out 500 lumens of light. It comes with a removable 16340 lithium-ion battery with 700 mAh of power and an onboard micro-USB compatible charger. If you want you can carry extra 16340 pre-charged batteries (or CR123A) and you also have the ability to recharge them in the field from a battery pack or solar panel. The tilt-capable headlamp can be removed from the headband and carried like a flashlight or used as a task light. The HM50R has four brightness modes: Turbo: 500 lumens; high: 130 lumens; medium: 30 lumens; low: 4 lumens, a battery indicator, and two beam types: spot and flood. A recessed on-off switch helps prevent accidental activation, but there is no red mode. The HM50R has a durable aluminum body (not plastic) and is waterproof.

Check for the latest price at
REI | Amazon

4. Petzl Bindi Rechargeable Headlamp

Petzl Bindi Ultralight Headlamp
The Peztl Bindi is a 1.2 oz rechargeable 200-lumen headlamp with white and red light modes. The white light has three power settings: high, medium, and low, while the red light has two modes: low and a strobe. The Bindi has a battery meter and a lockout function to prevent accidental activation. It also has a reserve power mode that kicks in to keep the light burning at 3 lumens for 90 minutes when you’re almost out of power. Battery capacity is limited, however, so expect to recharge the Bindi often. Some people dislike the minimal head strap, but the Bindi is so lightweight, you soon forget about it. Read our Petzl Bindi Review.

Check for the latest price at
Backcountry | Amazon

5. Nitecore NU32 Rechargeable Headlamp

Nitecore NU 32 Headlamp
The Nitecore NU 32 is a very bright 550 lumen rechargeable headlamp with a larger-than-average 6.6Whr (1800 mAh) lithium-ion battery for long-lasting power. It has four brightness levels, a primary CREE spotlight and auxiliary LEDs for flood, closeup, and red lighting modes with a tilt adjustment making it ideal for night hiking, trail running, and camping. The NU 32 has a built-in power indicator and lock to prevent accidental activation, it is water-resistant to 2 meters and includes a micro-USB cable for recharging. Read our Nitecore NU32 review.

Check for the latest price at
Amazon

6. Nitecore NU25 Rechargeable Headlamp

Nitecore NU25 USB Rechargeable Headlamp
The Nitecore NU 25 is a lightweight (1.85 ounce) state-of-the-art, multi-function headlamp available at a low price. With a max light output of 360 lumens, it has a built-in rechargeable micro-USB compatible battery. There are three LED light sources: a main white light, a softer white light for close-up tasks, and a night vision-preserving red mode, with four brightness modes: turbo, high, mid, low, as well as an SOS beacon. The NU 25 has a digital lock to prevent accidental activation and a battery meter. Recharging requires a micro-USB cord (included).

Check for the latest price at
Amazon 

7. Nitecore NU 20 Rechargeable Headlamp

Nitecore NU20 rechargeable Headlamp
The Nitecore NU20 has a maximum light output of 360 lumens and comes with four bridgeness modes: turbo (360 lumens), high (220 lumens), mid (40 lumens) and low (1 lumen). There are also two special modes including a flashing SOS and a beacon. The NU 20 has a lock but its part of the headband bracket and not digital. There is also no red mode, but there is a battery meter. The headlamp can be tilted forward 52 degrees making the NU20 a good option for trail running and night hiking. Recharging requires a micro-USB cord (included). Read our Nitecore NU 20 Headlamp Review.

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon 

8. LEDLenser SEO7R Rechargeable Headlamp

The LEDLenser SEO7R is a dual-source headlamp that comes with a rechargeable battery but can also be powered by alkaline batteries. The SEO7 offers 200 lumens of bright white light, with a strong beam distance of 427 feet. It has a focus mechanism that lets you manually transition the light from a broad flood beam to a sharply focused long-distance beam, including tilting it, so you can shine light where you need it the most. The light comes with a red mode, strobe, power lock, a dimmer, a low battery warning light, and power indicator. It has an IP6X waterproof rating and comes with an outstanding 7-year guarantee!

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon

9. Claymore Heady Rechargeable Headlamp

Claymore Heady Headlamp
The Claymore Heady is a powerful rechargeable headlamp capable of throwing out a maximum of 600 lumens. It has four white lighting modes with a push-button dimmer and a massive 3500 mAh battery making it ideal for long-range activities like mountaineering, climbing, cycling, or night hiking when you need hours of continuous performance. Weighing 3.7 oz, the Claymore comes with a clip and tripod mount making it easy to attach to safety helmets including hard hats, your belt (good for night hiking), bicycle handlebar mounts, a tripod or to hang as a lantern. The Claymore has a battery meter and locks to prevent accidental activation.  We like its multi-sport utility, brightness level, and big battery, but it doesn’t have a red mode which many people find useful at night.

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon

10. UCO Air Rechargeable Headlamp

UCO Air Rechargeable Headlamp
The UCO Air is a 150-lumen rechargeable headlamp with an analog dimmer switch for ease of use. It has a spot beam with just two modes, a white LED and a red night vision mode, with a small 170 mAh rechargeable LI-ion battery that requires frequent recharging with a 1 hour burn time on a high setting and a 5 hour burn time when set to low. Weighing just 1.6 oz, it has an easy to adjust velcro-style headband and is best used for camping rather than night hiking or trail running.

Check for the latest price at
Amazon

How to Choose a Rechargeable Headlamp

Here are the most important features and considerations to evaluate when comparing different rechargeable headlamps.

Battery Capacity

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.

Headlamp Headbands

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.

Headlamp Tilt

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.

Lumens/Light Output

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.

Headlamp Weight

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.

On-Off Lock

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.

Battery Indicator

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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22 comments

  1. One thing that I also look for is the output of the red LED. For me, anything below 12 lumens is too dim for me to see clearly at night.

    • Bill in Roswell GA

      Totally agree Grandpa. I have the Nitecore 25 which has a bight red light perfect for camp chores and blinding my buddies. The separate switches for Red and White lights minimize the chance of ruining my night vision.

      • I never could understand how anyone could see using the red light on a headlamp. Then I tried an NU25 and found out how great the brighter red works.

      • I must be the only person in the world who doesn’t appreciate headlamps with Red Lights. I just can’t see with them well enough. I do like the downward tilted reading lights on the new Knog Bilby. They have a soft yellow glow that makes reading at night a real pleasure.

      • All those headlamps with the inch wide strap can be changed to little bungee cords and really lighten them up even more. Another great review Philip.

  2. I would say that having a locking switch is more than a personal preference. Draining a headlamp when it turns on accidentally in your pack is no joke. I’ve done it on more than one occasion before I bought one of the awesome nitecore headlamps.

  3. I have the NItecore 20. I really like it, it’s great for my in-town running at night. However, I think the 360 lumen output is pretty misleading as that 360 lumen “turbo” mode is only for 30 seconds at a time. Yes, that’s right. 30 seconds. The highest sustainable lumen output is 220 lumens, which fortunately is spec’d for 6 hours. But this “turbo” time really makes it hard to compare light outputs between headlamps.

    • I have the Nitecore 20 too. I honestly rarely use it except in camp or in my tent at the lowest setting. A lot of headlamps have boost/turbo modes. They’re fashionable, but as you note, fairly useless.

  4. I got the Bilby via Kickstarter and can confirm it is very comfortable and bright. Not sure I’d describe the controls as intuitive, but they are much better than the “swipe” style I’ve dealt with on many others. And the recharge feature is cool. Thumbs up for sure.

    • They’re certainly easier to remember and rediscover than the controls on Black Diamond lights. Can’t say I care that much to reprogram mine though. I do really like the no cords recharging though. That is a huge win.

  5. I own 4 different Fenix lights and I can’t say enough good things about them — although there are some things to look out for, the most obvious being the lack of a 100% reliable lockout mode. I’ll give a brief review:

    General: They are tough. I bought all 4 between 3 and 5 years ago and I don’t use them every day the way an electrician might, so I haven’t tested them to failure. I have enough experience with small devices with an aluminum body to have confidence that I would have to drop one onto concrete from an upper story window to break the case. I have owned the LD02 for 5 years and carry it and use it several times a week. The switch has given me no trouble.

    I love the long life of the lithium-ion batteries in the 3 larger lights. I also love the fact that those 3 lights will also work with CR123A non-rechargeable lithium manganese dioxide batteries. This is the same chemistry as in coin cells like the 2032. They work at temperatures between -30 and +60 deg C (some say -40 to 70, but Energizer is more conservative) and they have a shelf life of 10 years. That means I can buy a two-pack at the grocery store, put it in the bottom of my backpack and not worry about forgetting to charge a light or needing light while driving in January. (In the days before climate change, living on the coast of Maine, we saw -32 F one morning in the early 80s.)

    I find that the output levels that I need are, in order of importance, about:
    30 lumens – for walking around
    4 lumens – for reading or searching my pack
    120 lumens – for searching for something outside
    All of these lights cover that range.

    The light pattern has a bright center, tapering off to the sides. I thought I would hate it, but it turns out to be perfect for me. The center spot is big enough to match the high resolution patch in the middle of the human field of view; the less-bright area is big enough to give fair, but not great, peripheral vision. I can see branches at the side of the trail.

    HM50R (the one reviewed above): A great light, but I soon stopped using it because I like the next light even better. This light’s biggest problem is that it does not have constant light output as the battery discharges. According to the graph on the back of the box, the 30 lumen level is down to about 4 lumens by the time the battery discharges. However, the 130 lumen level is holding at about 30 lumens when it dies. This means that for walking around you have about 10 hours of battery life. They claim 14 hrs for a CR123A battery, giving two nights of light with the two batteries at the bottom of my pack. Otherwise it is light, easy to recharge, and easy to adjust for tilt.

    HL55: This is twice as big and twice as heavy. I bought it for (emergency) biking at night. I needed 150 lumens to see far enough at 10 mph. They claim 10hrs of life at 165 lumens. It also has full brightness regulation until it dies. (That’s the claim. While I haven’t run the battery flat, I’ve seen no dimming.) The battery is an 18650 with more than 3 times the capacity of the 16340 battery in the HM50R. The flashlight does not charge the battery, but I bought a battery with a USB micro-B charging port on the side. To my surprise, it works great. It also will run with two CR123As — but they don’t spec the life. I expect it is shorter since the two CR123As provide 6V total, instead of the 3.6V of the lithium-ion. It has a strap over the top of the head, so it is just as comfortable to wear despite the extra weight. Everything else works just as well as the HM50R. So I ended up carrying this and giving my son the smaller light for his glove compartment.

    LD15R: A “pocket” light. The body is the same size as the HM50R. If it had a head strap it would be the perfect light for hiking. It has similar specs including battery life, but has constant brightness. Well, except for the Turbo (extra high) level. It does not shut off after less than a minute as some lights do, but after several minutes it has discharged the battery to the point that it drops down to a constant level not much brighter than the 150 lumen “high” mode.
    DON’T use it as a pocket light. It is too bright to take the risk. Despite requiring the switch to be held for a second or so before turning on, it turned on several times in my pocket. The last time I was driving and did not notice. It melted a hole in the nylon pocket and raised a blister (2nd degree burn) on my thigh. It’s now a very useful glove compartment light. It has a magnetic base and will stick to the side of the car above a flat tire.

    LD02: Except for the fact that it is hard to find if you drop it in the grass (I’m on my second light), it is a perfect pocket light. It always comes on in 25 lumen mode. This is the same brightness as I remember standard 2 D-cell flashlights being. Not Mag-lights; the cheap ones. It also had 8 lumen and 100 lumen modes. I can’t find this in an specs anywhere, but my experience is that the 25 and 8 lumen modes are constant brightness while the 100 lumen mode slowly dims until it is the same as the 25 lumen mode. That’s how I know that it is time to replace the battery. It takes a single AAA cell. It is small enough that I can hold it in my mouth for 15 minutes or so, when needed. I use lithium cells because they last longer and work better in the cold. (And I don’t run it down quickly enough for the cost to be too high.) I have verified that it will also work fine with alkaline or Ni-MH batteries. They claim alkaline battery life of 0.5, 4.25, and 15 hours at the various brightness levels. The first two are consistent with my memory; I’ve never used 8 lumens for long enough to know how that works.
    It has a very small hole to take a tiny split ring connector to attach a lanyard to; my advice it to go to the trouble of using it if you keep the flashlight in a pocket that you cannot close.

    Can you tell that I love Fenix lights? ;-)

  6. I have the Biolite 200, and I love it. I don’t do much after dark, maybe a few minutes of next day planning or a quick run for necessary nightime bowel functions. It’s exactly what I looked for, lightweight and easy to use. Very comfortable.

  7. Interesting article. However, unless I missed it, I didn’t read anything here that mentioned the use of a rechargeable headlamp for winter hiking. Typical lithium-ion batteries perform poorly in very cold conditions. Is there a rechargeable LED headlamp designed for winter usage? If so, how long does it last on full power at 10 degrees?

    .

    • Lithium-Ion batteries are far better in cold weather than Alkaline or NiMh batteries. I’ve been using mine for years in winter in New Hampshire and never experienced a problem. They will freeze at -40F, but if you’re out in that you have other problems.

      • If a headlamp strapped to what is usually the least insulted part of the body isn’t warm enough to function, I’m not sure the person it is strapped to is warm enough to function, either. I’ve certainly never had any issues down to temps around -25F.

  8. El Diablo Amarillo

    Rechargeables have their places but they are far far from being history yet. Those of us who use headlamps for our daily jobs in the great outdoors often either dont have time and/ or places to recharge these lights. The short burn times ( since we typically need them on hi beam to safely perform our work) are the culprit and the main reason myself and many others scroll right on by these rechargeable lights when shopping.
    I do enjoy your well written articles on outdoor gear. Keep them coming!

  9. Can anyone comment on the water-proofness of any of these headlamps? Thinking of caving in wet caves. Thanks for any thoughts.

  10. Phillip –

    Great roundup!

  11. This is very informative, I honestly don’t know anything about headlights but I want to get one for my brother as a birthday gift. I was thinking of just browsing through Amazon but you gave great insights. I plan to get the Biolite Headlamp, great price, great mah, and has a lock and a red mode. though not that high lumens I like all its other features. Thank you!

  12. What’s your opinion of the NU-10 from Nitecore? It has the red light option, though not as many max lumens as the other NU lights on the list, and it’s less expensive.

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