A headlamp is one of the most important 10 essentials for backpacking, hiking, fastpacking, trail running, climbing, and any other kind of outdoor adventure sport. Using your smartphone as a flashlight doesn’t cut it. But the days of carrying extra AA and AAA battery-powered headlamps are history. USB rechargeable headlamps have become ubiquitous and are very convenient because they can be recharged using the battery packs that most backpackers carry. Dual-power headlamps, ones that can be powered by a rechargeable battery or AA/AAA batteries, are handy if a “wall recharge” is not available.
|Make / Model||Lumens||Weight|
|Petzl Actik Core||600||3.1 oz|
|Black Diamond SPOT-R Headlamp||325||2.6 oz|
|Nitecore NU 33||700||5.3 oz|
|LEDlenser MH10||600||5.6 oz|
|Fenix HM50R||700||2.75 oz|
|Black Diamond Astro 300-R||300||2.65 oz|
|Biolite 800 Pro||800||5.1 oz|
|Nitecore NU 25 UL||400||1.59 oz|
|Coast Fl1R Micro Headlamp||300||1.7 oz|
|Petzl Bindi Ultralight||200||1.2 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 have been eclipsed by smaller more innovative companies offering equivalent 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 or climbing.
1. Petzl Actik Core Rechargeable Headlamp
2. Black Diamond SPOT-R Headlamp
3. Nitecore NU33 Rechargeable Headlamp
4. LEDLenser MH10 Rechargeable Headlamp
5. Black Diamond Astro 300-R
Black Diamond is not known for making headlamps with trivial (easy-to-remember) controls, but the new rechargeable Astro 300-R breaks the mold. This single-lens single-switch headlamp has a white lite and three brightness levels: high, medium, and low with full strength, dimming, and strobe modes. It’s powered by a 1500 mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery that recharges with a micro-US charge port and has an IPX4 rating stormproof to withstand rain and sleet from any angle. This headlamp also has a digital lockout to prevent accidental activation. The headlamp has an average run time on high (300 lumens) for 6 hours and on low (6 lumens) for 140 hours. A dual-power model (the Astro) is also available that includes three AAA batteries and is compatible with a rechargeable BD 1500 Li-ion battery and charger (purchased separately) for maximum flexibility.
6. Fenix HM 50R V2 LED Rechargeable Headlamp
7. Biolite Headlamp 800 Pro
8. Nitecore NU25 UL
9. Coast FL1R Micro Headlamp
10. Petzl Bindi Ultralight Headlamp
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 separately 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 conserve 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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As with most batteries, I am guessing these will wear out and need to be disposed of eventually. Do any of these manufacturers tell you how to do that for their respective product? Sledge hammer method?
I have yet to wear out a rechargeable battery. Really. That’s why I promote their use over the AA and AAA batteries you do throw away.
Petzl Actik Core Rechargeable states in their instructions that the rechargeable battery may loose 10% capacity per year depending on use. Not sure what other companies state or how it actually affects real world use. Disposal is regulated just like single use Lithium batteries and differs depending on locality.
Have you heard much about the new rating standard being used? The new Run Time “FL1 Standard”, being used by Black Diamond and Petzl, measures Run Time as the time from full brightness to 10%. They also define Reserve Time as the time below that 10%, but still deemed a useable amount. So now comparing Run Time depends on the measuring criteria used. Would be nice to see a universal standard like they have on Sleeping Pads now.
No I haven’t heard much about this new standard, but I’ll look into it – although off the bat I can imagine huge problems with using it for making comparisons between headlamps with a different number of lumens, light patterns (flood vs spot), or multiple LEDS. But the problem with the sleeping pad standard is that it’s not universal and sadly, I can see a headlamp standard taking the same path.
The ANSI FL1 Standard definitely has big problems, only a graph of run time vs lumens would be helpful. But it’s a step up from the old standard which is to measure the run time from maximum brightness down to .25 lux at 2 meters (considered full moonlight equivalent). That is if any standard was used at all by a manufacturer.
Milwaukee tools makes one that should be on the list. I have one I use daily and also for backpack hunting trips. I find it gets more hours of use on a hunt trip than the typical backpacker would use it. I’ve gone 5 days without a charge and when I finally got it on the charger after the hunt it still had 75% battery life. Extra batteries for it are easy to buy if you expect to really run it for SAR etc…. I’m not a fan of rechargeable headlamps and flashlights due to the amount of run time I typically need so a AA battery lamp has always been my go to. But I’m about 95% converted to the rechargeable now and I didn’t think I would ever say that!