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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
The Petzl Tactikka Core is a 450-lumen rechargeable headlamp with 3 LED lights and includes flood, spot, strobe, and red lighting modes. The Tacttikka comes with a USB-rechargeable Petzl CORE 1250 mAh LI-ion battery, but can also be powered with 3 AAA batteries (not included). The average burn time on the medium setting is 8 hours and on low is 130 hours, with a 3 hour charge time. Weighing 2.8 oz, the lighting angle can be swiveled for hiking and running, or removed from the strap and attached to a helmet (hardware not included).
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 separate 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 converse 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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